VIB's Facts Series

Potato in Africa

2 July 2019

The potato is a widely used and appreciated food in the world. It is used for human consumption, animal feed, and as a source os starch and alcohol. Potato has a short cropping cycle and a large production per unit area. It provides more nutritious food per land unit in less time and often under more adverse conditions than other food crops due to its efficient water use.

New approaches, including inbred line development of self- compatible diploid potatoes, genetic modification (GM) and gene editing technologies, promise to add more options for crop improvement, particularly to support resource-poor farmers and achieve good yield for improving income and food security.
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CRISPR-Cas: Genome editing in plants

11 April 2019

Genome editing is a revolutionary technology for making rapid and precise changes in the genetic material of living organisms. This can be done in the DNA of plants, microbes, animals and humans. Using this technology, scientists can change a specific DNA letter, replace a piece of DNA or switch a selected gene on or off. Over the last years, genome editing has transformed life sciences research. This is mainly due to one very successful form of the technology: CRISPR-Cas. According to the journal Science, CRISPR-Cas was the scientific breakthrough of the year in 2015.

This VIB dossier describes current and emerging applications of CRISPR-Cas technology in agriculture. This background file is written in an accessible way, so that anyone with a keen interest, regardless of background, will find it informative. 
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15 February 2019

Cancer is not one, but more than a hundred different diseases. Despite this, all these diseases have much in common: it always involves the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that ignore the signals and mechanisms that normally inhibit their growth. In most cases these cells penetrate adjacent tissues and spread to other organs.
Cancer can occur in any part of the human body. Breast, colon and lung cancer are the most common cancers in women. In men, prostate, lung and colon cancers occur most often.The survival chances of patients with cancer vary greatly, depending on the type of cancer and the stage at which the disease was diagnosed. Cancer does not ‘just happen’. It is a process
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Laboratory animals
29 November 2018

 Despite technological and scientific progress and the protests of animal rights activists, research institutions and companies ​continue to use animals in scientific research. Why is this?

The short answer to this question is that we simply cannot answer certain research questions without using animals. Furthermore, it is unethical to use humans for the type of research we undertake on animals. And while animal research has its own ethical implications, it is necessary and unavoidable for many types of research.​ That does not mean that the decision to do animal
experiments is taken lightly. Scientists must treat animals in a careful, caring way. They must also be able to fully justify every animal experiment.​ 
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5 September 2017

Worldwide, 35 million people suffer from Alzheimer's disease. It is the most common cause of dementia. People with Alzheimer's disease become disoriented in time and space, the gaps in their memory become more obvious, they have difficulties with routine tasks,...
This background file provides an overview of the latest scientific insights into Alzheimer's disease. This is because over the past 20 years alone some 80,000 articles have been published about this disease. But even 80,000 Alzheimer’s articles are impossible to summarize in one document. Moreover, the research is gathering momentum. For example, we have learned more about Alzheimer's disease in the last two decades alone than in the 100 years before.
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From plant to crop: The past, present and future of plant breeding

21 April 2016

Whenever plant biotechnology pops up in conversation, it is usually as part of a debate on genetically modified (GM) crops. Nevertheless, selective genetic modification of crops with the use of GM technology is only one of the many possibilities we have to make plants respond better to our needs. In this VIB Fact series issue, we outline how the crops we know today have evolved from nature, with particular emphasis on the role humans have played.

Since agriculture began around 10,000 years ago, humans have adapted plants to suit their purposes. We selected plants and crossed them so that they slowly but surely became more adapted to our requirements. And with the rise of new plant breeding technologies, a debate started concerning their need, potential risks and technical aspects of how to create the appropriate legislation. In the wake of the GM debate, certain new breeding techniques—which are often referred to with the abbreviation NBTs (New Breeding Technologies)—are coming under increased scrutiny, especially from a regulatory standpoint. In this VIB Fact series issue, we explain how these techniques work, how they differ from generally accepted methods, and what advantages they have over traditional breeding techniques.
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 Effect of genetically modified crops on the environment

September 6, 2016

This report forms a two-part series on the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops along with the background report on “Food safety of genetically modified crops”, which has already been published. In this report we discuss what impact GM crops have on the environment.
All agriculture, including cultivating a particular crop, has an impact on the environment. Planting calendars determine which weeds and insects are present in the field, agricultural machinery compresses the earth, uses fuel, and emits CO2, whilst excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides can leave traces in and on the earth. In addition, a particular crop trait (for instance, insect resistance) can also affect the impact on the environment. ~
The aim of this report is to provide a nuanced response to the many concerns that exist concerning the environmental impact of GM crops. The impact, whether positive or negative, depends on the crop trait and the cultivation method, but not on the breeding technology used. Plant breeding makes it possible to develop plants that reduce the impact on the environment.

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Impact des plantes génétiquement modifiées sur l’environnement
6 septembre , 2016

Ce dossier constitue le second volet d’une série en deux parties consacrée à la sécurité des plantes génétiquement modifiées (OGM). Le premier volet, à savoir le dossier de référence « La sécurité alimentaire des plantes génétiquement modifiées », a déjà été publié. Quant au présent dossier, il dresse un état des lieux de l’impact des cultures OGM sur l’environnement.
Toute activité agricole, y compris la culture d’une plante donnée, a une incidence sur l’environnement. Les schémas de culture déterminent les espèces de mauvaises herbes et d’insectes qui envahissent les champs, les machines agricoles compressent le sol, consomment du carburant et rejettent du CO2, tandis que les engrais et pesticides appliqués de manière excessive peuvent subsister dans et sur le sol. En outre, chaque propriété d’une plante (comme sa résistance aux insectes) peut également affecter l’environnement.
Ce dossier entend offrir une réponse nuancée aux nombreuses préoccupations que suscitent sur l’impact des plantes OGM sur l’environnement. L’impact – positif ou négatif – dépend de la propriété de la plante et de la méthode de culture, mais non de la technique d’amélioration mise en œuvre. La technique de la sélection végétale permet de développer des plantes qui atténuent ces effets.

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Food safety of genetically modified crops

4 February 2016

In this VIB Fact Series issue, we discuss current scientific understanding regarding the food safety of GM crops. Just as there are scientists who deny global warming or who disregard the effectiveness of vaccines, there will always be people, even from the scientific community, who state that GM technology in itself poses a threat to public health. However no single scientific argument can be found to doubt the safety of GM technology. Food safety institutions, companies, research institutes and universities have conducted large-scale tests and studies on GM crops over the past thirty years. The significant scientific consensus about the safety of GM technology is based on this. However, it must be clear that the applications of GM technology must be evaluated case by case before a crop can be authorized for cultivation and/or food and feed use
by local governments.

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La sécurité alimentaire des plantes génétiquement modifies
 4 February 2016
De nos jours, les plantes génétiquement modifiées (OGM) restent un sujet très controversé parmi le grand public. Dans ce dossier de référence, nous ferons un état des lieux scientifique de la sécurité alimentaire des cultures OGM. Des centaines détudes, des analyses de risques draconiennes, des procédures d’autorisation strictes et un suivi continu démontrent que les cultures OGM actuellement autorisées sont tout aussi sûres que leurs variantes non OGM.
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Golden Rice
18 January, 2017

Rice is the staple food of more than half of the world’s population. Rice grains are rich in carbohydrates and comprise a good source of energy but lack many essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. For people who barely eat more than a portion of rice a day, those deficiencies can result in serious health problems.

Tackling poverty, the lack of infrastructure and inadequate education are the greatest challenges. In attaining these goals the fortification of staple food crops in developing countries can comprise a sustainable way of adding additional nutrients to people’s diets. The development of Golden Rice is an example of this. This rice contains provitamin A, a substance that the body converts into vitamin A.

This document discusses Golden Rice as a potential component of the broad strategy against vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Efforts must continue to be made in combating global poverty and promoting a varied diet. But, for as long as vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in several countries, Golden Rice can be of added value.

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A blight resistant potato for Europe
24 September 2015

Each year potatoes in Europe are threatened by Phytophthora infestans, a fungus-like organism that causes late blight. Treatments needed to protect potato harvests come with a significant financial and environmental cost. Several research institutes in Europe aim to introduce late blight resistance to popular potato varieties. The potatoes will have at least three different natural resistance genes obtained from older, wild relatives of the modern potato. This will be achieved using genetic modification. A late blight resistant GM potato could be grown with 80% less fungicide. Read all about the potato disease, the problems that it causes and the solutions that plant biotech can offer in this joint publication of VIB, The Sainsbury Laboratory and Wageningen University & Research centre.

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Virus resistant papaya in Hawaii
28 February 2014

In Hawaii, the genetically modified (GM) papaya has been cultivated since 1998 to deal with the papaya ringspot virus. The Hawaiian GM papaya was developed by the public sector and the intellectual property rights were transferred to the local papaya industry. The adoption of the virus resistant papaya rescued the Hawaiian papaya industry and inspired many other countries to look for a similar solution to deal with plant viruses. Read everything what you want to know about the virus resistant GM papaya in the new VIB background report.


Herbicide resistant soybean in Argentina
25 November 2013

Soybean currently is the most traded agricultural product in the world, both with regard to volume and value. Because of its high protein content and the rising demand for protein-rich animal feed, soybean acreage has increased spectacularly in South American countries such as Brazil and Argentina.
Soybean is moreover the crop that has undergone the most noticeable changes over the last 16 years as a result of the introduction of genetically modified soybean. Of all the genetically modified crops, herbicide resistant crops and particularly glyphosateresistant soybean have received the most attention. Argentina was one of the first countries to produce biotech crops commercially and, as an emerging economy, it is the main producer of herbicide resistant soybean.

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BT cotton in India...a success story for the environment and local welfare

13 September 2013

Nowhere on earth will you see more cotton fields than in India. Cotton cultivation has experienced a remarkable growth story over the last decade: the production, the yield per hectare and the total area on which cotton can be cultivated have all increased to record high levels. The Indian cotton farmers now account for 21 % of the global production.
Of course there is more than one reason for this increase in cotton cultivation in India. Nonetheless, anyone who examines the figures will note that this growth is associated with the introduction of Bt cotton, a type of cotton plant that has had the genes of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis inserted – hence the na me Bt cotton. These genes produce proteins that protect the plant against the bollworm, a notorious pest of cotton plants.

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A scientific analysis of the rat study conducted by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al. 

8 October 2012 

Gilles-Eric Séralini and his colleagues published a sensational study that, in their opinion, brought to the fore clear indications that genetically modified crops and Roundup are dangerous to health. Media across the world picked up on this report and published disturbing photos of rats with enormous tumors. Scientists reacted with shock and were quick to criticize the study. The scientific analysis in this document shows the research design that Séralini et al. used contained fundamental shortcomings that preclude any sensible conclusions from being drawn. In other words, the statements that Séralini made about the health effects of GMOs and Roundup were baseless. Moreover, the research shows signs of selective interpretation of the findings or a misleading representation of these, which is contrary to prevailing scientific ethical standards.
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IPBO’s Facts Series ‘Sugarcane in Africa'

28 November 2017

Sugarcane is an important crop for food and energy production, thanks to its capacity to accumulate high levels of sugar in its stems and its typical high-biomass yield. As a source of income and employment, sugarcane-based agriculture could play a role in the economic development of Sub-Saharan Africa. Energy represents an urgent need for all Sub-Saharan African countries. In these regions, locally produced energy is an attractive option for addressing the energy gap. With its tropical and subtropical climate, Sub-Saharan Africa is well-suited in many ways to expand sugarcane production.

The Facts Series “Sugarcane in Africa” reviews the opportunities and challenges for sugarcane production in Sub-Saharan Africa. To unlock sugarcane industry potential, a number of enabling conditions need to be reached vis-à-vis, for instance, environmentally sustainable production, infrastructure, trade policy, research and development, and financial services.



IPBO’s Facts Series ‘Cotton in Africa’

3 October 2017

Cotton represents a crucial source of income in Sub-Saharan Africa, both for rural populations and for national economies. It is one of the most widely produced cash
crops grown by African smallholder farmers, ranking only second in value after cocoa.

Despite its economic potential, the cotton industry is subject to a number of risks,
such as price fluctuations of both inputs and cotton on the world market, changing weather conditions, pest attacks and also problems related to pests becoming resistant to pesticides. All these risk factors threaten the sustainability of cotton production in Africa.
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IPBO’s Facts Series 'Maize in Africa'
28 August, 2017

Maize is the most-produced cereal worldwide. In Africa alone, more than 300 million people depend on maize as their main food crop. In addition, maize is also very important as feed for farm animals. Currently, approximately 1 billion tons of maize are grown in more than 170 countries on about 180 million hectares of land. 90% of the world’s production is yellow maize, but in Africa, 90% of the total maize production is white maize.

In Africa, maize production is continuously and severely affected by a number of threats, such as weeds, insects, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, fungi, low quality seed, low levels of mechanization, suboptimal post-harvest management, drought and climate change.

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IPBO's Facts Series 'Bananas, the green gold of the South'
12 August, 2016
There are few people in the world who are not familiar with bananas. With an annual production of 145 million metric tons in over 130 countries and an economic value of 44.1 billion dollars, bananas are the fourth most important food crop in the world. Given that bananas serve as a basic food source for 20 million people in East Africa and for 70 million people in West and Central Africa, Africa is highly dependent on banana cultivation for food, income, and job security. To continue to guarantee food security in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as the worldwide export of bananas in the future, there is an urgent need for improved banana varieties with an increased yield and nutritional value, which are resistant to all pests and diseases.
These Facts Series elaborate on processes to produce new and improved banana varieties that contribute to sustainable, environmentally friendly, and economically viable agriculture.


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