Monday, December 16, 2019

Why are there few women in science?

Why are there few women in science? UNESCO Institute for Statistics data states that in 2015, only 30% of the world's researchers were women. Based on headcount data, the highest percentage of women doing research was in Central Asia where 48.1% were women, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (45.4%). The lowest percentage was reported in South and West Asia where only 18.5% of the researchers were women. There was no region reported with more than 50% saturation of women scientists. These statistics bring us back to the question, why are there few women involved in science?

A meta-analysis by the American Association of University Women shows that the environment shapes women's achievements and interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). When women believe in their potential for intellectual growth, they become achievers. Based on that finding, it is implied that there is a loophole in the growth mindset of women all over the world which can be attributed to their environment.

Building a culture that empowers women motivates them to do great things in science that will benefit their personal lives and the society. Their knowledge and experiences will lead the public to appreciate science and make informed decisions about technology applications such as biotechnology. Considering that the stories and aspirations of women could help bridge the gap between science and the public, ISAAA and its network of Biotechnology Information Centers launched Science and She in 2018. It is an online campaign aimed at empowering women in science by showcasing the experiences and viewpoints of female scientists and science communicators. The highlights of their stories are published in the 10th installment of ISAAA Biotech Communication Series titled Science and She: Empowering Women in Science. Download a copy now for free from the ISAAA website.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Craig Cormick Publishes New Book on Science of Communicating Science

Are you wishing you knew all you need to know about better communicating science, without having to read several hundred academic papers and blogs and books? Then this book is for you!

Dr. Craig Cormick, Australia's leading science communicator has published his new book, The Science of Communicating Science: The Ultimate Guide together with CABI and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The book aims to help solve a major problem that many scientists face at some point in their career: how do I communicate my work to society?

The Science of Communicating Science  is a rare book that combines academic rigor with the ease of reading a blog. It's a solid one-stop-shop where scientists can learn about the main aspects of science communication without – as the blurb says – “having to read several hundred academic papers and blogs and books.” The book also helps to solve an unusual problem surrounding science communication: the disconnect between scientists and the information available on science communication.

The book's four-part structure creates a comprehensive but digestible road map for science communications. Here are short descriptions of each part:
  • Part 1: The ground rules. This section lays facts and truths that are essential to understand before wading into setting up Facebook accounts or drafting press releases. It covers the importance of observing and understanding your audience, audience segmentation, creating SMART goals – even when the temptation might be to dive into creating an explosive, viral YouTube video.
  • Part 2: Communication tools. This is the main section of the book and includes practical advice about specific communication tools. Its introduction helpfully explains the importance of simple messaging (not dumbing down) and tools like the message box and half-life messages, and the power of metaphors. It has a nice long chapter on the media and another chapter on social media, the two tools that most scientists have hesitations or reservations about, but are the ones they are most often pulled towards. 
  • Part 3: When things get hard. This is one of the most interesting parts of the book, since it tackles exactly those times that scientists dread the most: what to do when things get hard. In a world of fake news, can you really change behaviours and opinions? How do you share data and evidence that compete with beliefs and values?
  • Part 4: Science communication issues. The final section of the book includes some thought provoking issues, including ethics – essential for those wanting to communicate science faithfully and objectively while understanding that opinions and personality are often an important element of communication.
The book also contains interesting and relevant case studies, with each chapter ending with a section entitled ‘What to do with what you now know’, which offers practical steps for taking action, as well as ‘Key summary points’ to capture the highlights of each chapter. There are also excellent endnotes for further reading. The charts, illustrations and tables enhance the book’s messages.

As the blurb states, this book would be suitable for “anyone who is interested in science communication and all scientists wishing to improve their own communication techniques.” But given its scientific basis, it would be a good read for anyone with a technical background too. Dr Cormick often mentions biologists, chemists and physicists, but engineers and software developers who find themselves needing to communicate complex ideas to general audiences – possibly even customers – would benefit from this book as well. Those already working in science communications, such as marketing and PR, can also benefit from this book.

Dr. Cormick is, of course, a science communicator himself with over 25 years of experience. He’s worked with organisations such as CSIRO, Questacon and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. He has been widely published on science communication issues in key journals and the popular media, including ABC Radio National’s The Science Show, the Conversation, and has twice appeared in Best Australian Science Writing. He is a popular speaker on science communication issues at conferences in Australia and overseas. In 2013, he was awarded the Unsung Hero of Science Communication by the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) and is currently the President of the ASC. He is also a writer of fiction – a storyteller. The chatty, humorous way in which he writes makes this an easy book to read, while he keeps his eye clearly on the science audience for which this book is intended.

In sum, for any scientist needing to communicate their work, this book will be a thoroughly helpful resource. To get a copy, visit the CABI Bookshop.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Biotech Crop Area Reaches 2.5 Billion Hectares in 23 Years

High adoption of biotech crops continued in 2018, according to the ISAAA Report, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2018. On the 23rd year of commercial cultivation of biotech crops, 26 countries grew 191.7 million hectares of biotech crops, bringing the accumulated biotech crop area to 2.5 billion hectares, a ~113-fold increase since 1996, the first year of commercial planting of biotech crops. This makes biotech crops the fastest crop technology adopted in recent times.

The total area of 191.7 million hectares in 2018 were grown by 26 countries, 21 developing and 5 industrial countries. Developing countries led by Brazil planted 54% of the total biotech crop area, while the industrial countries led by the USA planted the remaining 46%. An additional 44 countries imported biotech crops for food, feed, and processing, bringing the total number of countries that adopted biotech crops to 70.

Learn more about biotech crops adoption in 2018, download and read the booklet Beyond Promises: Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2018.

Friday, August 23, 2019

ISAAA 2018 Report Reveals Biotech Crops Continue to Provide Solutions to Hunger, Malnutrition, and Climate Change

A total of 70 countries adopted biotech crops through cultivation and importation in 2018, the 23rd year of continuous biotech crop adoption, according to the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2018 (ISAAA Brief 54) released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) on August 22, 2019. Twenty-six countries (21 developing and 5 industrialized countries) planted 191.7 million hectares of biotech crops, which added 1.9 million hectares to the record of plantings in 2017. The continuous adoption of biotech crops by farmers worldwide indicate that biotech crops continue to help meet global challenges of hunger, malnutrition, and climate change.

In 2018, biotech soybeans reached the highest adoption worldwide, covering 50% of the global biotech crop area.

In 2018, it was reported in the United Nation’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World that hunger is growing year after year for three consecutive years, and at the levels equivalent to the records a decade ago. Furthermore, the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises revealed that hunger and malnutrition continue to rise, with around 108 million individuals in 48 countries at risk or in severe food insecurity. Biotech crops, developed with improved traits such as increased yield, more resistance to pests, improved nutrition, among others, are undeniably necessary to address these global challenges affecting the lives of so many families globally.

“GM technology has contributed to all facets of food security. By increasing yields and reducing losses, it contributed to food availability for more families. By enabling farmers to improve their processes and join the modern supply chain, it improved physical access to food. Through raising farmer and rural incomes, it improved economic access to food. Through rigorous standards of food safety and hygiene programs, it contributed to better food utilization,” said Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA Board Chair. “While agricultural biotechnology is not the only key in enhancing global food security, it is an important scientific tool in the multi-disciplinary toolkit.”

Biotech crop plantings have increased ~113-fold since 1996, with an accumulated area of 2.5 billion hectares, showing that biotechnology is the fastest adopted crop technology in the world. In countries with long years of high adoption, particularly the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India, adoption rates of major crops are at levels close to 100%, indicating that farmers favor this crop technology over the conventional varieties. More farmers’ and consumers’ needs, more diverse biotech crops with various traits became available in the market in 2018. These biotech crops include potatoes with non-bruising, non-browning, reduced acrylamide and late blight resistant traits; insect resistant and drought tolerant sugarcane; non-browning apples; and high oleic acid canola and safflower.

In 2018, developing countries planted more biotech crops than industrial countries.

The ISAAA report also highlighted the following key findings:
  • The top 5 countries with the largest area of biotech crops planted (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India) collectively occupied 91% of the global biotech crop area.
  • Biotech soybeans reached the highest adoption worldwide, covering 50% of the global biotech crop area.
  • The area of biotech crops with stacked traits continued to increase and occupied 42% of the global biotech area.
  • Farmers in 10 Latin American countries planted 79.4 million hectares of biotech crops.
  • Nine countries in Asia and the Pacific planted 19.13 million hectares of biotech crops.
  • In Asia, Indonesia planted for the first time a drought tolerant sugarcane developed through a public (University of Jember) and private (Ajinomoto Ltd.) partnership.
  • The Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) joined South Africa and Sudan in planting biotech crops in Africa, with the introduction of IR cotton. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi granted approvals for planting IR cotton opening Africa to biotech crop adoption.
  • In Europe, Spain and Portugal continued to adopt biotech maize to control European corn borer.
  • More area planted to biotech crops for farmer and consumer needs included potatoes with non-bruising, non-browning, reduced acrylamide and late blight resistant traits; non-browning apples; insect resistant eggplant; and low lignin alfalfa, among others.
  • New crops and trait combinations in farmer fields include insect resistant and drought tolerant sugarcane; high oleic acid canola and safflower.
  • Various food, feed and processing approvals for Golden Rice, Bt rice, herbicide tolerant cotton, low gossypol cotton, among others.
  • Cultivation approvals for planting in 2019 include new generation herbicide tolerant cotton and soybean, low gossypol cotton, RR and low lignin alfalfa, omega-3 canola, and IR cowpea, among others.

Photo Source: ISAAA Image Gallery

With the continuously increasing adoption of biotech crops worldwide, farmers are at the forefront of reaping numerous benefits. "We were fed up with weeding and spraying pesticides to control bollworms and weeds. When the technology was introduced, we rapidly picked it up," said Frans Mallela, a farmer from Limpopo Province, South Africa. Le Thanh Hai, one of the early adopters of biotech maize in Vinh Phuc Province, Vietnam, said that biotech maize has helped revive maize farming in their province and stressed that many farmers now grow biotech maize because of its benefits. Rosalie Ellasus, a farmer from Pangasinan, Philippines, said that she adopted Bt maize because she gained more yield with less production cost, compared to conventional maize varieties. “There was not even a trace of pests considering that we did not apply insecticide. Furthermore, we no longer need to visit our maize field every day and this gives us peace of mind,” Ellasus added.

The Brief 54 Executive Summary is downloadable for free from the ISAAA website. To purchase an electronic copy of full Brief 54, send an e-mail to

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Science and She: Dr. Ma. Monina Cecilia Villena

Science and She is an online campaign of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and its network of Biotechnology Information Centers which aims to empower women in science. Scientists and science communicators tell their stories and aspirations for science and society with the hope that the stories will help bridge the gap between science and the public.

For one week, a female scientist or science communicator serves as the curator of the Science and She social media pages on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. One of the previous curators was Dr. Maria Monina Cecilia Q. Arcelo-Villena, former Special Projects Coordinator & Network Administrator of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture Biotechnology Information Center or SEARCA BIC (February 2014 to June 2018). While still working on the objectives of the BIC, Dr. Villena eventually took a bigger role as head of SEARCA's Knowledge Management Department. As Head, she leads the implementation of KMD's projects geared towards the promotion of a learning culture, knowledge creation, and knowledge sharing and use among key actors in agricultural and rural development in Southeast Asia.

A graduate of BS Development Communication from the College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines Los Baños, she also completed MA in Communication Research, and PhD in Communication from the College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines, Diliman. According to Dr. Villena, doing development communication work has always been her dream because it allows people to construct reality using different lenses.

“Destiny is not by chance. It is a choice. I chose to study communication because I want to tell stories and influence people. Communicating science enables me to change the existing narrative and touch people's lives,” Dr. Villena shares.

She has 26 years of work experience in editorial and market research from the private sector and specializes in public relations, public advocacy, and knowledge management. She’s also an expert in the fields of science communication (biotechnology, climate change, and food security and nutrition), message framing, message priming, and information and communications technology. She said that science communication is difficult when done in an environment where there is a low appreciation for science. But when people begin to listen that's when all efforts are made worthwhile.

Dr. Villena's work on biotech communication began at ISAAA as a Communication Specialist when she joined the team of Dr. Mariechel Navarro and Dr. Napoleon Juanillo who conducted stakeholder perception studies on understanding and attitude towards biotechnology in five countries in Southeast Asia. Later on, Dr. Villena joined Dr. Navarro as one of the science writers for the Crop Biotech Update.

From 2004 to 2012, she held several positions in the private sector, particularly at Global Sources (Ediserve Advertising & Exhibitions). Global Sources is one of the leading business-to-business media companies worldwide and primarily facilitates trade with Greater China. As a senior member of the editorial department, Dr. Villena developed and implemented editorial strategies that facilitated global trade through multimedia platforms.

The call for science communication came in again in March 2014 when Dr. Villena started to lead the SEARCA BIC. Through her leadership, the BIC has penetrated the legislative and judicial branches of government and initiated engagements with key personalities to bring forward the biotech dialogue in the country. The BIC was also able to reach out to farmers, consumers, and other key stakeholders to inform them through public briefings on the new biotech and biosafety regulations in the Philippines. This was mainly through Dr. Villena’s initiative, with the hope to lead the Filipinos to make informed choices involving biotechnology. Dr. Villena also led the introduction of biotech in social media with SEARCA BIC's Know The Science project. Know The Science uses multi-platform campaigns to educate the Filipino public about biotech crops and technology by understanding the science behind them. Through this project, Dr. Villena promoted the creation of biotech champions from different stakeholders.

On June 29, 2019, Dr. Villena passed away at the age of 48, but her contributions to science communication live on, inspiring more women in science to press on to make science and communication a powerful combination towards the upliftment of lives and sustainable national development.

Friday, May 31, 2019

ISAAA's New Journey Begins

Message from ISAAA's Global Coordinator, Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Every time I have problems with the plants in my garden, my thoughts go to all the farmers who struggle in their farms facing a myriad of challenges from climate change, pests, diseases, and chemical hazards to all kinds of other biotic and abiotic stresses. This community relentlessly face these challenges to put food on our table. There is one more huge hurdle - access to modern agri-innovation, especially superior seeds. Farmers are just like us who want the latest technologies to do their job excellently. However, many countries do not have the political will and know-how to embrace modern agri-biotechnology, coupled with activism by critics of this technology.

ISAAA was created almost three decades ago to ensure farmers have access to agri-innovation. ISAAA played a key role in ensuring that biotech crops reach the poorest farmers in the developing world. ISAAA coined the word “biotech crops” as all foods that we eat are “genetically modified” (GM). GM is a legal term and not scientific.

ISAAA is the 1st organization that documented the statistics of biotech crops, their traits, and adoption in our annual publication, “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops,” which is the most cited literature in modern agri-biotechnology.

The work done by ISAAA translates into increased farmer income which means better socioeconomic benefits for this community; sustainable development where more food could be produced with reduced environmental impact; reduced trade barriers; regulatory reform to ensure increased approval and adoption of biotech crops; and enhanced public understanding of modern agribiotechnology that enables them to make informed decisions.

The impact created by ISAAA in all major continents makes me extremely proud to be at the helm as its Global Coordinator.

We, at ISAAA, are steadfast in modernizing and customizing our approaches, be it our publications, capacity building programs, workshops, or trainings. We feel this is important as we move into the era of new media, emerging gene technologies, and the need to reach out to a wider audience, including the millennials.

My mission is to make ISAAA the “go-to resource center” for information on agri-biotechnology and as a strategic partner to support the adoption of gene technologies in many parts of the world. Our GM Approval Database is a testament for this and our experienced team in all three continents (Asia, Africa, and and the Americas) have been instrumental in changing the landscape to be more receptive towards biotech crops.

We are now putting more efforts to customize and modernize our data. We are eagerly and effectively translating our data into knowledge for ready use by all key stakeholders.

Join our journey as we realize the full potential of modern biotechnology to achieve agricultural sustainability and development.


Dr. Arujanan is also the Executive Director of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC), the Malaysian node of ISAAA's global network of Biotechnology Information Centres (BICs). MABIC is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the understanding of biotechnology in Malaysia at all levels of society.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

ISAAA Has New Global Coordinator

Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center Executive Director, Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, is now the new ISAAA Global Coordinator

Maha has been instrumental in motivating the ISAAA network of Biotechnology Information Centers through her innovations in communicating the science of biotechnology. The Petri Dish, the only science newspaper in Malaysia, is her brainchild which aims to bring scientific news from academic journals to the public. She also started the first short course on agri-biotechnology, biosafety and communication in Asia to establish institutional memory in this area in Asia for the benefits of Asian regulators and scientists.

"I have been with ISAAA since January 2003 and it has helped me to find my identity and purpose."

Maha holds a BS degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry, an MS in Biotechnology, and PhD in Science Communication at the University of Malaya. She has been with ISAAA through MABIC since 2003 and has been a strong advocate of biotechnology, building capacities and forming networks in different countries all over the world. In 2010, she won The World Academy of Sciences Regional Prize for Public Understanding of Science for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. Scientific American’s WorldView named her as one of the 100 most influential persons in biotech in the world in 2015. In the same year, Biotech Law Report published by Mary Ann Liebert in the USA listed Dr. Arujanan as one of the women in Biotech Law and Regulations. Malaysian Women’s Weekly also listed her as one of the “Great Women of our Time” in their December 2015 issue. She is also currently appointed as the communications specialist for Sri Lanka for the Food and Agriculture Organization on biosafety.

Maha sharing her experiences at Lean In in Malaysia

“I have been with ISAAA since January 2003 and it has helped me to find my identity and purpose, just like how ISAAA has changed the lifestyle of millions of farmers in developing countries. Many farmers built proper houses and sent their children to schools and colleges after adopting modern biotechnology and biotech crops. This is the mission we share to make the planet greener while giving the socio-economic benefits to the poorest who feed us and ensuring food security,” says Dr. Arujanan.

Dr. Arujanan will remain based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Read more about her in this article.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

5 Questions with Dr. C.D. Mayee, the Farmer's Son Who Became India's Champion of Biotech

In order to succeed, one has to hold on to his dreams and aspirations and learn to work hard despite the difficulties along the road to success. These words of wisdom seemed to be the guiding principle of a young boy from Sakharkherda who had to join farmer caravans to sell the cotton from his father's farm.

The young boy, so full of inspiration and desire to help his father and their family live a better life, held on to his dream of becoming an agriculturist and is now one of India's strongest advocates of science-based agriculture. Dr. Charudatta Digambarrao Mayee, Dr. C.D. Mayee to most, is a renowned cotton scientist, and a firm believer that new tools can help in the advancement of Indian agriculture.

Dr. Mayee has guided more than 50 graduate students, wrote books and monographs, published over 200 scientific publications in reputable journals, and promoted the production technologies of cotton, groundnut, sunflower, coarse cereals, and remained active in sports, games, cultural activities, and helping students. But how did Dr. Mayee become India's top biotech champion? In this edition of ISAAA's 5 Questions with... Series, we asked Dr. Mayee five questions to get a glimpse of his advocacy and the road he travelled to become a biotech champion.

How did you get into agriculture and biotech?

The young Dr. Mayee
I was born in Sakharkherda, a small village in Buldana District, Maharashtra State, India, to a big extended family of 30-35 people. We totally depended on agriculture, and my childhood aspirations have been to get educated and earn money to help my father who was planting cotton, groundnut, pigeon pea, and sorghum, which are all rain-fed crops. As a child, I saw the ups and downs in our farm output due to good or bad monsoon. The only cash crop was cotton, which used to be sold to ginners in the nearest city some 60 km away. 

Even in those days when I was in 8th standard, I remember to have gone with the caravan of bullock carts (it was difficult to travel all 60 km alone, and farmers selling cotton traveled in caravans) full of cotton to sell in the nearby city. If the cotton season was good, we got new clothes, otherwise, we will wait until the next good crop season. These hardships made me resolve that I will go to agriculture in college and help my father raise the productivity in our farm—regardless of the monsoon—so that our family could live better.

"If the cotton season was good, we got new clothes, otherwise, we will wait until the next good crop season." - Dr. C.D. Mayee

But sending me to college would be a big financial burden. My father never studied beyond 7th standard because my grandfather chose him to help on the family’s farm. Despite this, my father was keen on sending me to college to get an agriculture degree, and I appreciate his vision for my aspiration. He worked hard to support this and even got a loan against our land. My background in farming helped me to get admission in an agriculture college, Akola, which was 80 km from my village. Suddenly, I was in a hostel and was confronted with English as the medium of education in agricultural subjects. Field activities became easier for me than studying theories because of English, but I got accustomed to the studies. Fungi, bacteria, viruses, and such microorganisms made me curious about biology and I decided to study them, choosing Plant Pathology as my major subject. A small aspiration to study agriculture, the science of crop cultivation, landed me into microbe-based plant pathology as a career.

Dr. Mayee was born into a big extended family.

What was the greatest challenge that your job has presented to you?

My family, especially my father, was very happy and supported me when I continued my education in agricultural sciences. I did not realize that he had to sell part of our land so I could continue with my post-graduate education. I decided then that I will not be a burden to the family. I took on whatever small jobs I can get to earn enough to enter the famous “Pusa Institute,” the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) for post-graduate studies. Admission to that Institute was the ambition of every student in the late 60s, and I was no exception. The Institute was famous due to Drs. M.S Swaminathan, A.B. Joshi, and other luminaries of agricultural research. At IARI, I was selected for an administrative position, but I decided to do my Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. 

Dr. Mayee with his wife Mrs. Hema Mayee during his Post Doc, AVH Fellow at University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany in 1980s.

After doing my Ph.D., the big challenge was to get my ideal job due to political instability in the country. Somehow, I got one in Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana in vegetable research. My mind was not into it, and I kept asking myself how I could help farmers like my father in increasing their productivity and sustainability. Five years later, I got lucky when I became a professor in a small town called Parbhani in the rain-fed area of Maharashtra not too far away from my village. I built a school for students who worked in disease management of major rain-fed crops such as cotton, sorghum, pigeon pea, pearl millet, and sunflower. However, I could not forget my early attraction to cotton, and my desire to conduct research and development on this crop became intense.

"I kept asking myself how I could help farmers like my father in increasing their productivity and sustainability." - Dr. C.D. Mayee

The greatest challenge for me was to protect cotton from parawilt, bollworms, and boll rot because every alternate year there was a bollworm epidemic and farmers resort to heavy pesticide sprays. This doubles production costs which exceed the income from cotton. I needed to do something for the cotton farmers so that their profits improve. Two mega-projects were planned and executed under my leadership in Marathwada Agriculture University, Parbhani around 1997 to 1998. One project involved the total adoption of a 500-acre village for a demonstration of the cost-saving technologies so that the profit increases without compromising on yield. The other project was conducted with the help of an expert from Israel, which was implemented with high input, highly mechanized cotton cultivation demonstration under drip irrigation on 250 acres contiguous plot for those farmers who could only afford limited irrigation. Both projects were successful and useful, and the farmers learned that the profitability of cotton cultivation can be enhanced by good practices. These cotton demonstration technologies are the major challenge in my 25 years at the University.

Why do you think there is a place for biotechnology in your country?

Cotton gave me an opportunity to learn about biotechnology as a tool to manage pests and diseases. In August 1998, while I was the Vice-Chancellor, scientists from Mahyco Life Sciences in Jalna sent the request to conduct the Bt cotton trial in the University farm as mandated by the regulatory bodies.

My knowledge about the technology was limited, so I went through the relevant literature and knew that our cotton farmers will be overjoyed if they get bollworm-resistant cotton without having to spray the crop with pesticides. I allowed Mahyco to test three Bt cotton hybrids in the university farm despite severe opposition against the trial. This was my induction to biotechnology. 

Dr. C.D. Mayee joined CICR in 2000.

In 2000, I joined the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur as Director, and this gave the opportunity to boost the technology in the Institute, moving forward with the commercialization as a member of the apex regulatory body, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). I am proud that the son of a cotton farmer assisted in the commercial release of the first genetically modified crop—Bt cotton—in India in 2002. Now, millions of farmers have benefited from the technology. I also take pride in creating the necessary infrastructure in CICR Nagpur. Under my guidance, CICR developed the first indigenous Bt detection kit which got patents in many countries outside India. This kit helps extension workers in detecting illegal Bt cotton production in India.

"I am proud that the son of a cotton farmer assisted in the commercial release of the first genetically modified crop—Bt cotton—in India in 2002. Now, millions of farmers have benefited from the technology." - Dr. C.D. Mayee

After the release of Bt cotton in India and continuously studying its impact for the last 17 years, I have a firm belief that our smallholder farmers need similar technologies to enhance their income. Pest and diseases which damage the crops of poor farmers can be efficiently managed by tools such as biotechnology. In India, we have several opportunities for biotech crops such as Golden Rice, iron-rich banana, and Indian mustard. These crops have traits that help in pest and disease management, nutritive food development, nutrient use efficiency, and most importantly, abiotic stress tolerance such as drought, salinity, and climate change. My country and our farmers need the technology, but the opposition is delaying it. I am optimistic that one day it will all be clear because the Indian scientific community is competent and will deliver the technologies in the future.

Dr. C.D. Mayee with Dr. Ingo Potrykus

What is your vision for India's agricultural productivity?

I am fortunate to have seen the productivity gains of India’s crops, animal, and fisheries sectors. After gaining independence, the country faced the challenge of feeding 330 million people. Droughts in mid-1960 made the situation grim, and we depended on imported red wheat and milo sorghum from the United States.

Then the Green Revolution began, and new wheat and rice cultivars developed in the country reached the farmers and their productivity increased. Hybrid technology revolutionized the production of millets, maize, cotton, sunflower, vegetables, and many other crops. Tissue culture techniques coupled with micro-irrigation, polyhouse technology further boosted the production of fruits and flowers. Thus, in the last 70 years, India became not only self-sufficient in food but has become a net exporter of several agricultural products. The cotton production, which was stagnant at 300 kg lint per ha for 20 years until 2002 saw a major change due to Bt technology and production and productivity doubled in the first decade of the 21st Century.

Dr. Mayee with Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder Director of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC).

However, I am worried as there are many crops where productivity is either stagnant or declining due to several factors such as climate change, water crisis, soil degradation, and lack of new technologies. To meet the demand of the country’s growing population, it is time to adopt biotechnology tools to break the yield barriers. Realizing this need, I set up a scientific society called South Asia Biotechnology Centre ( to identify, pilot, scale up and commercialize farm technologies necessary to provide solutions to crop problems that cannot be tackled by conventional technologies. I have also been nurturing a young team of scientists of SABC who contribute to improving science literacy and bridging the gap between science and society. 

Dr. Mayee talks to young students.

Why are you a believer of biotechnology?

I am a firm believer of biotech because of my initial association with Bt cotton. Between 1999-2002, I visited 55 coordinated Bt cotton trials in 11 different locations. I evaluated nearly 145 field trials in farmers’ fields. All of them were so impressive that the technology was deeply imprinted in my mind. I believe that farm productivity constraints due to biotic, abiotic stresses, as well as issues of quality production, could be very well addressed by breeding methods developed through biotechnology.

India’s Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Mr. Sharad Pawar launched the report, "Adoption and Uptake Pathways of Bt Cotton in India" authored by Dr. Mayee and Bhagirath Choudhary in the presence of Dr. BR Barwale, Chairman of Mahyco and Dr. KR Kranthi, Director of Central Institute for Cotton Research (ICAR-CICR).

My belief in these technologies was further strengthened when under the John Templeton Foundation project, I conducted a survey of 2,400 farmers in three diverse States who were cultivating Bt cotton. They seemed to have one voice in saying that they need the technology in other crops, too. Other people speak about the technology, but what do they know? As a farmer’s son, I have faith in our farmers and know that what they say is true.

About Dr. C.D. Mayee (from the SABC website):
Dr. Mayee is the President of the Board of Directors of the South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), New Delhi and concurrently serving as Vice President of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), New Delhi. Dr Mayee obtained his agricultural degrees from Maharashtra and PhD specialized in plant pathology and epidemiology from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi. He commenced his career in plant pathology research at IARI and worked in various capacities in Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Cuttack; Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana; Maharashtra Agricultural University (MAU) Parbhani for nearly 30 years. The research, teaching and extension experience led him to work as Vice Chancellor-MAU Parbhani; Director-Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) Nagpur and Agriculture Commissioner, Government of India, New Delhi before retiring as the Chairman, Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board (ASRB), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India. Though specialized in Plant Pathology, Dr. Mayee committed himself for the growth of Indian Agriculture. In Plant Pathology, he guided 20 PhD and more than 38 MSc students, wrote books and monograph, published over 200 scientific publications in journals of repute and served the cause through development of the subject. During his scientific career, Dr. Mayee promoted the production technologies of cotton, groundnut, sunflower, coarse cereals and always remained active in sports, games, cultural activities, helping students in placement. Dr. CD Mayee can be reached at:

5 Questions With… is a continuing series on the ISAAA Blog. A new personality will be featured every month, so watch out for our next feature!

Written/Compiled by Dr. C.D. Mayee, and Clement Dionglay, Project Associate at ISAAA Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Trending News on Crop Biotech in 2018

What GM crop can be used to treat AIDS? Which country would be the first one to plant drought and salt tolerant soybean? What are the benefits of GM crop adoption? 

The answers to these questions were reported in the Crop Biotech Update in 2018.

We summarized the top 10 most trending Crop Biotech Update news shared on Facebook to give you a quick glance at the most important happenings last year. Read on and make sure you don't miss which news made it to the number one spot.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, has recorded a major breakthrough in crop biotechnology following official approval and registration of two Bt cotton varieties, MRC 7377 BGII and MRC 7361 BGII, by the National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crop Materials. This development means farmers can now access biotech cotton seeds in addition to other conventional varieties once the permit holder multiplies the registered varieties. Nigeria also becomes the seventh African country after South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Kenya, Malawi, and Ethiopia to grant open cultivation approval for the crop.

Facebook Shares: 558

Scientist Michael Gomez from the University of California, Berkeley and colleagues aimed to contribute in alleviating this problem by targeting novel cap-binding proteins (nCBP-1 and nCBP-2) for CRISPR-Cas9-mediated editing. These proteins are among the elF4E isoforms involved in the onset of CBSD. They observed delayed and attenuated CBSD aerial symptoms and reduced severity and incidence of root necrosis, which is one of CBSV infection symptoms, in the CRISPR mutants. CRISPR-Cas9 proved to be an effective tool in promoting disease tolerance in cassava.

Facebook Shares: 569

Argentina is set to commercialize the first drought and salt tolerant soybean in 2019.
The gene responsible for the new technology is HB4, made possible by Bioceres. The drought tolerant soybeans were tested in the field for three years and results showed that they are as nutritious as conventional soybeans, will not be toxic to animals or humans, and have no negative effect on the environment.

Facebook Shares: 587

Scientists from The University of Sheffield and International Rice Research Institute have discovered that developing a high-yielding rice variety with reduced stomatal density helps the crop conserve water and survive high temperatures and drought. Grown at elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, the low stomatal density rice plants survived drought and high temperature (40oC) longer than the unaltered plants.

Facebook Shares: 583

Since the approval of Bt eggplant for "limited cultivation" in Bangladesh in 2013, ~17% of the total brinjal farmers in the country are already benefiting from the technology. Scientists concisely report the history, present status, and future direction of the Bt eggplant project in Bangladesh in a perspective article in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.

Facebook Shares: 602

Public consultations for the field trial of GR2E Golden Rice in the Philippines have been conducted in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija and San Mateo, Isabela on July 18 and 19 to allow community members to ask questions about the proposed field trial and submit their comments to Department of Agriculture.

Facebook Shares: 670

A study from Purdue University led by Daniel Szymanski has mapped a complex series of pathways that control the shape of plant cells. The research group found that microtubules entrap a protein called SPIKE 1 within the apex of another cell where SPIKE 1 recruits additional protein machinery that causes actin filaments to form. Actin filament networks are then organized as roadways for long-distance intracellular transport and the regulated delivery of cell wall materials that are necessary for cell growth. The findings may be vital to improving the quality of cotton grown in the United States.

Facebook Shares: 690

More than 150 executive and legislative officials from the Philippine House of Representatives, as well as selected members of the judiciary attended the Forum on the Global State of Biotechnology, a biotech outreach program conducted by the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center in collaboration with the United States Embassy Manila, the House of Representatives, Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA), and the Philippine Association of Law schools (PALS). Experts and scientists enlightened the participants of the two events on different biotechnology issues.

Facebook Shares: 878

GM crops commercialization has occurred at a rapid rate since the mid-1990s, with important changes in both the overall level of adoption and impact in 2016. This is according to the research paper on farm income and production impacts of using GM crop technology in 1996–2016 by PG Economics. The annual updated analysis estimates the value of using GM technology in agriculture at the farm level, including impacts on yields, key variable costs of production, direct farm (gross) income, and impacts on the production base of the four main crops of soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola.

Facebook Shares: 931

An international team of researchers from Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom has successfully created a strain of GM rice that will produce HIV-neutralizing proteins. The GM rice produces one type of antibody and two kinds of proteins that bind directly to the HIV virus, preventing them from interacting with human cells. The researchers note that the cost of making the cream is nominal once the rice has been grown, and people living in infection areas can grow as much of the rice as they need, then make the paste and apply it themselves.

Facebook Shares: 1,600+

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