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Plant biotechnology symposium

Date: 22.9.2009 

Czech and Slovak Academies of Science used to organise each odd year a Symposium on Recent Advances in Plant Biotechnology in High Tatras or České Budějovice. This year Hungary joined this tradition and hosted 8th symposium New Developments in Green Gene Technology in Szeged on 1-4 September.

Naturally, Hungarian specialists and students used this opportunity and were represented by 55 participants. 25 Czech and 7 Slovak scientists made the core of traditional organisers. International participants came from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Lithuania, Poland, Republic of Korea, Sumatra and Sweden.

Twenty four lectures were presented, 9 by Hungarian authors, 6 Czech, 2 by authors from Slovakia, Belgium and Sweden, and one from Australia, Austria, and Lithuania. 43 posters were exposed.
Topics reflected general contemporary problems: climatic changes, pollution and non-food use of agriculture. Representative of the company Monsanto Kerstin Kramer introduced the global scene in plant biotechnology particularly in the development of new varieties by transgenesis.

Hungary is one of European countries with severe problems of drought. Consequentially majority of Hungarian presentations were focused on plant stress and methods of its ameliorating. Host institution - Biological Research Center of the HAS, Szeged presented an overview lecture about the stress. They drew the attention to the fact that stress compensation depends very often on cooperation of several enzymes and this is why the researchers are looking for regulatory systems. This idea was also present in the contribution from the Institute of Experimental Botany of the AS CR in Prague and Olomouc describing the phytohormone function in stress responses. Another lecture by Tamáš Macek from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the AS CR reported the oxysterols role in the regulation of plant enzyme activities. Reactive forms of oxygen were another stress factor under discussion.

Another lecture by hosts described the assessing wheat for the general stress tolerance. Wheat was the crop of major concern of many authors. This crop is vital in Australia, continent suffering from drought; however, the breeders are suffering there from additional problem: similarly to the Europe the disinformation of public resulting in concerns about transgenesis. Therefore the presentation by Selik Eliby from Adelaide described the cisgenic approach towards drought tolerant wheat. Similar concerns are modelling the research in Agricultural Biotechnology Center in Gödöllö where the Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) is preferred.

Several presentations described the use of plants in s.c. molecular pharming, production of important metabolites and proteins for medicine. Summarising report was delivered by Armin Spök from Austria. Czech group described the construction of transgenic plants forming the oncoprotein of papillomavirus that can be used as a vaccine against this tumour-producing infection. Development of edible vaccines in rice was performed by Hungarien sciences in collaboration with colleagues from South Korea. Czech tradition in beer production was reflected by presentation of analysing hop as a source of anticancer substances.

Another topic traditionally developed in the Czech AS is the use of plants for removal of pollutants. Plants may either accumulate heavy metals from soil or metabolise dangerous polluting organics to nontoxic derivatives. Plants accomplishing the former function are constructed by enhancing the synthesis of -SH containing substances, mainly glutathione, as a component that protects the plant from the toxic effect of heavy metal and accumulate it by firm irreversible binding. The later detoxication activity was expected to be performed by specific bacteria strains delivered to the soil. However, their survival in the complex bacterial community is questionable. Therefore plants with introduced particular bacterial enzyme systems are more effective.

Improving the breeding biotechnology methods including the apple breeding and theoretical background of better performance of crops was naturally the topic of several contributions and posters. GMO safety in the view of the horizontal gene transfer was also addressed. The question of GMO regulation and introduction of the White Book published by Czech scientists was discussed.
The Szeged meeting was very successful extension of the tradition established by Czech and Slovak Academies. We may hope that it will continue and more academies will join in the future.

Author: Prof. Jaroslav Drobník


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