All eyes on SA’s new super spud

first_imgThe SpuntaG2 potato, which is currentlyundergoing genetic modification inSouth Africa to make it pest-resistant.(Image: Michigan State University) The bane of many a farmer around theworld – the potato tuber moth. (Image:UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) Crops in the field and particularly instorage are vulnerable to attacks by thedestructive potato tuber moth.(Image: Wikimedia)Janine ErasmusSouth Africa’s Agricultural Research Council (ARC), in collaboration with Michigan State University in the US, has developed a potato variety that is resistant to one of the industry’s biggest threats, the potato tuber moth (Phthorimaea operculella Zeller).Known as SpuntaG2, the potato is currently before the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms, which consists of members from six different national departments, including Agriculture; Science and Technology; Environmental Affairs and Tourism; Health; Labour; and Trade and Industry. Under the Genetically Modified Organisms Act of 1997, the committee is expected to take a number of months to decide whether SpuntaG2 can enter the South African market.Should approval for general release be granted, the ARC will initiate trials with farmers under unconfined conditions, which will in turn lead to certification and labelling ahead of the release of the enhanced potato variety.SpuntaG2 is Africa’s first locally developed genetically modified (GM) potato. Because the project is publicly funded under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture and the ARC, SpuntaG2 seeds will not be sold at a premium but will be readily accessible to small-scale farmers, who suffer most from pest outbreaks as they cannot afford the necessary chemical measures to control the pests.If approval is obtained from the authorities and farmers, the ARC plans to transfer the technology to other varieties of potatoes.Natural resistanceDevelopment of the SpuntaG2 began in 2002 under the ARC’s potato breeding programme, which is partially funded by the US Agency for International Development. Scientists introduced the (Bt)-cry1Ia1 gene from the common soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the potato variety Spunta to produce a potato with a high resistance to the tuber moth.B. thuringiensis acts by producing proteins that paralyse the digestive system of susceptible insects. These insects stop feeding and eventually die of starvation. Although the organism’s unique insecticidal properties were first discovered in 1911, it was not commercially available until the 1950s. The first company to produce a genetically engineered plant incorporating B. thuringiensis was Belgium-based Plant Genetic Systems, which developed an insect-resistant strain of tobacco in 1985.Six years of controlled testing in a number of potato growing areas in South Africa have shown that SpuntaG2 controls the potato moth without affecting other organisms and without having to resort to pesticides. According to the ARC, the variety is as safe to grow and eat as other potatoes, a claim that will soon be verified by the Council for Genetically Modified Organisms.However, a statement and petition released by the African Centre for Biosafety expresses the centre’s and a number of other stakeholders’ opposition to SpuntaG2, and urges the council to reject the ARC’s application for approval.The centre cites numerous reasons for its stance, among them the claim that the US Agency for International Development has a hidden agenda to promote US corporate interests in Africa; the fact that much of South Africa’s potato crop is exported to other countries in Southern Africa which do not allow the import of genetically modified food; and cites health concerns as there are records of some consumers reacting badly to foods modified with B. thuringiensis genes.Year of the PotatoThe United Nations has declared 2008 as the International Year of the Potato. The plant was first cultivated some 7 000 years ago in the Lake Titicaca region of Peru, in the Andes mountains 3 800m above sea level, where inhabitants began domesticating wild potato plants that grew around the lake.Besides wheat, maize and rice, the cultivated potato (Solanum tuberosum) is one of the world’s major food crops and a staple for millions of people across the globe. It belongs to the Solanaceae, or nightshade family of flowering plants, and shares the genus Solanum with at least 1 000 other species, including tomato and eggplant.Farmers in developing countries are particularly hard hit by the potato tuber moth, especially as crops often lie in storage to be eaten at a later stage or for future planting – this makes them more susceptible to tuber moth attacks. The moth can completely devastate a crop in storage or vast areas of crops on the land. Commercial potato growers are not as badly off because they have more sophisticated storage facilities and their potatoes are processed quickly.Potato tuber moths lay eggs on the plant surface and their larvae burrow into the potatoes, causing immense damage. SpuntaG2 is completely resistant to the destructive pest on the land and under storage conditions. Armed with this extra method of tuber moth control, potato farmers can look forward to reduced costs and a healthier environment, says the ARC.In Africa, Egypt is the top potato-producing nation, with South Africa sharing second place along with Algeria and Malawi, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.Do you have queries or comments about this article? Email Janine Erasmus at [email protected] linksAgricultural Research FoundationDepartment of AgriculturePotatoes South AfricaAfrican Centre for BiosafetyPotato Grower MagazineInternational Year of the PotatoWorld Potato CongressBacillus thuringiensislast_img read more

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To Improve Wind and Solar Power, Bring Them Together

first_imgBy BEN JERVEYWhat’s keeping solar and wind power from fully taking over the electric grid? For starters, the sun only shines during the day. Wind blows intermittently, is seasonally variable, and is not always blowing when the energy is needed. But what if solar and wind work together?“Wind resource tends to complement solar resource,” says Sarah Kurtz of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Here in Colorado, for instance, the windiest time is during the winter and spring months. In winter, we don’t have as much sunshine, but we tend to get more wind and stronger wind.”A handful of enterprising renewable energy developers are now exploring how solar and wind might better work together, developing hybrid solar–wind projects to take advantage of the power-generating strengths of each — with the two technologies in tandem serving as a better replacement for climate-warming fossil fuels than either could be alone. Ben Jervey is a writer and editor covering climate, energy and the environment. This post originally appeared at the website Ensia. RELATED ARTICLES Tacking on solarOn the rolling plains just west of Australia’s Great Dividing Range, construction is expected to begin on a 10-megawatt solar farm adjacent to 73 wind turbines that are already online. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency — ARENA, a governmental agency tasked with increasing deployment of renewable energy — has invested A$9.9 million in the project, located a few hours southwest of Sydney. Combining solar and wind provides more continuous energy generation than having either technology working alone.But that’s not the only benefit. Co-locating wind and solar plants can save money on grid connections, site development and approvals, says ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht. By building the Gullen Solar Farm adjacent to the existing wind project, Frischknecht estimates savings as high as A$6 million — reducing the cost of the project by a full 20%.Frischknecht hopes that the Gullen Range project will serve as a model for how tacking solar onto existing wind farms can boost its application. “Scale isn’t as important for competitiveness when plants are co-located, meaning the approach could also unlock new markets for medium-scale solar PV projects,” he says. And just how big could these new markets be? Frischknecht points to an ARENA-funded study that found an estimated 1,000 MW of solar generating potential at existing wind farms in Australia — enough, ARENA calculates, to power 700,000 homes.“The lessons learned at Gullen Range will be invaluable, as this is the first project of its type in Australia,” Frischknecht says. “It has the potential to cement industry confidence in the approach and provide a blueprint for similar projects to follow.” Renewable Portfolio Standards Produce Big SavingsNew York Utility Finds Big Payoff in New IdeasWhy a Vermont Utility Welcomes Solar A California Utility Looks for New Answers in Solar Integration PuzzleDoes Cheaper Solar Mean We Can Forget Efficiency?Solar Energy Can Make the Grid More Resilient Battery boostersExpanding power production and saving money on installation aren’t the only benefits that can come from combining wind and solar. When applied to microgrid systems — local energy grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously — combined solar and wind can help cut battery costs as well, says NREL’s Kurtz.According to Kurtz, microgrids are finding application in places like Hawaii and India where utility prices are exorbitantly high or where communities are too remote to be tied into the macrogrid.Microgrids powered by photovoltaics require battery storage, since people need power when the sun isn’t shining. The problem is, batteries are still quite expensive. Adding wind can help cut the battery costs, since the wind can (and often does) blow when the sun doesn’t shine.“If you’re in a location where the wind does blow, and especially where the wind complements solar, until the batteries get cheaper than the wind power itself, you’re going to be better off adding wind [than batteries],” Kurtz says.The microgrid will still need some form of storage, “because there will always be a night when the wind isn’t blowing,” she adds. But the solar and wind combination “can make battery demand much smaller.”As these types of hybrid systems are just now coming online — ARENA hopes that the Gullen Solar Farm will start producing power in July 2017 — there isn’t yet a lot of empirical data about how well they actually perform. But solar developers have been wary that the shadows cast by wind turbines could potentially stunt the production of solar power.Research, however, is allaying some of those fears. Simulations conducted in 2013 by the Reiner Lemoine Institut and Solarpraxis AG, both in Germany, showed that shading losses would be as low as 1% to 2% on average. They also suggested that combining photovoltaics and wind turbines at the same location can actually yield up to twice the amount of electricity as having either system working alone in the same land area. The Gullen Range project, for its part, avoids shading losses altogether by locating the photovoltaics on a northern facing slope beyond the range of any turbines’ shadows. Virtual hybridsIn Texas, the Defense Logistics Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense is getting around any potential downsides of co-locating the two technologies another way — by taking a more “virtual” approach to hybrid wind and solar. The agency is working with developer Apex Clean Energy to meet 100% of Fort Hood’s electricity needs with onsite solar PV panels that are complemented by additional energy wired in from a wind farm in Floyd County, more than 300 miles northwest of the facility.Apex put the solar onsite because the Army wanted the grid security provided by local generation that isn’t vulnerable to power outages and other transmission constraints, Apex director of public affairs Dahvi Wilson explains. But Apex and the Army chose to site the turbines where the wind resource was the strongest. The setup illustrates the point that “[a] hybrid project does not necessary have to be co-located,” Wilson says.Wilson is enthusiastic about how the projects helps make these renewables make sense from an economic as well as environmental standpoint.“Wind energy offers the cheapest option for new energy construction currently available in the U.S., while solar energy can be more expensive to develop and install,” Wilson explains. “By combining the costs into one product, the blended cost is competitive with other new sources of energy.”last_img read more

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