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science Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D

Healthy plants, healthy people This special food and nutrition issue shows how we are ensuring that healthy, nutritious food is available across the globe

Linking the science to the marketplace Persuading plants to produce more food From green vegetables to watermelons, from barley to peat, helping growers produce nutritious food Special article – an external perspective on nutrition from Ghana

Autumn 09

Contents Food and Nutrition – healthy plants, healthy people


Food and nutrition – linking the science to the marketplace


Persuading plants to produce more food


Reaping the Health Benefits of Green Vegetables and salads


Food safety is high on the menu in China


What a wonderful fruit the watermelon has become


Syngenta goes back to its gardening roots


Barley: a crop to celebrate, and to celebrate with


Is it safe? Explaining food safety to the food industry


Health and nutrition – food supply from an African perspective


Out and about


Science & Technology Prize – views from previous winners


Over 30 years of creativity in chemistry – an interview with Mike Turnbull


Editor’s comments – Food and Nutrition, reflections on how Syngenta is engaging with farmers in Africa


Cover photograph: From brewing to food, barley is an important crop worldwide This page: Barley seedlings

Food and Nutrition – healthy plants, healthy people The 19th International Congress of Nutrition will take place in October. This congress, which happens only once every four years, will look at “Nutrition Security for All”. It is designed to provide society with innovative solutions to the present and future challenges of securing the need for safe and adequate food supply, thereby improving the quality of life of peoples and communities around the world. Syngenta plays a significant role in this area and is the theme of this edition of Science Matters. Access to safe, healthy food is a fundamental human right, but unfortunately one that many people do not have. As the world’s population grows from 6.5 billion today to a projected 9 billion in 20501 we will need twice as much food as we do now. However, we only have one planet. Since we also need to conserve biodiversity and preserve ecologically sensitive areas like the rainforests, we have to increase yields on the land we have now. In fact, urbanization will inevitably reduce the amount of available agricultural land and we will have to grow more from less (see As one of world’s leading companies in agriculture, Syngenta is committed to raising crop yields and quality through our world-class science, innovative research and new technologies, which are focused on the discovery and development of novel products for agriculture. This edition illustrates how we are helping to achieve this essential goal by ensuring farmers and growers have access to the right technology. The articles also demonstrate how we work at all levels within the food chain to ensure the availability of healthy nutritious food. Jonathan Shoham sets the scene, linking our science to the marketplace. Higher yields not only address the need to intensify productivity on available agricultural land but also lead directly to higher farmer profitability; this has the additional effect of reducing poverty and increasing health in poorer countries where a large proportion of the population are smallholders. An external view is provided by Professor Margaret Armar-Klemesu from Ghana, who writes about food supply and health from an African perspective. She details the link between nutrition and access to fresh, healthy food and points out that obesity is also an issue in poorer countries where cheap “street food” displaces freshly cooked fresh foods, resulting in an increase in health issues. Food safety is rarely out of the news and, over the past few years, food scares ranging from BSE and E. coli poisoning are real issues concerning us all. Syngenta is engaged in the debate on food safety and security globally and we have a key role to play to ensure we all have access to safe food. Colin Wang discusses how Syngenta is working to ensure the safe stewardship of sustainable agriculture in China’s complex food supply system. Syngenta goes beyond the invention and development of innovative products to training in the safe and best use of our technologies. We invest heavily to ensure our products are safe and that farmers and growers are properly trained on how to use them safely. When looking into the future, a real challenge facing us is the regulators and policy maker’s decisions about the farmer’s better access to agricultural technologies. The European Union has moved away from science-based risk assessment to one based on hazard. Faced with the global challenge of increasing our food supply by fifty percent in twenty years, the effect of the EU decision will be to further restrict existing technologies and inhibit future investments that could actually help increase productivity. Caroline Willetts discusses this and other challenges we face to ensure food safety and security in the future. We all know that eating fruit and vegetables form part of a healthy diet, however the science behind these benefits is less well known. Peter van der Toorn and Xingping Zhang discuss this and how Syngenta is breeding new Brussels sprouts and melons with improved taste and health benefits. I am sure many of us also enjoy a drink with our meals. You might not know that Syngenta is a major supplier of barley to the drinks industry worldwide, ranging from beer to whiskey. Paul Bury discusses how we breed new barley varieties that have the characteristics needed by brewers. Finally, I would like to reflect on the theme of the edition – Food and Nutrition – healthy plants, healthy people. The health of the crops that make up our diet and the flowers that add to the quality of our lives, are important to us all. Healthy plants are core to our business purpose of “Bringing plant potential to life”. The articles by Mafalda Nina on crop enhancement and Jamie Gibson on growing media are examples of the diversity of technologies that we are bringing together to ensure our customers can grow healthy plants for us all to enjoy. This edition illustrates the important contribution Syngenta is making how important technology and knowledge sharing are to ensure a safe, sustainable, food supply for the future, while enabling us to grow more from less.

Sandro Aruffo Head of Research & Development 1

United Nations Population Division (March 13, 2007). "The world population continues its path towards population ageing and is on track to surpass 9 billion persons by 2050." Press release

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Food and Nutrition – linking the science to the marketplace

Although everyone assumes cattle eat grass, meat consumption actually drives growth in crops such as corn and soybeans which are used as animal feed

The theme of this edition of Science Matters is “Food and Nutrition; healthy plants, healthy people”. Of course this is a large and complex subject but, alongside the issue of a clean drinking water supply, the theme of the previous edition, it is essential for life. In this article Jonathan Shoham talks about the issues facing the world and how Syngenta plays an essential role in ensuring healthy nutritious food is sustainably produced and delivered to people around the world. A key component of Syngenta’s business is providing solutions to help farmers grow healthy crops that are nutritious for us all to eat. In order to achieve these goals Syngenta must understand the needs and changing demands of consumers and suppliers like supermarkets, as their influence is increasingly transmitted back down the value chain. From the consumer’s perspective, the food that farmers produce should also provide nutritional benefits. Although healthy plants are at the beginning of the value chain rather than the end, and not traditionally part of Syngenta’s business, it is an area which is of vital importance to farmers, and is a subject that Syngenta is beginning to have more involvement, linking the science to the market place.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

Food, or more specifically food security, has been headline news for the last two years. A recent lead editorial in the Financial Times in London described the issue as more pressing than global warming or global terrorism. The G8 countries held their first ever meeting of their agricultural ministers in April 2009. The reason was the escalating price of food commodities which led to food riots in over 30 countries and has resulted in an increase in the number of malnourished people from around 800 million to almost one billion. This reverses the long term downward trend in the number of malnourished people and undermines the United Nations Millennium Development goal of halving malnutrition by 2050. The reason for malnutrition is seldom lack of food availability but usually poverty. Poor people cannot afford to buy enough food, and this situation is exacerbated as food prices increase. By increasing crop productivity Syngenta directly addresses this problem at both the level of the individual and society. Higher yields lead directly to higher farmer profitability and so, in countries where poor farmers make up a large proportion of the population, this increases their prosperity and therefore their ability to secure food. At the macro level, by increasing overall production, higher yielding seeds and crop protection products lead to a reduction in overall food prices, thus increasing the affordability for producers and consumers alike. Of course diet is not only a matter of quantity, but also quality. The problem is often in the composition of the diet. At the poorest end of the spectrum people might subsist on roots and tubers which may not provide adequate nutrition. As we move up the economic scale diets change to cereals, fruit and vegetables and, ultimately, meat. At the very highest end the problem becomes obesity, although as highlighted by Professor Margaret Armar-Klemesu in her “External Perspectives” article, obesity is also prevalent in poorer countries as cheap fatty foods become available. As the market leader in crop protection for fruit

and vegetables and the number three company in the seeds market for these crops, Syngenta is making a contribution to a healthier diet, by making fruit and more attractive and vegetables affordable. We are also becoming increasingly involved in the food chain, ensuring good quality food arrives at your plate, and an article by Colin Wang in this edition discusses our role in the food chain in the Asia Pacific region. As well as facilitating improved diets through our innovation, we need to be very aware of trends in the changing composition of diets because of the impacts they have on the demand for the crops which sustain our business. The most obvious example is increasing meat consumption, which drives growth in crops such as corn and soybeans which are mainly used for animal feed. Indeed around 40% of the four main cereals and grains – especially corn, soybeans and wheat – ends up as animal feed so, as a major driver of crop demand, we need to understand this market A key component of our health is plant nutrition. This is an area which the crop protection industry has traditionally not played a big role, other than in controlling pests and diseases. Artificial fertilizers have been around for over a century and the technology has not changed much in that time. R&D spend by fertilizer companies involved in broad acre crops is so low that it is not even reported by them. However, fertilizers are the single largest component of farmers’ production costs – a fact which was highlighted by the huge price increases in 2008 – and contribute every bit as much to yield as good quality seeds and crop protection products. Recent scientific advances are changing our view in how else we can deliver healthy plants to the grower and are opening up real opportunities to Syngenta to improve plant health. For example, some of our compounds like the Strobilurin fungicides (e.g. Azoxystrobin) and some Neonicotinoid insecticides (e.g. Thiamethoxam) have been shown to have effects on plant vigor, producing greener healthier plants. The exciting

science associated with this is discussed in an article by Mafalda Nina later in the magazine. In addition, genetic modification promises to improve the efficiency with which plants utilize nitrogen. This will have the dual benefits of reducing the amount and cost of nitrogen and secondly reducing the environmental impact of fertilizer use. Healthy food and nutrition are essential to life and Syngenta is playing a large role in ensuring that the complex food and feed value chain delivers to consumers like you and I. There are new scientific breakthroughs like Pureheart™ melons and Kumato™ tomatoes that are providing new healthy options for us to buy and I am excited that, although the issue of sustainable food supply is huge and the political challenges great, Syngenta is influencing the debate and delivering innovations by working with growers and suppliers around the world in helping sustain the supply of healthy nutritious food.

Jonathan Shoham, Senior Agricultural Economist in Syngenta, has held a wide variety of roles spanning the technical and commercial arenas during his 30 years with the company and its legacy organisations. He has been involved with projects such as research targeting, development and launch of soybean herbicides in Latin America, and the satisfaction of regulatory requirements for the formation of Syngenta in 2000. Since then he has focused on Business Intelligence, a function he established within Syngenta, looking at market and competitor developments in the external environment and ensuring these are reflected in the business strategy. Jonathan has a PhD in Environmental Economics, a MBA and a BSc in Chemical Physics.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Persuading plants to produce more

Cruiser® leads to faster germination and more vigorous growth of the root system

Crop yields can be boosted by crop enhancing chemicals and Syngenta is at the leading edge of research into them. Mafalda Nina and her colleagues are part of an R&D program which promises products that will increase food production even from environmentally stressed plants. In 2007 the US Corn Yield Contest was won by David K. Hula of Charles City, Virginia, when he achieved 385 bushels per acre, around two and a half times the national average of 153. Which shows what can be done when conditions are just right in terms of water, nitrogen and sunlight, and while these are clearly the most important, there is another way to boost food production and that is to energize the plants themselves with crop enhancing agents. In the 1930s it was observed that plants responded to certain natural chemicals by growing more vigorously and under drought conditions. Auxins were discovered to stimulate root growth while cytokins encouraged shoot formation. Synthetic plant growth regulators have been a target for agrochemical research, but discovery and commercial application has been slower than in other areas of crop protection due to complexity of the science involved. Nevertheless, Syngenta has had its success stories in this area. For example, the fungicide Amistar® (azoxystrobin) increases green leaf area retention and Cruiser® (thiamethoxam), which is a seed treatment, invigorates plants in their early stages of growth. Both increase yields more than might be expected based solely on their disease or pesticide aspects. Cruiser® is now the world’s top selling insecticide seed treatment, and is promoted for its


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

‘Vigor Effect’. The Vigor Effect Story became the Global Syngenta Awards winner of 2007. Five years of independent laboratory research conducted by Brazilian universities and 10 years of field observations went into proving that crops treated with Cruiser® were more vigorous and produce increased yield. These studies showed that Cruiser® induces the biosynthesis of specific proteins involved in the plant’s stress-defence strategy. This enables it to invest less energy in overcoming these stresses and so invest more in growth and crop yield. However, the molecular mechanism underpinning these effects and their varietal and environmental dependencies remained unclear.

Crop enhancement is an area where Syngenta is investing via a research program known as EPICC, short for Enhancing the Potential in Crops with Chemicals. The project started at the end of 2008 and Mafalda Nina is the project leader. Mafalda: “The purpose of EPICC is to better understand chemicals with crop enhancement effects, including their molecular mechanism, and the way these depend on the environment and on crop genetics. In the long term we seek to improve our seeds’ germplasm and the overall objective is to deliver new seed/chemical packages with robust, optimized, and predictable effects. The scientific strategy at EPICC is to focus on active ingredients with proven crop enhancement effects such as thiamethoxam.”

improves ornamental flowers by enriching their colour and increasing the number of blooms.

efficiency (WUE), nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and various specific components of crop yield.

Another stand-alone crop enhancer already in the market is Moddus® (trinexapac-ethyl) which has been used successfully for many years on Europe’s high-value wheat crop for control of ‘lodging’. Researchers in Germany and elsewhere have demonstrated that Moddus® provides enhanced root mass along with increased water and nutrient efficiency.

In addition to the research performed by Syngenta, independent studies are carried out at the Frei University of Berlin where they concentrated on the model Arabidopsis treated with plant thiamethoxam. Arabidopsis is one of the mustard family, commonly used to study plant genetics. Other strategic collaborations and partnerships are now being evaluated

So, as you can read, Syngenta has an active, motivated team researching how chemistries can improve plant health, really exploring how we can “Bring plant potential to life” by increased vigor, a new way of helping farmers produce healthy crops.

The NEMO team comprises glasshouse biology experts based in Stein, analytical science experts from Jealott’s Hill, genome biology and plant physiologists based at Syngenta Biotechnology Inc, Research Triangle, North Carolina. Also part of the team is Peter Maienfisch, the inventor of thiamethoxam, Raymonde Fonné-Pfister and Fergus Earley, CPR Syngenta Fellows and Keith Ward, senior scientist expert in biometrics. Mafalda Nina is the project leader.

The EPICC program has a dedicated research team of Raymonde FonnéPfister, Philippe Camblin, Fergus Earley, Lynn Senior, Peter Maienfisch, Andy Leadbeater, Erik Legg, Glenn Bowers, Melanie Klix, Richard Waterman, Deborah Keith as its sponsor and Mafalda Nina as its head. Syngenta already has in its portfolio other crop enhancer chemicals and plant growth regulators (PGRs). Amistar® (azoxystrobin) has seen incredible sales success since its launch in 1997. The last five years it has been the biggest selling fungicide in the world. In addition to the control of a wide range of pathogens, azoxystrobin has an effect on certain plant physiological processes like stomatal conductance resulting in improved water use efficiency. Stomata are pores on plant leaves that regulate water vapor and gas exchange – stomatal conductance is a measure of how often the stomata are open. (acibenzolar-S-methyl) was Bion® developed and tested in the 1990s as a fungicide but failed as such. However it acted as a bactericide against plant diseases for which there was no effective preventative. Today it has been rejuvenated and is used to protect crops such as tomatoes, beans, and potatoes. In addition, crops treated with Bion® show not only increased yields and quality, but an ability to cope with drought. It also increases the anthocyanidines in grape skins and

NEMO Project. Pictures of maize seeds treated with thiamethoxam (125 mg/l) using drench application (A) and control (B) taken 9 Days After Sowing (DAS). Thiamethoxam promotes growth of detectable (>0.5mm in diameter) small roots, by + 20% in a

Mafalda Nina did her first degree in Biochemistry at

reproducible and statistically validated experimental

the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France

test system.

receiving her DEA (Diplôme d'Etudes Approfondies) in molecular biophysics in 1991. She then did a PhD

The NEMO Project NEMO is short for neonicotinoids modulator and is the first project in the EPICC portfolio. Its aim is to understand the molecular mechanism of the thiamethoxam vigor effect in maize and soybean and it will do this by looking at mechanism of action, environmental dependency, and genetic dependency. NEMO is tackling the research from five different angles: robust and reproducible biological observation in laboratory conditions; physiological studies of responsive plant tissues; genetic characterization; and biochemical studies to reveal the target protein. The data mining will burrow into field data on maize and soybean in relation to varieties and geographies. Medium term strategies include searches for specific crop enhancement effects, including water use

in molecular biophysics at the Laboratoire de Simulation Moléculaire, C.E - C.E.A Saclay Gif-surYvette, France, and graduated in 1994. After postdoctoral work at the Université de Montreal, Quebec, at CNRS, and at the Laboratoire de Biologie et Génômique et Structurales at Illkirch, France, she joined Novartis Crop Protection in April 2000. At Syngenta, Mafalda is a computational chemist in Crop Protection Research Chemistry and in October 2008 she became Head of the Portfolio Strategy Team for Crop Enhancement (EPICC) at Stein, Switzerland.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Eat up your Reaping the health benefits of green vegetables and salads

Brussels sprouts are traditionally disliked by children and many adults. That may be changing thanks to Peter van der Toorn and his colleagues at Syngenta’s brassicas research group based at Enkhuizen, in The Netherlands.


Syngenta is the leading company for breeding new Brussels sprouts varieties with a market share of about 80%. It started a breeding program in the early nineties to adapt the taste of Brussels Sprouts towards the preferences of different types of consumers. While older people often prefer the classical bitter taste, young people prefer the mild taste that has now become the standard for the market. But why do brassicas taste as they do? The answer is to be found in the glucosinolates which they contain and the degradation from these, which are an acquired taste. However, these are an essential part of the plant’s defence system against leaf-eating enemies such as insects, nematodes, slugs and herbivores like pigeons and deer.

boiled so they don’t lose the health benefits. And it’s not only Brussels sprouts that are good for us. Salad leaves are also beneficial. Rocket (also know as rucola) is one of the few brassicas eaten raw. Its sulforaphane content is high and its taste is appealing. Syngenta has acquired a rocket breeding program from the Daehnfeldt seed company and is investing in research into this crop. The basis of the program is the introduction of a hybrid breeding system that makes it possible to combine several traits, such as glucosinolate contents and shelf life in one variety.


Peter: “We have developed new Brussels sprouts varieties with a much better, milder taste. By analyzing the different types and quantities of glucosinolates in Brussels sprouts, and correlating these with results from taste panels, we have been able to select the preferred breeding lines.”

What are glucosinolates?

Syngenta also has breeding programs in other types of salad leaves, including the well known lettuce types Iceberg, Butterhead and Romaine. Yet another type of green vegetable that is eaten raw in salads is spinach. In these crops other health promoting nutrients can be found, such as choline, folic acid, and vitamin E. Links have been shown between these nutrients and learning skills in human beings. Salad mixes comprising rocket, spinach, lettuce and other green vegetables are therefore extremely healthy.

studies, the aim is to balance the glucosinolates so as to obtain maximum taste and health with improved productivity. Other compounds also strongly influence the taste perception and can mask the taste of healthy compounds. As an example, the graph shows a principal component analysis of taste perception and analytical measurements in White Cabbage. Imagine vectors from the origin (centre of the plot) to each sensory attribute or compound. The smaller the angle at the origin between the two vectors, the higher the correlation. Vectors at 90° are uncorrelated; vectors that point in opposite directions are negatively correlated. Glucoraphanin (that is transformed by the enzyme myrosinase into sulforaphane upon damage to the plant) is closely correlated with the “mouth drying” eating experience and bitter taste.

The glucosinolates are a class of organic compounds that are derived from glucose and an amino-acid. They all contain nitrogen and sulphur and are secondary metabolites of almost all brassicas. Different glucosinolates have different side groups (R in the picture above) and it is this variation that is responsible for the different biological properties and tastes of the brassica crops

So why should we eat Brussels sprouts? The simple answer is that they contain ingredients which may have health benefits in addition to simple nutrition. In recent years many clinical studies have shown the positive effect of glucosinolates on the prevention of tumor development. The best known example is the effects of sulforaphane extracted from broccoli in reducing the proliferation of prostate cancers and skin cancer. Subsequent research suggests that although some specific glucosinolates may individually have a stronger effect, the best preventive action was obtained when naturally occurring mixes of glucosinolates as present in different brassicas was consumed. The vegetables could be steamed or par-

Peter: “The value that Syngenta brings to the consumer is based on a co-operation of plant breeders and scientists. We are based at Enkhuizen, but we collaborate with other groups at Pune, India, and Beijing, China, as well as the analytical lab at Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre in the UK, the marker lab in Toulouse, France, and third parties. The genetics of these traits is complex; a multitude of different genes is involved. The projects are run with project teams across the different scientific disciplines. In recent years vegetable plant breeding has become a multi disciplinary activity. For green vegetables many opportunities exist for Syngenta to bring their potential to life, and we are prepared to realize this potential”

Peter van der Toorn was awarded his MSc in phytopathology at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1982 and then went to work for Nunhems Seeds as a seed physiologist. During his years with the company he did a PhD at the University of Wageningen on embryo development in seed ripening and subsequent post-harvest treatments of celery. Subsequently he did postdoctoral research in Guelph, Canada, and Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Syngenta research into glucosinolate in brassicas. Syngenta has made significant efforts to analyse glucosinolate types and quantities in relation to health and taste. Based on the available knowhow regarding the health benefits of specific types, analytical and taste panel

In 1990 he moved to Zaadunie in Enkhuizen which eventually became part of Syngenta where he is now head of the R&D Leafy Vegetables section, overseeing breeding projects across the world.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


is high on the menu in China Embarrassed by food scandals, the Chinese Government has passed new food safety laws. Colin Wang, Manager of Stewardship & Sustainable Agriculture at Syngenta (China), explains why they were needed and what are their implications. Colin sums up food safety rather dramatically: “It’s an issue which keeps every food manufacturer awake at night.” He is right to do so because it is now being given top priority by the Chinese authorities. This is perhaps not surprising and the problem was highlighted in 2008 by the scandal of baby milk powder adulterated with melamine. More than 300,000 babies were affected and 6,000 become seriously ill, of whom 150 had suffered kidney failure, and six died. Melamine raised the apparent protein content of the milk by increasing the nitrogen analysis figure. Food is the most vital part of life and it should nourish us, not harm us. Food safety has to be a joint effort which involves manufacturers, retailers and government. But who should allocate responsibility and who should bear the cost? It cannot all be loaded on to the shoulders of the farmers at the bottom of


the food chain because many will not survive the burden it imposes. The problem of ensuring a food supply that is free from unwanted contaminants is immense in China where there are 750 million farmers and where most food producers are small companies. China is a net exporter of food, so care has to be taken to ensure this meets international standards. As Premier Wen Jiabao recently said: “The Chinese Government attaches great importance to food safety because it is not only in the interest of the Chinese people but also people in the world.” So what are the main threats to food safety? Some come from people along the food chain who are inefficient, or who use outdated products, or who simply try to cheat the consumer by selling substandard food and infringing trade marks. There are also other threats, such

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

as pesticide residues, heavy metal traces, disease pathogens and chemicals used by the food producers. For example, the antibiotic chloramphenicol can contaminate honey and malachite green dye has been found in seafood. This last agent is used to protect fish eggs against a dangerous fungus.

Many products are available to the Chinese grower

A misinformed public can create equally difficult problems for food producers, witness the way in which a newspaper item about panama disease in bananas resulted in a false belief that bananas

cause cancer. The demand for the fruit fell to zero and growers, brokers, packers and transport workers were facing unemployment. The scare was traced back to a newspaper headline which described the disease as ‘banana cancer’. The episode was only brought to an end by a media blitz of correct information put out by the Government. There has been vigorous action to improve food safety at all levels backed up by publicity campaigns. New laws (16 of those) and regulations (25 of those), subsidies to food producers, better management along the food chain, standardization of food production, more control over brand names and advertising claims, and a host of other measures are designed to ensure that food produced in China is as healthy as anywhere in the world. More money is also being devoted to research. The tenth five-year plan (2001 – 2005) achieved some results. Whilst many modern pesticides have a valuable role to play to China, use of the most toxic pesticides has been reduced (from 21% to 12%) and labelling of authorised products has become much better. This has led to a reduction in insecticides produced, while herbicide production has increased. More than 97% of vegetables, fruit and tea met the new Government standards. The eleventh five-year plan (2006 – 2010) is pushing these limits and successes even further. So what are the challenges to food safety? Colin: “The leading agrochemical suppliers have always been the prime targets to be checked and supervised but their products are generally more reliable in quality and consistency. In fact the biggest challenge is the huge number of small scale, poorly educated farmers with only primitive knowledge of how pesticides and veterinary medicines should be used. Low prices, bad management, poor quality food and misguided attempts to prevent animal epidemics all conspire to put food at risk. On top of which there are some serious environmental issues of polluted irrigation water increasing the heavy-metal burden of the soils. “There are two types of restrictions affecting food production in China: restrictions due to old-fashioned attitude to agriculture, trading, and consumption, and restrictions due to there being not enough high level researchers, supervisors, inspectors, and risk assessors, plus a shortage of skilled workers.”

Improving food safety is not going to be cheap and there are challenges ahead. Manufacturers will have to balance compliance with the law with cost. Prevention and testing at the manufacturing level can be prohibitive and yet there will have to be stricter quality control of all materials and products. Automation of food processing can reduce costs eventually but it is costly to install and is not really competitive in the Chinese situation as yet.

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to food safety because it is not only in the interest of the Chinese but also people in the world.” — Premier Wen Jiabao, China The Thousand Mile Journey to Safer Food Compared to other parts of the world, where food safety is the responsibility of one or two government departments, the situation in China is rather more complex. There are several organizations involved and these are: • The Ministry of Health, which deals with processed food. • The State Food and Drug Administration which coordinates and evaluates. • The Ministry of Agriculture sets the food standards. • The Ministry of Commerce supervises food trading. • The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine ensures food quality control. • The State Administration of Industry and Commerce is responsible for market outlets management and inspection.

There has been a great deal of improvement at all levels, but farms are the weakest point in the Chinese food chain. Food safety requires an integrated approach to quality management combining the right attitudes to safety with joint responsibility. The system will never be perfect but continual improvement is the name of the game. Along with the Ministry of Agriculture, which is concentrating on training farmers, Syngenta is playing its part by collaborating with the Agriculture Quality and Safety Center to scale up the training. Colin envisages a refrigerated system of distribution and food handling with technical support for farmers and food manufacturers, and with much harsher penalties for those who infringe the safety regulations. The challenges of the Crop Protection market in China include:• There are about 750 million farmers and 250 million households with a small area of land (0.2-0.45 Ha/household) under cultivation. • There are about 450,000 chemical retailers • There are more than 3,100 domestic Crop Protection Chemical factories • The Crop Protection Market is chaotic with substandard products and a big problem of counterfeit goods.

Colin Wang graduated from the China Agriculture University and has an MSc in horticulture, following which he worked for 10 years in agriculture and food processing at the vegetables products suppliers to KFC and McDonald’s. In 2008 he worked as the supply chain manager in Husi Produce which supplies McDonald’s China. It was also part of Colin’s remit to see that the contestants in the Olympics were supplied with top quality vegetables – as indeed they were. He joined Syngenta in April 2009 and is now manager of the Stewardship & Sustainable Agriculture division. He deals with various projects

Research into food is the responsibility of two bodies: • The Ministry of Science and Technology which finances and directs research projects. • The National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety which looks after food safety and nutrition research.

including medical stewardship, food safety training, sustainable agriculture and food value chain.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


What a wonderful fruit the

has become

Syngenta is dishing up healthier versions of this ever popular fruit thanks to the work of Xingping Zhang and his colleagues who have boosted its flavour and nutrient content. Rocky Ford, Colorado, is a small town famous for its watermelons and from where it exports seeds to many parts of the USA and the world. What may eclipse their fame, however, are the watermelons of Syngenta Seeds Inc, which is based at Woodland, California, and where a team of specialists in this fruit are now coming up with some remarkable varieties. This team is one of the six Syngenta watermelon breeding groups led by Xingping Zhang. Watermelon is a key fruit crop with 3.7 million hectares devoted to it around the world and it is grown in more than 100 countries of which China has the largest production with 2.3 million hectares. Watermelon is a short season crop, taking about three months from sowing to harvesting, it brings a good cash return for growers and demand is increasing. There are compounds in watermelon which could bring added health benefits. This fruit


contains higher levels of the carotenoid lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable, and it can be a valuable part of a healthy diet. Lycopene is the pigment which gives watermelon flesh its red color just as it does in tomatoes. Carotenoid compounds are fat-soluble molecules which give various plants their characteristic hues, ranging from yellow to deep red.

Carotenoids act as antioxidants whose primary role is to neutralize dangerously reactive compounds that are created during photosynthesis such as hydrogen peroxide and singlet oxygen, both of which can attack and destroy cell membranes. Singlet oxygen is oxygen with a higher energy charge because its outer electrons spin in opposite directions. There is some evidence that antioxidants can protect humans against cancer although the proof that they really do so is disputed.

Xingping Zhang in a Watermelon Breeding Station in Hungary

Watermelon is also a rich source of citrulline, which is an amino acid that can be metabolized to arginine, an essential amino acid for humans. Arginine plays a role in cardiovascular and immune functions as a source of nitric oxide which regulates blood pressure. Cultivated watermelons can weigh anything from 1 kg to 30 kg. They can be different shapes with varying skin and flesh colours and their sugar content can be as high as 14%, or as low as 3%. The popular names of cultivated heirloom watermelon varieties, of which more than 40 have been developed in the US, can be amusing, such as Family Fun, Dixie Queen, Prince Charles and Sugar-Baby. Despite this, they have a very narrow genetic base as revealed by molecular markers. Xingping: “At Syngenta watermelon R&D we have been making big efforts to broaden watermelon’s genetic base and bring new traits to elite watermelon germplasm. The major traits for growers and sellers are yield, uniformity, appearance and shelf-life. For consumers

it is sweetness, flavour and convenience which are important. Syngenta can now deliver a watermelon which has all these sought-after traits. The research team has actively explored and bred high carotenoid and lycopene genetic variation into elite watermelon lines and commercialized these as the highlycopene watermelon which is marketed under the Ruby Bliss™ label by Dulcinea® Farms.” Xingping has his name on eight US patents, of which three are for seedless watermelons. This is an area in which he is something of a world expert. Back in 1991 he developed a seeded hybrid variety, called Xi Nong 8, which revolutionized watermelon varieties in China. It has been grown there since 1996 and on more than 400,000 hectares annually. He also discovered and introduced the use of dinitroherbicides to induce tetraploids (i.e. cells with four sets of chromosomes) in watermelons in 1994 while working in Clemson University. Syngenta research into watermelons Syngenta scientists have sought to broaden the genetic base of the watermelon and are actively searching the native trait variation within the watermelon genetic pool. The wild watermelon is Citrullus lanatus var. citroides, and its related species is Citrullus colocynthis, which are important sources of native traits which can be used to introduce genetic variations aimed at improving cultivated watermelons. Research is currently focussed on the traits that have most impact. For example, a genetic variation with more than 100µg/100g of lycopene (as opposed to the normal range of 35–50) has been discovered and had been bred into elite seedless watermelon using conventional plant breeding methods. As shown in the graph, the new seedless watermelons RWT8173 and 8174 have significantly higher lycopene and total carotenoids compared with the standard commercial varieties Shadow and Tri-X 313. More research is being conducted to learn the genetics and manipulation of the traits, the aim being to transfer the health benefit traits into different genetic backgrounds and genetic combinations.

only improves the efficiency of tetraploid induction but also ensures the safety of those doing tetraploid induction which usually involves using colchicine, a very toxic chemical. Dinitro-herbicides like oryzalin are much safer.

Comparison of total lycopene and carotenoid content (g/100g) of new and standard seedless watermelon varieties

Syngenta is collaborating with the National Engineering Research Center for Vegetables, Beijing Genome Institute and the Institute of Vegetables and Flowers of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences to sequence the whole genome of watermelon. The genome sequence data will allow Syngenta scientist to discover, characterize and manipulate a wide range of superior traits for future watermelons. In the last five years, the Syngenta watermelon team has taken out seven US patents devoted to watermelon genetic materials with enhanced quality traits and technology that enhance the seedless variety. US patents for a smaller, more convenient form of this type of fruit were taken out in 2004, 2007 and earlier this year.

Xingping Zhang did a BSc in agricultural and horticultural sciences at Gansu Agricultural University, Lanzhou, China, in 1983 and then went to the Northwestern Agricultural University to do an MSc, becoming a lecturer there. In1993 he moved to the US to do a PhD at Clemson University, South Carolina, following which he stayed on to do postdoctoral research, after which he went to work of Hollar Seeds in Rocky Ford, Colorado. He joined Syngenta as a plant scientist in 1999, and was promoted to Syngenta SciTech Fellow in 2008. He is now with Syngenta Seeds Inc. at Woodland,

Many tetraploid watermelon lines are being routinely generated in Syngenta watermelon breeding programs using the method developed by Xingping. It not

California, where he is Head of the Global Watermelon R&D.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Syngenta goes back to its



Helping growers with their potting mixes, providing technical assistance and developing problem-solving tools are what the Syngenta Lawn and Garden company, Conrad Fafard®, is all about, as Jamie Gibson explains.

Vegetable gardening has become a reinvigorated hobby in the United States since 2006, with a 22% increase in spending and a 39% increase in the number of people engaging in this healthy activity. The economic downturn is partly responsible, but the publicity given to Mrs Obama’s White House garden has also encouraged the trend. In fact, grow-your-own produce has become a global phenomenon and in the UK, for example, the sales of vegetable seeds outpace those of flower seeds for the first time since 1945. Syngenta is now part of this growth industry in the United States, thanks to its 2006 acquisition of Conrad Fafard® Inc. This 88-yearold company is a leading manufacturer of peat-based growing media, well-known among professional ornamental growers throughout North America and gaining popularity among retail outlets. Fafard®, headquartered in Agawam, Massachusetts., operates peat bogs in the United States (Minnesota) and Canada (New Brunswick and Manitoba) as well as US production facilities in South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Minnesota, and Canadian plants in New Brunswick and Manitoba, which opened March 2009. Fafard® ships its products to international growers in more than 20 countries. Media quality-control tests and physical and chemical properties are the keys to Fafard’s success. During the entire production process, mixes undergo 22 individual tests, including quality assurance, physical properties and analytical tests. Once blended, the mixes are tested for attributes such as bulk density, water retention and porosity. Both EC (Electrical Conductivity – the measure of all dissolved salts in a growing medium solution) – and pH tests are performed continuously throughout the process, and every sample is catalogued and stored. Jamie: “High-quality transplants are crucial to gardening success. They must withstand disease and insect pressure, rapid weather changes in spring and endure minimal maintenance in garden centers. Growers must produce a transplant that provides long-term post-


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

transplants purchased for home gardens. Its R&D conducted media trials with this particular company on site to improve vegetable transplant performance. The science behind the Fafard® brand The Fafard® Research Leader Program, which began in 2008, brings together academic and practical research to help growers achieve healthier and more profitable plants. The program tests advanced potting-media formulations and analyzes how different raw materials, soil amendments and additives perform in varying greenhouse settings. By combining institutional knowledge with hands-on research, the program continues to gather information to develop new products and improve current mixes.

Kathy Crowley, a 2008 Fafard Research Leader, conducted growing media trials with several vegetable transplant species.

Propagation trials involved biological amendments such as Trichoderma, Streptomyces and Bacillus. These beneficial microbes were incorporated into the seeding mix, and plants were evaluated on their root and shoot performance, nutrient content and visual appearance. Results showed that these beneficial microbes improved the tone of tomato and cabbage seedlings.

harvest performance in retail environments, on farms and for home gardens, and Fafard’s Research and Development team has been at the forefront of meeting this challenge.” Fafard® manufactures soilless growing media for plug producers, finished transplant growers and also provides soils to amend low organic matter gardens. Several Florida- and Texasbased growers that produce the seasonal transplants for large-scale vegetable farms use Fafard® growing media. The company also supplies the largest vegetable transplant producer in the United States and the one that is responsible for the majority of vegetable

A fresh blend of wood chips and peat was trialed with finished transplants and researchers discovered that the proprietary mix is comparable to standard production mixes. This innovative approach will reduce the cost of goods, extend the harvested supply of peat moss and create a sustainable medium.

and bacteria that are impregnated on bran or clay or blended with iron (magnetite ore) and humic acid. Materials are not active until temperatures are above 50oFahrenheit (10oC). Spores germinate when in contact with root exudates and colonization of the root system soon follows. Biologicals can be incorporated into the media for seed, cutting and finished plant production. Jamie: “In spring 2009, we conducted propagation and production trials with organic media. Standards set by the National Organic Program for organic media allows them to contain peat, bark, perlite and vermiculite, but not a synthetic wetting agent or a soluble fertilizer comprised of inorganic salts. At Fafard®, we added worm castings or “vermicompost” (a blend of worm humus, bedding materials and decomposed vegetable and food waste) to seeding mix and this proved to enhance growth and foliar tone of tomato seedlings. Future trials with organic media will factor various organic liquid fertilizers and measure the synergy between soil and nutrients. Alternative media trends involve adding chipped pine or fresh loblolly pine grinds to a certain percentage of peat to provide a growing medium with exceptional water-holding properties and porosity. Crops grow successfully in the medium due to the pre-plant fertilizer charge that eliminates nitrogen tie-up. Rice hulls are also being incorporated into the growing medium as a source of porous aggregate to replace higher-priced perlite.

James (Jamie) Gibson received his BSc degree in plant and soil sciences in 1996 from West Virginia University, Morgantown. He later earned MSc and PhD degrees in 2000 and 2003, respectively, from

Landscape trials with soil amendments for improved yield and vegetable performance have also been initiated. Researchers are comparing several types of Fafard® planting mixes . Squash, bean, tomato, eggplant and pepper yields will be measured every week to capture plant performance.

North Carolina State University, Raleigh. After graduate school, he worked as an assistant professor at the West Florida Research and Education Center of the University of Florida, where he both taught and did research. In 2007, Jamie joined Fafard® as corporate manager of Quality Control, based at its testing facility in Anderson, South Carolina. Currently, Jamie is Fafard’s R&D Director.

Biological additives improve plant health; beneficial or biological microbes are fungi


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


a crop to celebrate, and to celebrate with

Head of barley breeding is Paul Bury who explains how Syngenta’s new varieties are playing an ever-increasing role in this key global cereal crop, which provides much of the drink with which we celebrate. Around 4,000 years ago the Assyrians discovered that barley could be malted and then fermented to produce an alcoholic beverage. The ancient Egyptians improved the process to something like the malting of today. Barley production now exceeds 135 million tonnes a year worldwide and in some countries, like the UK, it is the second largest arable crop. Not all malted barley ends up in alcoholic drinks. Some goes into bedtime drinks, some into sweets such as Maltesers, while raw (pearl) barley is added to soups and stews. Paul: “Barley’s long history and tradition is one of the factors we need to bear in mind when developing new varieties for malting. Many smaller premium brands still like to use old varieties. However, the larger market depends on new high performance ones.” The barley team with their winning NIAB cup

Syngenta’s barley breeding operations are centred in UK at Market Stainton in Lincolnshire where a small dedicated team carry out breeding, trialling and seed production and liase with other breeding locations in France and Germany . Syngenta is at the forefront of research into barley and its new Quench barley won the prestigious National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) Cereals Cup in 2009. Quench is seen as a significant step forward as a spring barley, offering growers higher yields and a wider range of marketing options including export potential. It has yields equal to the highest yielding feed varieties and is ideal for brewing. Moreover it has good resistance to brackling (buckling of the stem), mildew and Rhynchosporium (barley scald).


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

Quench is enjoying considerable success across Europe and is being tested in Australia, New Zealand, Kenya and China.

The science behind malting and the fermenting of barley Brewing may be an art as old as civilization but now science plays a key role. Barley is an excellent model crop for genetic research. It is a diploid with a relatively small genome and much of the genetics is well understood. Access to the latest genomic technology is part of Syngenta’s approach, the aim being to select for desired characteristics with molecular markers using the marker platform at St Sauveur in France. Malting is the process by which the starchy endosperm of a barley grain is converted to fermentable sugars which can then produce alcohol. Malting involves three distinct phases, the first is germination and this takes two days. Water is added to dry mature barley to start the process, during which the barley embryo produces giberellic acid, a plant hormone, and this in turn signals the production of amylase, protease and glucanase enzymes. The second stage is called modification and takes four days, during which the barley starts to grow. Temperature, aeration and water supply need to be carefully controlled, and the skill and experience of the master maltster is all important. The enzymes produced by the barley grain start to break down endosperm cell walls and convert the starch granules into fermentable sugars. The third stage is the kilning and takes one day. Here the malting process is stopped by drying the malted barley, rapidly reducing its moisture content from 45% to 4%. For either brewing or distilling, malted barley is ground to give a coarse flour and then the sugars are extracted into warm water, yeast is added to begin fermentation. This so-called wort solution is left for between three days to two weeks. Ale fermentation is usually short and at moderate (room) temperature, but traditional lager fermentation takes longer at lower temperatures. The balance of these quality characteristics is a very important factor to be considered when breeding new varieties of barley. Brewers or distillers usually define specific parameters they want in the malt they receive, regarding enzymes, protein, betaglucan and malt extract. Most processors have different specifications depending on the product they make.

To measure malt extract and alcohol yield in the Syngenta breeding programmes, over 2,000 small scale malting tests are carried out. This micro-malting is the same as the full industrial process but processing 100 grams rather than 200 tonnes, although following the same controlled processes as a commercial maltster. This is a two week process from start of malting to end of analysis when the sugars are extracted from ground malt and dissolved in hot water. Good enzyme levels and soluble protein levels are also important for fermentation and are measured at this stage.

Small scale brewing – testing the mash

Fast processing characteristics have also to be assessed during the micromalting tests, such as the speed of filtration which is dependent on the viscosity of the wort and betaglucan levels, both of which can cause the solution to flow too slowly through a brewery.

Syngenta teams breed for and select high yielding lines in trials, for which they use the latest techniques such as proprietary statistical systems for analysing field data. Together with genomic information, these allow genetic selection for performance characteristics. Paul: “A lot of our time is spent talking to maltsters, brewers and distillers all over the world. Increasingly, the large processors are becoming more global, and our advantage as ‘Global Syngenta’ is that we can offer technical and commercial contact over a wide area. Two of the recent Syngenta Awards finalists demonstrate this. The “Crop protection and Seeds working together in Scotland” story and we also had the “Great Beer story” which involves Syngenta barley, bred in UK, grown in Germany, and used for premium beer in Japan. Tom Mitchell in Scotland and Hiroyuki Hasebe in Japan were key to these initiatives. “Because of the complex nature of malting, brewing and distilling, and the wide range of countries we operate in, Syngenta’s barley breeding relies on close co-operation and hard work of a team of people including breeding staff, lab technicians, field operators, product developers, and seed producers. All parts need to function together if we are to end up with a good product, and this team really does typify the way Syngenta people can work together.”

When breeding a new variety for malting the priorities are high yield, high malt extract, high alcohol yield and fast processing. High malt extract and alcohol/spirit yield is all important for brewers and distillers. One tonne of barley produces around 13,000 pints of beer, or 600 bottles of whisky, so small improvements in alcohol yield produce many extra bottles of product. Paul Bury graduated from Nottingham university in

Paul: “The demands made on barley are complex but they boil down to a few basic principles: cost of raw ingredient; a consistent product that can meet different market specifications; and a barley that goes through their industrial plants quickly and without unforeseen problems. High yield has to be the first priority for breeding quality barley. If farmers won’t grow it, then a new variety will soon become an old variety. The malt industries generally do not want to pay high premiums, and so they will look for varieties which the farmer will grow, rather than ones with the absolute best quality parameters.”

1985 with a degree in agricultural science. He then went to work for New Farm Crops as a trainee barley breeder. New Farm crops became part of Ciba seeds, then Novartis and finally Syngenta. His position in the company is barley breeder, responsible for all programs and activities worldwide.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Is it

European consumers worry about food safety and the media often mention pesticides as a cause for concern. Syngenta invests $120 million annually on assessing the safety of its products. It is Caroline Willetts’ job to explain these safety assessments to those in the food industry.


The use of chemicals to protect crops and keep homes free from infestation is traceable back to the Ancient Egyptians. The first legislation on pesticides appeared in the 1900s and covered arsenic levels in food (a natural pesticide used at the time). Pesticide registration was initially based on benefit / efficacy data. Then as synthetic pesticide use increased, it became apparent that the newer chemicals needed to be used with care and more safeguards were put in place. Nowadays, pesticide registration requires demonstration of safety to the operator and bystanders, to all aspects of the environment (including non-target life forms), to the food it is protecting, and to the person who eats it. Caroline: “The presence of pesticide residues in the diet must not have an adverse effect on human health. Within the European Union (EU), dietary safety covers residues in food while in the USA potential pesticide residues in drinking water are also included.” Over time, safety assessments have become increasingly complex, and the models and data used continue to evolve. Pesticide regulations also change as new areas of concern arise, e.g. endocrine disruption. Caroline: “At Syngenta we use risk assessment to show us whether pesticide levels are acceptable. Risk is what can happen when hazard and exposure overlap. For example, fire is a hazard, the distance from it is the exposure, and the closer you get to the fire, the greater your risk is of being burned. If a hazard is small, but exposure is large, the risk may be the same as if the hazard is large, but the exposure is small. To estimate risk you need to be able to measure both hazard and exposure.” Assessing the risk of a pesticide Scientists at Syngenta ensure that products meet safety requirements using a variety of disciplines. Radio-labelled pesticide, with labels in different parts of the molecule is used to determine what it breaks down to. Having identified the residues of interest, analytical methods are developed to measure these residues down to as low as 10 parts per billion (0.01mg/kg). Residue field trials are carried out to find out what the crop residue levels will be at harvest. These field trials are run at the critical Good Agricultural Practice (cGAP) level. These are the worse-case conditions with the highest legal

application rate, highest number of applications and shortest time between final spray and harvest. The result is the highest residue possible for this use. Trials are performed on every crop or crop group that the pesticide is to be used on and they have to cover at least one growing season, represent a range of climates and soil types, and cover both field and covered crops, if relevant.

Exposure occurs if a pesticide is consumed in food. To estimate this, we need to know the residue in the food, and the quantity of food eaten. Food consumption varies from country to country and by sub-groups such as toddlers, the elderly and vegetarians etc. Models are available for national and global populations, including these various sub-groups. It is also necessary to look at what happens to residues during cooking or commercial processing. There might also have been the transfer of a pesticide to meat, milk or eggs as a result of animals eating treated feed. If this happens, MRLs are calculated for meat etc. and used in the exposure calculations.

Safe use of pesticides is critical

Field trials residues are used to set Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs), which are known as ‘tolerances’ in the USA. MRLs are used as legal trading standards and indicate whether growers are using pesticides according to the label. MRLs are set for every pesticide for every crop on the label. Currently the EU and USA use different calculation methods. When these are combined with possible different cGAPs (resulting from different pests / pest pressures) it can result in different MRLs leading to potential trading issues. A cross industry project is underway that will try to resolve this MRL harmonisation issue.

The risk assessment then compares the amount of residue in the diet (exposure) to the safety dose (hazard). If exposure is less than the hazard for all sub-groups then the risk from use is acceptable. “But is it safe?” is the question that members of the public will ask. How do you answer this for someone who may be seeking an assurance of absolute safety. Caroline: “We’d like to say is that the food is safe but scientifically we cannot use ‘safe’ in this context.” So how do you answer such a leading question? “It’s as risk-free as we can possibly make it and far safer than risks such as natural toxins and food poisoning microbes” may be the best answer to give.

There are two aspects of risk assessment: hazard and exposure. For a pesticide, hazard is assessed using toxicity studies. Syngenta performs a wide range of studies, using several animal species, looking at both short and long term exposure. For each study the dose that does not cause any harm is calculated and this is known as the NOAEL, short for No-Observed-AdverseEffect-Level. The most sensitive studies for the most sensitive species are identified and used to establish shortterm and long-term safety doses. The NOAEL from these studies are divided by a safety factor of 100. This represents a factor of 10, to take into account the differences in response between individuals, and another factor of 10 to allow for the difference between species. The short-term safe dose is known as the ARfD or Acute Reference Dose, and the long term safe dose, is called the ADI or Acceptable Daily Intake, (or in the USA, CRFD, Chronic Reference Dose).

Caroline Willetts did a degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Reading specialising in microbiology. Her first job was working for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, raising monoclonal antibodies to

Gardnerella vaginalis (in the same labs where Fleming discovered






rediscovered penicillin there quite a few times herself). She joined Syngenta in 1987, as part of the analytical chemistry group in Environmental Sciences, at Jealott’s





developing immunoassays to pesticides. She’s still located there but is responsible for Food Chain Liaison for the Human Safety group.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


For an external perspective on nutrition Professor Margaret Armar-Klemesu gives a view from Ghana. She discusses the burden of a rising population on malnutrition and how access to cheap street food has led to some surprising health issues.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

Street foods and the dual burden of

malnutrition in developing countries: Is there a link?

Globally, more than 850 million people are chronically undernourished and unable to obtain sufficient food to meet their minimum requirements for energy and other nutrients. Of this number, the overwhelming majority are in developing countries, which account for over 90% of the undernourished. Whilst still battling the problem of persistent food insecurity and under-nutrition, many developing countries are now faced with the problem of rising rates of overweight and obesity and their associated diet-related diseases. This emerging trend of coexisting under-nutrition and over-nutrition has been linked to increasing urbanization, especially in the developing countries, where almost all the predicted population growth in the next 30 years is expected to occur in urban areas, from the current three billion to nearly five billion. Rapid urban growth poses a threat to livelihoods due to lack of employment opportunities with the number of people seeking jobs far outstripping the labour market. This trend is very worrying as it is likely to exacerbate poverty, food insecurity and under-nutrition in big cities. Contrary to earlier perception that obesity in the developing world is essentially associated with affluence, a current review of studies on the subject suggests that this is no longer the case and that the burden of obesity in a particular country tends to shift towards groups of lower socio-economic status in more economically developed settings as

pertains in urban areas (Monteiro et al. 2004). Not only is this trend of great concern, the increasing co-existence of underweight and obesity in the same family is a major public health challenge to developing countries who can ill afford the economic implications to their health systems. Referred to as the “dual burden” or “nutrition paradox” this relatively new phenomenon is being observed in countries as diverse as China, Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, among others (Doak et al. 2005; Caballero 2005). Writing on the subject, Caballero shares his observation of overweight mothers with their undernourished children in the waiting room of a primary care clinic in the slums of Sao Paulo in Brazil. Similar observations were made in Accra (Ghana) by researchers who noted an apparently high prevalence of obese women and undernourished children in the same households, particularly in the predominantly indigenous or the Ga Mashie area of the city (Ga Mashie Study Team 1996). The phenomenon, as observed in Accra was aptly labeled as “overweight mother-stunted child” (Maxwell et al. 2000). Stunting (i.e. low weight for age) is a measure of poor linear growth and reflects chronic childhood under-nutrition. The so-called “dual burden” has been linked to several features of the urban environment. These include the more sedentary lifestyles and shifts in diet towards increased consumption of cheap

high calorie convenience foods (including those from street vendors and fast food restaurants) not only because they are readily available but because they may be the best option for women working away from home and with less time to prepare healthy meals for the family. Urban residents are heavily dependent on the urban market and because in developing countries, a larger share of the household budget is spent on food, prices and incomes ultimately determine households’ access to, choice and selection of foods. Affluent urban consumers are more likely to afford and may have greater access to a wider variety of foods, possibly of better quality and from diverse sources. The urban poor on the other hand are particularly vulnerable due to limited income and the cheap, calorie-dense and nutrient-poor options may be their only alternative. In trying to explain the occurrence of the dual-burden among the urban poor, Caballero (2005) has postulated that though nutrient density is important for growing children, cheap calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods may actually adversely affect young children’s growth whilst providing sufficient calories for the adult to gain excessive weight. Whilst this explanation is plausible it is worth looking at the wider picture of the urban environment as pertains in developing countries and the work of Maxwell et al. (2000) in Accra presents the indigenous people of Accra, the Ga, as an interesting case study of the overweight motherstunted child syndrome.

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Overall, the Accra study showed that households in the lowest income bracket spent the bulk (as much as 70%) of their income on food and reliance on street food was identified as one of the strategies for cutting food expenditures. The divisibility of street food allows the consumption of smaller portions of prepared food when money is scarce, rather than buying a quantity of ingredients (and fuel) to prepare a dish themselves. The Ga, noted for being among the most economically disadvantaged in the city, rely heavily on street food and children as young as four or five years of age are often given money for street foods and allowed to buy what they want (Ga Mashie Study Team, 1996). Street foods are a major aspect of the urban food system for both vendors and consumers, playing a prominent role in food access strategies for the urban poor. In Accra, the street-food sector is a vibrant component of the local economy employing over 60,000 people with an estimated annual turnover of US$100 million and an annual profit of US$24 million (Nicholaides 2008). Street foods in Ghana range from snacks through local meals to the more foreign styled foods. Especially in the urban centers, and perhaps with the exception of bread, frying is the predominant method of street food preparation. Therefore

excessive reliance on street foods will necessarily result in over-consumption of the high calorie oil-based foods. This coupled with physical inactivity is believed to be contributing to the increasing prevalence of obesity and may explain the overweight component of the overweight mother-stunted child equation. The safety of food in the urban environment is a subject of concern. The unhygienic conditions under which street foods are prepared and sold in Accra leave much to be desired. High levels of bacterial contamination have been reported in prepared meals and especially in uncooked vegetables (i.e. salads served with prepared meals, for example) (Akpedonu, 1997). Findings from the Accra study suggest a strong link between reliance on street food and prevalence of gastrointestinal infections. Residents themselves blamed the numerous complaints of diarrhea or “upset stomach� on poorly cooked food or the insanitary conditions under which the food was prepared or sold. Children living in the over-crowded and poor sanitary conditions prevailing in Ga Mashie (and indeed other similarly poor areas of Accra) who are predominantly fed street food are likely to be at a greater risk of infection and illness from both

Frying doughnuts over a wood fire


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

Streetfood: cooking fish in oil

contaminated food and the environment in which they leave. The underweight component of the overweight motherstunted child equation can therefore be attributed to the effects of the poor quality diets being further aggravated by loss of appetite, inadequate food intake and poor absorption of the nutrients ingested due to frequent illness episodes. In conclusion, this case study of Accra, suggests a possible link between street foods and the dual burden of underweight and overweight as occurs in developing countries. Addressing the problem poses a significant public health challenge since programmes to reduce under-nutrition are in direct conflict to those aimed at preventing over-nutrition. However, there could be common grounds in some approaches as is currently being done by the Ghana Health Service together with other stakeholders such as UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the National Food Fortification Alliance. Under the national food fortification programme, wheat flour and vegetable oil produced in Ghana are now being fortified, since these are the most widely consumed foods, to address the problem of micronutrient deficiencies arising from

consumption of poor quality diets. Wheat flour is fortified with iron, vitamins A and B, folic acid and zinc and fortified vegetable oil has been enriched with vitamin A. These are being done alongside intense public education promoting good food choices and healthy lifestyles. Examples of key messages being communicated are: “Eat fruits and vegetables and a variety of other foods to stay healthy. If you should use wheat flour or vegetable oil, choose fortified vegetable oil. Remember to always use oil in moderation.”

( projects2.htm, accessed 27/07/09). At the end of the day however, common sense apparently prevails and people do make good choices. A mother in the Accra study was quoted as saying,

“Don’t you see those women selling by the big drain [an open sewer]? Flies land on their food, and if we eat it, we get sick.” Similarly, a street food vendor noted, “If you do not cook [the food] well, everyone will boycott you, because what you are selling is being sold by dozens of people in the same vicinity…..”

Monteiro CA, Moura EC, Conde WL, Popkin BM. 2004. Bulletin of the World Health Organisation. 82(12): 940-946. Nicolaides L. 2008. Enhancing food security through improvements to street vended foods, Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, UK.

Dr Margaret Armar-Klemesu is a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Nutrition Department at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Dr Armar-Klemesu graduated from the University of London (School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

References Akpedonu P. 1997. Microbiology of street foods from a high density community in Accra. Final report submitted to the Japan International Co-operation Agency.

with a MSc degree in Nutrition (Public Health option) and a PhD in Applied Human Nutrition.

Dr Armar-Klemesu’s research interests and areas of expertise include maternal and child health and nutrition intervention research and evaluation, food

Caballero B. 2005. A nutrition paradox: Underweight and obesity in developing countries. New England Journal of Medicine 352(15):1514-1516.

consumption and food security assessment and development of vulnerability indicators and food and nutrition policy analysis.


This is a two-prong approach to addressing the dietary aspects of the dual burden problem. Tackling the myriad problems of the poor urban environment may also seem daunting but ensuring street food safety has been an ongoing public health priority. Several initiatives involving the food industry, food standards and research institutes have brought some improvements in the sector through education of both vendors and consumers. One such initiative worth mentioning is the Unilever (Ghana) sponsored training of over 4,000 vendors in basic hygiene. Another is the coalition partnership approach funded by DFID and jointly managed by the Natural Resources Institute (UK) and the Food Research Institute (Ghana), out of which several promotion materials have been developed

Doak CM, Adair LS, Bentley M, Monteiro C, Popkin BM. 2005. The dual burden household and the nutrition transition paradox. International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders 29:129-36.






consultancy experience. Her research collaborations include evaluations of the focused ante-natal care package with the Population Council and the universal free delivery care policy with Immpact, University of Aberdeen. She collaborated with the International Food Policy Research Institute on the

Ga Mashie Study Team. 1996. Ga Mashie: A participatory rapid appraisal of food security in a densely populated urban community. Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research/ CENCOSAD/International Food Policy Research Institute, Accra.

much acclaimed Accra Urban Livelihoods, Food and Nutrition Security study. She has also provided consultancy services in food security assessment for Technoserve and in infant and young child feeding practices and food consumption for Freedom from Hunger (US), LINKAGES and Ghana Sustainable Change





Development, US).

Maxwell D, Levin C, Armar-Klemesu M, Ruel M, Morris S, Ahiadeke C. 2000. Urban livelihoods and food and nutrition security in Greater Accra, Ghana. Research Report 112, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington DC.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Out and About Our intrepid reporters, Carolyn Riches and Ashley Collins have been tracking down some more interesting things which Syngenta people have been involved in.

Sweet success down under Syngenta is taking part in a novel sugar cane biofuels research collaboration. Working with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Farmacule Bioindustries has jump started research activities by incorporating staff from each organisation. This exciting project focuses on the production of sugar cane cellulosic ethanol from waste (bagasse).

The SCSCBD team - from left to right, Jason Geijskes, Paulo DeLucca, Anthony Palupe and Manuel Sainz

The researchers have the ideal base for their studies – the heart of QUT, in Brisbane, Australia – known as the Syngenta Centre for Sugar Cane Biofuels Development (SCSCBD). The team has 10 members, four from Syngenta and six from the University, with funding support from the Queensland state government. “Working side by side in the lab every day and using technologies from both parties has enabled our research to be more productive,” explains Jason Geijskes, Sugar Cane Transformation Team Leader (Brisbane). Such a meeting of minds has stimulated significant advances in sugar cane transformation and process engineering. The project has also benefited from a close partnership with scientists at Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc. in the United States.


The SCSCBD is part of a Syngenta strategy to elevate sugar cane to a key crop within the company. Australia is a major sugar cane exporter, and Brisbane is recognized globally as a centre of excellence for sugar cane R&D, enabling access to key knowledge and technology. The integration of Syngenta plant-expressed enzyme technology with gene expression and transformation technologies under development at the Centre will likely be a winning combination in making cellulosic ethanol from sugar cane bagasse economically viable. It’s all in the formulation Syngenta’s unique formulation robot was officially launched at Jealott’s Hill in August by Princess Anne (daughter of Queen Elizabeth II). The Princess carried out the first experiments when she visited the UK R&D site in July. This is a major investment in crop protection technology which will accelerate our development program to bring products to market and enhance our ability to feed a global population.

engineers and software specialists. The robot can make almost any liquid agrochemical formation in small amounts and perform a basic series of tests to see if those formulations are of interest for further research. It is a breakthrough in innovation and delivers at a speed bench scientists can only dream of, helping those same scientists to be more innovative and productive than ever before when creating new products. The Princess spoke enthusiastically about the role played by science in feeding the growing global population and protecting biodiversity, “What you do here is to ensure that food is grown safely and well and understanding the biodiversity in which it grows. That needs a lot of skilled and talented people to ensure that what is done here is the best that science can provide.” David Barnett, Formulation Design Chemist (Jealott’s Hill): “It’s really good for the team to be recognized and rewarded by a visit from Her Royal Highness.” Opening doors in Chile Syngenta Seeds recently opened its new Research Centre in Arica, Chile, and has also opened its doors to local university students as part of a novel ‘Students in Practice’ training program.

A robot, a Princess and John Hammond (Formulation Team Leader)

The robot is the culmination of a five year project bringing together scientists,

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

Through the program, students are based at Syngenta (Arica) for periods of one to three months and work alongside an employee who trains and monitors their progress. The placement is part of the degree course. Once graduated, students are employed at the Arica site

or can take employment elsewhere. “My team has taken the time to teach me everything I need to learn. It’s good a global company like Syngenta puts their trust in young people, providing us with hi-tech, modern jobs,” says recent student recruit, Diego Sepulveda. To advance their careers, students otherwise have to move to Santiago (2,000 miles away).

Diego Sepulveda is pleased to have graduated from the Students in Practice Program (Chile)

“The universities and local Government are ecstatic about the program,” says Jim Petta, Station Manager (Arica). “It’s great for us too – our new recruits are already trained in many essential tasks,” adds Jim. Syngenta also shares its visitors with the universities through a ‘Visiting Professor’ scheme, providing inspiration for research projects. Going forward, Syngenta Arica aims to employ people from the local area. Benefits include a bonus scheme for employees to spend on their children’s education – good for community building and for raising the standard of education in the region. SBC builds a strong reputation Since opening in 2008, Syngenta Biotechnology China (SBC) has been working hard to build strong relationships with key stakeholders within the Chinese governments and research institutions. “Because of their efforts to establish a positive reputation for our company, agriculture ministries and local governments are now looking to Syngenta to help develop guidelines and rules for agricultural business processes within the country,” says Roger Kemble, head, Crop Genetics Research.

gene functions for major crops such as corn and soybean, and will focus on yield increase, nitrogen utilization optimization and other valuable agronomic traits. “Collaborating with CAU will help accelerate our innovation and increase our efficiency, so that together, we can better address the inevitable challenges within the agriculture sector,” says Xun Wang, head, SBC.

Representatives from CAU and SBC at the signing ceremony held in Beijing, China. From left to right: Professor Chuanqing Sun, CAU, Dr Qixin Sun, VP of CAU, Dr Xun Wang, Head of SBC, Prof Zichao Li, CAU

“Syngenta is a world leader in agricultural technology with strong commitment in China,” says Qixin Sun, vice president, CAU, “This has been well demonstrated by building this first foreign-funded agricultural biotech center in Beijing.”

US employees combat hunger in local communities The initiative to support local hunger relief organizations is underway at Syngenta sites in the United States. This summer, Volunteers in Action, a group of Syngenta Crop Protection employees from Greensboro, N.C., teamed up with Dulcinea® and fellow Syngenta employees to raise items and awareness for a local food bank. Employees gathered on the site’s front lawn to donate their non-perishable items in exchange for a sweet treat: watermelon and cantaloupe from Dulcinea®, a Syngenta-owned company. The leftover fruit was donated to the food bank along with canned goods and other items collected. At the end of the drive, nearly 6,000 pounds of food was collected by Syngenta.

One of these relationships was formed this summer when SBC entered into a research collaboration with China Agricultural University (CAU), a major university located in Beijing, China.

Employees at Syngenta Greensboro collected nearly 6,000 pounds of food at a recent food drive

The research collaboration with CAU is aimed at discovering and validating novel

Employees at Syngenta Biotechnology Inc. (SBI) have also coordinated with a

local agency to hold food drives for a program called “Backpack Buddies”. By holding several food drives throughout the year and traveling to a nearby school, SBI employees helped distribute “kidfriendly”, non-perishable items to students who would otherwise go hungry over weekends. The concept was developed after school nurses noticed an increase of hungry children coming forward on Monday mornings with stomach aches and dizziness. Packing the food items in non-descript backpacks each Friday, volunteers help students to bridge the ‘hunger gap’ between Friday afternoons and Monday mornings. SBI employees plan to hold several food drives throughout the coming school year to support this programme and others like it. **With thanks to Carly Razo for her help with this story** InnoCentive@Work: Working beyond borders

InnoCentive@Work, a novel innovation platform, has taken off within Research and Development (R&D). With new challenges posted regularly and solvers located across Syngenta, R&D colleagues are now able to share knowledge like never before. “The InnoCentive@Work platform is a great resource for our employees to engage the broader Syngenta community, Syngenta and Ducks Unlimited Canada beyond their local sites,” says Joe Byrum, partner together to protect waterfowl habitats InnoCentive@Work program manager. “It creates a more open and transparent environment to address our everyday challenges.” Collaboration across borders isn’t the only attribute the program boasts. Rewarding innovative solutions is a major part as well. Employees who offer the best solutions are recognized for their ideas and receive 200 reward points. At most locations, these reward points will translate directly into the local currency. How does it feel to have your solution recognized through the program? “It’s rewarding to know that the work done in our group is useful for a much wider audience than we initially realized,” says Alan Hall, recent successful solver. Visit InnoCentive@Work today to check out existing challenges or to post one of your own.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Science Technology and

Prize 2009


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

This year’s Science and Technology Prize is open for nominations. From now until October 19th, you can nominate your colleagues who have made outstanding contributions in the areas of science and technology. Find out below how the prize has impacted the careers of previous winners… Gunther Stiewe, Bad Salzuflen, Germany — 2008 Winner “Being awarded the Science and Technology Prize was a great honour for me. Winning the prize has increased interest around Syngenta in the area of oilseed rape hybrids. The resulting discussion from this interest could continue to be very fruitful for the further development in this project.” Gabriel Scalliet, Stein, Switzerland — 2007 Winner “Since winning the prize, I have taken on new responsibilities and been promoted to a team leader. The prize has not only helped in getting the necessary trust from senior managers but also illustrated my willing and potential to innovate in my field of scientific competency.” Judith Bowler, Jealott’s Hill, UK — 2007 Winner “Being a prize winner has increased my involvement in Bioscience fungal projects, broadened my knowledge and raised my profile as the expert in filamentous fungal transformation. I also had the opportunity to attend the Syngenta Epigenetics Conference in December 2008 – a fascinating area of research.” Olivier Loiseluer, Stein, Switzerland — 2007 Winner “Being recognized by Syngenta as a Science and Technology Prize winner has helped highlight the impact of my work on the BISAM project and on a tiny molecule, can have. Since winning the prize, I am leading a project for a novel nematicide, which our entire team is excited to be part of!” Deepak Kaundun, Jealott’s Hill, UK — 2005 Winner “The prize has been a stepping stone towards better visibility and recognition of herbicide resistance research within the company. It has allowed me to establish further collaborations with different groups in Crop Protection and Seeds to create additional value for the business.” Nominate your colleagues today! Fill out a nomination form found on the Syngenta Fellows intranet site and email it a local Fellow. Besides recognition and celebration of their work, winners will receive a chance to present their work to major R&D sites across Syngenta, a plaque to record the achievement and a cash prize – £2,500 (or local currency equivalent).

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Over 30 years of

in chemistry – an interview with Mike Turnbull


“My thirty years away from the golf course ends this autumn” smiled an excited Mike Turnbull. His prohibition on playing golf is symptomatic of his perfectionist nature. “I gave it up in my late teens because I decided that to be any good I had to play at least twice a week and work came first.” Golf seems to be an odd choice of sport for someone best known for his supreme team player skills. “I may not have been the one to discover x or y, but I do know that my team have made significant contributions to the company and its science.” Joining ICI Pharmaceuticals in 1973, Mike first worked on anti-obesity drugs before returning to Cambridge to study for his PhD supervised by the legendary Professor Sir Alan Battersby, father of Martin, Head of Integrated Solutions in R&D. Mike has always been interested in the organic chemicals that maintain living systems and wanted to do chemistry in a biological environment. His PhD was a study of synthetic porphyrins which might mimic a haem group in the haemoglobin that carries oxygen in the blood of many species, including humans. “That was in the days before personal computers and I even typed my doctorate myself,” he said. “It was an amazing time to be one of Battersby’s group and his alumni have gone on to positions all round the world. I chose to come to Jealott’s Hill above two other job offers because I decided this was a place where chemists could lead rather than follow.” Mike joined insecticide chemistry in 1977 and worked on pyrethroid chemistry at a time when Jealott’s Hill chemists were focused on finding new examples that were free of the intellectual property

generated by Michael Elliott at Rothamsted. It was an exciting time. Mike: “During my first ten years in the company many products were invented that have stood the test of time. I shared an office with some amazing chemists like Dave Cartwright who discovered the herbicides fluazifop and fomesafen. In insecticide Chemistry, we were investigating the ‘type two’ pyrethroids and both lambda-cyhalothrin (Karate®) and tefluthrin (Force®) were discovered during this period. The key thing for lambda was finding a route to make it economically. Mike Robson, who retired two years ago, made a key breakthrough and it is now one of our most important products. The environment was small enough that you interacted with these chemists every day: it was very stimulating scientifically.” Within a very short space of time his qualities as a team leader were recognized and with John Finney (later head of R & D) he helped to develop the project team system which was to drive innovation throughout the company. The ‘gang of four’ system was introduced to combine the creativity of biologists and chemists, and it worked. “What held us back then was the lack of a searchable database of our biological results and, being an early enthusiast for computers, I was asked to be on a team to create the company’s first, known to us all as AEGIS. One of the remaining problems was the slowness of the link to the IBM mainframe based at Blakely near Manchester.” Mike’s ability as a networker, in both the computer and personal sense, has been one of his key components to success. He is able both to see the potential of people and ideas, and working with Mike has proved to be the starting point of many a fine career. Mike says “The thing I am most proud of is that I helped to make projects work.” He was instrumental in establishing the workgroup concept where biologists, biochemists and chemists worked in teams, focused on business targets. For many years Mike led the Insecticide New Leads Workgroup but, unlike many projects today, workgroups were not based on a particular chemical series but on a biological target. Rather like the NewSTAN project today, one of the first workgroups he was involved with targeted nematodes. Over the years Mike has worked on a huge range of chemistries but has never lost his interest in the biological effects of chemistry. In 2004 he had the biggest change in his

chemical career when after 27 years of working mainly on insecticides he moved to work exclusively in herbicide chemistry. “This was a huge challenge. It was quite something to start again to learn the biology and biochemistry of plants.” However, Mike has already had a major effect in herbicide chemistry with his knowledge of data and databases leading to two areas ripe for exploitation. One retrospective search provided a starting point for a more potent active ingredient with the same mode of action as atrazine and the other led to the THOR project. This is typical of Mike, using computing knowledge to reveal chemical areas worth revisiting in the light of new requirements and new commercial opportunities. When asked what he would miss about leaving Jealott’s Hill, Mike said that it had to be the teamwork. “You can’t invent products without working in a team. Ideally, you develop some competency in disciplines other than your own, so you can really understand all the issues relevant to designing and developing a modern pesticide.” Along with being a great team player the other attribute Mike exemplified throughout our conversation and indeed through his working life is his ability to enthuse. His enthusiasm for chemistry is almost infectious. Oddly though, after retirement he intends to hang up the lab coat for good. “I have loved my work as a chemist but it is now time for something different. Loads of travel.” Married to Antoinette Mannion, a former Senior Lecturer in Geography at Reading University, Mike has every intention of carrying on with their tour of the globe: that is, when he is not in the stalls at a West End Theatre. “I reckon we have seen about 70% of current plays on in the West End of London and have every intention of seeing more.” His final comment before we concluded the interview was “There is certainly life beyond Syngenta. Make sure people reading the article don’t think I have died!” As described, the pace of travel, golf and theatre going, along with other interests such as in photography, Shona sculpture and Scottish landscape paintings means that no one could accuse us of even having dared to suggest it.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009


Editor’s comments Food and nutrition, reflections on how Syngenta is engaging with farmers in Africa.

The 16th October 2009 is World Food Day, sponsored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (the FAO). This year’s theme is “Achieving food security in times of crisis”. Norman Borlaug, whose pioneering work on high yielding crops, paved the way for the green revolution which enabled many poor smallholder farmers to feed themselves passed away recently. His legacy is the foundation on which all modern agriculture rests, and, as you would have read in this edition of Science Matters, Syngenta is also playing a big part in helping farmers provide sustainable healthy nutritious food for us all. There are many challenges ahead however. High among these are the increasing population and a reduction in water available for agriculture due to climate change. As Professor ArmarKlemesu discusses in her external perspective, these pressures are even harder in the developing world where poverty and a lack of access to fresh food is not only causing malnutrition, but also health issues like obesity where the poor access fatty street foods because they are cheap. Syngenta is engaging in the debate and working to help solve some of these key nutritional problems. Africa has over 500 million hectares of potential agricultural land, an area larger than the entire European Union but, as the population in Africa is expected to double to 1.8 billion people by 2050, there is an urgent need to increase productivity significantly. Lack of access


to technology and markets, soil erosion, water scarcity, education and health pose additional challenges. Our CEO Mike Mack recently visited Kenya to meet employees and customers, and to learn more about how we enable agriculture in Africa through our work both for largescale farming and smallholders. Farming employs over 80 percent of Kenya’s population and generates more than half of its exports. The primary domestic food crops are beans, cassava, potatoes, corn, sorghum and fruit, mainly grown by subsistence smallholders. Mike Mack commented “Since the vast majority of farms in sub-Saharan Africa are one hectare or less in size, we must address the needs of Africa’s smallholder farmers if we hope to achieve the goal of agricultural development in Africa”. For these smallholders, weeds present a constant threat to the survival of their crops. Around 25 tons of weeds per hectare compete with crops for space, nutrients, light and water. Yield losses can range from 25 percent to total crop failure. Between 50 and 70 percent of the total labour needed to produce a crop can go on hand-weeding, with a typical one-hectare smallholder farm requiring an average of 200 hours of handweeding each year. Most of this is done by women, walking around 10 kilometres in a stooped position to weed just one hectare. This results in back problems and sometimes permanent deformities to the spine. Nearly 70 percent of farmers’ children also help with weeding, keeping

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

them away from school. Syngenta is working with local farmers to help provide access to cheap technologies to overcome these issues. For example, Syngenta has launched a range of small packs at an affordable price. Branded as Uwezo (meaning ‘ability’ in Swahili), these products are helping to increase farmers’ incomes by improving crop yields and quality in a region where food is scarce. Farmers who have used the Uwezo range have reported productivity gains of up to 50%, making this a valuable tool for combating poverty levels in rural Africa. These, and many other initiatives around the world, are a few examples of how Syngenta and the Syngenta Foundation are working together with farmers to overcome the challenges they face, so that we can all achieve the goal of “healthy plants – healthy people” the theme of this edition. Stuart John Dunbar

Stuart John Dunbar is Editor of Science Matters. He joined the company 24 years ago as an Insect Electrophysiologist.

He is currently a Senior

Syngenta Fellow and Group Leader of Biochemistry working in the Bioscience Section at Jealott’s Hill


Editor-in-Chief: Sandro Aruffo Editors: Stuart John Dunbar and Mike Bushell The Editors would like to acknowledge the valuable contributions of John Emsley and the authors and other persons named in each article. Design: nowhere group Production support: Kre8tive Communications Ltd Print: Geerings Print Limited Science Matters is published by Syngenta, Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG42 6EY United Kingdom. Main contact for comment and future content is Stuart J. Dunbar. Unless otherwise indicated, trademarks indicated thus ® or TM are the property of a Syngenta Group Company. The Syngenta wordmark is a trademark of Syngenta International AG © Syngenta International AG, 2009. All rights reserved. Editorial completion September 2009. Science Matters is printed using water reduction processes, including a completely chemical and water free printing plate making process. In addition, all water used in the actual printing process is re-circulated and new water is only added to replace that lost by evaporation. Science Matters is printed on 9lives80 which is produced with 80 percent recovered fibre comprising 10 percent packaging waste, 10 percent best white waste, 60 percent de-inked waste fibre and only 20 percent virgin totally chlorine free fiber sourced from sustainable forests. Cautionary statement regarding forward-looking statements This document contains forward-looking statements, which can be identified by terminology such as “expect”, “would”, “will”, “potential”, “plans”, “prospects”, “estimated”, “aiming”, “on track”, and similar expressions. Such statements may be subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from these statements. We refer you to Syngenta’s publicly available filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for information about these and other risks and uncertainties. Syngenta assumes no obligation to update forward looking statements to reflect actual results, changed assumptions or other factors. This document does not constitute, or form part of, any offer or invitation to sell or issue, or any solicitation of any offer, to purchase or subscribe for any ordinary shares in Syngenta AG, or Syngenta ADSs, nor shall it form the basis of, or be relied on in connection with, any contract therefore

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Autumn 2009

Science Matters : Autumn 2009  
Science Matters : Autumn 2009  

Healthy plants, healthy people This special food and nutrition issue shows how we are ensuring that healthy, nutritious food is available a...