Nieuws - 7 maart 2002

English summary

The proportion of the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries earmarked for research on organic agriculture has tripled since 1999.

In that year a target was set for 2008, when ten percent of the research budget should be spent on subjects related to organic agriculture. The various parts of Wageningen UR are on the way to achieving this figure, although it is not always clear how much is spent on organic agriculture related research, when this is a component of a larger project. The Innovation Centre for Organic Agriculture (IBL) is busy calculating how the money is spent. According to Ineke Ammerlaan of the research strategy division at Wageningen UR the target is likely to be reached around 2008.

The new degree courses leave no room over for optional subjects.

The result of budget cuts, the Progressive Student Faction (PSF) is worried about this development. Optional subjects allow students to deepen their knowledge in specialist areas, whether it be by increasing fundamental understanding or acquiring a new technique or method such as electron microscopy or cell-line culture. The broad range of subjects that can be studied within a degree programme is fine, according to PSF representative Bart de Koning, but the PSF would like to see a minimum of four study points devoted to optional subjects. According to lecturer Dr Jan van Lent, it comes down to money: an electron microscopy course is costly both in terms of equipment and staff required.

Painful castration without the use of anaesthetic for pigs is a thing of the past thanks to a new vaccine tested by Chinese PhD researcher Xian-yin Zeng at ID-Lelystad. The vaccine prevents male pigs from reaching puberty and one of the advantageous side-effects is that their meat does not develop the strong smell disliked by consumers. The vaccine makes a pig produce antibodies against the development of the male hormone GnRH. If vaccinated twice at 10 and 18 weeks, the meat quality is not only more acceptable, but the pigs eat less but grow faster. They also digest calcium and phosphorus better, which decreases environmental pollution, a big advantage in Europe. In China a breed of pig is used that reaches puberty more quickly, which also leads to more aggressive behaviour during the fattening period. The vaccine reduces sexual and aggressive behaviour, also in sows.

PhD researcher Eric de Bruin developed a technique for making BSE-free gelatin from genetically modified yeast.

The pharmaceutical industry uses gelatin from cattle slaughter waste to make capsules, but there is a theoretical possibility that this material could be BSE infected. Biotechnologist De Bruin worked at ATO on yeasts that grow on methanol. By introducing a new piece of genetic material into the DNA of the yeast Pichia pastoris De Bruin managed to get the yeast to produce pure gelatin.