Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health

By Clet Wandui Masiga

Today the November the 23rd 2015, I attended and presented at the second biennial national agricultural biosciences conference (NABIO2015), at the school of food science, nutrition & biosystems engineering conference centre, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. My presentation title was “Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health”. Gauging from the reactions and questions from the audience, it was evident many people did not know that Genetic engineering of animals was taking place. The participants demanded to know when Uganda will bring such animal breeds. Below is the abstract of my presentation. It has also been published in the book of abstracts.

Animal breeding using genetic engineering proves enormous potential in Agricultural production and public health

CletWandui Masiga1*


1Tropical institute of development innovations (TRIDI), P O Box 493, Entebbe Uganda

* Corresponding author. Email:;

Tel: +256 772 457155


Animal breeding using genetic engineering (GE) tool is the development of new breeds of animals having a specific trait to an embryo by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques. The tool has been used since its discovery in 1970s from model research species to farm enterprises for the benefit of human kind. In 1980 GE mice was developed and in 1985, GE livestock and fish were first developed and many others have followed. These GE animals are vital for meeting the world’s future demands for increasing food, making animal production competitive and also in addressing public health concerns. The objective of this study was to document the progress made in breeding livestock using genetic engineering, provide information on how it’s done, the importance of such animals, limitation for their adoption and provide perspectives on its future. A transgenic animal results from the process that involves development of the gene construct and inserting that construct into the embryo. Other GE animals are produced using other approaches like genome editing and cisgenics. These GE animals are currently used in research as disease models, biomedical field in pharmaceuticals and xenotransplantation, in industrial processes and in agricultural production. There are currently few GE animals or products from them that have been commercially released or approved for solving human demands. Key among them  include GloFish (fish), ATryn (goats), transchromosomical cattle, xenotrasplation pigs, OX513A (GE mosquito, Aedes aegypti).   In agriculture for food there is none that is on the market to date but so far the GE agricultural animals developed include cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, and fish. Specific examples include Mastitis resistant cows, pigs expressing salivary phytase, Omega-3 pigs, Mad cow resistant cows, GE chickens that don’t transmit bird flu, and fast growing salmon. Looking into the future, GE animals hold potential to revolutionize public health and agriculture. However GE animals are being resisted by environmentalists and organic farmer advocates based on precautionary principle and for unknown safety risks to humans, biodiversity and the environment. These environmentalists and organic farmer and their consumers have influenced enactment of strict regulatory regimes that makes it difficult to commercialize GE animals. GE animals will not alone solve the world’s future animal demands for food and health issues but the resistance to use this technology is immoral and unethical. Resistance is based mainly on consumer preferences of rich populations and not those of the farmers and in areas where the technologies are really needed. In conclusion GE is a new breeding/production technology which may need a revision of current regulatory definitions to investigate risk based on the characteristics of its products rather than the breeding technology.



My personal story on involvement in GMO promotion

My name is Clet Wandui Masiga and I am a Conservation Biologist, Geneticist, and farm entrepreneur from Uganda. Currently I work as a research scientist at the Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI) and am a Cornell Alliance for Science Fellow. My wife Sylvia and I have four sons. She is a social worker and an administrator with an organization that provides food supplements to families that are suffering from malnutrition.

My involvement in promoting for access to biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) evolved naturally when I started my career. I have worked as a teacher, as an extension officer, and I continue to practice as a researcher and development worker as well as a part time farmer with my wife. We started farming because we wanted other farmers who were not exposed and were not knowledgeable to learn from us, in order to also do the same to improve their productivity.

As a conservationist and Geneticist I had learned about the evolution of breeding techniques and origin of domestications of plants and animals. I had also been trained in sustainable conservation and utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture. I spent part of my life working in a genebank in the UK, which involved going out to the field and collecting plants for conservation and researching on them to benefit farmers and breeders.

When I returned to Uganda in January 2009, I decided to concentrate on my farm; however, that year there was a lot of drought. My tomatoes and Maize were completely lost, and my cassava was destroyed by cassava brown streak disease. We lost all our investments and in the same period my dad succumbed to cancer of the esophagus and passed on. I decided to seek employment first to earn a living, but most importantly I wanted a job that could help me develop new crop varieties in response to some of the challenges that I had faced as a farmer. That year, people in Uganda died due to lack of food from the drought; I thought God had failed my crops so I could help farmers.

I’ve been fortunate in that all my biotechnology and breeding work had been done under public institutions. We developed GM maize and Sorghum for drought tolerance and cassava for resistance to cassava brown streak disease resistance under National agricultural research Institutes. All the other biotechnological approaches that we used such as Marker Assisted Breeding, tissue culture, conservation biotechnology and gene mapping and isolation of genes were also under public institution. I have also developed non-GM sorghum lines for drought tolerance and striga resistance under my private organization, but the varieties are yet to be released.

While we were busy working on solving farmer’s problems, some people kept writing misinformation about GMOs and their promoters in newspapers. I also listen to misinformation on TVs and Radio talk shows. This is the time I decided that I should start providing first hand information on GMOs, since I was also developing them. I had an advantage in that I was not only developing GMOs but I was also using other approaches to solve farmer’s problems. I believe in integrated approaches and an approach that delivers a solution is acceptable to me.

One of my biggest challenges has been my fellow scientists who have chosen to ignore debating with anti-GMO activists. This has provided a platform for the anti-GMO activists to continue misinforming the public and denying farmers the technologies that they need most. I believe that unless we get out of the laboratories and talk to the population, our farmers will continue to suffer due to misinformation. Every field is using scientific innovation to advance and there should be no exception in plant breeding.


Clet Wandui Masiga

Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur.



By Peter Wamboga Mugirya

Ugandan President, Gen. Yoweri Museveni has blamed the failure of his country’s Parliament to pass the decade-old-National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill into law, on widespread ignorance among most legislators.

He says the ignorant MPs–largely elected from villages and remote rural areas–cannot fully appreciate the power of modern science of biotechnology.

This, the Ugandan Head of State explained, has led to the stalling of the Bill, yet it is aimed at providing a conducive regulatory regime for commercialization of GM-crops developed by the State-run National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).
The Ugandan head of state was speaking at the World Food Day national event October 16, held at a NARO Tea research and development institute. It is located at Rwebitaba on the foothills of the beautiful Mountains of the Moon (Rwenzoris) in western Uganda.
He said most legislators — a majority of whom surprisingly belong to his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Party — cannot comprehend genetic engineering for being useful in imparting resistance to drought, resistance to virulent pests and diseases [challenges farmers are grappling with in crops]. “The MPs are from villages and do not understand such sophisticated science as biotechnology; that’so why they fear it,” said Museveni.
The President told the large gathering including representatives of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), that while Ugandan scientists have used biotechnology to develop a wide range of maize, cassava, banana, sorghum and millet varieties with good attributes of high yields, pests and disease-resistance, the Parliament has failed to provide an enabling law to regulate and release GM crops.

“We have been training such a large number of scientists and today they are able to develop and process anything…… First, the human resource in terms of scientists is there; secondly, the innovation fund is there but not yet enough to cover all scientists; thirdly improved seedlings and improved seeds I’m very happy, our scientists have developed them; today we have improved seeds for maize, millet, and for coffee. They even have used biotechnology to produce better seeds; but my MPs who need to modernise their thinking have failed to pass the biotechnology law; they have frustrated my scientists; you can hear them [scientists] expressing frustrations over there…….!” the largely jovial President said, amusing the audience and receiving applause from the scientists.

Tell people to stop spreading fear about biotechnology, he further said, adding that members of Parliament have refused to pass the Bill. they fear biotechnology for no good reason; but biotechnology is used to impart certain qualities; I don’t know what they fear; … for me I don’t think there’s no reason to fear!”

Speaking in the local dialect widely spoken in the area, the President said: …”The scientists used biotechnology to add something that imparts a special power to the seed; so the technology is good, useful and is available!

This open support for biotechnology is the first in a long time the Uganda leader has made publicly. However, he is a renowned strong supporter of science, technology and innovations.

He added that Ugandan scientists have solved many of the country’s problems, so we must pay them well to ensure they are stable and work harder.”Please my ministers and MPs, I need you to support my push to pay well our scientists. Some people have discouraged it, demanding that we democratise poor pay…. But for me I don’t mind if my pay is lower than that of our scientists, I’d be very happy if they earn much more than they do today,” he stressed.

It is not the first time the Uganda leader alluded to improving salary   payment and other emolments to scientists, to boost their morale, so as to sustain their momentum of hard work.

Earlier, the Agriculture Minister, Tress Bucyanayandi had reported that Uganda was food secure, save for a “few pockets of food insufficiency or shortages due to poor yields as a result of prolonged drought” in some parts of the country. He thanked FAO, WFP and Oxfam for supporting uganda’s agricuultural sector, via technical and financial assistance, in addition to providing guidance to farmer adaptation to climate change.


Report adapted from excerpts from the NBSTV live coverage of the event.

Thank you.

Improving sorghum productivity using innovative breeding approaches for African resource constrained farmers

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur
At the 2nd International Conference on Global Food Security 11-14 October 2015 | Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA  I will be presenting onImproving sorghum productivity using innovative breeding approaches for African resource constrained farmers.


Theme 6:  Technologies to  improve and  target  production 
Venue/Room: Room 423 – ILR  Conference  Center (KingShaw Hall) 
Date: Wednesday,14thOctober 2015
Time: 10:45‐11:05

Improving sorghum productivity using innovative breeding approaches for African resource constrained farmers

CletWandui Masiga1*, Nada BabikerHamza2, Damaris Odeny3, Tadesse Yohannes4, Steven Runo6, Rasha Ali7, Robert Olupot8,  , Yusuf B Byaruhanga10, Santie de Villiers11, Hai Chun Jing12, and Abdalla H.Mohamed13


1Tropical institute of development innovations (TRIDI), P O Box 493, Entebbe Uganda

2National Centre for Research, P.O.Box 2404, Khartoum, Sudan

3International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), PO Box 39063-00623 Nairobi, Kenya

4National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), PO Box 4627 Asmara- Eritrea

6Biochemistry and Biotechnology Department, Kenyatta University, P.O Box 43844-00100 GPO, Nairobi, Kenya

7Agricultural Research Council (ARC), P.O. Box 126, Wad-Medani, Sudan

8National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute, Serere/National Agricultural Research Organization

10Department of Food  Technology & Nutrition, College of Agricultural and Environmental  Sciences, Makerere University, P O Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda

11Pwani University, PO Box 195-80108 Kilifi, Kenya

12Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 20 Nanxincun, Xiangshan,  Beijing 100093, China

13International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT-Ethiopia Po.Box 5689, Adis Ababa Ethiopia



* Correspondingauthor. Email:;

Tel: +256 772 457155




Striga remains one of the key biotic constraints affecting cereal grain production in Africa, particularly in semi-arid areas.  The Striga weed parasitizes sorghum,maize, millet, teff, sugarcane, cowpea, and rice. The current solution for managing Striga is cultural, chemical orbiocontrol measures as well asusing resistant lines. Cultural measures include crop rotation, intercropping, trap-cropping and catch cropping. Chemical measures include fertilizers, herbicides and soil sanitation, while biocontrol measures include insects and fungus.  The resistant lines that have been developed and used by farmers frequently succumb again to infection probably due to attack by different ecotypes of Striga while the other management options have proven to be expensive and unaffordablefor most African farmers.  The option proposed now is to continue improving the current resistant and tolerant lines by introgressing a gene for Strigaimmunity that has been identified in wild sorghums. We will integratean array of biotechnological approaches to alleviate constraints due to drought and Striga parasitism in sorghum.  Marker assisted breeding was used to develop Striga and drought tolerant sorghum in Sudan and these lines have been adopted by the national agricultural research systems foradvance for commercial release in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Eritrea. The lines were developed at the Agricultural Research Corporation of Sudan. In addition to advancing these lines, we are also using a transcriptional profiling approach to identify and validate gene products in Striga and sorghum that are essential for early post-penetration development and subsequent growth and differentiation of Striga on susceptible sorghum.  This process will accelerateStriga resistance gene identification and allow a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of Striga parasitism on sorghum.  We are also using transgenic approaches to impart tolerance to drought as well as the knowledge of marker assisted breeding, Striga phenotyping and genetics to obtain novel sources of Striga resistance and drought tolerance genes from wild relatives of sorghum by mapping advanced backcross populations derived from wild relatives of sorghum and farmer preferred sorghum varieties (FPSV). Finally, we are characterizing the nutritional and industrial technological properties of Striga resistant and drought tolerant varieties. This article details the methodologies being used to develop Striga resistant and drought tolerant sorghum lines for Africa.


Cultivated sweet potatoes are GMOs

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation Biologists, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneurs

The genome of cultivated sweet potato contains Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes. This is an example of a naturally transgenic food crop. This conclusion was reported by Kyndt et al in May 2015 in a peer reviewed original research article published by PNAS.

The experiments conducted by this group found out that two different T-DNA regions of Agrobacterium rhizogenes and Agrobacterium tumefaciens  are present in the cultivated sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam.) genome and that these foreign genes are expressed at detectable levels in different tissues of the sweet potato plant. The experiment involved 217 genotypes that included both cultivated and wild species.

Accordingly the researchers concluded that their findings indicate that sweet potato is naturally transgenic. Sweet potato being a widely and traditionally consumed food crop, could affect the current consumer distrust of the safety of transgenic food crops.

In the authors own statements they indicate the significance of the study as follows:
We communicate the rather remarkable observation that among 291 tested accessions of cultivated sweet potato, all contain one or more transfer DNA (T-DNA) sequences. These sequences, which are shown to be expressed in a cultivated sweet potato clone (“Huachano”) that was analyzed in detail, suggest that an Agrobacterium infection occurred in evolutionary times. One of the T-DNAs is apparently present in all cultivated sweet potato clones, but not in the crop’s closely related wild relatives, suggesting the T-DNA provided a trait or traits that were selected for during domestication. This finding draws attention to the importance of plant–microbe interactions, and given that this crop has been eaten for millennia, it may change the paradigm governing the “unnatural” status of transgenic crops.




It costs $136 million to discover, develop and commercialize a GMO

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur

It costs $136 million to discover, develop and commercialize GMOs having any specific trait. This cost represents money spent on staff, equipment and laboratory supplies, and   the regulatory testing and registration process. The time taken is about 13 years. Much of this time which is about 5.5 years is regulatory and registration.

Below is information I obtained at crop life website on October 201 (

Each year, millions of farmers around the world plant biotech crops for higher yields, improved crop quality and the ability to use sustainable farming practices such as no-till.  Getting these innovative new traits from the lab to their fields requires a tremendous investment – a new research survey reveals how it all adds up.

  • The cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 is US$136 million.
  • The time from the initiation of a discovery project to commercial launch is 13.1 years on average for all relevant crops.
  • The time associated with registration and regulatory affairs is increasing from a mean of 3.7 years for an event introduced before 2002, to the current (2011) estimated 5.5 years.
  • Regulatory science, registration and regulatory affairs account for the longest phase in product development, estimated at 36.7% of total time involved.
  • The trend in the number of units (candidate genes, constructs or genetic events) being screened in order to develop one trait is increasing.

From discovering new genetic traits, field testing and meeting intense regulatory requirements that ensure environmental and human safety, the overall plant biotech R&D process is costly and time-consuming. To determine the relative cost and duration of this process, Phillips McDougall conducted a research survey based on information provided by six of the industry’s largest biotech crop developers – BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto and Syngenta AG.

The September 2011 survey entitled, “The cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait”, focused on biotech traits in large scale commodity crops that had received cultivation approval in two countries and import approvals from at least five countries.

Key findings of the survey included:

Overall Cost

The cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 is US$136 million

Overall Time to Commercialization

The time from the initiation of a discovery project to commercial launch is 13.1 years on average. This does not include the time required to develop and obtain regulatory approval for stacked trait varieties which are the final product in most crops today.

Number of Years Required to Discover, Develop and Authorize a new Plant Biotech Trait (Mean Values)





All crops

Number of years from discovery of trait to first commercial sale







Duration of Each Activity Stage

The time associated with the R&D stage involving registration and regulatory affairs (Stage VII) is increasing from a mean of 44.5 months (3.7 years) for an event introduced before 2002, to the current estimate of 65.5 months (5.5 years). Because various activity stages overlap in real time, these totals do not reflect the actual duration of the overall R&D process described above.

Duration of Each Activity Stage in the Trait R&D Process (mean number of months)

Activity Stage

Duration for an event sold before 2002

Duration for an event introduced between 2008 and 2012

Duration to complete each stage in 2011

I Early Discovery




II Late Discovery




III Construct Optimization




IV Commercial Event Production & Selection




V Introgression Breeding & Wide-Area Testing




VI Regulatory Science




VII Registration & Regulatory Affairs




Total Cumulative Time




Number of Units Evaluated

The trend in the number of units (candidate genes, constructs or genetic events) being subjected to screening in order to develop one trait is increasing from a mean of 1,638 for an event introduced before 2002, to 6,204 for an event introduced between 2008 and 2012. The survey also demonstrated increasing efficiency by the industry with fewer events in the production & selection stage (Stage IV) for the events commercialized in 2008-2012 compared to events introduced before 2002.

Activity Stage

Event introduced before 2002

Event introduced between 2008-2012

I Early Discovery



II Late Discovery



III Construct Optimization



IV Commercial Event Production & Selection



V Introgression Breeding & Wide-Area Testing



VI Regulatory Science



VII Registration & Regulatory Affairs




Factors hindering adoption of GMO Africa

By Clet Wandui MASIGA, Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur

Ezezika and colleagues analysis of factors that hinder the adoption of GMOs in Africa are still at large in influencing decisions on GMOs today. The four factors identified by Ezezika and team include communication, culture and religion, capacity building and commercialization.

The main challenge limiting GMO adoption is limited understanding of GM crops by the public. This was closely followed by elitism in reporting and ineffective and inaccuracies.  Full report is available at




Potential economic impact of genetically modified Banana in Africa

By Clet Wandui Masiga Conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur

A study done by John Herbert Ainembabazi and  colleagues published on September 28, 2015 by PLOS supports investment in the development  of GM banana resistant to Xanthomonas wilt disease. The main beneficiaries of this technology development are farmers and consumers, although the latter benefit more than the former from reduced prices. The study recommends that designing a participatory breeding program involving farmers and consumers signifies the successful adoption and consumption of GM banana in the target countries.

The results from the study indicate that on the release of GM banana for commercialization, the expected initial adoption rate ranges from 21 to 70%, while the ceiling  adoption rate is up to 100%. Investment in the  development of GM banana is economically viable. However, aggregate benefits vary substantially across the target countries ranging from US$20million to 953million, highest in countries where disease incidence and production losses are high, ranging from 51 to 83% of production. The study was done in the great lakes region focusing on Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, D R Congo, Burndi, Rwanda and Tanzania where banana bacterial wilt disease is a big threat to banana production. The full article is available at





Monsanto vs. Freedom of Information Act

By Clet Wandui Masiga, Conservation biologist, Geneticist, and Farm Entreprenuer

Ralph Nader examines Monsanto Vs. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In his piece Nader reviews the history of FOIA and It is a vital investigative tool for exposing government and corporate wrongdoing. Ant-GMO activists are using it to expose public publics with ties to multinational businesses in agro input producers and manufacturer. Am personally concerned that this act is being misused and may have significant negative consequences for developing countries where a majority go without food. Details of Ralph Nader article is available at


Genetically Modified Seed Central in Saik’s Agricultural Manifesto

By Clet Wandui MASIGA, A conservation Biologist, Geneticist and Farm Entrepreneur


Hype, misinformation, and twisting of facts have been used to deny farmers in developed countries access to genetically engineered (GE) seed for farming. This has created fear towards GE crops, thus enabling organic food dealers to make more profits in North America and Western Europe. AGRI-TREND CEO Robert Saik makes these arguments and more in his Agriculture Manifesto (May 2014).

The 52 page book contains ten key drivers that will shape agriculture in the next decade. On September 3, 2015, the Cornell Alliance for Science hosted a lecture by Saik to twenty-five Global Leadership Fellows (myself included), communications champions from around the world focused on to enhancing their capacities for ensuring that farmers have access to scientific innovation. It’s hoped that this diverse group of champions from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Indonesia, and USA will build a global community of advocates in support of science and evidence-based decision-making.

Central in Saik’s lecture was that the future of agriculture could be genetically modified organisms, which he has re-baptized as genetically modified organic (GMO). He explained why GMOs have been resisted and continue to be. In his message, Saik suggests that commercial interests such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Chipotle—grocery chains and restaurants that seem interested in pushing a mandate of anti-industrialization of agriculture onto consumers—have led to a great deal of suspicion about GMO technology. In other words, he argues that a non-science movement is closely related to money; the rise of “Big Organic” the back of fear and suspicion, not on science.

Due to misinformation, particularly by biosafety entrepreneurs, many countries have difficulties making decisions on whether or not to adopt use of GMOs in agriculture. In Uganda, some of these biosafety entrepreneurs include the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Food Rights Alliance Uganda (FRA), the Southern and Eastern African Trade Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), and Action Aid Uganda. Their businesses thrive by attracting money from donors purposely to create fear that GMOs are not safe. They twist facts and provide many non-science references to deny farmers access to genetically modified (GM) seed that could have huge benefits for better crops and more healthy food.

GM seeds have the opportunity to provide many benefits to farmers. In Uganda GM maize seeds have been developed to tolerate drought and resist pests, GM cassava to resist diseases, GM sweet potatoes to resist pests and viruses, GM cotton to resist pests, and GM banana to resist pests and diseases. Denying farmers access to such technology deprives them of key input for production and makes farming more expensive.

The other nine key drivers in the agricultural manifesto are non-science, market, sensor technology, 3D printing, Robotics, water, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence, and data. This book is written to enable farmers, agribusiness communities, and consumers to stay informed about the future of agriculture. This book was an Amazon 2014 Best of Books.

It has taken developing countries more than 20 years to decide on whether or not to adopt GE seed and it’s therefore time for farmers to liberate themselves by demanding for access to GE seeds. Not all issues against GM seed are based on science.

The main set back of Saik’s book is that it’s self published and has not been reviewed by anyone independent and or experts in agriculture. As such it’s limited to his personal opinion.  There are no references cited which makes it difficult for anyone to access the quality of his publication. Nevertheless he does an excellent job in sharing his own personal opinion on the technologies for the future of agriculture.