Cablegate: Nicaragua: Embassy Science Fellows Program


DE RUEHMU #0485/01 1121533
R 211533Z APR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 28712

1. (U) In response to reftel, Embassy Managua submits two proposals for the Embassy Science Fellows Program 2008: (i) The Nicaraguan National Autonomous University (UNAN) Biotechnology Laboratory, and (ii) UNAN Leptospirosis Epidemiology Research. Embassy Managua commits to providing one Science Fellow with housing, office support, in-country travel arrangements, where applicable, computer, e-mail/Internet access, mail, medical services, and other logistical support information. Post RSO has given specific support and office clearance for the receipt of a Fellow in support of the program.


2. (U) The Nicaraguan National Autonomous University (UNAN) -
Managua, Food Technology Laboratory conducts research activities in
the areas of the molecular characterization of national cacao
criollo and hybrid germplasms (microsatellite); micropropagation of
timber-yielding trees, such as teak and mahogany; and the detection
of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO-biovigilance program).

3. (U) In addition to its work in micropropagation, microsatellite,
and GMOs, the Food Technology Laboratory supports research in the
molecular characterization of Phitaya (dragon fruit) using RFLP; the
bioprospection of cellulasa in the Bosawas Natural Reserve of remote
northern Nicaragua; and the identification and isolation of fungus
cellulasa (ligno-cellulose degradation) used in the production of
bioenergy. Dr. Ivan Marin is the Director of the Food Technology

Proposed Activities

4. (U) UNAN's primary request for assistance is to characterize the
molecular markers of the native Nicaraguan cacao germplasm through
the application of Simple Sequence Repeats (SSR) microsatellite
molecular DNA markers. The laboratory hopes to identify the native
cacao tree with the best genetic potential. Technically, the
techniques of molecular characterization germplasm (molecular
markers) include the extraction and quantification of plant DNA;
molecular marker applications - Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA
(RDPS), Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms (AFLP) and SSR
microsatellite; the assembly and running of Vertical Polyacrylamid
Gel and Silver Stain; and the genetic interpretation of the obtained
results using statistical programs such as Arlequin or Structure.

5. (U) The germplasms of various endogenous vegetative resources,
such as cacao, dragon fruit, avocado, corn and beans, require the
protection of their DNA characteristics. Researchers can then
identify regions of the genome for disease tolerance, stress
resistance, growth rate and yield. Utilizing this methodology, the
lab identified the peanut Mottle Potyvirus in Nicaragua, eventually
eliminating the expensive import of foreign peanut seeds.

6. (U) The Fellow would also work on the micropropagation of tissue
culture involving the elaboration of tissue culture media (component
and concentration). This would require knowledge in growth
regulating phytohormone applications; and Asepsis antibiotics use
and pathogen contamination control.

7. (U) In addition, the Fellow would provide assistance in GMO seed,
grain, or plant detection, requiring knowledge in the methods of
said detection, such as PCR and ELISA.

8. (U) Secondary activities might include teaching the subject of
Biotechnology to undergraduates, numbering 60 students per year;
participating in the UNAN Bioscience Forum, an event held two or
three times per year focusing on the development and diffusion
biotechnology applications; and advising the biotechnology
documentation center on how to organize itself.

Installed Laboratory Equipment

9. (U) Current laboratory equipment consists of:
a) Greenhouse;
b) Tissue Culture Room;
c) Autoclave;
d) PCR (Eppendorf);
e) Horizontal and Vertical Gel Electrophoresis;
f) Ethidium bromide stain;
g) Phenol - Chloroform DNA extraction;
h) Distillated water;
i) Refrigerated centrifuge (Eppendorf); and
j) Ph-Meter and precision balance.

Required Skills

10. (U) Substantive knowledge and practical experience in
agrobiotechnology; Spanish language fluency.

Preferred Time Frame

11. (U) Three months between May to November 2008 requiring a
medical clearance (no security clearance is required).


12. (U) The Nicaraguan population, including the media and
legislators, has limited understanding of biotechnology products.
Generally, consumers associate biotechnology exclusively to GMOs.
The lack of information reduces the level of acceptance of
biotechnology products among consumers.

13. (U) Nicaragua does not produce any biotechnology crops. It does
not have the technical resources to develop them for commercial
purposes and has not imported biotechnology seeds for planting.
Nicaragua is a large food aid recipient due to its limited capacity
to supply food for human and animal consumption. Yellow corn for
animal feed is the only biotechnology crop imported from the United
States. Imports of other biotechnology products from other
countries are limited or non-existent.

14. (U) To date, Nicaragua's regulatory approach to biotech has been
essentially science-based. Nicaragua is a signatory of the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, under which the government began in
2005 to require notifications of imports of living modified
organisms (LMO) and risk analyses for such imports. At present,
there is no labeling regulation for food or feed containing GMOs.

15. (U) A commission on Risk Analysis for GMOs (CONARGEN), composed of government officials and academics, conducts these risk analyses, and the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry makes a final decision on biotechnology imports.

16. (U) At present, yellow corn for animal feed is the only
biotechnology commodity that has been subjected to risk analysis.
Risk analyses for human food use have not been requested.
Legislation allows for field-testing of biotechnology crops after
the required risk analysis, but field trials of a biotech crop have
never been conducted.

17. (U) CONARGEN does not have the technical capability to test whether a product is transgenic or not, but its members are inclined to base their decisions on factual scientific data. The main problem is they lack the capacity and equipment to conduct detailed risk analysis. CONARGEN has expressed interest in developing such a properly equipped laboratory. UNAN's laboratory hopes to provide this capacity in plant health security to facilitate international trade.

--------------------------------------------- ---------

18. (U) The Fellow will be working with the national Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry (MAGFOR), Health (MINSA) and the Nicaraguan National Autonomous University - Leon (UNAN-Leon) to control leptospirosis and other zoonotic diseases in Nicaragua. The Fellow will be working in the departments of Leon and Chinandega, where most of the leptospirosis cases are. Dr. William Jiron of UNAN-Leon will manage the proposal.

Proposed Activities

19. (U) The Fellow will help local scientists to determine the
zoonotic epidemiology of leptospirosis in domestic
animals/livestock, and to isolate and characterize the leptospira
organism in an attempt to break the cycle. The Fellow will work
with UNAN-Leon, MINSA, and MAGFOR on protocols to improve
surveillance and diagnostics. All diagnoses so far have been via
serology. No one in Nicaragua has isolated the organism from a
suspected case in the last 15 years. Isolating and characterizing
the organism may require the Fellow to return to the U.S. with

20. (U) Systematic surveillance, an improved understanding of the
epidemiology of leptospirosis, and improvement in the capacity to
diagnose leptospirosis are necessary for development of strategies
for the prevention and control of leptospirosis outbreaks.
Improving the understanding of the distribution and epidemiology of
leptospirosis in the region targeted for this proposal will lead to
establishment of the most effective methods to control the disease
and prevent outbreaks in the region. Such methods may also be
applicable to other Central American countries at risk for
leptospirosis outbreaks.

Required Skills

21. (U) Veterinarian and zoonotic disease specialist, with emphasis
in microbiology and experience extraction methods of DNA from
bacteria for polymerase chain reaction; and Spanish language

Preferred Time Frame

22. (U) Three months between May to November 2008 requiring a
medical clearance (no security clearance is required).


23. (U) Leptospirosis is recognized as an emerging infectious
disease with recent large outbreaks reported from many locations
throughout the world. The incidence of infection is significantly
higher in warm climates compared to temperate regions. Infection in
humans is primarily acquired through direct or indirect contact with
the urine of infected animals, most commonly through occupational or
recreational exposure to urine-contaminated surface water. Animals
can serve as maintenance hosts and remain chronically infected, and
contaminate the environment with leptospires shed in their urine. A
variety of different animals, including rodents and wild and
domestic animals, serve as maintenance hosts for the different
leptospira serovars, and certain serovars are commonly associated
with specific maintenance hosts.

24. (U) Nicaragua continues to have endemic cases of leptospirosis.
Domestic animals and livestock are considered to maintain the
endemic state of the disease in various communities.

25. (U) In 1995, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collected
serum samples from cattle, horses, pigs, and dogs in the Department
of Leon. In northern Leon, 76% of the horses, 35% of the pigs, 50%
of the dogs, and 59% of the cattle were sero positive. In the local
abattoir of Leon, 67% of the cattle were sero positive. During the
outbreak of February 2007, in the community of Leona, the sero
prevalence in domestic animals was 27%. At that time all goats and
sheep tested were negative. During an outbreak in October/November
of 2007, 34% of the animals tested had a titer greater than 1:400.
The serovars identified were similar to those found in previous
studies. Previous experience in the post-disaster setting in
Nicaragua has demonstrated different risk factors and sources of
leptospiral contamination.

26. (U) Similar outbreaks of leptospirosis have occurred in other Latin American countries. Strategies for prevention and control of outbreaks of leptospirosis following flooding or similar emergencies, including chemoprophylaxis, have been recommended but have not been evaluated for their utility and effectiveness. Such measures include minimizing contact with contaminated water and soil, wearing protective clothing, rodent control, and chemoprophylaxis with doxycycline for persons with limited exposure to high-risk areas of endemic disease.

27. (U) To date, all attempts to culture and isolate the organism
have failed. The results so far demonstrate the need for improved
surveillance, control and diagnosis of leptospirosis in domestic
livestock and to better understand the zoonotic epidemiology of the
disease. Prevention of leptospirosis is dependent upon an
understanding of the local epidemiology of the disease, locally
important serovars, and associated animal hosts.


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