The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
New GM technique injects mosquitoes with a gene that results in mostly male offspring, eventually leading to a population crash. Previous efforts to tackle the disease, that kills more than 1 million people each year – most of whom are African children – have included bed nets to protect people and insecticides to kill the mosquito species most responsible for the transmission of malaria (Anopheles gambiae). The new technique by a team at Imperial College London involves injecting mosquitoes with a gene that causes the vast majority of their offspring to be male, leading to an eventual dramatic decline in population within six generations as females disappear. “You have a short-term benefit because males don’t bite humans [and transmit malaria],” Andrea Crisanti, one of the authors of the new research, which was published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, told the Guardian. “But in the long term you will eventually eradicate or substantially reduce mosquitoes. This could make a substantial contribution to eradicating malaria, combined with other tools such as insecticides.”
These new mosquitoes are now set to be used in Brazil, having been approved for use by the Brazilian government with a factory for their production now opened.[more inside]
From toygers to GloFish This author says harm to the animals and risk to the environment are more important factors than means the of modifying an animal's appearance. So "docking" the tail of a horse or dog is worse than making a GMO pet. Surprise, genetically modified GloFish are already on sale in pet stores. (Previously.)
Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie - "The lettuce, peppers, and broccoli—plus a melon and an onion, with a watermelon soon to follow—aren't genetically modified at all. Monsanto created all these veggies using good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same technology that farmers have been using to optimize crops for millennia. That doesn't mean they are low tech, exactly. Stark's division is drawing on Monsanto's accumulated scientific know-how to create vegetables that have all the advantages of genetically modified organisms without any of the Frankenfoods ick factor." [more inside]
With 2000+ global studies confirming safety, GM foods among most analyzed "Environmental impact studies are predominant in the body of GM research, making up 68% of the 1,783 studies. These studies investigated environmental impact on the crop-level, farm-level and landscape-level. Nicolia and his team found “little to no evidence” that GM crops have a negative environmental impact on their surroundings." [more inside]
How often does a great story dominate the headlines, only to be dropped from the news cycle? How often do journalists tell us of a looming danger or important discovery – only to move quickly to the next new thing? What really happened? How did these events change us? And what are the lingering consequences that may affect our society to this day? These are the questions we are answering at Retro Report, an innovative documentary news organization launched in 2013 as a timely online counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle. Combining documentary techniques with shoe-leather reporting, we peel back the layers of some of the most perplexing news stories of our past with the goal of encouraging the public to think more critically about current events and the media in ~10 minute segments. [more inside]
Did you hear that a group of 400 angry farmers attacked and destroyed a field trial of genetically modified rice in the Philippines this month? That, it turns out, was a lie. The crop was actually destroyed by a small number of activists while farmers who had been bussed in to attend the event looked on in dismay.
The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. To slow the spread of the bacterium that causes the scourge, they chopped down hundreds of thousands of infected trees and sprayed an expanding array of pesticides on the winged insect that carries it. But the contagion could not be contained.They would have to alter the orange’s DNA — with a gene from a different species. (SLNYT)
With a precipitous decline in Florida’s harvest predicted within the decade, the only chance left to save it, Mr. Kress believed, was one that his industry and others had long avoided for fear of consumer rejection.
Some of My Best Friends Are Germs
It is a striking idea that one of the keys to good health may turn out to involve managing our internal fermentation. Having recently learned to manage several external fermentations — of bread and kimchi and beer — I know a little about the vagaries of that process. You depend on the microbes, and you do your best to align their interests with yours, mainly by feeding them the kinds of things they like to eat — good “substrate.” But absolute control of the process is too much to hope for. It’s a lot more like gardening than governing. The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of the soil, which is yet another hotbed of microbial fermentation, in order to nourish and nurture it. You just need to know what it likes to eat — basically, organic matter — and how, in a general way, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants. The gardener also discovers that, when pathogens or pests appear, chemical interventions “work,” that is, solve the immediate problem, but at a cost to the long-term health of the soil and the whole garden. The drive for absolute control leads to unanticipated forms of disorder.[more inside]
Mark Lynas, author of several books on climate change and once a leading figurehead of the anti-GMO movement, has made an about turn on his opinions regarding GM crops. In an address to the Oxford Farming Conference, he stated: "For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment. As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely. So I guess you’ll be wondering—what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist." [more inside]
Why did Prop 37, the GMO labeling bill, fail? Ernest Miller of KCET argues that it wasn't money, but message. [more inside]
Back in September a group of French Biologists published a "ground breaking" study on the impacts of GMO Corn. funded by CRIIGEN. [more inside]
Greenpeace activists, following through on Greenpeace's opposition of Genetically Modified Organisms, have dismayed Australian scientists by raiding a CSIRO experimental farm in Canberra and destroying the station's entire experimental crop of genetically modified wheat.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the sale of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa will be fully deregulated: USDA factsheet [PDF]. Advocates of organic agriculture are outraged, while the biotechnology industry supports the decision. Monsanto is also pleased by the USDA's action. [more inside]
Produced and recorded in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia, Deconstructing Dinner has been designed to dispense and discuss current food issues. This weekly radio show hosted by Jon Steinman features a wide range of topics revolving around food security. [more inside]
bomb sniffing flowers. Danish, Canadian and U.S. scientists are closing in on a genetically engineered plant that will send up a floral signal: “DANGER—land mines below." Scientists in Denmark have been tinkering with Arabidopsis thaliana [...] to produce a plant [that] will turn a warning red whenever close to a land mine.” Arabidopsis can be genetically sensitized to the nitrogen-dioxide (NO2) that leaches from buried explosives.
"Bad taste science fiction?" In hopes of stirring debate and milking emotion on genetically-modified food, Mothers Against Genetic Engineering in Food and the Environment have placed seven billboards in New Zealand featuring a "modified" nude woman on a milking machine. A protest was also held in front of Fonterra's office, who own ViaLactia, a dairy subsidiary rumoured to have purchased patent rights for human DNA.
Today the British government released a major report on the safety of genetically modified foods. According to New Scientist, "existing genetically modified crops and foods pose a 'very low' risk to human health and are 'very unlikely' to rampage through the British countryside", but others disagree.
Fist or famine? President Bush accused European nations of contributing to famine in Africa because of their reluctance to accept GM foods. But one of Bush's many EU critics says "even serious experts on GM will concede that there is no evidence that GM can make any greater contribution to feeding the world than existing agricultural science." There may be, however, a risk of cancer, according to a Scottish expert, among other profound misgivings. Plus, it looks like some GM crops aren't even doing their genetically-modified job. So uh, how are they gonna stop world hunger, again?
It's New, It's Wonderful, it's....No Cry Onions! from the nature.com website, scientists have identified the enzyme that causes a "tickling" of your tear ducts, ergo the ensuing crying. More genetically altered food - how are we feeling about this?
Since Genetically Modified Organisms are a big no-no in Europe, some scientists are now focusing their efforts on TILLING (Targeting Induced Local Lesions in Genomes), a novel technology for rapid selection of a mutation in any gene from mutant plant, through the use of a mutagen, Ethyl Methanesulfonate (EMS). Will this method be seen as less dangerous than Genetic Engineering à la Monsanto? During my search on this topic, I stumbled on this entertaining story about DIY genegeneering.
Along with water, there's been increased interested in food issues lately. Probably the most controversial issue is genetically modified foods. And it looks like here in Canada, they're not going to be labelled. The day after I read this in the paper, Steve Talbott published an issue of his superb newsletter Netfuture, with this thoughtful essay. [more inside]
Glowing Pig News Great to take to parties..... (Hurrah for my first ever link that hasn't been found in previous threads...)
"I think that first world environmental groups (who oppose development of genetically modified crops) should put on the hat and shoes of farmers in Mali who are faced by repeated crop failure." -- Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, lead author of the U.N. Development Programme's annual Human Development Report. (Here's another report on the same issue which includes a great deal of background information about the problems which still need to be solved, and why genetic modification of food crops is an essential part of the solution.)
Love to argue about Genetically Modified Foods? Hate to be under-informed? The Science Controversies On-line: Partnerships in Education (SCOPE) project has a huge database of resources and links to commentaries on various issues, one of which is genetically modified foods and covers both (all?) side of the issue. The site is still in the works, it looks like it is (and will be) a useful resource.
"GMO free" labelling set to become illegal in the US? "The U.S. regulatory system is a model around the world because it is grounded in science, not superstition or uninformed emotion." So says the president of a biotech lobby group. Ahem.