"In the winter of 2014, students at Iowa State University received emails asking them to volunteer for an experiment. Researchers were looking for women who would eat bananas that had been genetically engineered to produce extra carotenes, the yellow-orange nutrients that take their name from carrots. Our bodies use alpha and beta carotenes to make retinol, better known as vitamin A, and the experiment was testing how much of the carotenes in the bananas would transform to vitamin A. The researchers were part of an international team trying to end vitamin A deficiency. The emails reached the volunteers they needed to begin the experiment, but they also reached protesters. “As a student in the sustainability program, I immediately started asking questions,” said Iowa State postdoc Rivka Fidel. “Is this proven safe? Have they considered the broader cultural and economic issues?” ... Fidel told me she and her friends had found it nearly impossible to extract information from researchers, or from the Gates Foundation, which is providing funding for this project. Too often conversations about these kinds of issues simply reverberate within their respective echo chambers. So to bridge the gap I took the gist of the students’ questions to people at the Gates Foundation, scientists working on the banana, and the one person who may have done the most to fight vitamin A deficiency — an ophthalmologist who has no interest in either promoting or bashing GMOs." [more inside]
Corn Wars: The farm-by-farm fight between China and the United States to dominate the global food supply. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI now contend, in effect, that the theft of genetically modified corn technology is as credible a threat to national security as the spread to nation-states of the technology necessary to deliver and detonate nuclear warheads. Disturbingly, they may be right. As the global population continues to climb and climate change makes arable soil and water for irrigation ever more scarce, the world’s next superpower will be determined not just by which country has the most military might but also, and more importantly, by its mastery of the technology required to produce large quantities of food.
...the implication is clear: If a human being could be engineered to have the positive version of each causal variant, they might exhibit cognitive ability which is roughly 100 standard deviations above average. This corresponds to more than 1,000 IQ points.
In the 1920s, two tons of pig parts were needed to produce eight ounces of purified insulin. In 1982 Humulin, human insulin produced by recombinant DNA, became the first such product approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Diabetes Forecast offers a look into modern insulin production.
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.
The Smell of Orange Groves. This short story by Lavie Tidhar (author of Osama: A Novel) is part of his Central Station story cycle, taking place in or around Tel Aviv’s Central Station neighborhood sometime in the future. [more inside]
Current state of Gene hacking leaves much to be desired but there's hope for a pull back from the rush to applications to a more basic science approach.
A Golden Rice Opportunity is an article about how genetically modified 'golden rice' may save millions of children, at least according to Skeptical Environmentalist author Dr. Bjorn Lomborg.
Just as Dante found it easier to conjure the pains of Hell than to evoke the joys of Heaven, so too do bioethicists find it easier to concoct the possible perils of a biotech-nanotech-infotech future than to appreciate how enhancements will contribute to flourishing lives. One of the chief goals of this symposium is to think about the indispensable role that virtue plays in human life. The chief motivating concern seems to be the fear that biotechnologies and other human enhancement technologies will somehow undermine human virtue. As we will see, far from undermining virtue, biotech, nanotech, and infotech enhancements will tend to support virtue; that is, they will help enable people to be actually good.
Dutch Artist Bio-Engineers Spider Silk into Skin, Making It "Bulletproof". Following on the work of Randy Lewis, a scientist studying how ultra-resilient artificial spider-silk can be used for body armor and other military products, Dutch artist Jalila Essaidi has integrated this engineered silk into a patch of human skin. Experiments with a rifle necessarily followed. Video and her explanation here.
'As part of its budget for the next year [pdf], DARPA is investing $6 million into a project called BioDesign, with the goal of eliminating "the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement."' Via Futurismic [more inside]
"Algae is the ultimate biological system using sunlight to capture and convert carbon dioxide into fuel... I came up with a notion to trick algae into pumping more [fuel] out." Craig Venter's Synthetic Genomics partners with ExxonMobil in a $600M project to harvest biofuels from genetically engineered algae. "We have modest goals of replacing the whole petrochemical industry." [previously] [more inside]
As the global climate changes, agriculture is sure to be affected. The Stern Review explains that "developing countries - in particular the poorest - are heavily dependent on agriculture, the most climate-sensitive of all economic sectors." Working Group II of the IPCC says that: "Smallholder and subsistence farmers, pastoralists and artisanal fisherfolk will suffer complex, localised impacts of climate change (high confidence)." Meanwhile, some important staple crops are especially threatened by rising temperatures (though genetic engineering may help). You can experience a taste of it yourself, with a climate change awareness fast, taking place on Tuesday, September 4th.
20,000 genes and splices: the Colonel's Secret Recipe revealed! Even the fanciest chickens won't be able to ignore their genetic cousins now.
Genie Corp: The Splice Of Life. Creature Comforts [via BoingBoing]
Many common food plants contain noxious and toxic antinutrients designed to ward off predators, including humans. Tomatoes and Potatoes for example contain Glycoalkaloids which cause a Depressed central nervous system; kidney inflammation; carcinogenic; birth defects; reduced iron uptake. Can Genetically Engineered strains increase these naturally occuring antinutrients and toxins? (more inside)
Purple carrots are to be sold by a UK supermarket. But it's orange carrots that are the gimmick. Most wild carrots are purple or white. Orange carrots were created by patriotic 16th Century Dutch farmers from a mutant variety, to match their national colour.
First Birds with teeth in 70 million years. Vicious toothed, flying microraptors once darkened the Jurassic skies. Now, scientists have learned to activate the dormant, vestigal avian "tooth gene" and so coaxed chicken embryos into growing teeth. From the grave, Alfred Hitchcock enviously quips - "a messy thing indeed when toothed birds kill a man". Meanwhile the French are appalled: “quand les poules auront des dents”, which translates to “when hens have teeth”, is analogous to the English “pigs might fly”. Coming soon: flying pigs. But there might be a baldness cure in this new research. I'll remember that as the flocks of mutant raptor-fowl move in for the kill.
Stupidity should be cured, says DNA discoverer. "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."
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.
Scientists infuse endurance genes into mice. Researchers say they have created a transgenic mouse with muscles like a marathoner, capable of enduring rigorous exercise for extended periods of time. Is cloning and genetic engineering gaining a little more acceptance? I for one would like to welcome our...ah, to hell with it...
They're farther along than I thought... You may have heard about Nexia Biotechnology, who have put spider genes into goats to get milk with spider silk protein in it. I thought it was still in the research phase, but Nexia have apparently gone to market with the stuff. They've signed agreements with several manufacturers to produce spider silk protein-based products such as lightweight ballistic armor (like Kevlar, only lighter and non-toxic to produce) for the armed forces and super-strong sutures and prosthetic ligaments for medical supply companies.
What the law show say about cloning. Francis Fukuyama and Robert Wright, who have written about technology and "societal evolution", discuss the pros and cons of genetic engineering. This is not a discussion about the finer points of technology, but rather the philosophical implications of moving forward.
Surely Pork and Apple? The leader of a maverick team of biotechnicians has created Pigs with an implant of spinach genes. Lambs are to have mint sauce implant in the near future?
Mad Japanese Scientists create real-life swamp thing. "We removed the 'fattening' genes from pigs and replaced them with 'vitamin-enriched' genes from spinach!" I will not eat it in a box, I will not eat it with a fox...
Environmentalism faces a values test as genetically engineered pigs produce less polluting excrement. My advice: Why not just leave it up to these guys?
Scientists insert a jellyfish gene into a rhesus monkey. No word yet on how many asses the monkey has.
Ebola is for wimps! Some Australian scientists were trying to come up with a mouse contraceptive vaccine, for use in pest control. And they succeeded. Unfortunately, the virus they created works by killing mice before they can breed, and killing them very very well. Oh, and it's extremely vaccine-resistant: 100% death without vaccine, 50% with. And any kid with a Li'l Johnny Gene Engineering Kit could conceivably make a human version. Anyone got some smallpox virus laying around?
True Food Shopping List - how to avoid genetically engineered food
The recent thread on genetic engineering sent me on a path to find some astounding photos. Ignore the ugly yellow background and just click on links to photos. Pages like this make me want to put more effort into my lepidopteran interests.
From today's Asimba.com newletter: "Like most people, you're probably bored with your teeth. Every day the same old incisors and molars. Cheer up! Soon you'll be able to grow new teeth thanks to genetic engineering. Order now and receive a second row of teeth free."