Tag Archive | "DNA"

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GM Mosquitoes May Piggyback the Zika Virus

Posted on 09 April 2016 by Jerry

Genetic modification of a male mosquito whose offspring die before they mature and mate can be used to kill a certain kind of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) that carries dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and now Zika virus.  Oxitec, a company out of the United Kingdom, produces this mosquito, with an engineered “self destruct” gene.

This company provides only one of three ways to drastically reduce the number of the offending mosquitoes.  The other two ways are using male mosquitoes that have been sterilized by low doses of radiation and/or a mosquito that is infected with the Wolbachia bacteria.  These bacteria do not infect humans but prevents eggs of infected females from hatching.  All of these approaches entail releasing large numbers of male mosquitoes into the environment.

The Oxitec genetically modified mosquito has been tested in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and a trial has been proposed in Florida.  Now the World Health Organization is very interested in the Oxitec mosquito as a viable way of stopping the spread of the Zika virus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tentatively agreed that the Oxitec genetically modified mosquito would not have a significant impact on the environment as a result of a trial in Florida.  The FDA report states, “The FDA found that the probability that the release of OX513A male mosquitoes would result in toxic or allergenic effects in humans or other animals is negligible.”  The FDA has to wait for public comment before giving final approval of the trial.  The process will probably take a few months.

Genetically modified insects have been introduced into the environment to protect or enhance crops for a number of years.  This however, will be the first GM insect introduced into the environment to have a direct effect on human beings. 

The problem is that use of this genetically modified mosquito has opened up quite a bit of controversy.  An opponent of the genetically modified mosquito, Jaydee Hanson a senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, has been quoted in a Bloomberg news article published on 1/29/2016.  He said “Mosquitoes are food for lots of animals; We would still want to see studies of when birds and bats and amphibians eat these genetically modified animals.  They’re introducing into the ecosystem some genetic constructs that have never been there before.”

The same article quotes the Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry as arguing the opposite position.  He said, “You always get some people who say I don’t like genetic engineering because it’s a bad thing and we’re messing with nature.”  Referring to criticism that his mosquito might die out and another will come to the fore, he has also been quoted as saying, “So in the very worst case, where you find that you eliminated Aedes aegypti in an area and the Aedes albopictus went up, then you would actually be replacing a very dangerous vector with a far less effective one.”

You know that there are two other options that could be used to stop this type of mosquito that do not involve genetic modifications.  There are male mosquitoes of the same species that are exposed to low-grade radiation that sterilizes them and there are males that pass on the Wolbachia bacteria that make it so female eggs do not hatch.  Both of these two methods use males to mate with females to cause an end to successful fertilization and replication.

The question becomes why are we moving to choose the method that requires genetic modification.  The only answer that is probable is that we want to see a genetically altered alternative in the market.  This is a continuation of the government push for genetic engineering.   There have been numerous articles on this blog going back to the June 13, 2012 posting of Genetic Engineering Influence Peddling and Profit (see www.iamaguardian.com/category/protect/genetic-engineering/page/4/ ) that show the government’s bias to push for genetic modification products.

This support is hidden from the average citizen’s view and is the reason we are seeking a genetically engineered alternative.  There are just too many economic interests to be satisfied.  These, as an example, range from educators to scientists to entrepreneurs to established major competitors like Monsanto and to politicians.  The U.S. voter should rise up and call for a hiatus on approval of genetically modified products until there is proof that these products do not represent a threat to our health.

The FDA approved the first genetically modified animal intended to be human food in the AguAdvantage Salmon for sale and consumption in the U.S. sometime after November of last year.  Fortunately members of Congress disagreed.  On page 106 of the 2016 federal spending bill congress people added a requirement for the FDA to not allow the selling of this product in the U.S. until the agency puts in place labeling guidelines and “a program to disclose to consumers” whether a fish has been genetically modified.

We have a very short time to influence this genetic engineering issue.  We should insist that our candidates for president address this issue for us so we know where they stand on genetically engineered foods.  In all cases we should ask for regulation and oversight by a newly established governmental agency that dramatically slows the headlong rush to get these products into the market. 

Use the following links to access more information or read the source documents used to prepare this article.









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“CRISPR”, Breakthrough or Trouble?

Posted on 16 August 2015 by Jerry

No, the new CRISPR is not a better way to hold fresh produce in refrigerators.  Instead it is a new gene-editing tool that has been described as “Jaw dropping” by Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize for medicine.  A June 3, 2015 article in Nature Magazine goes on to say it will “allow researchers to quickly change the DNA of nearly any organism – including humans.  CRISPR is turning everything on its head.”

It allows researchers to alter the DNA of almost all organisms. This is undoubtedly good because it dramatically accelerates experimentation.  It should lead to many medical breakthroughs.  But are there risks?

To some extent CRISPR is a breakthrough that threatens all of us.  It revolutionizes an area that has no direct government regulation.   Researchers can now mix and match the genetic code of any set of disparate animals and do it cheaply.  Unfortunately, it only takes one mistake to create a new organism that we struggle to control.

CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.  CRISPR uses a part of a bacteria’s immune system.  A bacteria keeps copies of the dangerous viruses that prey on it so it can recognize and defend against those viruses should they try to infect it again.  This ability has been borrowed from the bacteria so genetic engineers can take a normal sequence of DNA and define it as the target that is to be cut out – the Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA.

Its process involves a set of enzymes called Cas or CRISPR-associated proteins, which allow the bacteria to precisely cut out a section of DNA and cut it up as it would an invading virus.  The best-known enzyme, of a number of Cas enzymes, is called Cas9.  It is from the Streptococcus pyogenes or the bacteria that causes strep throat.   It forms the CRISPR/Cas9 system that is most often used.

This tool and new technique dramatically simplifies the ability to edit genomes or genetic chromosomes and has been “likened to editing the individual letters on any chosen page of an encyclopedia without creating any spelling mistakes.”

Professor Mello continued by saying “It’s one of things that you have to see to believe.  I read scientific papers like everyone else but when I saw it working in my own lab, my jaw dropped.  A total novice in my lab got it to work.  The CRISPR technique dramatically ‘lowers the threshold’ for carrying out ‘germ line’ gene therapy on human IVF embryos,” Professor Mello added.

A June 2015 article in Nature magazine quotes James Haber, a molecular biologist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, as saying “That (CRISPR) effectively democratized the technology so that everyone is using it,” says Dr. Haber.  “It’s a huge revolution.”

The article offers another summary of the CRISPR technique,  “It relies on an enzyme called Cas9 that uses a guide RNA molecule to home in on its target DNA, and edits the DNA to disrupt genes or insert desired sequences.  Researchers often need to order only the RNA fragment; the other components can be bought off the shelf.  Total cost: as little as $30.”

An added benefit is the technique takes far fewer cycles than the earlier technology to make a genetic change in a species.  An article on gizmodo.com that ran 5/6/2015 states, “Researchers inject the CRISPR/Cas9 sequences into mouse embryos.  The system edits both copies of a gene at the same time, and you get the mouse in one generation.  With CRISPR/Cas9, you can also alter, say five genes at once, whereas you would have to had to go that same laborious, multi-generational process five times before.”

An article in the June 8, 2015 issue of Nature states about Jennifer Doudna, a CRISPR pioneer at UC Berkeley, that “Her worries began at a meeting in 2014 when she saw a postdoc present work in which a virus was engineered to carry the CRISPR components into mice.  The mice breathed in the virus, allowing the CRISPR system to engineer mutations and create a model for human lung cancer4.”

The article continued “Doudna got a chill; a minor mistake in the design of the guide RNA could result in a CRISPR that worked in human lungs as well.  ‘It seemed incredibly scary that you might have students who were working with such a thing.  It’s important for people to appreciate what this technology can do.’ ”

A June 25, 2015 bloomberg.com article stated, “CRISPR could encourage editing of all kinds of genomes that, if unsupervised, may present unanticipated risks,” says Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine.  “The technique could be used to try to amplify genes thought to boost intelligence in adults.”  Use on animals and insects could also lead to ecological havoc, Caplan says.  “You could have a disaster on your hands, and you don’t have to touch a human to do it,” he said.

As documented in a previous article, see “We Need Worldwide Regulation of Synthetic Biology” http://iamaguardian.com/1680/we-need-worldwide-regulation-of-synthetic-biology/, regulation of Synthetic Biology and Genetic Engineering is split amongst five different federal government departments.  Depending on the development, the organizations that have partial responsibilities are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Commerce Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

There needs to be absolute regulatory responsibility for genetic engineering and synthetic biology.  When we have small researchers and venture funded startup companies articulating opportunities and experimenting with alterations to life’s genetic codes with only self-regulation or murky departmental responsibility, we must call a halt.  There should not be the freedom to take all of these risks in the name of profit.

We should be writing letters to the editor and letters to our elected representatives to tell them of our expectations.  We need to speak out against self-regulation and murky, conflicting regulations by multiple government departments.  We need to lobby for new legislation and a single department to assume regulatory oversight.

Use the following links to gain additional information or access the original documents used in this article.



http://gizmodo.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crispr-the-new-tool-1702114381 (scroll down)





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We Need Worldwide Regulation of Synthetic Biology

Posted on 11 March 2015 by Jerry

Following the thought of the creation of new nucleotides, the x-y pair (see Synthetic Biology Advances With No Oversight, 7/15/14), synthetic biologists at Yale and a separate group at Harvard have constructed genetically altered organisms that require special synthetic amino acids to live.  Synthetic biologists reason this makes the synthetic organisms safer since they would die if released into the environment that lacks the amino acid.

This breakthrough would eventually allow synthetic organisms to be raised in laboratories for use in experimentation.  According to an article in the January 22, 2015 volume of Nature entitled Safety boost for GM organisms “The microbes also do not swap their engineered DNA with natural counterparts because they no longer speak life’s shared biochemical language.”  The article continued with a quote from a Yale synthetic biologist, Farren Isaacs who said, “Establishing safety and security from the get-go will really enable broad and open use of engineered organisms.”

While this does provide another layer of security to the development of synthetic organisms, it still begs the question of when there will be proper regulation of synthetic biology.  This is not to say there is no regulation today, for there is.  It is as if we have a bedspread that has been pulled in many different directions as we try to cover a synthetic biology spot by expanding existing coverage of a wide array of bureaucratic organizations each of which are designed to respond to other priorities.

This is like stating that in an environment where everyone is responsible, no one is.  The closest anyone comes to directly regulating this area is the National Institute of Health (NIH).  The law requires that any entity that receives money for research from the NIH must adhere to its guidelines that cover synthetic biology.  Everyone else is free to follow the guidelines or not, or worry about another governmental agency with a regulatory role that can be extended to synthetic biology.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Commerce Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) all have overlapping responsibility for Synthetic Biology.  It is doubtful that any of them has been given any additional budget to extend their regulation to include synthetic biology.  Let us reiterate that when all are responsible, no one is responsible.

There is a thorough description of the patchwork quilt of regulation of synthetic biology which can be found by accessing “synberc.org/safety-and-security-resources” and selecting the “The Regulation of Synthetic Biology: A Guide to U.S. & European Regulations, Rules & Guidelines.”

Synthetic biologists are working to solve humanity’s problems.  Today they are largely self-regulated.  This must change.  There must be regulation but it should be one regime that is worldwide (maybe from the U.N.) and assures that humans will not unleash a foreign organism into the world’s environment.

Use the following sites to gain additional information or access the original documents that were used to generate this article.




Access “synberc.org/safety-and-security-resources” and select the “The Regulation of Synthetic Biology: A Guide to U.S. & European Regulations, Rules & Guidelines.”



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A Sense of Fairness is Genetic

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Jerry

It has long been demonstrated that when self-interest is absent, kindergartners have a sense of fairness.  Now, arguably even before the notion of self-interest, it has been shown that 19 – 21 month old children already have a sense of fairness.

Three researchers from the universities of Illinois and Pennsylvania believe they have proven one of two possible conclusions.  The first is that the sense of fairness is one of the innate and universal conditions with which we all come equipped or the second is a behavioral rule acquired by infants derived from observing or participating in everyday social interactions.  The researchers have left both as possible sources.

However, since the study conducted is on children younger than ever before, the researchers tend to believe the former or that a sense of fairness is innate and universal.  This is because the tests conducted were on 1½ year olds who barely have developed language and have almost no social interactions outside those with siblings and parents.

The outcome of the research is described as follows, “In Experiment 1, 19-month-olds expected an experimenter to distribute two items equally between two individuals; in Experiment 2, 21-month-olds expected an experimenter to distribute rewards equally between two individuals when both had worked, but not when one had worked while the other had chosen not to.”

The report continued that, “The same behavior on the part of the experimenter – giving one item to each individual – was thus viewed as expected in the first context, but not in the second.  Together these results suggest that, by 19 – 21 months, infants show context-sensitive expectations about the allocation of resources and dispensation of rewards, at least in simple situations.”

Even the site in the brain for fairness was found in 2010.  This plus the conclusion that a sense of fairness, representing equal reward for equal effort, is innate in all of us raises the issue of how and when self-interest, causing us to take a larger share, was introduced into personalities.  Simple observation shows that self-interest and making/getting more than the other guy is the much stronger motivation as life progresses.

When does this type of self-interest begin?  Is it the parent’s first admonishment that we should not allow another child to take our toy?  Is it the result of all the competitive situations we put our children in?  Does it start when we let a sibling take a larger piece of something?  Is it reinforced by the endless personal greed in competitions fostered by being in business or by playing the market?

In any case it is clear the society and its parents should foster and emphasize this sense of fairness and discourage the type of behavior that allows a disproportionate share to be seized by the greedy.  Fairness in the distribution of assets and rewards should be a singular objective of both individuals and of societies.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents.






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Genetic History: Some Have Made Their Mark

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Jerry

Genome sequencing is rapidly advancing our knowledge of genetic contributions to the human species.   Recent genetic studies indicate interbreeding between Africans who initially migrated around the world and made up the largest part of the modern human genome, with Neanderthals, Denisovans, and an as yet unknown branch of hominid that contributed to our genetic code.

This new knowledge is demonstrating the evolutionary tree of modern humans includes new ancestral groups.  We see their presence in our genetic code.  This is becoming readily apparent from largely mitochondrial DNA, as well as nuclear DNA, extracted from archeological sites widely distributed in Africa, Siberia, Northern Germany, and Eurasia.

A recent article in Nature shows a likely gene flow that puts the contribution of the unknown ancient population in perspective.  It is from a recent article in the January 2, 2014 issue of nature magazine by Ewan Birney and Jonathan K. Pritchard.  It contains a chart showing first the genetic input of an unknown archaic population was followed by the main human tree splitting into two, with modern Africans separated from Neanderthals and Denisovans and a later branching to two separate  directions for Neanderthals and Denisovans.

This article stated “One surprise was the first clear evidence for interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans; another was the discovery of a second type of archaic hominin in Eurasia in addition to Neanderthals.  This group has been dubbed Denisovans.”  Continuing, the article states, “Most provocatively, Prufer et al. find evidence for levels of gene flow into Denisovans of sequence that is different from that of any known group, implying that there is at least one more, so far undiscovered, archaic-hominin group.”

This new information suggests some unusual conclusions can be drawn.  We have dramatically expanded our abilities to extract genetic information from all sorts of ancient remains.  The genetic material used for these studies is from single individuals in the distant past in each population group.  It is clear their presence and existence is indelibly inscribed in our own genetic code.  This knowledge of them has survived the passage of time.  These individuals, who ever they were, have created a lasting impact.

Use the following links to obtain more information regarding this subject matter or to access the source documentation.







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