Tag Archive | "genetic engineering"

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E.U. Defeat and Study Concerns

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Jerry

After decades of resistance by countries to E.U. directives to accept genetically engineered (GE) crops, a committee of the E.U. has acknowledged the rights of its countries to ban them.  On December 3, 2014 representatives of the E.U. Parliament and E.U. member states reached agreement to allow member countries to ban genetically engineered crops in their own territory.  If the whole Parliament and collective E.U. countries endorse the agreement and it goes into effect in 2015, it represents a major capitulation.

Resistance to GE crops is fueled by periodic studies that suggest they are potentially harmful to the health of either the animals or humans that consume them.   An example is a study completed in 2013 and published in PLOS ONE that stated that complete genes from a GE crop are transferred whole from the human digestive system into the circulation system.

Scientists admit they do not know what the long-term effects on humans are from these genes.  They also admit they do not know the mechanism that allows the genes to pass the blood barrier to enter the human circulation systems.  It is this ignorance that suggests these foods should be put on hold until we know more.  One Canadian scientist, David Suzuki PhD, has said that human beings are part of a “massive genetic experiment”.

Another factor causing the refusal of the E.U. member states to adopt GE crops may be the ethics of moving ahead when there are still outstanding issues to be resolved.  There has been considerable work analyzing the moral issues raised by genetically modified organisms.  These support a slower adoption of these crops.

Of course none of these factors are an issue in the U. S. that produces more than half the GE crops consumed around the world.  GE crops were planted on 169 million acres in the U.S. in 2013.   These crops (mainly corn, cotton and soybeans) are the predominant genetically engineered crops.

The U.S. market leader, Monsanto, has found terrific synergy with its herbicide “Roundup ©.”  GE crops that resist Roundup © have led to a significant increase in the amount of the weed killer (glyphosate) sold as well as the seeds of crops that cannot be killed by Round-up ©.  This is because they are Roundup Ready ©.

The use of Monsanto’s weed killer (Roundup) on crops that resist its influence (Roundup Ready) supposedly leads to less use of the weed killer.  Critics who monitor the sale of the herbicide however see a disproportionate increase in its sales.  This would indicate that farmers are indiscriminate in their use of the herbicide since they are using seeds which produce crops that are unaffected by glyphosate (Roundup ©).

An open recognition of this agreement represents a failure by the E.U. and a major defeat for agricultural and chemical companies that produce and have been sponsoring the GE crops.  Of interest however are the countries in the E.U. that are on each of the respective sides of the issue.

The bigger European countries of France and Germany have actively opposed planting of genetically engineered crops.  They have been joined by Austria, Hungary, Greece, Luxembourg and Bulgaria.

This opposition in Germany is surprising given the companies who headquarter there.  Bayer AG and BASF are German companies that have supported GE crops.  Why do the Germans continue to adamantly oppose planting these crops when their own business leaders recommend them?

Some of the smaller E.U. countries, presumably more susceptible to political pressure, are raising genetically engineered crops that have received approval.  These countries include Spain, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Romania and Poland.  They have been joined by the UK that supports GE products.  All of the other countries fall somewhere in between.

Both the E.U. reversal and the recent health studies should give encouragement to those who keep trying to get mandatory labeling passed in the U.S.  They are not alone in their opposition to genetic modification of foodstuffs or in their insistence on mandatory labeling.  While we may have missed the opportunity to ban these crops, there is still time to let the consumer decided what to put in their bodies.  This is what labeling will accomplish.

Use the following links to access more information or the original source documents used for this article.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6215/1280.summary

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pone.0069805

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/01/09/confirmed-dna-from-genetically-modified-crops-can-be-transfered-to-humans-who-eat-them-2/

http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err162.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer

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Synthetic Biology Advances With No Oversight

Posted on 15 July 2014 by admin

Scientists have now created a self-replicating organism that can pass its uniqueness to subsequent generations.  All species of life on Earth from bacteria and viruses to human beings use the same genetic code.  This consists of four types of chemicals in DNA, A, C, G, and T.  The sequence of these chemicals, nucleotides or bases, determine which proteins each cell makes.

According to a New York Times article appearing on May 7, 2014 researchers have created two new nucleotides in addition to the original four, an X-Y pair.  They have put the new X-Y pair into a common bacterium, E. coli. In a unique way, “the bacteria were able to reproduce normally, through a bit more slowly than usual, replicating the X and Y along with the natural nucleotides.  In effect, the bacteria have a genetic code of six letters rather than four, perhaps allowing them to make novel proteins that could function in a completely different way from those created naturally.”

Each organism had only one X-Y pair and we don’t know if it would function with many of the new combinations.  We don’t know how long such a bacteria would survive retaining the foreign code.  In other words there is more we do not know than what we do know.

The uniqueness of this progress lies in the ability to get the X-Y pair to successfully duplicate as the E. coli cell splits.  Also, it is the ability of successive generations to copy the six-letter genetic code exactly.

This progress in synthetic biology may be why a recent conference attracted representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security.  The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently created the Biological Technologies Office, with Dr. Alicia Jackson from MIT named as deputy director.

Dr. Neil Gershenfeld, a physicist from MIT was quoted in a New York Times article as saying, “The new abilities, he noted, raised ethical questions that are as yet unanswered.  When the ability to convert biology to data and data into biology becomes that cheap, that agile, that easy to do, what are the consequences?  The most exciting and frightening thing I saw this morning was a slide talking about designing and synthesizing genomes next to a slide describing a human being.”

This progress is attracting many of the same players who make genetically modified foodstuffs and drugs.  MIT announced its Synthetic Biology Center has just inked a three-year collaboration agreement with Pfizer to advance synthetic biology discovery and development.

There still is no governmental oversight or regulation of synthetic biology.  With incremental progress of synthetic biology’s efforts, the fear grows that there will ultimately be success.  In fact, the ultimate concern is that some alien life form will find itself loose in our environment.

A May 7,2014 New York Times article quotes Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, a Canadian advocacy organization as saying, “The arrival of this unprecedented ‘alien’  life form could in time have far reaching ethical, legal and regulatory implications.  While synthetic biologists invent new ways to monkey with the fundamentals of life, governments haven’t even been able to cobble together the basics of oversight, assessment or regulation for this surging field.”

Even with known procedures and strict security with known dangerous materials, mistakes will be made that will compromise our DNA.  An example is the recent admission that the Centers for Disease Control mislabeled and mishandled samples of deadly pathogens, including anthrax, smallpox, botulism bacteria, and a virulent bird flu virus.  These errors were committed in five occasions over the last decade.

These failures raise concerns that even the U.S. government, in its most closely watched environments, cannot safely store and transport dangerous microbes.  These include live samples of decades old vials of smallpox that killed hundreds of millions of people before being eradicated in the 1970s and 1980s.  A bioterrorist expert was most concerned about the distribution of a bird flu virus that was contaminated.  What should have been a safe strain of bird flu virus became a deadly H5N1 virus.

No one is advocating trying to put the genie back in the bottle.  Synthetic biology is here to stay.  In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time it was suggested synthetic biology should be taken out of the start-up stage of business where the profit motive is the reason venture capitalists are invested and returned to basic science.

In this case we would go backward from applied science to pure science by denying all patents on the grounds that life is the basis of these discoveries so there is insufficient novelty.  Denying patents would remove all economic incentive and return the field to scientists.

Now we must admit the moment has passed for this single step or for industry self-regulation.  On this basis there should be federal oversight established in four governmental departments; Centers for Disease Control, Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Drug Administration and Homeland Security.   All of these departments should be engaged in drafting a law to be submitted by the Administration to Congress for action.

In addition, they should begin immediate oversight and regulation of the science consistent with their normal focus on our behalf.  This is an industry that is using the genetic code we all share for its own gains without thought to the continued integrity of our genetic code or to protection of the citizenry or environment we all share.   It has fought all efforts to seek self-regulation and now needs to be controlled.

Our government needs to stop looking at synthetic biology as a future opportunity for the U.S. to once again be a leader in a technology.  It needs to get serious about synthetic biology and recognize the threats it poses.

Use the following links to gain more information or access the source documents for this article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/08/business/researchers-report-breakthrough-in-creating-artificial-genetic-code.html?_r=o

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/09/science/a-synthetic-biology-conference-lures-an-intriguing-audience.html?_r=o

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/-5/08/business/researchers-report-breakthrough-in-creating-artificial-genetic-code.html?_r=0

http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/mits-synthetic-biology-center-collaborates-with-pfizer-to-advance-synthetic-biology-research-in-drug-discovery-and-development

http://news.yahoo.com/forgotten-vials-smallpox-found-storage-room-160303452.html

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140327-functional-designer-chromosome-synthetic-biology/

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v509/n7500/abs/nature13314.html

 

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Approval Near for GM Three Parent Babies

Posted on 03 March 2014 by admin

Now the FDA in the U.S. has joined the U.K.’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in being very close to approving trials of human genetic modifications that would create three parent babies.  Both countries have formal and informal rules that forbid germ-line modification where embryos have their DNA modified and the alterations can be passed on to future offspring.

Fortunately, even if the Authority in the U.K. approves the trials, the issue will have to be debated and approved by Parliament before it can move forward.  This is not the case with the FDA in the U.S.  FDA approval is the only requirement to begin the trials.

Many ethicists believe this is the beginning of a trend toward designer babies.  This is where prospective parents decide what characteristics they want their offspring to have and genetic modifications are made to order.

In an August 2013 post entitled Chimeras for Transplant and Third Parent Immunity, we raised the issue of genetic modification of a woman’s egg with genes from a second woman’s egg with the resulting egg being fertilized by a man.  This was identified as the newest approach to protect babies where the biological mother had mitochondrial disease.

The framing of the proposal is that it allows a woman with mitochondrial disease to have children without any fear of passing on mitochondrial diseases.  This creates a very sympathetic public reaction.  Ethicists and geneticists point out however that no one knows what effects there will be on future generations from having the additional genes of the third parent.

According to Dr. Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California, the concern is that the genes involved “have pervasive effects on development and metabolism.  And the permissive record of the UK regulatory authorities raises the prospect that inheritable mitochondrial changes would be used as a door-opening wedge towards full-out germ-line manipulation, putting a high-tech eugenic social dynamic into play.”

The fear is of unpredicted outcomes in the children whose genes have been modified or in subsequent generations of direct descendants.  Also, Dr. Darnovsky stated these trials would be “the first time a government body had okayed genetic changes for humans and their descendants.”

Even researchers who are generally supportive of the procedure have their doubts about proceeding to human trials.  An article issued by Reuters said that Dr. Evan Snyder of the Sanford/Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who chaired one of the committees queried by the U.S. FDA, said “there was probably not enough data in animals…to move on to human trials without answering a few additional questions” about safety.

The United States has a long history of supporting genetic engineering and modification.  This would be its first experiment approved with human beings but the precedent has been set with its long history of approving and giving worldwide support to genetically modified plants and crops.

The FDA’s support has typically benefitted the U.S. agribusinesses that have commercialized these products and have strong lobbies.  It appears there is not an organized lobby that would put pressure for approval of these trials.

For this reason, public pressure, domestic or foreign, might work to halt a positive decision to go ahead. I would recommend that readers who oppose germ-line modifications contact their congressmen or senators if they are U.S. residents.  Opponents, in other countries should send correspondence directly to the U.S. FDA at 10903 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland 20993 or call 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332).  Unfortunately, approval by the U.S. will be used as an example of ‘international competition’ to spur the UK to approve as well.

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

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/25/us-usa-health-ivf-idUSBREA1o1WL20140225?feedType=RSS

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6173/827.summary?sid=615fffda-ad98-4b10-abd6-bb0e21b55aee

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/02/28/uk-seeks-public-input-3-parent-embryos

http://www.nature.com/news/a-slippery-slope-to-human-germline-modification-1.13358

 

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Chimeras for Transplant Organs and Third Parent Immunity

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Jerry

How you feel about something may be a function of how broadly you generalize or how narrowly you define it.  We have two scientific situations that specifically sound positive and yet generally may set disturbing precedents.  Each of us should decide how general we think we should be, what are the downsides and who determines outcomes.

In Japan there is a partial governmental ban on experiments that create chimeras, or mix human cells with cells of other animals to create cross species hybrids.  Creation of chimeras is permitted in vitro, a test tube or petri dish involving just cells, for up to fourteen days after which the resulting cells are destroyed.  No experiments are permitted in vivo, or with a whole living organism.

It is just such a whole living organism experiment that has been proposed by Dr. Hiromitsu Nakauchi, a stem cell biologist at the University of Tokyo.  He believes he can grow human organs in a pig fetus by implanting human pluripotent stem cells into a genetically engineered pig fetus that lacks a specific organ.

An article appearing in the June 28, 2013 issue of Science magazine states “Mouse experiments have shown that pluripotent cells can fill the developmental niche opened by the absence of an organ.”  Dr. Nakauchi believes he can eliminate the fear of organ rejection by using the recipient’s own pluripotent cells to be grown in the pig.  After the piglet is born, when the organ is the right size, it would be harvested and transplanted into the human being.

While having received a Japanese government ethics panel endorsement, Dr. Nakauchi will probably wait no longer.  He has just been awarded a $6.2 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and is in discussions to open a new lab at Stanford University.  The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was formed when voters in the state approved a 2004 ballot proposition providing $3 billion of taxpayer funding for stem cell experimentation.

A different proposal has been approved for trial in the United Kingdom.  It involves a strategy for avoiding a baby inheriting mitochondrial disease from the genes of its biological mother.  The strategy is to merge the nucleus of an egg from the affected mother with the egg of another woman who has no genetic anomaly and then have the merged egg fertilized by the sperm of a man.  This would produce a baby that genetically has three parents but does not develop mitochondrial disease.

The worldwide controversy surrounding this experimental procedure is that it would allow the baby to pass on its altered genetic code to its eventual offspring.  This means the change created by the merged eggs constitutes genetic germline modification.

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California, in a July 17, 2013 issue of Nature magazine states “Were the United Kingdom to grant a regulatory (permanent) go-ahead, it would unilaterally cross a legal and ethical line on this issue that has been observed by the entire international community.  This consensus holds that genetic-engineering tools may be applied, with appropriate care and safeguards, to treat an individual’s medical condition, but should not be used to modify gametes or early embryos and so manipulate the characteristics of future children.”

In both of these cases the specifics, especially given the targeted outcomes, clearly offer benefit, if successful, for thousands of people.  Issues arise however, when what happens in the experiments is generalized to permit a host of other experiments with far less compelling outcomes or even risks of serious harm.

These experiments should cause each of us to personally consider what kind of genetic engineering should be allowed.  A series of questions come to mind.  For instance, should the applied science of genetic engineering continue to be largely unregulated?  Should exceptions be made and by whom?  Whom should we appoint to sit in judgment and make decisions for us?  How will those we appoint represent us faithfully and how will they know what we collectively think?  These scientific issues may have a profound effect on our collective future.  They deserve our personal attention.

Use the following links to obtain additional information or see original source documents:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/340/6140/1509.sumary?sid=ad66cb5e-78e1-449d-936b-79d2d5e8e5a1

http://news.sciencemag.org/health/2013/03/u.k.-agency-cautiously-endorses-mitochondria-replacement

http://www.nature.com/news/a-slippery-slope-to-human-germline-modification-1.13358

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleno/34790/title/uk-may-allow-mitochondrial-replacement

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jan/05/chimera-monkeys-combining-several-embryo

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Genetically Modified Sexual Aptitude

Posted on 02 June 2013 by Jerry

Comparison between genetically modified and natural salmon.

Comparison between genetically modified and natural salmon.

Scientists are afraid of a genetically modified new species that disrupts the natural ecology by crowding out and starving competing species.  One that grows faster than a wild organism, becomes bigger and breeds indiscriminately spreading its aggressive characteristics.

Rather than promoting diversity which science shows is good for evolution, it significantly reduces variety.  It increases ecological dependency on a single species creating greater risk if something were to happen to that newly dominant species.  This is how we have population crashes of a species and the collapse of its ecology.

This risk, the viability of the fishing industry, and human health are major reasons over 59 retailers selling natural fish in over 4660 stores announced they will not sell the genetically modified AquAdvantage® Salmon even if approved by the Federal Drug Administration.  These grocery chains include well-known companies such as Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, H-E-B, Giant Eagle, and Meijer.

These and other retailers are now also reacting to a new Canadian study recently released by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society.  Reporting that AquAdvantage® Salmon easily breed with brown trout and they also show the salmon hybrid’s “competitive dominance” over other, natural, brown trout.  This would indicate that both natural brown trout and Atlantic salmon are at risk of declining stocks due to this aggressive genetically modified hybrid.

While AquaBounty, the company responsible for the GM fish, indicates it will only raise sterile fish even the FDA admits that up to 5% of the fish will be fertile.  When discussing future large-scale production, which AquaBounty hopes represents millions of fish, this 5% will be tens of thousands of fertile fish.

We have been following the AquAdvantage Salmon developments in various posts on this blog for months.  The significance of this salmon is that if the FDA approves it for human consumption and sale, which appears likely, it will be the first genetically modified animal to itself be introduced into the food supply.  All previous genetically modified foods have been largely plants that have been mainly modified to be impervious to various manufacturer’s herbicides or pesticides.

There is high certainty that if this fish is approved, many other genetically modified animals for which FDA approvals will be sought will follow it rapidly.  Besides concerns there is no labeling requirement to identify these GM foods, the FDA unfortunately is in dire need of a significant updating and modernization.  The FDA is today operating under animal drug requirements designed for the testing and regulation of feed additives and animal vaccines.  Their required testing is not designed to study the long-term effects of human consumption or the ecological damage that genetically modified animals can cause.

The present reality of genetically modified foods, plant and animal, must be recognized.  The long-term ramifications to our ecology and health must be studied before further GM organisms are taken out the lab and introduced into our food supply and environment.  The risks are too big and far-reaching to not be studied.  While not popular with businesses, environmental impact assessments in other situations protect the environment and human populations.  A comparable study methodology must be imposed on these newly proposed GM products.

Use the following links to obtain further information:

http://www.foe.org/news/blog/2013-05-no-room-on-our-plates-for-genetically-engineered-sea

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blogs/ge-salmon-the-promiscuous-fish-who-knew-not-the-fda/

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1763/20131047.full.pdf+html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/20/major-us-supermarkets-boycott-gm-salmon

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2013/05/meijer_joins_major_retailers_i.html   

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