November 2019

Gene-editing is a rising star because it is 'easy' and 'precise. Yet, gene-edited animals haven't so far managed to make it over the horizon due to the technical difficulty in preventing DNA pollution of the edited animals' genome [1,2].

However, much of the immediate commercial interest in gene-editing lies in crop plants, and plants present a whole stack of extra obstacles to gene-editing not present in animals.

Captured DNA

November 2019
The pre-eminent biotech breakthrough of the new millennium has undoubtedly been gene-editing.   

For commercial applications, gene-editing is attractive: one, it's simple, two, it's precise in regard to what and where the edit is, three, above all it doesn't insert foreign DNA.  This last attraction is the most important because it's used to claim that gene-edited organisms are non-GM, and that the edits simply mimic what can happen in nature, and that they therefore need no special regulation.  

Apart from number one above, the 'simple' bit, all the rest of these attractions have been proven wrong. 

Hornless gene edited cattle with extras

November 2019

Funny, how history keeps repeating itself.  In the early 1990s, the slow-to-rot FlavrSavr GM tomato was going to be the poster child for genetic transformation.  Its creators in Calgene, were convinced they knew exactly what DNA sequences they had inserted and touted the precision of the technology in their representations to the US Food and Drug Federation (FDA).  Interestingly, the FDA asked Calgene to prove the claim.   

The upshot was that Calgene discovered bits of DNA from the bacterial vector (Agrobacterium) had also been inserted into the GM tomato genome. 

Quarter of a century later, genetic transformation is old-hat and gene-editing is all the rage because it's precise.  So much so, that the edits deliver the same outcome as "could be achieved by breeding in the farmyard". 

GM mozzie ethics wanting

November 2019

Manufacturer of GM insects, Oxitec, seems to have had little difficulty persuading Brazilian regulators to approve the commercial release of its first-generation, 'male sterile' GM mosquitoes intended to control the spread of Dengue virus. 

GM mozzies out of control?

November 2019

GM 'sterile' male mosquitoes are designed to breed with natural, native females, but fail to generate viable offspring.  In theory, these GM insects are supposed to control the mosquito-borne spread of viruses, such as Dengue fever, by suppressing their vector.  

However, a study has been published showing a "significant" emergence of hybrid, GM-strain/native, mosquitoes in a Brazilian city after releases of Oxitec's 'sterile male' GM mosquitoes.   

Fantasy golden rice

October 2019

A major setback in the development of 'golden rice' intended to relieve vitamin A deficiency in people in developing areas has always been that the GM rice just doesn't produce enough of the desired 'pro-vitamin A' carotenoids. 

Despite some two decades of failing to develop a viable 'golden rice', the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US Agency for International Development (USAID) continue to fund the project. 

Their latest trials involved golden rice event 'GR2E' grown in the Philippines. Analyses of this rice for carotenoids plus a lot of extrapolation, generalisation, guestimates, and calculation led to the conclusion (stated in the Abstract) that "Mean provitamin A concentrations in milled rice of GR2E can contribute up to 89-113% and 57-99% of estimated average requirement for vitamin A for preschool children in Bangladesh and the Philippines respectively". 

A well-known GM promoter ecstatically announced this to be "checkmate" for golden rice's critics, and tweeted the conclusion (more or less as stated in the Abstract). 

Dealing with a climate-changed, salty world

October 2019

Countries across the globe are facing a future of dwindling fresh water and cultivable land, plus the prospect of social unrest if food supplies collapse. 
America's monocultures of herbicide- and insect-resistant GM crops are all heavily dependent on agrichemical inputs and water.  This intensive agriculture is outstripping the water supply, and what water's left is increasingly saline.   

U.S. GM 'answers' are of course what get the press coverage.