GMO mushrooms

June 2016
Photo: button mushrooms. Adam Fagen on Flickr
As if to illustrate how simple the latest technique for gene modification is, it seems likely that Americans will be eating 'CRISPR/Cas9' [1] gene-edited 'anti-browning' mushrooms within a couple of years.

Eugenics - closer than it's ever been before

June 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
Feature

US regulators seem determined not to grasp that any humanly-contrived direct remodelling of DNA is genetic modification no matter what you call it, and that any genetic modification has unpredictable side-effects.

This has worrying implications for our food chain [1].  However, the major focus of the latest gene-changing technique, CRISPR/Cas9 [2], is actually human beings.

Cracks in GMO America

June 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
After over a decade of GM commodity crop growing, the first visible cracks began to appear in the carefully crafted American public's 'acceptance' of their novel diet.

Two years ago, it was clear that a deep scepticism towards the food industry and its use of technology had taken root.

Cancer in the air

June 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Glyphosate is the world's most used herbicide, widely applied in both urban and agricultural locations, and increasingly heavily sprayed on most GM crops.

Just a year ago we reported on science indicating that, while glyphosate enters skin at low levels, repeat doses to damaged skin can increase absorption of the chemical many fold [1].
Links between glyphosate and DNA damage, plus links between glyphosate and impairment of the mechanism for natural cell death, have led to suspicions that our rapidly-dividing skin cells could become cancerous if exposure to the herbicide interfered with their normal transition to the outer, dead, dermal layer.

Since our report, the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen" [2].

A key GM question

June 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
Question: do GM crops benefit people?

This isn't a simple question. 

For one thing, 'GM crops' can mean all manner of different types and varieties of crop plant, into which a vast range of artificial bits of DNA has been inserted.

For another thing, 'benefit' can mean all manner of important societal parameters: good for finances, good for health, good for quality of life, or good for future security.

And moreover, 'people' can mean all manner of unique sectors of society: farmers, consumers, traders, corporations, share-holders, individuals, communities, the literate, the illiterate, the young, the old, the healthy, the unhealthy ...

This level of complexity hasn't helped generate any meaningful science nor discussion on GM.  Indeed, a team of Swedish scientists noted that "the fragmented knowledge on the social impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops is contributing to the polarised debate on the matter".

Enlist duo

June 2016

The biotech industry's answer to the huge weed-problem it has inflicted on farms after years of spraying glyphosate weedkiller on biotech seeds, is (predictably) more of the same.  Indeed, packages of dual herbicide formulations plus dual herbicide-tolerant GM seeds are the business now.

Glyphosate weed-killer is still in there, but Dow Chemical has added in '2,4-D' to create ‘Enlist Duo' formulation for spraying its latest generation of GM corn and soya.  '2,4-D' is another decades-old herbicide, and was one of the two major components of the infamous Agent Orange defoliant used to clear the jungle and destroy crops in Vietnam.

GM and tadpoles don't mix

May 2016

'Bt' toxins are a favourite tool of genetic engineers for creating crops which generate their own pesticide to kill whatever is their most troublesome insect pest.

In Nature, such toxins are formed by a variety of strains of Bacillus thuringienses bacteria (hence 'Bt') found in soil and on plants. Organic farmers may use Bacillus thrunigienses fermentations as natural, short-lived insecticide sprays on their crops. Outside of organic agriculture however, Bt-toxin containing formula are used to control specific problematic insects, such as disease-carrying mosquitoes.