Court rules: gene editing is genetic modification

September 2018

Concerns that the European Commission was getting itself in such a twist just trying to define new mutagenesis techniques that it would never get its head round how to regulate them [1] seem to have been straightened out by the European Court of Justice.

Gene editing creates a precise mess

September 2018

CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology is causing the jitters. Hailed as "highly precise" and "virtually impossible to detect", CRISPR has become the GM technique which biotech and medical researchers are banking on [1]. The reason, it seems, for CRISPR's "highly precise" reputation is that it's designed (by humans) to latch onto a highly precise location in the genome.

So convinced have scientists been of the mechanistic nature of CRISPR-Cas9's seek-and-chop action, that checks on possible associated mutations have been limited to the immediate vicinity of the target site and to DNA sequences elsewhere with a known similarity to the target.

In fact, confidence is such that correction of faulty human genes using CRISPR has already moved to human trials. This may have been premature, because two studies have now pointed out that the human cells which allow their faulty genes to be sorted have other inherent faults which can lead to cancer [2].

Realistic mixtures of common chemicals are not safe

September 2018

The chemicals we're exposed to are checked by careful scientific experimentation to see what level we can safely consume. Science doesn't allow side issues to muddle the results: the substance being tested isn't contaminated, the animals fed the substance aren't compromised by background ill-health, poor nutrition or old age. This is good, controlled, repeatable science.

To add to the certainty that nothing irrelevant is skewing the result, a key part of the definition of a 'toxin' is that the substance becomes more harmful as exposure to it increases.

In real-life, however, things are different. We're not all young, healthy and well-fed, and in truth we're routinely exposed to a witch's brew of substances plus impurities, albeit on a micro-scale.

Triple stacked GM maize causes leaky stomachs

September 2018
Because partially digested food can be held in the stomach for some hours, the stomach is the part of our body most exposed to the materials in our diet. Yet, tests able to reveal pathological changes and gastric dysfunction, such as measurements of stomach tissue structure or diagnostic staining of stomach cells, are never included in GM safety assessments.

An Australian team of scientists has made a start on filling this gap.

Creeping grass with creeping toxins

August 2018

Pure creeping bentgrass and nothing but creeping bentgrass is a must-have for golf-courses.

Its fine texture and ability to 'creep', forming a dense, even cover, are prized by groundskeepers. For professional tournaments with big money at stake, weeds are a no-no. Anything other than 100% bentgrass makes any kind of putt on a green unreliable.

Back in 2003, when agribusiness giants Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto trialed RoundupReady bentgrass which needed nothing more than a squirt of Roundup herbicide to keep it pristine, they thought they were onto a winner. In fact, it turned into a giant headache which continues to this day [1].

CRISPR cancer warning

August 2018

An inescapable and potentially catastrophic weakness in all forms of the genomic molecular manipulations currently fashionable in science, is that healthy cells don't tolerate interference.

Biotech scientists have devised a plethora of clever tricks to force unwanted changes on the cell. The tricks range from ballistic missiles, to pathogenic microbes, to viruses, to chemical- or electrical-disruption, to weird nucleic acid* constructs, and are all designed to by-pass the mechanisms which keep a cell whole, functional and viable.

Forward-looking FriendlyTM mozzies to beat malaria

August 2018

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Paraguay officially free of malaria after zero recorded cases in five years. Algeria, Argentina and Uzbekistan are on track to be declared malaria-free later this year.

As the head of the WHO said, the importance of this success story is that it shows what is possible: "If malaria can be eliminated in one country, it can be eliminated in all countries".

The problem with malaria is that, although it can be eliminated locally by wiping out the mosquitoes which harbour it and treating its victims so they don't pass the disease on, the mozzies and their parasites will always come back. Human beings will visit malarial regions and return with infections, mosquitoes will fly in from neighbouring infected areas, and both the flies and the parasites will evolve resistance to the chemicals designed to kill them. All this means you have to keep on the case.