GM in Mexican maize revisited

February 2018

One of the early embarrassments for the biotech industry was the publication of a study in 2001 which reported GM contamination in Mexican traditionally bred maize varieties (landraces - see Note).

Mexico is the centre of origin of maize and an important reservoir of genetic diversity of the species. To preserve this valuable and irreplaceable resource, the cultivation of GM maize has been banned there since 1998.

The unwelcome finding of contamination was met with a slew of pro-GM publications casting doubt on its validity by criticising its methodology.

RNAi fantasy

February 2018

Some 40% of pollinator species, including butterflies and bees, are facing extinction.

Climate change is, of course, taking its toll as wild animals find their life-cycles out of step with the plants they depend on. More has been made, however, of the toll exacted by neonicotinoid insecticides ('neonics').

Now, the largest ever field study of the effects of neonics on bees has, indeed, confirmed the negative impact. It also revealed the extent of contamination of wild plants. This was backed up by second study published the same day which reported that wildflowers are the bees' main source of exposure to the insecticides.

The gene drive offensive

February 2018


The threat posed by gene drives to our environment, our health, our food supply, our livelihoods and our peace appears to be from the enemy within.

Gene drives are created using a relatively simple and cheap molecular technology, and are designed to cut-and-paste themselves into specific locations in the genome of a target organism. Because of a gene drive's unnatural self-spreading properties, the genetic disruption it causes ends up in all offspring and becomes ubiquitous in the population within a very few generations. If the gene-drive is incompatible with survival or reproduction, it will drive the target population to extinction.

CRISPR muscle man

February 2018

Slaves of the world arise and revolt! You need, no longer, be subject to your cruel gene-masters. CRISPR-man will sell ...er, show you the way to freedom.

This new-found slavery has been laid bare by the biohacker movement.

Herbicides stimulate antibiotic resistance

February 2018

Multi-antibiotic resistance in pathogenic microbes is a serious, and increasingly common, occurrence. It complicates the treatment of infectious diseases, makes health care more expensive, and can be a death-sentence for the patient.

We know that, once a pathogen evolves a mutant gene for antibiotic resistance, this can be passed to other microbes by horizontal gene transfer. Long ago, concerns were raised that the artificial antibiotic resistance genes often added to GM crop plants as markers during their development could fuel the emergence of antibiotic resistant pathogens. No one seems to be tracking whether this is a reality, but bugs can make themselves resistant to toxic medicines by other means, and counter-intuitively these 'other means' can be fuelled by herbicide-tolerant GM crops.

When bacteria are exposed to a toxin, their first line of defence is to switch on their own pumps to rid themselves of it. If this physiological mechanism can kick in fast enough (before the toxin kills it), the bug can make itself resistant to an antibiotic for as long as necessary.

The link to GM crops is that herbicidal chemicals and their spray co-formulants are also toxic to bacteria. Tests on the glyphosate-based herbicide used on most current GM crops, and on dicamba and 2,4-D which are up-and-coming replacements for glyphosate, plus the 'surfactants' added to all three to aid penetration into the weeds, showed they all trigger the toxin-pump mechanism in three commonly pathogenic bacteria. 'Surfactants' are detergents, classed as 'inerts' by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and are ignored in safety assessments. However, the bacteria clearly don't find them 'inert'.

70% of world's population fed by peasant farmers

February 2018

Of all our modern 'conveniences', the invention of the Industrial Food Chain must rank as the most unfit-for-purpose.

The Chain has a beginning, a middle and an end:
  • The beginning is all the resources needed for monoculture of crops: hybrid seed, large tracts of flat land, plentiful water, machines (plus the fossil fuels needed to manufacture and run them), and agrichemicals (plus the fossil fuels needed to manufacture and apply them)
  •  the middle is transport, storage, processing, packaging and retailing, all of which require an infrastructure of facilities and machines (plus the fossil fuels needed to create and maintain them) 
  • The end is the food in your kitchen, profit here and there along the way, and wasted stuff. 
Like all chains, the Industrial Food Chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unlike all chains, every one of The Chain's links is weak.