A new GM maize with questions

January 2015

A summary of a scientific opinion on an entirely new GM maize was published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2015. Under scrutiny was Syngenta's Maize 5307 for food and feed use (not cultivation). The maize has two novel genes.

Even in summary form, the EFSA assessment raises some interesting questions.

GMO animals in the pipeline

January 2016
Photo © Greenpeace / Christian Lehsten
With GM salmon looming very close to dinner-plates on the other side of the pond [1], what's likely to be the next gene-tinkered animal flesh in the supermarket?

The odds seem to be on sumo-wrestler-style pigs, cows and sheep.

New Zealand's GM cow disaster

January 2016

Ever since Dolly the cloned sheep was born in Scotland in 1996, biotech scientists have had their sights on GM livestock.

'Cloning' can now refer to several procedures, but generally involves removing a nucleus from the cell of an animal with desired characteristics and inserting it into an egg cell whose own nucleus has been removed.  The restructured egg is then stimulated to divide and form an embryo which is inserted into the womb of a surrogate mother.  If all goes well, the pregnancy goes to full-term and a healthy, fertile offspring ensues. 

For genetic engineers, that brief availability of the cell nucleus of a future animal is a golden opportunity to insert a gene.

The procedure involves at least three animals: the nucleus donor, the egg-cell donor, and the embryo recipient.  Because the success rate is low, it also involves multiple embryos and multiple sets of cell donors and surrogate mothers.  Add to this the veterinary surgeons, drugs, field-station facilities and staff, specialist laboratories and, of course, biotech scientists.  Clearly, cloning doesn't come cheap.

GM salmon approved

January 2016
In November 2015, after nearly two decades in the regulatory pipeline, the biotech creators of GM fast-growing salmon were "delighted and somewhat surprised" when the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) finally approved their novel fish [1].

Labelling requirements have been left vague, limited to draft guidelines on wording for possible voluntary 'GM' or 'non-GM' labelling.

Smart breeding tools, or hidden GM?

January 2016

The major GM issue for 2016 is certainly going to be the 'New Breeding Techniques' (NBTs) now pouring out of labs.  These are designed to impose "deeper and more complex changes in the genetic makeup and metabolic pathways of living organisms" than good, old-fashioned genetic modification [Steinbrecher]. 

'NBT' is a catch-all phrase for a plethora of molecular spanners, nuts and bolts to change life.  They are described by names and abbreviations which wouldn't immediately suggest GM, even the ones which are, in fact, just new versions of the old (see below).

Artificial horizontal gene transfer (HGT)

January 2016

"Genetically modified” or "GM" is the term settled on by politicians to describe the artificial creation of genes (genetic engineering) and the artificial change of DNA in an organism (genetic transformation). 

Even in the earliest days, GM DNA was never as simple as a single protein-coding 'gene'.  Scientists soon realised that their isolated DNA needed all manner of adjustments and extra bits if it were to work at all in its new environment, and some of their creations don't code for a protein at all but were found to alter the function of the natural genome around them in useful (to man) ways. 

For twenty years the public have been listening to claims that 'GM' is 'safe', but the proof of GM safety shifts with the tides.  And consumer distrust has continued unabated. 

The big new propaganda event of last year was the 'discovery' of a "naturally GM" food crop [1]. 

Be prepared for 2016

January 2016

Quite a few dark GM clouds were gathering during 2015.  Be prepared for the storms to break. 

Any time now, expect a raft of industry stunts to persuade regulators and consumers that black is white.  Try these for size...