Glyphosate fest

April 2016

The world-renowned German beer industry reacted with shocked disbelief to the finding of glyphosate in 14 of its most popular beers.

Hardly surprising according to The German Brewers Association because 
"the herbicide is now found virtually everywhere after decades of use in agriculture".

Organic farmers pay the price of GM

April 2016

While America wakes up and finds itself with a GM alfalfa pollution problem [1], and Spain scrambles to control its GM maize pollution problem [2], the UK has just found itself with a GM oilseed rape which nearly became a pollution problem.

Britain doesn't, of course, grow GM anything commercially.  The offending genes were found during routine trials of seeds seeking new plant variety registration.  DEFRA quickly recalled the seeds, and ensured that all affected plants will be destroyed by the company which supplied them.  Mysteriously, the seed was imported from France which doesn't grow GM oilseed rape either.

A grass going feral and becoming a conduit for gene contamination is predictable [1].  An invasive gene-transmitting weed from the other side of the world in today's globalised market [2] is something we have to start watching out for.  The possible pollution of our entire seed supply is simply stupidity.

The problems caused by GM contamination aren't abstract or ideological threats. 

GM pollution by invasion

April 2016

America is just beginning out to find out the hard way that growing GM crops with no wild relatives to share their genes with doesn't actually mean they'll stay in the field and under control.  Even after very few years' cultivation, GM alfalfa is now flourishing on US road verges and spreading its genes far and wide [1].

Europe has an interestingly different version of the same problem.

Real-life GM alfalfa contamination

April 2016

The GM alfalfa grass saga continues ... [1]

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has long maintained that GM crops can co-exist with conventional and organic agriculture.  To keep GMOs in the field where they've been planted, all that's needed is for neighbouring farmers to sort things out between themselves, follow "best management practice", and sue each other if things go wrong. 

But, GM alfalfa, is blowing that narrative apart.

Zika and super-zika

April 2016

One of the big health issues to emerge in 2016 is the Brazilian epidemic of babies tragically born with 'microcephaly' (undeveloped brain) and other deformities.  Between October 2015 and January 2016, some 4,000 cases of malformation were reported, with 49 deaths.  Health officials were quick to blame Zika virus which had been first identified in Brazil in April/May 2015.

Gene driven insects

April 2016

Not content with Nature's measured pace for adjusting the genome to suit the ecosystem, the environment and the future, genetic engineers have devised a way to force GMOs to add an extra copy of artificial DNA into their offspring.  This creates a mutagenic chain reaction which drives the artificial DNA progressively into subsequent generations.

The 'gene-drive' is based on a bacterial genome-editing technique described by GM-free Scotland before - CRISPR-Cas9 [1].  'Cas9' is an enzyme which cuts DNA, while the 'CRISPR' part is a homing device to anchor the Cas9 to the desired bit of the genome.  In a gene-drive, the CRISPR-Cas9 stays where it is in the genome and carries on mutating the genome of the wild-type mate during reproduction to produce nothing but mutated offspring.

This means that what genetic engineers can do now is population engineering, and if applied to wild populations this is ecological engineering.