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.

Holistic gene reality

August 2018

In 2012, entrepreneur Craig Venter was going to save the world with synthetic microbes. In his view life is simply "DNA software" with a "cell there to read it" [1].

He set about creating a cell with the smallest number of genes, "a cell so simple that we can determine the molecular and biological function of every gene". His plan was to identify a core set of genes and synthesise a minimal genome able to produce an independent, replicating cell. The ultimate goal was the construction of a designer cell with whatever properties human beings desired.

By the time he published a paper on his project four years later, Venter had realised the whole life thing is more complex than he'd envisaged: the genes not critical for simply staying alive in a perfect, stress-free environment are nevertheless needed for "robust growth".

Meta analysis shows how different GM really is

August 2018

Domestic breeding has been a 'powerful evolutionary force' on our food plants, to which the introduction of GM plants has added a whole new dimension. Noting this, a Mexican team of scientists took a look at the extent of the changes now present in conventional and GM crops compared to their wild ancestors.

Non-GM maize gems

August 2018

US maize farmers have an arsenal of chemical weapons to fight their enemy No.1. But it isn't winning them the war.

'Western corn rootworm' grubs are munching away underground in maize crops in five US States. The worms are oblivious to the toxins applied to the soil, to the toxins applied to the seeds, and to the Bt toxins generated by GM plants themselves. Adult rootworm moths, which snip at the corn silks and prevent pollination, are equally oblivious to chemical attack.

Root feeding damage leads to reduced uptake of nutrients and water by the plant and instability, especially in adverse weather conditions. Yield losses can be catastrophic: western corn rootworm isn't called the "billion-dollar bug" for nothing [1].