GM in sewage

December 2019

One concern about GM crops which European regulators have always taken seriously, is the possibility of the horizontal gene transfer of artificial antibiotic-resistance genes from GM food plants into strains of bacteria which cause human and livestock disease.

Antibiotic-resistance has been described as medicine's climate change: a modern day plague [1].

Historically, most commercial GM crops incorporated antibiotic-resistance genes as part of their development procedure, and many 'newer' GM crops on the market are little more than stacked versions of the old. Although there's been a shift to the use of other marker genes in GM crops for the US market, antibiotic-resistance genes continue to be present especially in GM consumed in 'lower resourced countries'.

Magic molecular metaphors

December 2019

The latest blue-eyed boy of genetic engineers is the 'CRISPR' gene editing technique [1].

CRISPR is commonly described as a "molecular scalpel" suggesting an edit made with surgical precision, or as "molecular scissors" suggesting a neat, controlled snip, or even as "shears" (to clean up Nature's mess?).

Sceptics have described CRISPR as "a chainsaw in the hands of a child", a "hand grenade", and "malware" which searches out any chosen sequence in the DNA code and corrupts it.

Magic scissors operated by a sorcerer's apprentice might also be apt.

A tale of microbes, your gut and disease

December 2019

Scientists who have escaped the distortions of the reductionist mindset, in which 'life' is a mixture of chemicals dictated by genes, are beginning to recognise that organisms have two genomes*: the 'primary' genome is inside cells and is responsible for cell structure and function; the 'secondary' genome may consist of more genes than the primary one and is contained in the wealth of microbes inside and outside the organism, effectively a dynamic interface between the environment and the individual.

*The genome is the total complement of DNA including genes and other gene-regulating sequences in the individual (US National Library of Medicine)

There's increasing awareness that the quality, proportions and diversity of microbe species in our gut is closely connected to health and disease. Disturbances in our digestive tract flora have been linked to numerous chronic diseases, for example, allergies, autoimmune disorders (such as type 1 diabetes), arthritis, obesity, cardiovascular problems, cancer, learning and memory impairment, anxiety, stress, depression, autism and dementia. Our gut bugs play a leading role in neutralising a huge range of environmental pollutants before they can harm us, and in keeping pathogens at bay.

Natural artificial organisms - whatever next!

December 2019

Definitions of 'transgenic':
  1. containing genetic material artificially transferred from another species
  2. having genetic material, in all cells, that includes a gene or DNA sequence transferred by means of genetic engineering from a genetically unlike organism.
Note the need for an artificial or engineered transfer, specifying that a human action as an essential feature.

Readers of GM-Free Scotland will be aware that genetic engineers don't 'move' genes from one species to another: they build DNA constructs using adapted, man-made DNA templates gleaned from multiple organisms plus the odd totally artificial sequence all cobbled together. The DNA creation is multiplied up in GM bacteria and then used, either to create a GM bacterial plant pathogen or to coat molecular missiles for a gene gun, which are used to force the novel DNA into the target organism.

Does Glyphosate cause breast cancer?

December 2019

Does glyphosate herbicide, sprayed on most GM crops and widely present in our bodies, cause cancer?

The answer is YES, but it's not that simple.

Science born of perverse incentives

December 2019

Perverse: 'persistent in error'; 'different from what is reasonable or required'; 'perverted'; 'wicked' ... (Oxford English Dictionary)

A paper on 'Academic research in the 21st Century' describes how scientific progress and integrity are being adversely affected by the current climate of "perverse incentives" driving research.

For example, the yardstick for the most 'successful' scientist is the one who has published the greatest number of papers, and who has been awarded the most funding.

The outcome of this is an avalanche of substandard papers and short-term experiments. More care and attention is paid to writing grant proposals, in which positive results are oversold and negative results are downplayed, than on data quality. Research 'hot topics' generate a windfall in both potential papers and funding opportunities.

The pinnacle of the scientific profession is, of course, the Nobel prize.

Arm yourself with the facts

November 2019

Science used to mean 'knowledge', a knowledge based on systematic observation and careful experimentation to come to a conclusion as close to the truth as our limited ability allowed.

Now we have GMOs, living products of technology, and science has come to mean bullshit based on systematic assumption and careful avoidance of experiments which might throw up` inescapable, inconvienient conclusions.


November 2019

Gene-editing is a rising star because it is 'easy' and 'precise. Yet, gene-edited animals haven't so far managed to make it over the horizon due to the technical difficulty in preventing DNA pollution of the edited animals' genome [1,2].

However, much of the immediate commercial interest in gene-editing lies in crop plants, and plants present a whole stack of extra obstacles to gene-editing not present in animals.

Captured DNA

November 2019
The pre-eminent biotech breakthrough of the new millennium has undoubtedly been gene-editing.   

For commercial applications, gene-editing is attractive: one, it's simple, two, it's precise in regard to what and where the edit is, three, above all it doesn't insert foreign DNA.  This last attraction is the most important because it's used to claim that gene-edited organisms are non-GM, and that the edits simply mimic what can happen in nature, and that they therefore need no special regulation.  

Apart from number one above, the 'simple' bit, all the rest of these attractions have been proven wrong. 

Hornless gene edited cattle with extras

November 2019

Funny, how history keeps repeating itself.  In the early 1990s, the slow-to-rot FlavrSavr GM tomato was going to be the poster child for genetic transformation.  Its creators in Calgene, were convinced they knew exactly what DNA sequences they had inserted and touted the precision of the technology in their representations to the US Food and Drug Federation (FDA).  Interestingly, the FDA asked Calgene to prove the claim.   

The upshot was that Calgene discovered bits of DNA from the bacterial vector (Agrobacterium) had also been inserted into the GM tomato genome. 

Quarter of a century later, genetic transformation is old-hat and gene-editing is all the rage because it's precise.  So much so, that the edits deliver the same outcome as "could be achieved by breeding in the farmyard". 

GM mozzie ethics wanting

November 2019

Manufacturer of GM insects, Oxitec, seems to have had little difficulty persuading Brazilian regulators to approve the commercial release of its first-generation, 'male sterile' GM mosquitoes intended to control the spread of Dengue virus. 

GM mozzies out of control?

November 2019

GM 'sterile' male mosquitoes are designed to breed with natural, native females, but fail to generate viable offspring.  In theory, these GM insects are supposed to control the mosquito-borne spread of viruses, such as Dengue fever, by suppressing their vector.  

However, a study has been published showing a "significant" emergence of hybrid, GM-strain/native, mosquitoes in a Brazilian city after releases of Oxitec's 'sterile male' GM mosquitoes.   

Fantasy golden rice

October 2019

A major setback in the development of 'golden rice' intended to relieve vitamin A deficiency in people in developing areas has always been that the GM rice just doesn't produce enough of the desired 'pro-vitamin A' carotenoids. 

Despite some two decades of failing to develop a viable 'golden rice', the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US Agency for International Development (USAID) continue to fund the project. 

Their latest trials involved golden rice event 'GR2E' grown in the Philippines. Analyses of this rice for carotenoids plus a lot of extrapolation, generalisation, guestimates, and calculation led to the conclusion (stated in the Abstract) that "Mean provitamin A concentrations in milled rice of GR2E can contribute up to 89-113% and 57-99% of estimated average requirement for vitamin A for preschool children in Bangladesh and the Philippines respectively". 

A well-known GM promoter ecstatically announced this to be "checkmate" for golden rice's critics, and tweeted the conclusion (more or less as stated in the Abstract). 

Dealing with a climate-changed, salty world

October 2019

Countries across the globe are facing a future of dwindling fresh water and cultivable land, plus the prospect of social unrest if food supplies collapse. 
America's monocultures of herbicide- and insect-resistant GM crops are all heavily dependent on agrichemical inputs and water.  This intensive agriculture is outstripping the water supply, and what water's left is increasingly saline.   

U.S. GM 'answers' are of course what get the press coverage. 

Super fungus bites mozzies

October 2019

The mosquito has a reputation for being "the most dangerous animal in the world" credited with killing "one million people a year" (Bates). 

Actually, it's unlikely any mosquito has ever killed anyone, but several very nasty human pathogens have seized the opportunity of hitching a ride from person to person inside biting mosquitoes.

Mosquito-born disease isn't just a developing world problem. Fifty-two Scots were diagnosed with malaria in 2018 after travelling abroad. One of them died.

Pesticides in the population

October 2019

In 2017, a study was published indicating yet another possible chronic health effect from eating glyphosate, the herbicide sprayed on, and accumulated by, most GM crops.

The biotech industry has tried to claim that the presence of glyphosate excreted in urine proves the weedkiller is safe because the body is able to clear it out. However, tests on cows (not possible on humans) have shown glyphosate is distributed evenly in their organs and urine, suggesting the herbicide is retained in the body.

RNAi doesn't just disappear

October 2019

After ten years of development, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly approved the first 'SmartStax Pro' GM maize with an RNA interference gene to kill a major corn pest, western corn root worm [1].

The artificial RNA produced by this technique, 'RNAi', is designed to match precisely the active RNA produced by a vital gene specific to the pest. By high-jacking the pest's own mechanism for silencing that gene, RNAi destroys the expression of the gene and the pest dies.

*Note. RNAi crop sprays are also in use, but are less effective at killing pests than the GM plant version which the pests consume.
A few months after the EPA ushered in this first GM maize with RNAi, a study was published which raised doubts about the claimed specificity of such insecticides. Using the honey bee as a model, the scientists "identified 101 insecticidal RNAs sharing high sequence similarity with genes in honey bees (indicating a huge scope for off-target gene silencing). "Of concern is that gene groups active during vital honey bee embryo formation and development had a disproportionately high sequence similiarity with all these RNAi pesticides: the scope for defective bees seems very real" [2].

RNAi has been quietly ushered in

September 2019

While all the recent biotech limelight has been on gene editing, especially CRISPR, another older GM crop 'improvement' technique has continued to creep quietly up on us.

RNA interference, 'RNAi', which artificially alters gene expression, is still with us [1]. 
Note. RNA interference is also known as double-stranded RNA, 'dsRNA'.

Although at the time no one actually knew why, the very first commercial, fresh GMO venture, the FlavrSavr tomato, ripened abnormally slowly due to RNA interference.  GM papaya with RNAi-based viral resistance has been on some markets for a long time.  Arctic apples which don't turn brown when sliced thanks to RNAi are working their way into US shops.  GM-Free Scotland readers will be aware of Pandora's Potatoes with RNA interference to stop their bruises showing (even although the damage is still there), to stop them turning brown when fried (even although they taste like cardboard), to stop them producing the carcinogen, acrylamide (even although potatoes don't produce enough acrylamide to cause cancer), and to encourage potato growing in areas with a high risk of late blight (even if other crops could be better grown there) [2].

Many others are under development, but the blockbuster everyone's been waiting for is a commodity crop with its very own RNAi-based insecticide.  This is a radical departure from what's gone before because the artificial RNAi in the GM plant will be designed to silence gene expression in another organism in its environment.

Weeds designed to rove

September 2019

Scientific weed wisdom assured farmers that there would never be a weed able to resist 'Roundup' glyphosate-based herbicide because it required too big a change in a plant's biology.  The humanly-devised Roundup Ready GM crops were thought smarter than weeds could ever be.  Glyphosate-based herbicides became crucial to the productivity of American agriculture.

From this came an entrenched attitude that any Roundup-tolerant weed which chanced to appear in a location would be a one-off: it would have evolved independently and would remain a local problem.

The dramatic increase in both the quantity of Roundup used and the area sprayed after the advent of GM crops was accompanied by a dramatic emergence of glyphosate-tolerant weeds which took everyone by surprise.

Weed scientist wisdom didn't, it seems, factor in the qualities which make a weed a weed.

The cost of not testing

September 2019

President Trump and his administration view environmental regulations as a hindrance to economic productivity.

One US Professor of paediatrics and expert in children's environmental health has pointed out however, that history suggests the opposite.  For example, the phasing out of toxic lead in petrol to protect children's brains, now adds "a $200 billion annual economic stimulus package" to the US.

The true cost of environmental toxins, measured in terms of loss of economic productivity due to cognitive damage, comes to a staggering $20,000 per IQ point over a lifetime.  Add to this the costs of health care and the societal burden (not to mention personal suffering to which a figure can't be attached).

Most insidious among all the environmental toxins are the endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which cause hormone dysfunction at very low levels of exposure.  Their damaging effects are often permanent and can harm future generations. 

The case for diversity

September 2019

The need for diversity in our food supply has been a hot topic lately [1, 2].

Green Revolution agriculture gave us monocultures of a tiny range of high-calorie crops.  The Gene Revolution of recent decades compounded this with GM versions of the same crops. Commercial GM plants are overwhelmingly designed to be used in conjunction with a single herbicide, and many generate a small range of very similar insecticides.

Paradoxically, the end-products of these staple crops have diversified.  The excuse for developing them may originally have been feeding the hungry, but large quantities of that 'food' are now diverted into biofuel-production, industrial chemicals and animal feed.

Those that do reach the human stomach are highly processed carbohydrates and chemicals (a.k.a. junk food, or food-like substances).  In the dietary desert we now inhabit, our animals' nutritional needs are better met than ours.

A tale of two villages in India

September 2019

Is it just a romantic, anti-science notion to ditch agrichemicals, GMOs, monocultures and patents?  Or, is it a necessity?

This is the story of how small-holders become trapped by addiction to pesticides, and how two villages in India got clean.

Climate change and GM go hand in hand

September 2019

Paul D. Thacker, a journalist with a nose for industry-led corruption of science and regulations, has commented that climate change denial and promotion of GMOs go together like peanut butter and jelly.

At first glance, it's not obvious why: it seems to involve a unique ability to entertain two opposing beliefs at the same time.  Climate change deniers say climate change isn't happening so we don't need to do anything.  GMO promoters say we need GM 'solutions' to feed the world and to save the environment because of climate change. 

However, when there's money involved, some people can believe anything.  Admitting that climate change is a damaging reality and rejecting GM foods are both harmful to big business

Super-simplified agri-systems support disease

August 2019

E.coli 0157 -

In 1996, an outbreak of E.coli 0157 bacterial disease in Scotland involved the largest recorded number of infected adults in whom the early digestive-tract symptoms progressed to life-threatening kidney disease. Twenty-eight of them died.

That same year, 7,966 individuals were diagnosed with E.coli 0157 infection in a single outbreak in Japan.

Because the guts of healthy cattle are a reservoir for E.coli 0157, the animals, their manure, and the land they've grazed, are potential sources of the infection. The bacteria can also make their way from fields into the water supply.

The Scottish E.coli 0157 outbreak was caused by contaminated raw meat stored next to cooked meat. The Japanese outbreak was caused by radish sprouts contaminated by infected water.

Organic foods have always been seen as an arch-enemy by biotech proponents. In a desperate attempt to trash organics, they've even been blamed for deadly infections of E.coli 0157 bacteria.

Bogus bleeding beef

August 2019

Remember the bleeding GM veggie-burgers rolled out across America in 2017? That's the fake meat produced by a similar method to the way Belgian beer's been made for nearly a thousand years? [1]

The Impossible Burger arrived courtesy of $80 million worth of research plus $300 million worth of promotion from foodie celebrities, and a heap of hype. Breathless write-ups name the Impossible Burger this year's 'It' food craze taking America by storm, and a wake-up call to the meat industry.

Indeed, the long-term goal of the bogus burger's manufacturer, Impossible Foods Inc., is to disrupt the meat industry and convert meat eaters to their products. Impossible Burgers are set to be followed by Impossible Sausages for pizzas and Impossible Steak.

Golden rice fast becoming colourless

August 2019

A major focus for the biofortification of food now being warmly embraced by governments in developing countries is beta-carotene, or 'pro-vitamin A' [1].

Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A, an essential micronutrient whose deficiency can seriously damage vision, the immune-system, and the embryo. The assumption that putting beta-carotene into rice, a staple food which doesn't naturally produce any vitamin A precursors, will benefit the health of the poor sounds good, until you look at the devil in the detail.

'Biofortification' - reinforcing malnutrition

August 2019

'Biofortified' crops, with increased levels of one, or a few, micro-nutrients, were first released in 2004. Since then, their use has been eagerly embraced by governments of developing countries as a cheap way to address malnutrition*.

*micro-nutrient deficiencies

In particular, iron, zinc and vitamin A in staple foods, such as rice and millet, have been a focus for biofortification schemes. Both conventional breeding and, increasingly, GM techniques are being used to achieve these 'nutritionally enhanced' crops.

America's GM plans

August 2019

Since the Big Bang of synthetic pesticides during World War II, US regulators from both major political parties have adopted lax, pro-industry standards that have kept potentially dangerous pesticides legal. This attitude has extended to GMOs.

Action on new GMOs

August 2019

Pro-GM lobbyists continue to put pressure on EU regulators to abandon their precautionary laws requiring approval, safety checks, traceability and labelling of all GM crops, foods and livestock.

In particular, the biotech lobby is striving to evade any regulation of 'new' GMOs produced with 'gene editing' techniques. With recent EU elections and Brexit, this is the perfect time for them to push for light-touch, corporate-friendly GM laws.

Old Dicamba, same old problems

July 2019

As Roundup herbicide and Roundup-tolerant GM crops become increasingly obsolete, the biotech industry has been trying to move 'forward' with a 'new' package: the antiquated broadleaf herbicide dicamba and dicamba-tolerant GM crops. 

Back in 1994, some 5.7 million pounds of dicamba were used annually in US agriculture, almost all of it on corn.  It was already well-established that dicamba is prone to drift during spraying, especially in hot weather, and that it's a persistent environmental contaminant.  "Since dicamba can damage or kill most broad leaved plants, any unintended exposure can have important consequences.  These effects have been studied mostly in agriculture and little is known about impacts on native plants" (Cox).  A quarter of a century on, the situation isn't much different.

Live life on the veg

July 2019

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
(Dorothy Gurney 1858-1932) 

Professor of Biological Sciences (and avid gardener) Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex advocates growing your own fruit and vegetables because it's good for the environment, saves money, and "is also extremely good for the soul, giving people a real sense of satisfaction and getting them out into nature". 

TV chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, chipped in "Anything that takes you away from anonymous, industrialised food is good for your spirit and your health.  It's in season, it hasn't travelled far and it hasn't been packed in inert gases to give it a long shelf life". 

A study in America where, despite its wealth, more than 10% of households experience food insecurity in any given year looked into the benefits of growing your own vegetables. 

New gene editing - more of the same old thing

July 2019

Gene editing has been described as 'promising', 'powerful', 'precise', and of course 'safer'. What is it actually going to do to our food and farming?

Recently published work by Chinese scientists is probably a good indication of what to expect.

The GM cassava mutagenic machine

July 2019

Cassava is a starchy root vegetable consumed by more than a billion people. It's a primary staple food in South America, Africa and Asia. Each year, the crops are plagued by cassava mosaic virus, with losses of 20 percent of the yield.

The first generation GM cassava was designed to produce an 'RNAi' (see [1]) which inactivates the virus by silencing a vital gene. This was initially hailed as a success, but the viruses soon evolved their way around the GM obstacle.

Biotech engineers then hit on the novel idea of permanently installing a 'CRISPR-Cas9' [2] mechanism into cassava to destroy the attacking virus.

Single nucleic acid editing

July 2019

The latest refinement in gene editing tools is nucleic acid editing: this alters a single pair of the many nucleic acids which make up the double strand of DNA*, and promises deft improvements in crop and livestock genomes. 

'Knocking-out' a gene creates a new one

July 2019

Long-held concerns that forcing artificial DNA changes into a crop plant will generate toxins and allergens in our food now seem more real than ever.

The latest GM trick is gene editing, a range of techniques designed to make small changes in existing genes which alter their function or destroy their function completely. Because they have homing devices which target specific sites in the genome and because the DNA alterations they induce are minimal, gene editors are considered to have little potential for unexpected side-effects. They are, therefore, promoted as precise and safer.

Artificial fortification of Nature

June 2019

One of the first GM 'decontaminations' by activists in the UK was carried out in 1999 when two field trials of 115 GM poplar trees were trashed.

The reasons given for this action were blunt:
"those who are manipulating the DNA of trees using a very powerful but dimly understood technology, show contempt for our planet and the life it supports, including human life".
Media warnings were succinct: GM trees could lead to "a silent spring in the forests of the future".

Until the activists struck, Britain was intent on becoming a world leader in GM trees.

A healthy cure for citrus greening

June 2019

For more than ten years, a majority of orange groves in Florida have been afflicted with 'citrus greening'.  The disease has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout America and elsewhere.

The visual symptoms of citrus greening include short internodes (stem length between leaves), tiny leaves, asymmetric chlorosis (loss of green colour in leaves), flowering out of season, and leaf and fruit shedding.

Trees that succumb to this disease produce fruits that are green, misshapen and bitter.  They're unsuitable for sale as fresh fruit or for juice.  Most affected trees die within a few years.

Research into citrus greening has consumed well over $540 million of funding without a single recovered orange or cured tree to show for it.

Revolution, legend or myth

June 2019

The Legend of the Green Revolution in India

Once upon a time in India, there were too many people and their agriculture was too old-fashioned and burdensome to feed them all.  There was famine in the land, and so many were facing death from starvation that there were fears the people would soon be feeding on each other.

Then came the Green Revolution.  Modern high-yielding wheat and rice which only needed a dab of artificial fertiliser and pesticides to grow just about anywhere.  The foundations of this Revolution lay in crops with short stalks which didn't collapse under the weight of their great big yield.

Thus, a billion lives were saved, Indian peasants were freed from the drudgery of farming, and they all lived happily ever after.

Non-GM cotton to the rescue

June 2019

GM cotton in India has probably been the biotech industry No.1 success story.

When the Indian government liberalised the economy in the 1990s, it pulled back agricultural subsidies on fertilisers, pesticides, water and seeds. Shops which had previously stocked a limited range of public agricultural goods were suddenly flooded with new, private brands.One of these was 'Bt' insecticidal GM cotton seed which was allowed into India for cultivation in 2003, followed by an upgraded version in 2006.

Both the yield per hectare and the area under cotton expanded dramatically, and there was a reduction in insecticide use ... for a while.  From an initial three types of seed on the market, by 2019, there were more than 1,200.

India became one of the world's top producers and exporters of cotton fibre, and Monsanto's GM cotton seed technology now dominates 90% of India's cotton acreage.

That's the macro-economic picture.  It suggests Bt cotton is a runaway success with Indian farmers and is delivering a good yield.

Off-loading GM maize in South Africa

June 2019

A recent application for permission to sell and cultivate three types of GM maize in South Africa illustrates the biotech industry vision of the future Africa.

Corteva AgriScience (agricultural division of Dow DuPont) is seeking approval for three crops, all genetically transformed to tolerate 2,4-D herbicide using a gene which also confers tolerance to quizalofop herbicide.   Two of the new GM maize varieties are stacked with double genes for glyphosate herbicide tolerance (one of which seems to be an unintended mutant version of the other), and one of these is also stacked with two Bt insecticide-generating genes.  This sounds like a succession of increasingly stacked GM crops aimed at selling herbicides, with some Bt genes thrown in now and then to 'add value'.

Enslaving Africans again

June 2019

In 2005, the Head of the Ethiopian Environment Protection Authority suggested that GM crops would, once more, enslave the people of Africa.  Instead of being transported as slaves to grow crops in America, they would be forced to grow America's crops in African soil.

Also recognised even then was that the issue of GM food safety is a much bigger question in Africa than in the developed world.  This is because chronically malnourished people will be more susceptible to any harmful effects from their food.  In the case of GM maize, in particular, account must be taken of the quantities likely to be consumed: maize may be eaten three times a day by African populations, while it forms no more than two per cent of the American diet.

Indeed, the biotech industry's new frontier in GM crop expansion does appear to be Africa, and does appear to be focusing on GM maize.

Industry promises are, our course, yield, yield, yield, with a feel-good refrain of help the poor, feed the hungry, and improve efficiency and farmer livelihoods.

But, what does the GM-based agricultural dream model really offer the people and states of Africa?

Heavily politically-orientated food

May 2019

Earlier this year, a story appeared in Le Monde newspaper entitled "GMO poisons? The real end of the Séralini affair". Le Monde implied that a newly published study, pithily named 'GMO90+', disproved Séralini's controversial experimental results, and showed that the alarm generated by media reports on Séralini's work was fake news.

Somewhat different crops for Africa

May 2019

The WEMA project to provide 'Water Efficient Maize for Africa' is a public-private partnership co-ordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, and involving among others, agribusiness multinational Bayer-Monsanto, and national research systems in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and most recently Ethiopia. It is largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Howard G. Buffet Foundations, and USAID. (African Centre for Biodiversity)

The US government / Gates Foundation project to provide 'Water Efficient Maize for Africa' (WEMA) is hitting some rocks.

Bullet-proof bees

May 2019

People need bees to produce over 80% of their food. Bees need flowers to produce 100% of their food. The people, the bees and the flowering plants all have to be in the right place at the right time, or none will survive.

Paradoxically, modern man seems to have gone out of his way to make life impossible for the insects he depends on.

Roundup on trial

May 2019

Monsanto has spent four decades manipulating the science, the regulators, the media, and patent law in pursuit of profit from its blockbuster glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup [1]. When the Roundup-causes-cancer scare reared up, Monsanto seemed confident it could manipulate that too. Bayer, a company well used to handling litigation over harmful products [3], also seemed confident it could ride out the storm, and proceeded with its acquisition of Monsanto despite the impending law suits.

It's interesting to see what's been unfolding in the American courts, where two glyphosate-based cancer cases have so far been judged (although the appeals will no doubt stretch out for some time to come).

Herbicides, GM crops and autism

May 2019

Indications of links between the world's most used, GM-friendly herbicide, glyphosate, and premature death from cancer and Parkinson's disease raise concerns about what we may be inflicting on ourselves in the longer term [1,2].

Do glyphosate-based-herbicides only make their toxic presence felt as we approach old age? What are the chances they cause us damage in the womb and in infancy too?

Many pesticides, including glyphosate, are known to have neurotoxic effects, and increasingly scientific evidence is implicating ambient pesticides as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder.

Glyphosate and parkinsons disease again

May 2019

In 2012, a rat feeding study on the toxic effects of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant GM maize sprayed with the herbicide was published [1]. During the experiment, an excess of tumours was observed in treated animals. This unwelcome suggestion of a link to cancer caused panic in the biotech lobby and sparked a controversy which just keeps on simmering [2].

The CRISPR wrecking ball revealed

April 2019

US government information on genome (gene) editing describes it as a "group of technologies used by scientists to change an organism's DNA".

The most popular member of this group is 'Cas9', an enzyme which cuts DNA and can be designed to home in on a precise location in the genome [1,2]. Recently, a variant of this enzyme, 'Cas12a', has been developed: this seems to cut in a way that causes less disturbance at the cut ends of the DNA.

With regard to gene-edited crops, a team of Chinese scientists took a belated, close look at all the DNA changes arising in a novel rice model and what part of the technology caused them.