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.


April 2019

"... having taken every step science can offer to devitalise the soil and its food that supports him, (man) is now turning his attention to destroying the insect world upon which he is also dependent." ... "... if birds eat insects poisoned by (pesticides) this can kill them - a striking tribute to the intelligence of 'scientists', since birds are our best safeguard against pests." (Easterbrook, 1946)
Green MEP, Molly Cato, describes how she has lost count of the times she has debated the "Armageddon" we are inflicting on our environment, only to be met with "patient, patronising smiles" from fellow MEPs and no action.

The quote above comes from a 1946 article and refers to DDT and other contemporary "powerful insecticides of which far too little is yet known". The author goes on to liken those humans intent on spreading pesticides through their own environment to "schoolboys rat-hunting in a munitions dump with a flame thrower".

Note. DDT was the first modern synthetic insecticide. Its insecticidal properties were discovered in 1939 and it was quickly adopted by the military in World War II to protect the troops. The scientists who identified DDT's pesticidal potential won the Nobel prize for it. DDT has been poisoning the world ever since.

Since then, we've had decades of the Green Revolution inflicting chemical after chemical on our world, and now we have GM crops specially designed for greater chemical applications, and even for producing their own.

Avoiding unwanted genetic baggage

April 2019

The tool of choice for engineering crop plant DNA (be it transgenesis or gene editing) uses a plant pathogen, the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, as the vector.

Wild-type Agrobacterium naturally introduces its own DNA into the plant genome for the purpose of creating a gall (tumour) of plant tissue in which the bacterium can live. Genetic engineers create a GM Agrobacterium, has had its gall-inducing DNA removed and replaced with gene-editing DNA which therefore becomes inserted into the plant instead.

Despite the number of decades Agrobacterium has been in used for the genetic transformation of food and feed, and despite the recognition that such DNA insertion is error-prone, and despite the regulatory need for knowledge of the exact DNA alterations in the GM crops being assessed, the techniques for fully documenting the presence of unwanted changes have only recently become available.

Super-maize with super problems

April 2019

In 2018, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) GMO panel gave a positive opinion on a new five-event stacked GM maize for food and feed use in the EU.

By breeding together five existing GM variants, the biotech industry has produced a maize which generates three Bt toxins to kill moths plus three Bt toxins to kill beetles, and which can be sprayed with extra glyphosate and extra glufosinate herbicides due to a doubling of the genes conferring tolerance to both.

It seems the GMO Panel considers unexplained agronomic changes* in the GM crop to be outside its remit, even if these could indicate the presence of elements harmful to human health.

GM with a TwYST

April 2019

In 2012, a long-term rat feeding study was published investigating the toxicity of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant GM maize, 'NK603' [1,2]. Its results indicated adverse effects on the kidney and liver (the organs of detoxification), and early death. Routine examination of the condition of the animals during the course of the experiment unexpectedly revealed an excess of palpable tumours. When presented chronologically, the emergence of tumours and premature death were clearly accelerated in both the NK603- and Roundup-fed rats. It was also noted that all the results were hormone- and sex-dependent.

Let's think omnigenics

April 2019

You don't have to look too far to realise that the one, consistent, feature of all the products of GM technology is that they have failed to deliver on their promises.

In 1994, we were informed of an imminent series of world-changing GM crops destined to emerge in five-year leaps. Monsanto Vice President, Robert Fraley, listed 60 plant species which had already been genetically transformed. The first wave of GM crops would be pest-free, weed-free, and virus-proof by 2000. After this we would have GM improved foods on our tables by 2005, followed by pharmaceuticals from the fields by 2010, and finally GM-grown speciality chemicals.

The only limit to what was possible was the imagination of the genetic engineers, but the basis for this five-year leaping GM programme was never questioned, nor explained.

Now, over two decades later, how many of these leaps have actually been leapt?