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.