GM plants set to increase magnetically?

February 2020

It's an interesting thing about new GM techniques: each one that emerges reveals all the flaws, down-sides and short-comings of the previous ones.

In the 1990s, the only limit to what GM could do was the imagination of the genetic engineer. It seems however that either genetic engineers suffer from a woeful lack of imagination, or GM just isn't that simple: over two decades on, all that's in the ground amounts to a few varieties of a handful of crop types dominated by only two GM traits, glyphosate herbicide tolerance and Bt insecticide.

The reason for this was made clear in a paper published in 2017.

Unhealthy effects of working with Bt cotton

February 2020

An anthropological field study during the years 2012-2016 surveyed what was going on down on the commercial smallholders' farms in five villages in India [1].

In the face of the limited advantages of growing GM cotton, and some serious disadvantages, plus a global glut of cotton, Bt insecticidal GM cotton still represents over 80% of the crop. The study therefore raised the question of why Indian farmers remain so devoted to biotech cotton? It seems to boil down to fashion and male pride: a GM crop shows you're modern, while an impressive stand is public proof of a good agricultural ability (even if the quality of the produce and the cost of inputs mean reduced profitability).

A small-scale field-based study undertaken in 2018 interestingly complements this earlier survey. In particular, the new study took a gender-specific perspective, aiming to reveal the roles and voices of women farmers. Interviews were carried out in an informal setting to facilitate talk and so hear unhindered stories from a sector of the Indian population not often heard.

GM bacteriocins

February 2020
It looks like the next generation of GM wonder-plants is under development in Scotland.

About 5% of world crops, some $50 billion worth, are lost due to bacterial disease each year. One of the most common such infections is Pseudomonas syringae which attacks a wide variety of important crops, including tomato, kiwi, peppers, olive, soyabeans and fruit trees. Once the bacteria have gained a foothold in one part of a uniform commercial crop, they spread rapidly through the whole.

Breeding crops for resistance to bacterial disease has had only limited success. Chemical crop protectants are increasingly unpopular with consumers. Treating crops with conventional antibiotics is frowned upon as it fuels antibiotic resistance in human pathogens and compromises our ability to treat diseases.

Genetic engineers have hit on the idea of creating crops which generate 'bacteriocins'.

Glyphosate attack by stealth

February 2020

As pointed out before, there's a huge scope for current GM foods to impact on the microbes inside our gut and, along with that, our health [1].

Besides the novel nature of the foods themselves, there's the glyphosate-based herbicides sprayed on and accumulated by most commercial GM crops. Glyphosate blocks a vital biochemical pathway in green plants, but the pathway is also present in many bacteria. This suggests a very real possibility that the herbicide in GM foods could be devastating our health by stealth.

What is the science telling us about this?

Scientific mindsets clash over GM mozzies

February 2020

At the end of last year, GM-free Scotland reported a study which found a significant presence of offspring of Oxitec's GM 'sterile' male mosquitoes flying around in areas of Brazil where a trial release had been carried out [1]. The object of the trial was to prevent dengue virus by eradicating its mosquito vector. The predicted "barrage of attempts to discredit the scientists and their science which seem to have become routine in response to any biotech-unfriendly research results" duly unfolded.

No surprise there, except that the attack on the study, including a demand for retraction, was led by one of the paper's own co-authors and supported by five of the others.

What happened to taking back control?

February 2020

  • Democracy - government by the people, direct or indirect
  • Tyranny - government by an absolute ruler

The huge and complex task of 'taking back control' of our regulations preparatory to Brexit seems to be ensuring that current and future rules will not be subject to proper political or public scrutiny [1].