Thursday, October 11, 2012

Epigenetic Inheritance More Widespread in Plants than in Animals, Research Finds

Scientists from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York have completed a research that uncovered a mechanism by which plants inherit epigenetic modifications. The study found that plants' genome reprogramming through epigenetic mechanisms is guided by small RNAs and is passed on to the next generation. The said study further implies that epigenetic inheritance - the inheritance by offspring of chemical "tags" present in parental DNA that modify the expression of genes - is much more widespread in plants than in animals.

To further examine the set of modifications on the DNA in plant pollen grains, scientists decided to look at the particular set of chemical marks called methyl groups. When they separated out pollen grains in different stages of development, they found distinct patterns of the attachment of methyl groups to DNA. They also noticed the corresponding accumulation of small RNAs, including two classes of so-called short-interfering RNAs (siRNAs) – tiny RNA molecules, 21 or 24 nucleotides in length -- involved in silencing gene expression. These small siRNAs act as guides to where methylation will occur, silencing gene expression.

See the original article at http://www.cshl.edu/Article-Martienssen/scientists-uncover-mechanism-by-which-plants-inherit-epigenetic-modifications.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Transhumanism takes leap: 3 GM human babies born in US

World’s first GM babies born

By Michael Hanlon
Daily Mail

The world’s first genetically modified humans have been created, it was revealed last night.
The disclosure that 30 healthy babies were born after a series of experiments in the United States provoked another furious debate about ethics.

So far, two of the babies have been tested and have been found to contain genes from three ‘parents’.

Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey.

The babies were born to women who had problems conceiving. Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilised in an attempt to enable them to conceive.

Genetic fingerprint tests on two one-year- old children confirm that they have inherited DNA from three adults –two women and one man.

The fact that the children have inherited the extra genes and incorporated them into their ‘germline’ means that they will, in turn, be able to pass them on to their own offspring.
Altering the human germline – in effect tinkering with the very make-up of our species – is a technique shunned by the vast majority of the world’s scientists.

Geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence.

Writing in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers, led by fertility pioneer Professor Jacques Cohen, say that this ‘is the first case of human germline genetic modification resulting in normal healthy children’.

Some experts severely criticised the experiments. Lord Winston, of the Hammersmith Hospital in West London, told the BBC yesterday: ‘Regarding the treat-ment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing . . . I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain.’
Read full post at Daily Mail.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New report by genetic engineers says GMO food is dangerous

By Earth Open Source
A new report, “GMO Myths and Truths”,[1] presents a large body of peer-reviewed scientific and other authoritative evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by genetically engineered crops and organisms (GMOs), citing over 600 sources.
Unusually, the initiative for the report came not from campaigners but from two genetic engineers who believe there are good scientific reasons to be wary of GM foods and crops.
One of the report’s authors, Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London School of Medicine in the UK, uses genetic engineering for medical applications but warns against its use in developing crops for human food and animal feed.
Dr Antoniou said: “GM crops are promoted on the basis of ambitious claims – that they are safe to eat, environmentally beneficial, increase yields, reduce reliance on pesticides, and can help solve world hunger.
“I felt what was needed was a collation of the evidence that addresses the technology from a scientific point of view.
“Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields. Our report concludes that there are safer and more effective alternatives to meeting the world’s food needs.”
Another author of the report, Dr John Fagan, is a former genetic engineer who in 1994 returned to the National Institutes of Health $614,000 in grant money due to concerns about the safety and ethics of the technology. He subsequently founded a GMO testing company.
Dr Fagan said: “Crop genetic engineering as practiced today is a crude, imprecise, and outmoded technology. It can create unexpected toxins or allergens in foods and affect their nutritional value. Recent advances point to better ways of using our knowledge of genomics to improve food crops, that do not involve GM.
“Over 75% of all GM crops are engineered to tolerate being sprayed with herbicide. This has led to the spread of herbicide-resistant superweeds and has resulted in massively increased exposure of farmers and communities to these toxic chemicals. Epidemiological studies suggest a link between herbicide use and birth defects and cancer.
“These findings fundamentally challenge the utility and safety of GM crops, but the biotech industry uses its influence to block research by independent scientists and uses its powerful PR machine to discredit independent scientists whose findings challenge this approach.”
The third author of the report, Claire Robinson, research director of Earth Open Source, said, “The GM industry is trying to change our food supply in far-reaching and potentially dangerous ways. We all need to inform ourselves about what is going on and ensure that we – not biotechnology companies – keep control of our food system and crop seeds.
“We hope our report will contribute to a broader understanding of GM crops and the sustainable alternatives that are already working successfully for farmers and communities.”

Notes

The report, “GMO Myths and Truths, An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops”, by Michael Antoniou, PhD, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan, PhD is published by Earth Open Source (June 2012). The report is 123 pages long and contains over 600 citations, many of them from the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the rest from reports by scientists, physicians, government bodies, industry, and the media. The report is available here: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58

Key points from the report

  1. Genetic engineering as used in crop development is not precise or predictable and has not been shown to be safe. The technique can result in the unexpected production of toxins or allergens in food that are unlikely to be spotted in current regulatory checks.
  2. GM crops, including some that are already in our food and animal feed supply, have shown clear signs of toxicity in animal feeding trials – notably disturbances in liver and kidney function and immune responses.
  3. GM proponents have dismissed these statistically significant findings as “not biologically relevant/significant”, based on scientifically indefensible arguments.
  4. Certain EU-commissioned animal feeding trials with GM foods and crops are often claimed by GM proponents to show they are safe. In fact, examination of these studies shows significant differences between the GM-fed and control animals that give cause for concern.
  5. GM foods have not been properly tested in humans, but the few studies that have been carried out in humans give cause for concern.
  6. The US FDA does not require mandatory safety testing of GM crops, and does not even assess the safety of GM crops but only “deregulates” them, based on assurances from biotech companies that they are “substantially equivalent” to their non-GM counterparts. This is like claiming that a cow with BSE is substantially equivalent to a cow that does not have BSE and is thus safe to eat! Claims of substantial equivalence cannot be justified on scientific grounds.
  7. The regulatory regime for GM foods is weakest in the US, where GM foods do not even have to be assessed for safety or labelled in the marketplace, but in most regions of the world regulations are inadequate to protect people’s health from the potential adverse effects of GM foods.
  8. In the EU, where the regulatory system is often claimed to be strict, minimal pre-market testing is required for a GMO and the tests are commissioned by the same companies that stand to profit from the GMO if it is approved – a clear conflict of interest.
  9. No long-term toxicological testing of GMOs on animals or testing on humans is required by any regulatory agency in the world.
  10. Biotech companies have used patent claims and intellectual property protection laws to restrict access of independent researchers to GM crops for research purposes. As a result, limited research has been conducted on GM foods and crops by scientists who are independent of the GM industry. Scientists whose work has raised concerns about the safety of GMOs have been attacked and discredited in orchestrated campaigns by GM crop promoters.
  11. Most GM crops (over 75%) are engineered to tolerate applications of herbicides. Where such GM crops have been adopted, they have led to massive increases in herbicide use.
  12. Roundup, the herbicide that over 50% of all GM crops are engineered to tolerate, is not safe or benign as has been claimed but has been found to cause malformations (birth defects), reproductive problems, DNA damage, and cancer in test animals. Human epidemiological studies have found an association between Roundup exposure and miscarriage, birth defects, neurological development problems, DNA damage, and certain types of cancer.
  13. A public health crisis has erupted in GM soy-producing regions of South America, where people exposed to spraying with Roundup and other agrochemicals sprayed on the crop report escalating rates of birth defects and cancer.
  14. A large number of studies indicate that Roundup is associated with increased crop diseases, especially infection with Fusarium, a fungus that causes wilt disease in soy and can have toxic effects on humans and livestock.
  15. Bt insecticidal GM crops do not sustainably reduce pesticide use but change the way in which pesticides are used: from sprayed on, to built in.
  16. Bt technology is proving unsustainable as pests evolve resistance to the toxin and secondary pest infestations are becoming common.
  17. GM proponents claim that the Bt toxin engineered into GM plants is safe because the natural form of Bt, long used as a spray by conventional and organic farmers, has a history of safe use. But the GM forms of Bt toxins are different from the natural forms and could have different toxic and allergenic effects.
  18. GM Bt toxin is not limited in its toxicity to insect pests. GM Bt crops have been found to have toxic effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials.
  19. GM Bt crops have been found to have toxic effects on non-target organisms in the environment.
  20. Bt toxin is not fully broken down in digestion and has been found circulating in the blood of pregnant women in Canada and in the blood supply to their foetuses.
  21. The no-till method of farming promoted with GM herbicide-tolerant crops, which avoids ploughing and uses herbicides to control weeds, is not more climate-friendly than ploughing. No-till fields do not store more carbon in the soil than ploughed fields when deeper levels of soil are measured.
  22. No-till increases the negative environmental impacts of soy cultivation, because of the herbicides used.
  23. Golden Rice, a beta-carotene-enriched rice, is promoted as a GM crop that could help malnourished people overcome vitamin A deficiency. But Golden Rice has not been tested for toxicological safety, has been plagued by basic development problems, and, after more than 12 years and millions of dollars of research funding, is still not ready for the market. Meanwhile, inexpensive and effective solutions to vitamin A deficiency are available but under-used due to lack of funding.
  24. GM crops are often promoted as a “vital tool in the toolbox” to feed the world’s growing population, but many experts question the contribution they could make, as they do not offer higher yields or cope better with drought than non-GM crops. Most GM crops are engineered to tolerate herbicides or to contain a pesticide – traits that are irrelevant to feeding the hungry.
  25. High adoption of GM crops among farmers is not a sign that the GM crop is superior to non-GM varieties, as once GM companies gain control of the seed market, they withdraw non-GM seed varieties from the market. The notion of “farmer choice” does not apply in this situation.
  26. GM contamination of non-GM and organic crops has resulted in massive financial losses by the food and feed industry, involving product recalls, lawsuits, and lost markets.
  27. When many people read about high-yielding, pest- and disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, and nutritionally improved super-crops, they think of GM. In fact, these are all products of conventional breeding, which continues to outstrip GM in producing such crops. The report contains a long list of these conventional crop breeding successes.
  28. Certain “supercrops” have been claimed to be GM successes when in fact they are products of conventional breeding, in some cases assisted by the non-GM biotechnology of marker assisted selection.
  29. Conventional plant breeding, with the help of non-GM biotechnologies such as marker assisted selection, is a safer and more powerful method than GM to produce new crop varieties required to meet current and future needs of food production, especially in the face of rapid climate change.
  30. Conventionally bred, locally adapted crops, used in combination with agroecological farming practices, offer a proven, sustainable approach to ensuring global food security.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bayer Crop Science to Do More Biotech Research

Bayer CropScience is changing from a producer of crop protection products to a biotechnology and seed breeding group. CEO Helmut Schramm announced that the company will increase its research and development allocation to enable genetic engineering and breeding efforts. Biotech research will account for 50 percent of its total research activities. Over 850 million € is expected to be spent on biotech research.

The company will strengthen its presence in Brazil, Russia, India and China. The acceptance of biotech in Europe, according to Schramm is only "a matter of time."

See the original article in German at http://www.agrarheute.com/bayer-cropscience.

EU JRC Notification for Limited Environmental Release of GM Potatoes

The European Commission JRC published one summary notification for the limited environmental release of genetically modified potato with resistance to Phytophthora infestans, the causal pathogen of late blight disease. The environmental release will be conducted to quantify the impact of GM potato cultivation on bacterial, fungal, nematode and earthworm diversity in the soil, compared to a conventional potato system;  identify integrated pest management (IPM) strategies and components which could be positively or negatively affected by the adoption of GM late blight resistant potato; and to educate various stakeholders on the issues and concerns that the public has on GM crop cultivation in Ireland.

The study will be conducted in June 2012 to December 2016 in Oak Park, Co. Carlow, Ireland by the Teagasc Company, Ireland.

See the notification at http://gmoinfo.jrc.ec.europa.eu/gmp_report.aspx?CurNot=B/IE/12/01.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

GM Soybean Receives USDA Deregulation

MON 87705, a genetically modified soybean traded as Monsanto's Vistive®Gold oybeans has received deregulation approval by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The GM soybean produces soybean oil with increased levels of monounsaturated fat while significantly lowering saturated fat.
"With the availability of Vistive®Gold soybeans, farmers will soon be able to deliver an economical and sustainable source of nutritionally improved soybean oil to consumers and food companies," said Joe Cornelius, Monsanto global technology lead for food quality traits.
This USDA deregulation completes the regulatory processes in the United States, that would allow field testing and seed production within the United States, under strict stewardship guidelines until Monsanto has obtained the necessary regulatory approvals in the key soybean export markets. The Food and Drug Administration completed the consultation process in January 2011. The trait has also been approved for use in Canada.
See the news release at http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/vistive-gold-usda-deregulation The Registry can be viewed at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-16/pdf/2011-32323.pdf

Don't like the term GMO? How about "Molecular Breeding?"

Vivienne M Anthony and Marco Ferroni of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, Switzerland reported the potential role of agricultural biotechnology in improving crop yields of farmers from developing countries. There has been rapid adoption of biotech crops by smallholder farmers in developing countries especially in China, India, and other Asian, African, and Central/South American countries. Molecular breeding has helped several research breakthroughs but release of new varieties has been slow at the same time. Thus, the authors recommend improvements in seed systems which are vital for enhanced crop genetics to reach farmers.
Read more at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0958166911007312.