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Europe’s GM food fears reignited over controversial GM study

A recent French study claiming rats fed genetically modified corn suffered tumours has reignited Europe’s fears over GM food. Despite much scepticism over the quality of the research, opponents of GM say an urgent review of the EU’s current policy is needed.

In response the EU Commission has instructed the European Food Safety Agency to assess the study. euronews spoke to Paola Testori Coggi, head of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Consumers.

View the original article here: Close up: Europe’s GM food fears – euronews

Researchers plan whole-genome sequencing of hantavirus in public health study

California researchers and public health officials have launched what they describe as a groundbreaking series of studies of a rare mouse-borne virus that has infected at least nine Yosemite National Park visitors, killing three of them, since June.

By using the 1,200-square-mile (3,100-square-km) park and its rodent and human populations as a giant natural laboratory, scientists hope to gain new insights into how hantavirus is transmitted, how varied it might be and why certain people seem more susceptible than others.

The effort will include the first whole-genome sequencing for the hantavirus strain that struck Yosemite over the summer in the biggest cluster of cases since the disease was first identified in the United States in 1993.

View the original article here: Researchers plan whole-genome sequencing of hantavirus in public health study – MedCity News

Storm over GM maize study worsens

THOSE who hoped the study would go away will be disappointed. Claims that eating genetically modified maize gives rats tumours have provoked a storm in Europe.

The French government says it will suspend imports of the maize if its National Health and Safety Agency finds the results valid. The maize, made by Monsanto and modified to resist the herbicide Round-Up, is imported as animal feed to Europe but cannot be grown there due to continuing hostility to GM crops.

View the original article here: Storm over GM maize study worsens

Genomics create opportunities for dairy farmers

The advent of genomics has certainly played a heavy role in today’s popular genetics. Screening for elite males and females has become more exact and has rapidly driven genetic progress far beyond anyone’s wildest expectations in a relatively short period of time. While genomic technology currently holds its greatest stakes within elite dairy cattlebreeding programs, many commercial dairy operations are finding tremendous value and return on investment (ROI) in mass genomic screening.

View the original article here: Genomics create opportunities for all dairies

Mayo Clinic finds way to weed out problem stem cells, making therapy safer

Mayo Clinic researchers have found a way to detect and eliminate potentially troublemaking stem cells to make stem cell therapy safer. Induced Pluripotent Stem cells, also known as iPS cells, are bioengineered from adult tissues to have properties of embryonic stem cells, which have the unlimited capacity to differentiate and grow into any desired types of cells, such as skin, brain, lung and heart cells. However, during the differentiation process, some residual pluripotent or embryonic-like cells may remain and cause them to grow into tumors.

View the original article here: Mayo Clinic finds way to weed out problem stem cells, making therapy safer 

Race in medicine

Biopolitical Times, an online publication of the Center for Genetics and Society, rekindled the debate over race with a recent commentary by Jessica Cussins on the value of the concept in medicine. Although not as biased in its coverage of genetics as anti-biotech campaigners and such groups as the ill-named Council for Responsible Genetics, it is known for its selective analysis of hot button genetics issues, the validity of the race concept among them.

Cussins stumbled out of the gate, writing that the “legitimacy of race as a biological concept has been largely discredited,” but offering no links to support that contention. The best Cussins can muster is an unlinked quote from a college student. Yet, as she notes in the very same sentence, racial categories (often as crude proxies for genetic differences between populations) are currently ubiquitous in medicine and medical research.”

Are research scientists just not as smart as Cussins? Are they just stubborn, hanging onto outdated and dangerous ideas?

Obviously not. No one seriously questions the deciding role of “race”—defined as population—in circumscribing the possibility of elite success in many sports, including running, soccer, football and field events. For example, no scientist was surprised that yet again, all of the finalists in the sprint races were of West African ancestry, the distance races were dominated by East Africans, and the strength and field events were won mostly by Eurasians.

Of more consequence, population differences are central to the emerging era of personalized medicine, which is grounded in the sometimes uncomfortable reality that human sub-groups evolved differently as the result of cultural and physical isolation. The simplistic white/black/Asian construct is dated, but geneticists, now more than ever, points to the reality of patterned differences in everything from drug reactions to thinking patterns to body type and athletic ability.

The thorny reality is that if there were no “racial” differences, the entire Human Genome Project would be meaningless. Frequencies of many polymorphic genes vary with population clusters and can have powerful health consequences. The great paradox of human biodiversity research, which is focused on finding the genetic basis to many diseases, is that the only way to understand how similar humans are is to learn how we differ.

“The classification of human ethnic or racial groups remains a viable, important feature in understanding the nature and mechanism of human evolution,” writes Ranajit Chakraborty, a population geneticist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Chakraborty distinguishes between the popular concept of race (which includes cultural dimensions, such as self-definition) and the term now used by geneticists and evolutionary biologists to mean a common biological inheritance. The precise number and grouping of races will always be somewhat arbitrary–race is in part a social construct. Typology, the typing of humans into categories, is akin to wrestling an octopus into a shoe box: no matter how hard you fight with it, you still have something dangling out somewhere. Modern typologists cannot even agree whether it is more meaningful to lump races into large fuzzy groups or to split them into smaller units of dozens or even hundreds of populations.

There are no doubts in the broader medical community that “race” can play a critical role in treating disease or chronic health problems. Genetic factors help explain the prevalence of Tay-Sachs, a neurological disease, among European Jews and their Diaspora descendants and the proclivity to skin cancer and cystic fibrosis among Northern Europeans. The presence of the gene apolipoprotein E allele, E-4 allele is a potent risk factor of Alzheimer’s in Caucasians but not for blacks of West African ancestry. The Pima Indians have one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. A condition called primaquine sensitivity is responsible for the intensity of the reaction to certain drugs among African, Mediterranean, and Asian men. Another mutated gene accounts for the sensitivity of the Japanese to alcohol. Other genetic polymorphisms found in specific population groups are associated with sensitivity to certain foods, type one diabetes, QT syndrome (a heart disease), asthma, thrombophilia (bleeding disorder), and an inability to metabolize common drugs like codeine, beta-blockers and antidepressants. These are all “racial” differences of a kind; potentially thousands more remain to be identified.

For example, if you need a blood transfusion or a bone marrow transplant, knowing that you have African roots and taking that into account in finding appropriate matches could be the difference between life and death. People of sub-Saharan African descent have distinct and relatively rare genetic make-ups. In the United States, while 40 percent of Caucasians who didn’t have a bone marrow match in their own family were able to receive a transplant through the national marrow donor program, the rate for African-Americans was 15 percent.

How do we sort out sometimes-slippery facts about “race” from folkloric nonsense? After all simplistic notions of race have been misused to justify discrimination against blacks, Aboriginals, Jews and other groups. The five common arguments are:

1. Humans are 99.9 percent the same. Therefore, race is “biologically meaningless.”

2. The genetic variation among European, African and Asian populations is minuscule compared to differences between individuals within those populations.

3. Human differences are superficial because populations have not had enough evolutionary time to differentiate.

4. “There are many different, equally valid procedures for defining races, and those different procedures yield very different classifications.”

5. Documenting human group differences is outside the domain of modern scientific inquiry.

Here’s an analysis of these issues and a template for a far more textured discussion than you’ll find at CGS and similar ideologically-based NGOs. It might be nice if there were no innate differences of any kind among population groups, at least besides the obvious cosmetic ones. But genes do not confer equality, for without differences, evolution would be impossible. Humans are different, the consequence of thousands of years of evolution in varying terrains. Society, and science in particular, pay a huge price for not discussing this openly, if carefully.

Zombie alert? Male DNA found in women’s brains might prevent disease

Male DNA found in the brains of women appears to have come from male fetuses they carried when pregnant, and it may have both positive and negative effects, including the prevention of disease. Researchers believe that DNA from male and female fetuses might cross into mothers’ genes.

Additional Resources:

View the original article here: Zombie alert? Male DNA found in women’s brains might prevent disease

Turning point from the botched French maize study: GM opponents look like climate deniers

The highly controversial study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini, who as we noted in last week’s update has a long history of actively disparaging GM technology based on questionable research, may mark a watershed in the debate over GM technology.

The Seralini Affair, as it may yet come to be known, is drawing a sharp line between anti-innovation campaigners and more mainstream scientists and journalists, who have strived to report on an emerging technology with potentially disruptive—almost all for the good—consequences.

As Keith Kloor writes in a comprehensive deconstruction of the research fiasco, how journalists report on this issue has long divided the serious-minded from the mostly ideological.

“… fears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs. In short, I’ve learned that the emotionally charged, politicized discourse on GMOs is mired in the kind of fever swamps that have polluted climate science beyond recognition.”

In other words, Kloor suggests, strident opponents of GM technology are starting to look like climate deniers, and they often enabled by advocacy NGOs and campaigning journalists who, ironically, took the lead in debunking the pseudo-science of the right.

Kloor and others take welcome potshots at some of the biggest purveyors of misinformation about genetic technology, most notably Tom Phillpott, the young food blogger for Mother Jones. He bizarrely writes that Seralini’s results “shine a harsh light on the ag-biotech industry’s mantra that GMOs have indisputably proven safe to eat.”

Phillpott is notorious among scientists and serious science journalists. He has carved out a reputation as a precautionary junkie, reliably opposing almost anything that the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace or the Environmental Working Group announces a campaign against. Phillpot, who has no science background or history of serious writing on the subject (he was recruited to Mother Jones from Grist magazine, which has also botched the Seralini coverage), often cherry picks anti-GM or anti-chemical food related studies, reporting them out of context and with no attempt at balance.

“This brand of fear-mongering is what I’ve come to expect from environmental groups, anti-GMO activists, and their most shamelessly exploitive soul travelers,” writes Kloor.

Journalists in the United States and Europe continue to express outrage at the way Seralini and his colleagues tried to manage the media coverage, forcing reporters to sign a non-disclosure agreement that barred them from seeking outside sources, which, remarkably, many large organizations agreed to.

What some are calling a “retraction watch” has now begun. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is set to deliver within days its preliminary review of the study. Seralini has refused the agency’s request to review his data—a standard practice that allows other scientists to attempt to replicate findings and evaluate the data to further future research. The EFSA—no friend do the GM industry—has previously criticized the quality of Seralini’s research, as has the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI).

Chemical Toxicology Journal, which published the Seralini paper, has been deluged by written requests from academicians and scientists to reassess its handling of the paper after the almost universal criticism of what appears to be the manipulated findings. Editor Wally Hayes has reportedly indicated that he would consider taking action, perhaps including a retraction.

Besides the long list of problems with the study, scientists also note that it contradicts similar research by far more independent scientists. Previous peer-reviewed rat feeding studies using the same products (NK603 and Roundup) have not found any negative food safety impacts.  The Japanese Department of Environmental Health and Toxicology released a 52-week feeding study of GM soybeans in 2007, finding “no apparent adverse effect in rats.” Earlier this year, a team of scientists at the University of Nottingham School of Biosciences released a review of 12 long-term studies (up to two years) and 12 multigenerational studies (up to 5 generations), concluding there is no evidence of health hazards.

Stay tuned.

Labelling law for GMOs in Thailand produce

In the U.S. over eighty per cent of the soybeans, corn, and canola grown in the U.S. are Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO. Recently, Aphaluck Bhatiasevi wrote about some of the name brands that use GMO.

Nestle baby food, Good Time instant cereal, Knorr cup soup, Nissin cup noodle, Lay’s Stax potato chips, Pringles snacks, and High Class Vita-Tofu soybean curd were found to contain GMOs.

However, it’s not just the U.S. that has been plagued by GMO-filled products but now more foods in Thailand contain GMOs. In America the main issues faced are the danger of the foods and the law requiring labelling. Currently, there is a legal battle with Monsanto, one of the first producers of the toxic pest control substances, DDT and PCB, as well as other GMO lobbyists fighting a law to label GMO filled products.

View the original article here: Labelling Law for GMOs in Thailand Produce

Study shows stem cells may prevent and cure Alzheimer’s

In the first study of its kind, researchers at Korea’s leading university and the RNL Bio Stem Cell Technology Institute announced this week the results of a study that suggests an astounding possibility: adult stem cells may not only have a positive effect on those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, they can prevent the disease. Using fat-derived adult stem cells from humans [scientific term: adMSCs, or human, adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells], researchers were able to cause Alzheimer’s disease brains in animal models to regenerate.  The researchers, for the first time in history, used stem cells to identify the mechanism that is key to treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, and demonstrated how to achieve efficacy as well as prevention of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s with adult stem cells, a “holy grail” of biomedical scientists for decades.

View the original article here: Study Shows Stem Cells May Prevent And Cure Alzheimer’s

Poll finds California’s Prop. 37 is likely to pass

By more than a 2-to-1 margin, California voters favor an initiative to require food manufacturers and retailers to label fresh produce and processed foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

With less than six weeks until election day, Proposition 37 is supported by 61% of registered voters and opposed by 25%, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. An additional 14% were undecided or refused to answer.

View the original article here: Poll finds Prop. 37 is likely to pass – Los Angeles Times

Reverse aging? Scientists find way to make old muscles young again with proteins and stem cells

It is a dream for everyone as they grow older to turn back the clock and live in a younger body once again.  While many have developed ways to make the body look younger cosmetically, there have been very few effective methods to combat the aging process within the body – until now.

For the first time ever, researchers have identified a crucial protein responsible for the decline of muscle repair and agility as the body ages.  Upon this discovery, the scientists were able to effectively halt muscle decline in mice, giving hope to similar treatments for humans in the future.

View the original article here: Reverse aging? Scientists find way to make old muscles young again – Fox News

Scientists uncover mechanism by which plants inherit epigenetic modifications

During embryonic development in humans and other mammals, sperm and egg cells are essentially wiped clean of chemical modifications to DNA called epigenetic marks. They are then held in reserve to await fertilization.

In flowering plants the scenario is dramatically different. Germ cells don’t even appear until the post-embryonic period – sometimes not until many years later. When they do appear, only some epigenetic marks are wiped away; some remain, carried over from prior generations – although until now little was known about how or to what extent.

View the original article here: Scientists uncover mechanism by which plants inherit epigenetic modifications

Report says ‘biotech crops help farm income rise $78 b’

A new research, conducted by the UK-based PG Economics Limited, has claimed that the use of biotech crops had resulted in an increase of $78.4 billion in global farm income during 1996 and 2010.

“If crop biotechnology had not been available to the 1.54 crore farmers (who used the technology in 2010), maintaining global production levels at the 2010 levels would have required additional planting of 51 lakh hectares of soyabeans, 56 lakh hectares of corn and 30 lakh hectares of cotton,” Graham Brookes, Director of PG Economics, has said.

View the original article here: ‘Biotech crops help farm income rise $78 b’ – Hindu Business Line

Scientists smell a rat in fraudulent genetic engineering study

Last week French microbiologist Gilles-Eric Séralini and several colleagues released the results of a long-term study in which rats were fed genetically engineered (AKA genetically modified, or “GM”) corn that contains enhanced resistance to insects and/or the herbicide glyphosate.  They took the unprecedented step of pre-releasing the paper to selected media outlets under an embargo on the condition that they sign a non-disclosure agreement. (That prevented the journalists from seeking scientific experts’ opinions on the article.)  At a carefully orchestrated media event they then announced that their long-term studies found that the rats in experimental groups developed tumors at an alarming rate. Within hours news of their “discovery” echoed around the world.  As we say today, the story “went viral.”

View the original article here: Scientists smell a rat in fraudulent genetic engineering study

Lawsuit: Should state allow DNA to prove native Hawaiian ancestry

A man who says he’s at least half Native Hawaiian but doesn’t have the records to prove it is suing the state for not accepting DNA test results as evidence of his ancestry.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL), under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, provides government-sponsored homesteads to people who can prove they are at least 50 percent Native Hawaiian.

View the original article here: Lawsuit: State Should Allow DNA To Prove Native Hawaiian Ancestry – Honolulu Civil Beat

UK: Modern genetics applied to 19th century potatoes

Researchers led by Professor Bruce Fitt, now at the University of Hertfordshire, have used modern DNA techniques on late nineteenth-century potatoes to show how the potato blight may have survived between cropping seasons after the Irish potato famine of the 1840s.

Late blight of potato is caused by the microorganism, Phytophthora infestans, which rapidly destroys the leaves of potato crops and was responsible for the infamous Irish potato famine of the 1840s that left over one million people dead and another one million Irish emigrating. With growing concerns over food shortages and climate change, late blight remains a serious disease problem in current potato production and has also emerged as a significant disease threat to the organic tomato industry.

View the original article here: UK: Modern genetics applied to 19th century potatoes