Pressure mounts for retraction of GM crop-cancer study

Pressure is growing for retraction of a study which concluded that a genetically modified maize and a weedkiller called glyphosate cause cancers in rats.

The study attracted criticism from the moment it was published on 19 September. Yesterday, it was dismissed as having “serious defects” in a final report on the matter by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and independently by the food safety panels of six European countries. They say too few rats were used to justify the conclusions linking Monsanto’s NK603 maize and glyphosate with cancers in the rats.

Researchers now want Food and Chemical Toxicology, the Elsevier journal that published the original study (DOI: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005), to retract it.

View the original article here: Pressure mounts for retraction of GM crop-cancer study

Researchers Unlock Secrets of Wheat Genome

Scientists analyzing the complex genome of bread wheat say they have identified characteristics that could help them make the crucial food crop more productive, nutritious and resistant to drought.

The research, published in the journal Nature, used a new strategy that compared wheat genome sequences to known grass genes, including rice and barley.

Researchers have made the decision to release the data quickly and share it freely in the public domain in the hope that scientists the world over can use it to devise new strains that are better able to cope with climate change, pests and other problems.

View the original article here: Researchers Unlock Secrets of Wheat Genome

New class of genes may shed light on evolutionary mysteries

THE old saying that where there’s muck, there’s brass has never proved more true than in genetics. Once, and not so long ago, received wisdom was that most of the human genome—perhaps as much as 99% of it—was “junk”. If this junk had a role, it was just to space out the remaining 1%, the genes in which instructions about how to make proteins are encoded, in a useful way in the cell nucleus.

That, it now seems, was about as far from the truth as it is possible to be. The decade or so since the completion of the Human Genome Project has shown that lots of the junk must indeed have a function. The culmination of that demonstration was the publication, in September, of the results of the ENCODE project. This suggested that almost two-thirds of human DNA, rather than just 1% of it, is being copied into molecules of RNA, the chemical that carries protein-making instructions to the sub-cellular factories which turn those proteins out, and that as a consequence, rather than there being just 23,000 genes (namely, the bits of DNA that encode proteins), there may be millions of them.

View the original article here: RNA-only genes: The origin of species?

Gattaca’s future is now, “God help us all”

“Gattaca” is considered to be one of the best science fiction films of the past twenty-five years, but we seem to be on the verge of turning the world it depicts into science fact.

A recent series of articles at Time magazine’s website discussed the potential and pitfalls of a new technology called “whole-genome sequencing” or WGS. WGS can analyze a person’s entire genome and identity genetic risk factors for diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Anyone who thinks that the widespread adoption of WGS, especially if it’s used in utero, won’t result in discrimination against the already-born and death of countless more unborn is kidding himself. As families growing smaller and health care eats more and more of our GDP, the pressure to use WGS in ways that the movie “Gattaca” envisioned will be almost-irresistible.

View the original article here: Whole-Genome Sequencing Makes It so Gattaca’s Future is Now


Real-time genetics could squash “superbug” outbreaks

Genetic sequences of drug-resistant bacteria have helped scientists better understand how these dastardly infections evolve—and elude treatment. But these superbugs are still claiming lives of many who acquire them in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. And recent outbreaks of these hard-to-treat infections can spread easily in healthcare settings.

Researchers might soon be able to track outbreaks in real time, thanks to advances in sequencing technology. So say Mark Walker and Scott Beaston, both of the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and Australian Infectious Disease Research Center at the University of Queensland in Australia, in an essay published online November 29 in Science. “Genomic sequencing can provide information that gives facilities a head start in implementing preventive measures,” they wrote.

View the original article here: Real-Time Genetics Could Squash “Superbug” Outbreaks before They Spread

Human genetic diversity exploded in recent millennia

A new look at living people’s DNA reveals that the human genome just isn’t what it was in Neolithic times.

Most of the genetic quirks people carry today popped up within the last 5,000 years or so, researchers report online November 28 in Nature. Human populations exploded from no more than a few million to 7 billion, thanks largely to the rise of agriculture.

View the original article here: Genetic diversity exploded in recent millennia

An interview with anti-GMO crusader Jim Gerritsen

For nearly three decades Jim Gerritsen quietly farmed organic seed potatoes in Aroostook County. These days he is in the international spotlight as the spokesman for the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Monsanto Corporation, the world’s largest producer of genetically modified seeds.

Gerritsen is president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), whose lawsuit asks to have Monsanto’s patents for genetically altered seeds invalidated.

OSGATA, which has been joined in lawsuit by eighty-two seed businesses, family farmers, and trade organizations, including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, wants court protection for farmers against possible lawsuits for patent infringement should Monsanto’s transgenic crops be found in their harvest as a result of accidental cross pollination.

View the original article here: Seeds of Discontent – Down East

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Kenya issues blanket GMO ban

Kenya, one of the first African countries to legalize GM technology, used to be recognized as a leader in that region’s biotechnology development. But in response to the now-debunked Seralini study, Kenya’s Public Health Minister Beth Mugo recently outlawed the importation of all genetically modified products into the country.

Scientists are raising the alarm and pointing out that GM foods have never been associated with health risks, yet the government insists that the ban will remain in effect “until there is sufficient information, data and knowledge demonstrating that GMO foods are not a danger to public health.”

Anti-biotech organizations such as the African Center for Biosafety and the African Civil Society see the ban as an issue of food sovereignty, and are calling for a continent-wide ban.  “Africans must determine what crops are suitable culturally and environmentally,” the coordinator of the African Center for Biosafety told IPS. “Up to 80 percent of our food needs are met by smallholder farmers. These people need support and inputs for integrated agro-ecological crop management. Africa should ideally be a GMO-free continent.”   

And in the midst of it all, many scientists are wondering whether the measure could deny food and medicine to hundreds of thousands of Kenyans.

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Scientists plan to engineer gluten-free wheat

People with serious gluten allergies such as celiac disease now have only one tried-and-true option: swear off all foods containing wheat, barley and rye.

Scientists have experimented with another tack: sifting through different varieties of wheat and barley lines that lack, or make a lot less of, key gluten proteins in their grains. ut though they’ve found varieties that lack some of the important allergenic proteins, “None of the tested materials was completely nontoxic for celiac patients and thus could not be recommended for general consumption,” note authors of the current study.

Those authors, Shanshan Wen of Washington State University in Pullman and colleagues, tried a different approach. It hinged on a key enzyme — one that helps activate a whole set of genes that make the most problematic gluten proteins. Using a genetic engineering trick, they knocked out that enzyme. As a result, the seeds of the wheat they studied had sharply reduced levels of this set of problem proteins.

View the original article here: Wheat for people allergic to gluten: Possible?

Ethanol could increase corn prices and exacerbate climate change

In a paper recently published in Nature Climate Change, Diffenbaugh et al. (2012) analyze the response of U.S. corn markets to climate volatility under various alternative energy futures, one of which envisions “a binding renewable fuels standard for corn ethanol and capacity constraints on ethanol absorption.” Although this scenario was initially viewed as a strong positive element of both agricultural and environmental policy, the four U.S. researchers unfortunately found that a binding mandate of this nature likely “enhances the sensitivity to climate change by more than 50%,” with the result that it could well “cause U.S. corn price volatility to increase by more than 50% in response to historical supply shocks in the domestic market,” citing Hertel and Beckman (2011).

View the original article here: The Biofuels Mandate and US Corn Prices

Patient’s own blood used to create personalized stem cells

A patient’s own blood has been used to make personalised stem cells, which doctors hope will eventually be used to treat a range of diseases.

The team at the University of Cambridge says this could be one of the easiest and safest sources of stem cells. In a study, published in the journal Stem Cells: Translational Medicine, the cells were used to build blood vessels. However, experts cautioned that the safety of using such stem cells was still unclear.

View the original article here: Stem cells being made from blood

Africa caught between US and European GMO politics

African countries, Tanzania inclusive, are increasingly getting entangled between two conflicting giants on genetically modified organisms (GMO) issues, and now need serious political will to make decisions.

Key development partners of the continent; the US ardently supports the GMOs while Europe vehemently opposes them. Observers say the situation calls for patriotic African scientists to come up with the truth and help Africans make informed decisions on the matter.

View the original article here: How Africa is entangled in US, Europe’s GMOs politics

Engineered plants and bacteria could mine platinum

Fields of native flowers may soon become high tech nanoparticle factories if a team of scientists in the United Kingdom succeeds in using plants to extract soil pollutants which bacteria will then process into useful materials.

Some plants, the flower Alyssum for example, naturally draw certain chemicals, such as arsenic and platinum, from the soil. The plants concentrate the chemicals in their tissues, which makes them naturals at reclaiming polluted land.

“We have access to a global dataset of plant/crop genetics and capabilities that will allow us to identify suitable native species. One key aspect is to ensure that no impacts on localized biodiversity occur,” said Kiwan.

View the original article here: The Future’s Platinum: Flower Power

GMO scare: “A lot of hype with little substance”

As I have said before, people have a right to eat whatever they want—organic, vegan, gluten-free, soy-based (I have no problem with soy but really prefer meat.), local or omnivorous. And if folks want to research every product they buy to determine if it has transgenic properties, then I guess they have the right to do that.

And if an organization has an issue with a product, any product, I agree that it has the right, perhaps even the responsibility, to alert the public. However, and this is a big however, when an organization determines that a product is bad and decides to turn other people against it, they should offer some facts to support the reasoning behind the boycott.

View the original article here: GMO scare is a lot of hype with little substance

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Bioethics expert warns against GM babies plan

British proposals to create genetically modified babies with three or four biological parents should be rejected, a new report says.

The report, written by bioethics expert Dr Calum MacKellar, says the techniques that are being discussed may carry medical risks for children, and for future generations.

Those in favour of the plans say the aim is to avoid mitochondrial diseases being passed from mother to child. But Dr MacKellar says alternative ways of doing that are already being pursued by scientists and they are far less controversial.

View the original article here: Bioethics expert warns against GM babies plan – The Christian Institute

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GM corn in Mexico: Attack on the heart of maize biodiversity

Mexico, the homeland of corn and cradle of its genetic diversity, is waiting with baited breath for an important decision that could seriously compromise its agricultural biodiversity. Since 2009, when [Mexico] dropped [a] decade-long moratorium on GMOs, 177 authorizations have already been granted for sowing transgenic corn in Mexico. Now the country is waiting for the outcome of a case whose dimensions and potential impact make it significantly more serious.

“Corn’s genetic heritage is an intangible asset for all of humanity,” said Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s president. “We must avoid it being put at risk to further the private interests of certain multinationals. We hope that the Mexican government follows the precautionary principle adopted by Europe and other countries, including recently Kenya.”

View the original article here: Attack on the Heart of Biodiversity

Humans are ‘evolvable’ now more than ever

In the most massive study of genetic variation yet, researchers estimated the age of more than one million variants, or changes to our DNA code, found across human populations. The vast majority proved to be quite young. The chronologies tell a story of evolutionary dynamics in recent human history, a period characterized by both narrow reproductive bottlenecks and sudden, enormous population growth.

The evolutionary dynamics of these features resulted in a flood of new genetic variation, accumulating so fast that natural selection hasn’t caught up yet. As a species, we are freshly bursting with the raw material of evolution.

“Most of the mutations that we found arose in the last 200 generations or so. There hasn’t been much time for random change or deterministic change through natural selection,” said geneticist Joshua Akey of the University of Washington, co-author of the Nov. 28 Nature study. “We have a repository of all this new variation for humanity to use as a substrate. In a way, we’re more evolvable now than at any time in our history.

View the original article here: Human Evolution Enters an Exciting New Phase

Researchers create a fly to study how a normal cell turns cancerous

The wing of a fruit fly may hold the key to unraveling the genetic and molecular events that transform a normal cell into a cancerous one. The study, conducted on Drosophila melanogaster by scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and led by ICREA researcher Marco Milán, has reproduced each of the steps known to take place when a healthy cell turns cancerous. The researchers have thus provided an inexpensive and effective model that will allow the scientific community to scrutinize the genes and molecules involved in each step. Given that the vast majority of genes in Drosophila are conserved in mice and humans, the results obtained may also lead researchers to perform similar studies in more clinically relevant models. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS) has published the study online this week.

“This has allowed us to propose something that hasn’t yet been possible to study in depth and that now should be taken into serious consideration. Is genomic instability the cause of tumorigenesis?” says Milán.

View the original article here: Researchers create a fly to study how a normal cell turns cancerous –