Why genetic modification myths are so appealing and powerful

The following is an edited excerpt.

While I admire this optimism and agree that we should continue to engage in conversations about GMOs, there are certain present-day realities that constrain our efforts to find common ground on this very controversial topic.

At the top of this list is the sheer amount of information we are inundated with every day. Using carefully crafted words (frankenfoods!) and images (syringes in tomatoes), they create myths–GM corn causes cancer, fish genes have been forced into tomatoes or GM corn kills the larvae of monarch butterflies–that tap into people’s fears about genetic engineering. When you combine these myths with our cognitive habits, things become even more complex:

  • People are conspiratorial thinkers
  • People think in ‘pictures’
  • People are pattern seekers
  • People are conformists

Read the full story here: Why GMO Myths Are So Appealing and Powerful

Angelina Jolie inadvertently highlights key question of gene patents

The following is an excerpt.

Angelina Jolie’s recent double mastectomy was obviously a very radical decision. It is unusual for a healthy person to opt for pre-emptive surgery to avert the probability, however high it may be, of getting cancer. The tests Jolie relied on are also at the heart of a legal battle, which could affect US biotech patenting norms. Since the US is the global R&D leader, and other nations tend to fall in line with US practice, the outcome will have a far-reaching impact on research into stem cells, vaccines, antibiotics, insulin, enzymes and so on.

Read the full story here: Can genes be patented?

Natural News: GM wheat in Oregon means “Genetic Apocalypse” is here

The following is an edited excerpt.

The genetic apocalypse we’ve been warning about for years may have already begun. The USDA just announced they found a significant amount of genetically engineered wheat growing in farm fields in Oregon.

Why is this a big deal? Because GE wheat has never been approved for commercialization or sale. These strains of GE wheat escaped from GMO field experiments conducted across 16 states by Monsanto from 1998 to 2005. As the USDA states, “Further testing by USDA laboratories indicates the presence of the same GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005.”

Read the full story here: GMO genetic pollution alert: Genetically engineered wheat escapes experimental fields planted across 16 states

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Synthetic blood: First human trials to take place in Scotland

The following is an excerpt.

Researchers have been given a licence to use stem cells to manufacture blood that could eventually be tested on people.

Synthetic blood would help end supply shortages and prevent infections being passed on through donations.

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, Edinburgh University and Roslin Cells are conducting the work.

The licence, granted by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), means a manufacturing facility can be set up to work on human cell therapy products.

It will be based at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) and aims to produce blood which would be fit for clinical trials.

Read the full story here: Go-ahead to develop synthetic human blood in Scotland

Additional Resources:

For additional coverage of the Scottish first:

Scotland is not the first to try to produce artificial blood, however. Earlier this year, India’s IIT Madras geared up for mass production of red blood cells from stem cells.



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Transgenic salmon hybridize with trout, produce sterile offspring

Researchers in Canada recently confirmed that AquaBounty’s genetically modified Atlantic salmon is able to cross-breed with unmodified brown trout populations, producing viable offspring that grow at an accelerated rate like their transgenic parents. What some of the coverage forgot to note was that the offspring of brown trout and Atlantic salmon (which hybridize naturally) are sterile. Yes, these transgenic salmon could create hybrid offspring with wild fish, but these hybrids would be unable to reproduce.

Furthermore, the specific salmon used were fertile, for research purposes, whereas the fish AquaBounty intends to market would all be sterile females with a third set of chromosomes to effectively eliminate the prospect of them breeding in the wild. And they would be stored under lock-and-key far away from oceans or brown trout populations.

The most frightening ecological bugbear plaguing the development and agonizingly slow approval process of AquaBounty’s fast-growing, genetically modified AquAdvatange salmon is the “What if it go out?” scenario. It’s a scenario that should be evaluated with every transgenic animal. However, the only thing this study proved is that if you try, under laboratory conditions, to breed AquAdvantage salmon with brown trout, you can. This was intentionally a “worst-case scenario” experiment.

The fearful response to this study—Frankensalmon could breed with trout, produce frankentrout,” says Grist—ignores  a mass of important context and assumes that all of AquaBounty and the FDAs fail-safes and safety measures are worth nothing. Traditional fish-farming runs the ecological risk of farmed species getting into local bodies of water and wreaking havoc, but it is not under the same scrutiny (and apparent suspicion) of efforts to farm GM salmon.

If we’re going to have an intelligent conversation about the risks posed (and not posed) by the AquAdvantage salmon, we must take into account the safety measures that will be employed by the company producing the salmon—all of which were intentionally bypassed in this study to test the hypothetical scenario of fertile AquAdvantage salmon breeding with brown trout.

Selected Sources:

California: Conflicts come to light at stem cell institute

The following is an excerpt.

With a new chairman, Jonathan Thomas, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine claims it has turned a page. Thomas has vowed to be aggressive in avoiding conflicts in dispersing millions of public dollars for stem cell research.

Yet serious conflicts continue to be revealed involving CIRM. The latest one throws into question a $20 million grant awarded last year to StemCells Inc., a company that wants to transplant neural stem cells to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Read the full story here: Editorial: More conflicts come to light at stem cell institute

A skeptical look at NYC’s “March Against Monsanto”

The following is an edited excerpt.

First off, if you’re going to have a protest about how we’re all being poisoned, you need to have it led by healthy, well-fed, good-looking people.

Second, you need music and what better music to have than the Occupy Wall Street All-No-Star Band with special guest, Zuccotti Park Sax Guy.

One of my first chats was with a very nice woman who claimed to be a nurse. She echoed the talking points about weed resistance, mono cropping etc. I explained that weed resistance was an age-old problem and farmers have always had to stay one step ahead of the weeds. It wasn’t just a gmo problem. That’s where I got my first dog head tilt.

Read the full story here: March Against Monsanto: NYC Version

Japan suspends some imports of U.S. wheat after GM wheat discovered in Oregon

The following is an edited excerpt.

Japan has suspended some imports of wheat from the United States after genetically engineered wheat was found on an Oregon farm.

Japan is one of the largest export markets for American wheat growers. Katsuhiro Saka, a counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, said Thursday that Japan had canceled orders of western white wheat from the Pacific Northwest and also of some feed-grade wheat.

Read the full story here: Japan suspends some imports of U.S. wheat

Fetal programming: Mom’s weight changes baby’s genes

The following is an excerpt.

Of the many powers mothers wield, few are more extraordinary than the power to nudge a child’s health prospects in one direction or another simply by having incubated that child in her womb. Research is uncovering more and more instances in which a pregnant woman’s own health issues powerfully influence those of her child.

A woman’s nutrition, her stress levels, her exposure to toxic pollutants and her own health status can bend a baby’s genetic make-up not by changing the code, but by tweaking the way those genes carry out their program.

Read the full story here: Fetal programming: Mom’s health has powerful impact on her unborn child

Genetic tests: Should doctors tell all?

The following is an edited excerpt.

In March, the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) released a report on “incidental findings” in genetic tests, which is continuing to attract the wider discussion it deserves. Essentially, it said that doctors ought to tell patients about some (not all) unexpected genetic results.This debate raises major questions of patient consent, and challenges established principles about testing children for late-onset conditions. It also suggests the possibility of unnecessary medical interventions, and perhaps even difficulties in obtaining a medically needed genetic test if a patient is unwilling to be presented with findings that are not directly relevant.

Read the full story here: Genetic Tests: Who Should Know and Who Should Tell?

Gene delivery via magnetic nanoparticles

The following is an excerpt.

Stent angioplasty saves lives, but there often are side effects and complications related to the procedure, such as arterial restenosis and thrombosis. In the June 2013 issue of The FASEB Journal, however, scientists report that they have discovered a new nanoparticle gene delivery method that may overcome current limitations of gene therapy vectors and prevent complications associated with the stenting procedure. Specifically, this strategy uses stents as a platform for magnetically targeted gene delivery, where genes are moved to cells at arterial injury locations without causing unwanted side effects to other organs.

Read the full story here: New Gene Delivery Method: Magnetic Nanoparticles

GM wheat growing on a farm in Oregon: So what?

The following is an edited excerpt.

It’s no big deal because the answer is that it is as at least as safe to people and the environment as conventional or organic wheat. The notion that conventional wheat or organic wheat could be somehow dangerously contaminated by any amount – much less the tiny amount possibly at issue here – of this variety of herbicide resistant wheat is scientific nonsense.

So why the question?

Naturally, the discovery of GE wheat is being denounced by anti-biotech activist groups.  The anti-biotech activists in the environmentalist movement will be chiefly to blame if some countries ban American wheat imports. After all, thanks to tireless activism, several countries banned the import of American rice over a similar fake furor back in 2006.

Read the full story here: So What If Unregulated Genetically Engineered Wheat Is Found Growing on a Farm in Oregon?



Synthetic blood trial liscenced in Scotland

The following is an excerpt.

Researchers based at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) in Edinburgh hope to use stem cells to manufacture blood on an industrial scale to help end shortages and prevent infections being passed on in donations.

While other researchers have been granted licences to develop stem-cell products for human testing, the Scottish team is the first in the world to use the permission to trial synthetic blood.

Read the full story here: Scots scientists to trial synthetic human blood

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Discovery of liquid mammoth blood fuels cloning hopes

The following is an edited excerpt.

Scientists say they have found both blood and muscle tissue – perfectly preserved in the ice – from a Siberian mammoth.

The discovery sparked a hotly contested debate on whether scientists should try to recreate the extinct species using DNA. The Russian team from Yakutsk that made the find is working in a partnership with South Korean scientists who are actively seeking to bring the mammoth back to life.

Read the full story here: Exclusive: The first pictures of blood from a 10,000 year old Siberian woolly mammoth

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Former anti-GM writer: Movement continue to disappoint

The following is an edited excerpt.

Here are three questions to ponder today.

1. What does it say about a movement when some of its loudest voices refuse to engage in public discourse with any individuals who may have opinions different from their own?

2. What does it say about a movement when some of its loudest voices freely circulate highly sensationalized but completely unsubstantiated data – yet refuse to stand up to challenges to confirm that data?

3. What does it say about a movement when activists march on city streets carrying signs that are deliberately designed to scare people with skewed, false or unrelated data – and they don’t even know it?

Read the full post here: The Anti-GMO Movement Continues to Disappoint 

Mistakes in ‘junk DNA’ linked to cancer

The following is an excerpt.

“Junk DNA” makes up about 98 percent of the human genome, an enormous accumulation of repetitive sequences that is not believed to include any genes that encode proteins for specific functions.

Its purpose, if any, is still poorly understood, but researchers at the University of Nottingham in England have found that at least one genetic malfunction in a sequence considered junk DNA has a dire and specific effect: promoting cancer growth.

Read the full story here: ‘Junk DNA’ Genetic Malfunction Promotes Cancerous Tumor Growth

Warding off the flu with gene therapy

The following is an excerpt.

In 2009, a global collaboration of scientists, public health agencies, and companies raced to make a vaccine against a pandemic influenza virus, but most of it wasn’t ready until the pandemic had peaked. Now, researchers have come up with an alternative, faster strategy for when a pandemic influenza virus surfaces: Just squirt genes for the protective antibodies into people’s noses. The method—which borrows ideas from both gene therapy and vaccination, but is neither—protects mice against a wide range of flu viruses in a new study.

Read the full story here: Gene Therapy … Against the Flu?

Camel genome decoded

The following is an edited excerpt.

Researchers have sequenced the genome of a Bactrian camel named Mozart, laying down the foundation for future scientific work on these large desert mammals.

The previous lack of basic genetic data on camel species has hampered researchers like Burger from studying the animal’s genome. These genomes will also help scientists understand more about the evolution of the camel and its predecessors, such as how one recently discovered 3.5-million-year-old fossil may have played into its evolutionary family tree.

Read the full story here: Decoded Camel Genome To Unveil Secrets Of Evolutionary History

Efforts to revive extinct species miss the point

The following is an excerpt.

“We will get woolly mammoths back.” So vowed environmentalist Stewart Brand at the TED conference in Long Beach, Calif., in February in laying out his vision for reviving extinct species. The mammoth isn’t the only vanished creature Brand and other proponents of “de-extinction” want to resurrect.

Indeed, thanks to recent advances in cloning and the sequencing of ancient DNA, among other feats of biotechnology, researchers may soon be able to re-create any number of species once thought to be gone for good. That does not mean that they should, however.

Read the full story here: Why Efforts to Bring Extinct Species Back from the Dead Miss the Point