Podcast: Bayer’s $10.9 billion glyphosate settlement a mistake? Vaccines from mosquito spit; CRISPR cures sickle cell disease?


Chemical giant Bayer just settled roughly 95,000 lawsuits alleging its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer. Has the company given its anti-GMO critics a gift by giving up the legal battle? A protein found in mosquito saliva could yield vaccines for dozens of deadly diseases, and CRISPR gene editing has effectively cured two inherited disorders that require lifelong treatment.

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP editor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

Bayer’s effort to defend its Roundup herbicide in court has ended in a $10.9 billion settlement. The company says settling was the financially reasonable decision and “will return the discussion about the safety and utility of glyphosate-based herbicides …. to the scientific and regulatory arena and to the full body of science.”

But the multi-billion-dollar agreement doesn’t necessarily shield Bayer from “a flood” of new litigation—some 30,000 plaintiffs who weren’t  party to the settlement. The law firms that have beaten Bayer in court three times, for example, appear poised to challenge the settlement for depriving cancer patients “of their constitutional right to a jury trial.” So the question remains: is the legal battle over glyphosate really at its end?

Vaccines are typically designed to prevent infection by specific pathogens, but this strategy isn’t nearly as effective when many diseases are spread by the same vector. Mosquitoes infect millions of people every year with malaria, dengue, chikungunya, Zika, yellow fever, West Nile and Mayaro viruses. By developing a vector-based vaccine using a protein found in mosquito saliva, researchers are working to stop the spread of any pathogen the insect may harbor, including those we’ve yet to identify.

Related article:  Video: Biotech firm Syngenta defends GMO crops, Impossible Burger as climate change mitigation tools

Beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease are inherited, painful disorders without cures.  They’re caused by mutations in the genes that control  haemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells, and usually treated with regular blood transfusions. But that may no longer be the case. With the help of CRISPR, scientists have edited a gene that controls the production of hemoglobin in bone marrow stem cells. These edited, healthy cells replace the defective ones the patient naturally produces.

Five people have been treated with this novel therapy so far and no longer require blood transfusions. The researchers say this is a “functional cure” for both disorders, though additional clinical research is ongoing to confirm its safety and efficacy.

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Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

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