Podcast: EU food retailers don’t want CRISPR crops; Glyphosate threatens insects? Gene editing may fight high cholesterol

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European food retailers want food made from CRISPR-edited crops labeled “GMO,” which could prevent EU farmers from utilizing gene editing technology. The weedkiller glyphosate is thought to pose little risk to humans and animals, but a new study suggests the herbicide could threaten insects. How worried should we be? CRISPR may one day replace statins as a treatment for high cholesterol.

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

Support for agricultural gene editing is growing in the EU, but popular food retailers around the continent are joining forces to lobby against the technology’s introduction. While there is no scientific justification for keeping gene-edited seeds out of European agriculture, these business interests say allowing the enhanced seeds into the food supply would deny consumers “the right to know” what they’re eating. If successful, this effort on the part of the grocery industry could hinder Europe’s push to finally embrace some genetic engineering applications in food production.

Glyphosate is an effective weedkiller, but according to a new study, the same quality that makes it such a great herbicide may also pose a serious threat to a wide variety of insects. The chemical inhibits the production of certain amino acids made by bacteria that live in the guts of grain beetles (Oryzaephilus surinamensis), hindering their ability to survive drought and predator attacks. Others species also depend on these amino acids, so there is new concern about glyphosate’s potential impact on biodiversity. How big of a threat are we talking about?

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Disabling a gene (PCSK9) that inhibits the body’s ability to remove LDL can be used to lower dangerously high cholesterol—at least in monkeys. Drugs that limit production of the protein PCSK9 codes for exist, but they aren’t effective enough to make a dent in rates of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. If this new therapy, which consists of a one-time injection into the liver, proves safe and effective in clinical trials, it might one day replace current therapies for high cholesterol.

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 director of bio-sciences at the American Council on Science and Health. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

Related article:  Bacterial DNA found in gene-edited dairy cow could slow development of more CRISPR animals
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