GLP podcast: Mexico’s activist-inspired glyphosate ban; Anti-GMO Twitter bots on the loose; Malaria vaccine coming soon?

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Mexico seems determined to ban the weedkiller glyphosate and biotech crops, drawing intense opposition from the country’s farmers. Twitter bots that parrot anti-GMO messaging falsely suggest that opposition to genetic engineering is widespread. An effective malaria vaccine may be on the horizon, helping public health experts stem a deadly disease that continues to plague countries around the world.

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:

Infiltrated by anti-GMO activists, Mexico’s government continues to enact policies that restrict farmer access to vital weed killers and genetically engineered crops that promote sustainable agriculture. These measures are ostensibly motivated by concern for public health and the environment, though the evidence, and now a growing chorus of farmers, say otherwise. The country’s push to attain “food self-sufficiency” may be motivated by little else than ideology and politics.

Is public opposition to genetic engineering an organic (excuse the pun) movement organized by grassroots activists, or a carefully illustrated by PR stunt by a handful of wealthy NGOs? The proliferation of anti-GMO Twitter bots, each parroting the message tweeted by the one before it, provides a new line of evidence that America’s anti-biotech movement is manipulating social media to spread its message by any means necessary.

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Scientists have worked for years to introduce an effective malaria vaccine. More than 140 candidate shots are in various stages of development, and one immunization, engineered by the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline looked very promising. Unfortunately, the company’s vaccine wasn’t able to achieve long-term efficacy over 30 percent. That may change in the coming years.

Thanks to innovations in vaccine production, researchers have developed a shot that stimulates a bigger immune response than its predecessors, boosting its efficacy to 77 percent. If successful in clinical trials, the vaccine (known for now as R21) would be one of the biggest developments in public health we’ve seen in a long time.

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:  UK may reject strict EU GMO rules, but nation's farmers can't grow biotech crops yet
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