News

04.06.2020 |

Genetically engineered microorganisms on the rise

Potential applications encompass humans, animals, plants and many ecosystems

4 June 2020 / The number of projects aiming to genetically engineer microorganisms has increased strongly in recent years. More effective techniques of analysis and re-synthesis of gene sequences can now be used as starting point for seeking new markets for ‘SynBio’ organisms. Projects include microorganisms which, for example, colonise the gut of humans or bees, live on the surface or inside plants or are abundant in soils. In addition, there is further ongoing research into viruses, bacteria or microbial fungi known as pathogens, which can be developed for use in vaccines, pesticides or for the military. The risks are especially relevant if SynBio microorganisms are allowed to spread without sufficient control.

03.06.2020 |

GMO debate is democratic test for liberalizing Ethiopia

As the government controversially opens Ethiopia to genetically modified crops, now is the time for newly unshackled civil society voices to lead the debate

A coalition of Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations and their global allies have launched a campaign against the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms in Ethiopia.

The public outcry started when United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service published a report that revealed that the government had approved commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant cotton (Bt-cotton) and confined trial of GM enset and maize in Ethiopia.

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On the ground, Ethiopia has the biggest national genebank in Africa, which was established in 1976. As of June 2019, the national genebank in Addis Ababa has conserved about 86,599 samples of seeds of over 100 species of plants (mainly food crops) that have been collected from all over the country. In two field genebanks, the country has conserved 5,644 samples of coffee plants.

29.05.2020 |

Profiting from health and ecological crisis in Africa: The Target Malaria project and new risky GE technologies

Second-generation GMOs produced from gene drive technologies, genome editing, paratransgenesis and cisgenesis are increasing the scope, scale, depth and flexibility of interventions that can be performed by the biotech industry, including genetically engineering of wild populations and ecosystems. Research and development (R&D) projects are largely financed by European and North American institutions; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); and the US military research arm – the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

29.05.2020 |

Global Gene Drive Moratorium: Federal Council Must Act

An alliance of 30 organizations calls on the Federal Council to advocate a global moratorium on the release of gene drive organisms (GDO) at the UN Biodiversity Conference. Switzerland's negotiating mandate, which the Federal Council and the administration are currently working on, is setting the course for the conference. A moratorium on gene drives is imperative to protect biodiversity and finally put agriculture on an ecological path. Rethinking is the order of the day - the Corona crisis shows that once again.

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Gene Drives: Destructive and uncontrollable

Gene drives are the most dangerous application of the new genetic engineering processes to date, because they can be used to bypass the laws of biological inheritance. The genetic chain reaction that the CRISPR / Cas gene scissors use was developed to genetically modify natural populations. The application should deliberately not be limited to the laboratory or the field, but should change or even eradicate naturally occurring species. Gene drives are invasive and irreversible, but their effectiveness is questionable and has not been verified. The risks of technology for people and the environment are still largely unexplored today. Given their aggressiveness and enormous range of effects, the consequences of a release could be devastating for biodiversity.

28.05.2020 |

GM Fungi to kill Mosquitoes: Illegal experiments in Burkina Faso?

Conducted silently and out of the public eye, a three-year experiment involving a new and potentially unsafe and risky genetically modified (GM) fungus to kill mosquitoes was performed in the village of Soumousso in Burkina Faso in 2019. When the study was published in a US scientific journal in May 2019, a media frenzy broke out, heralding the experiments as a breakthrough cure for malaria.

The GM fungus was developed by introducing a toxin from the lethal Australian Blue Mountains funnel-web spider into the M. pingshaense fungus, to ostensibly increase the efficiency of the fungus to kill mosquitoes and stave off malaria.

The use of GM fungi is offering a quicker route to the market than gene drive organisms, in a ‘new era of transgenic microbial control’. Indeed, the latest devastating locust infestation in East Africa has prompted calls for the use of GM fungus, with claims being made about the importation of non-GM and GM fungal biopesticides from China.

However, the GM fungus experiments raise many troubling legal, biosafety, ethical, political and human rights concerns, as detailed in the ACB’s new briefing .

27.05.2020 |

Gene Drives Webinar

The authors of the interdisciplinary Gene Drive Report (2019) are holding webinars on social, technological & scientific, environmental, ethical and legal questions of this new technique in June 2020 via Zoom – for free.

02 June 2020 15:00 – 16:30

«What are gene drives? How do they work?» by Ricarda Steinbrecher

04 June 2020 15:00 – 16:30

«Gene drives: What problems are they intended to solve and what are the risks?» by Mark Wells

10 June 2020 15:00 – 16:30

«Gene drives in a social context: promises, precaution & public engagement» by Tamara Lebrecht

12 June 2020 16:00 – 17:30 [sic!]

«Ethical Questions about Gene Drives» by Christopher Preston

16 June 2020 15:00 – 16:30

«Are governments keeping an eye on gene drives?» by Lim Li Ching

14.05.2020 |

European Patent Office gives green light to prohibit patents on plants and animals

Enlarged Board of Appeal agrees with restrictive interpretation of patent law

14 May 2020 / Patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding can be fully prohibited in Europe. This is the result of a verdict published today by the Enlarged Board of Appeal, the highest legal body of the European Patent Office (EPO). The Board concluded that plants and animals obtained by ‘essentially biological processes’ are not patentable, with the exception of patent applications filed before July 2017. This verdict is in line with the interpretation of European patent law as decided by the 38 member states of the EPO in 2017. No Patents on Seeds! welcomes the verdict but is also demanding further political decisions to close still existing loopholes. Access to biological diversity needed for further breeding must not be controlled, hampered or blocked by any patents.

“For more than ten years we have been fighting against patents such as those on broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, melons and cereals. Therefore, we welcome this verdict in the name of the European public, gardeners, farmers and consumers. Knowledge of methods of breeding plants and animals continues to evolve as a common good from the activities of farmers and breeders over centuries, it is not invented by industry. In future, conventionally bred plants and animals have to be kept available for further breeding,” Martha Mertens says for Friends of the Earth Germany.

07.05.2020 |

The EU not ready for the release of Gene drive organisms into the environment

Summary:

Gene drive organisms (GDOs) have been suggested as an approach to solve some of the most pressing environmental and public health issues. Currently, it remains unclear what kind of regulations are to be used to cover the potential risks. Scientists have evaluated the options for an operational risk assessment of GDOs before their release into environments across the EU.

06.05.2020 |

Spatio-temporal controllability and environmental risk assessment of genetically engineered gene drive organisms from the perspective of EU GMO Regulation

ABSTRACT

Gene drive organisms are a recent development created by using methods of genetic engineering; they inherit genetic constructs that are passed on to future generations with a higher probability than with Mendelian inheritance. There are some specific challenges inherent to the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of genetically engineered (GE) gene drive organisms, since subsequent generations of these GE organisms might show effects that were not observed or intended in the former generations. Unintended effects can emerge from interaction of the gene drive construct with the heterogeneous genetic background of natural populations and/or be triggered by changing environmental conditions. This is especially relevant in case of gene drives with invasive characteristics and typically takes dozens of generations to render the desired effect. Under these circumstances, ‘next generation effects’ can substantially increase the spatial and temporal complexity associated with a high level of uncertainty in ERA.

02.05.2020 |

EPA Grants First Permit to Test Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

Testing could start this summer in Florida Keys

Second test would be in heavily populated Houston

The EPA on Friday granted permission for genetically engineered mosquitoes to be released into the Florida Keys and around Houston to see if they can help limit the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses.

British biotech company Oxitec Ltd was granted an experimental use permit to release a genetically engineered type of the mosquito species Aedes aegypti, which is a known vector of Zika virus and viruses that cause yellow fever and dengue fever, the Environmental Protection Agency office of Chemical Safety and Pollution announced.

Oxitec must get state and local approval before it can start field testing. But if granted, testing will take place over a two-year period in Monroe County, Fla., starting this summer, and in Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021.

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