News

16.10.2019 |

Gene Editing Mishaps Highlight Need for FDA Oversight

A Midwestern company’s quest to genetically engineer the world’s first hornless dairy cows hit a snag this summer when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found extra genes in the cows that weren’t supposed to be there. The mistakes that FDA caught – but the company missed – highlight the importance of government oversight of gene-edited foods at a time when industry groups are pushing for deregulation.

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Latham, a biologist and former genetic engineer, also points to recent findings from Japan that he believes may be more consequential than the FDA’s findings, and have greater implications for the regulatory landscape. In a 2019 study, Japanese researchers reported that edited mouse genomes had acquired DNA from the E. coli genome, as well as goat and bovine DNA. This stray DNA came from the gene editing reagents, the delivery method used to make the edits.

The findings, Latham wrote in Independent Science News, “are very simple: cutting DNA inside cells, regardless of the precise type of gene editing, predisposes genomes to acquire unwanted DNA.” He said these findings “imply, at the very least, the need for strong measures to prevent contamination by stray DNA, along with thorough scrutiny of gene-edited cells and gene-edited organisms. And, as the Recombinetics case suggests, these are needs that developers themselves may not meet.”

15.10.2019 |

Let them eat GM cottonseed!

Potentially dangerous new GMO gains US FDA approval to be fed to humans and animals – poor and hungry targeted. Report: Claire Robinson

US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulators have approved a new type of GM cotton, the seed of which is to be used for human and animal consumption. The cotton, developed by researchers at Texas A&M University, is being touted as a protein-rich way to feed the poor and hungry. However, the many risks of this GM food are being ignored.

The GM cotton is engineered to have lower than normal levels of a substance called gossypol in the seed, but normal levels in other parts of the plant. Gossypol is useful to the plant for resisting pests and diseases, but it is toxic for humans and animals (though less so to mature ruminants such as cows) to eat.

09.10.2019 |

United States - The precautionary principle to deal with GM animals?

In the United States, draft guidelines, put on the table by the Food and Drugs Agency (FDA), plans to regulate any animal whose genome has been modified. The approach chosen embraces almost all modern biotechnologies of genetic modification, beyond the only techniques inserting exogenous DNA. A draft discontenting the pro-GMOs. The application that may be required to obtain a commercial authorization partly meets the dreams of the european opponents to GMOs …

09.10.2019 |

A New Bill Could Help Protect the Sacred Seeds of Indigenous People

Clayton Brascoupé has farmed in the red-brown foothills of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains for more than 45 years. A Mohawk-Anishnaabe originally from a New York reservation, Brascoupé married into the Pueblo of Tesuque tribe and has since planted at least 60 varieties of corns, beans, squashes, and other heirloom crops grown for millennia by the area’s Native Americans.

For more than three decades, he has taught other indigenous farmers about sustainable agricultural practices, seed saving, healthy eating, and traditional food production. With seed diversity loss a grave concern in recent years, Brascoupé has been cataloguing the seeds stored by his own family. But earlier this spring, two of his tool sheds burned down, destroying several dozen varieties.

“I will have trouble replacing them. They may be lost for good,” said Brascoupé, who runs the Traditional Native American Farmers Association.

08.10.2019 |

Crunch Time for the Seed Treaty

A review of some outstanding issues in the negotiation

Will the effort to fix ITPGRFA’s broken benefit sharing system measure up to expectations?

This paper reviews the key outstanding issues that are expected to be discussed by the ITPGRFA Governing Body, and makes recommendations for what developing countries, farmers, and other civil society should support in November’s decisive negotiation.

Next month, the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) will hold what may prove to be its most consequential meeting since the Treaty’s inception. On the table will be:

- A draft agreement to revise the Treaty’s Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), which governs international exchanges of crop seeds, and

- A proposal to expand the coverage of the Treaty’s Multilateral System (MLS) to “all PGRFA” (Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture).

The purpose of the negotiation is supposed to be increasing mandatory payments by the seed industry into the Treaty’s Benefit Sharing Fund – money that supports the in situ conservation of agricultural biodiversity in farmers’ fields. But developed countries are trying to move the goal post.

04.10.2019 |

Highlight negative results to improve science

Publishers, reviewers and other members of the scientific community must fight science’s preference for positive results — for the benefit of all, says Devang Mehta.

Near the end of April, my colleagues and I published an unusual scientific paper — one reporting a failed experiment — in Genome Biology. Publishing my work in a well-regarded peer-reviewed journal should’ve been a joyous, celebratory event for a newly minted PhD holder like me. Instead, trying to navigate through three other journals and countless revisions before finding it a home at Genome Biology has revealed to me one of the worst aspects of science today: its toxic definitions of ‘success’.

Our work started as an attempt to use the much-hyped CRISPR gene-editing tool to make cassava (Manihot esculenta) resistant to an incredibly damaging viral disease, cassava mosaic disease. (Cassava is a tropical root crop that is a staple food for almost one billion people.) However, despite previous reports that CRISPR could provide viral immunity to plants by disrupting viral DNA, our experiments consistently showed the opposite result.

In fact, our paper also showed that using CRISPR as an ‘immune system’ in plants probably led to the evolution of viruses that were more resistant to CRISPR. And although this result was scientifically interesting, it wasn’t the ‘positive’ result that applied scientists like me are taught to value. I had set off on my PhD trying to engineer plants to be resistant to viral diseases, and instead, four years later, I had good news for only the virus.

04.10.2019 |

No ‘magical’ alternative to glyphosate in the next 5 years, Bayer official says

In the next five years, no alternative to glyphosate is going to “magically” appear in the market, Dr Bob Reiter, a high-ranking official from Bayer, told EURACTIV.com, referring to the controversial herbicide that has been the subject of heated debates across Europe.

Speaking to EURACTIV on the sidelines of the Future of Farming Dialogue event in Monheim, Dr Reiter, who is the head of research and development, crop science at Bayer, said glyphosate might be a “once in a lifetime product”.

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Gene editing and EU framework

EURACTIV also discussed with Dr Reiter the issue of plant breeding innovation and the EU framework to regulate it, following an EU Court decision that complicated things.

In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that organisms obtained by mutagenesis plant breeding technique are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and should, in principle, fall under the GMO Directive.

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For Dr Reiter, the legislation that regulates genetically modified products could be reopened. “And in that, maybe one can see legislation that sort of makes, it has a different path for gene editing […] and there are pros and cons to that, honestly.”

Regarding a new regulatory framework, he said we have to be careful.

“Gene editing, in theory, can do very simple things that look just like nature. It can also be complex engineering that looks like a GMO. So given that breadth, I think it’s going to be a little bit tricky just to set aside and create new legislation that’s unique for gene editing,” he said.

04.10.2019 |

Resounding no to Monsanto’s ‘bogus’ GM drought tolerant maize

South Africa’s Minister, Appeal Board and Biosafety Authority Reject Monsanto’s GM seeds

Johannesburg, South Africa, 4 October 2019

After more than 10 years of battling Monsanto’s ‘bogus’ drought tolerant maize project, the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) welcomes the decision by the Minister of Agriculture, Ms. Thoko Didiza, upholding of both the decision by the Executive Council: GMO Act and the Appeal Board to reject Monsanto’s application for the commercial cultivation of its triple stacked ‘drought-tolerant’ GM maize seed.

This landmark decision is a triumphant win for the ACB and other civil society organizations on the continent that have tirelessly resisted the introduction of these GM varieties in South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

The Minister’s decision was made following the abject failure of the GM varieties to increase yield under drought conditions during repeated field trials in South Africa.

The Minister concluded what the ACB and independent biosafety experts have been saying for the last decade: that “the drought tolerance gene in the MON87460 x MON89034 x NK603 maize event did not provide yield protection in water-limited conditions”.

The stacked event, MON87460 x MON89034 x NK603, combines Monsanto’s so-called drought tolerance trait, with their older and increasingly futile herbicide tolerance and insecticidal traits.

04.10.2019 |

Sowing the seeds of climate crisis in Odisha

In Rayagada, Bt cotton acreage has risen by 5,200 per cent in 16 years. The result: this biodiversity hotspot, rich in indigenous millets, rice varieties and forest foods, is seeing an alarming ecological shift

“Everybody is doing it. So we are too,” said Rupa Pirikaka, somewhat uncertainly.

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“Southern Odisha was never a traditional cotton-growing area. Its strength lay in multiple cropping,” said Debal Deb “This commercial cotton monoculture has altered the crop diversity, soil structure, household income stability, farmers' independence, and ultimately, food security.” It sounds like an infallible recipe for agrarian distress.

But these factors, especially those relating to changes in land use, plus what all this implies for water and the rivers, and loss of biodiversity – could also be playing themselves into another long-term, large-scale process. We are witnessing the sowing of the seeds of climate change in this region.

23.09.2019 |

Exterminator Genes: The Right to Say No to Ethics Dumping

Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, Jim Thomas, Tom Wakeford

Local/Global Encounters

First Online: 23 September 2019

Abstract

The scientific-industrial complex is promoting a new wave of genetically modified organisms, in particular gene drive organisms, using the same hype with which they tried to persuade society that GMOs would be a magic bullet to solve world hunger. The Gates Foundation claims that GDOs could help wipe out diseases such as malaria. Powerful conservation lobby groups claim GDOs will protect engendered species. Not only are the benefits from GDOs based, like their predecessors, on flawed ecological thinking, but they are backed by the same agri-business interests that have devastated agroecological farming systems. The rights of communities to say ‘no’ to new genetic technologies is being eroded, despite United Nations agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, which call for the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities to be respected. By exporting their field trials to countries with weak regulatory regimes and lowering of the standards of consent the Gates Foundation’s Target Malaria project has already been guilty of ethics dumping. These developments demonstrate the urgent need to democratize the development of new technologies.

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