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.

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.

17.09.2019 |

Gene-edited animals will intensify factory farming and the climate crisis, could harm human health

New report highlights urgent need for safety assessments, oversight


WASHINGTON — A new report from Friends of the Earth and Logos Environmental reveals that the use of gene editing in farm animals poses risks to human health, the environment and animal welfare. The report comes on the heels of research by the FDA showing that gene-edited hornless cattle have unexpected antibiotic resistant genes, despite researchers’ original claims that they did not contain any genetic errors. This new report sheds light on the unintended consequences of gene editing and considers the implications for U.S. regulations.

Many genetically engineered farm animals are currently in development, funded by private companies or governments and enabled by new gene editing technologies such as CRISPR. Examples include super-muscly cows and pigs, hornless cattle, chickens and pigs made to resist certain diseases, cows with human genes, and other genetic experiments. Production of these gene-edited farm animals is often done with little public awareness or input.

16.09.2019 |

Gene-Hacking Mosquitoes to Be Infertile Backfired Spectacularly

On its surface, the plan was simple: gene-hack mosquitoes so their offspring immediately die, mix them with disease-spreading bugs in the wild, and watch the population drop off. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite pan out.

The genetically-altered mosquitoes did mix with the wild population, and for a brief period the number of mosquitoes in Jacobino, Brazil did plummet, according to research published in Nature Scientific Reports last week. But 18 months later the population bounced right back up, New Atlas reports — and even worse, the new genetic hybrids may be even more resilient to future attempts to quell their numbers.

14.09.2019 |

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Thrive in Brazil, to Researchers' Surprise

Mosquitoes around the world are known carriers of dangerous and potentially deadly human diseases such as West Nile virus, yellow fever, dengue, malaria, and Zika. In recent years as scientists have moved away from the hazardous insecticides of the past, their focus has turned to genetic modification as a more effective and less harmful way to control mosquito populations. But new results published in Scientific Reports by Yale researchers show that this new plan of attack is not without its bugs — literally.

10.09.2019 |

Transgenic Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes Transfer Genes into a Natural Population

Abstract

In an attempt to control the mosquito-borne diseases yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika fevers, a strain of transgenically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes containing a dominant lethal gene has been developed by a commercial company, Oxitec Ltd. If lethality is complete, releasing this strain should only reduce population size and not affect the genetics of the target populations. Approximately 450 thousand males of this strain were released each week for 27 months in Jacobina, Bahia, Brazil. We genotyped the release strain and the target Jacobina population before releases began for >21,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Genetic sampling from the target population six, 12, and 27–30 months after releases commenced provides clear evidence that portions of the transgenic strain genome have been incorporated into the target population. Evidently, rare viable hybrid offspring between the release strain and the Jacobina population are sufficiently robust to be able to reproduce in nature. The release strain was developed using a strain originally from Cuba, then outcrossed to a Mexican population. Thus, Jacobina Ae. aegypti are now a mix of three populations. It is unclear how this may affect disease transmission or affect other efforts to control these dangerous vectors. These results highlight the importance of having in place a genetic monitoring program during such releases to detect un-anticipated outcomes.

20.08.2019 |

Population management using gene drive: molecular design, models of spread dynamics and assessment of ecological risks

Conservation Genetics

August 2019, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 671–690

Abstract

CRISPR gene drive has recently been proposed as a promising technology for population management, including in conservation genetics. The technique would consist in releasing genetically engineered individuals that are designed to rapidly propagate a desired mutation or transgene into wild populations. Potential applications in conservation biology include the control of invasive pest populations that threaten biodiversity (eradication and suppression drives), or the introduction of beneficial mutations in endangered populations (rescue drives). The propagation of a gene drive is affected by different factors that depend on the drive construct (e.g. its fitness effect and timing of expression) or on the target species (e.g. its mating system and population structure). We review potential applications of the different types of gene drives for conservation. We examine the challenges posed by the evolution of resistance to gene drives and review the various molecular and environmental risks associated with gene drives (e.g. propagation to non target populations or species and unintended detrimental ecosystem impacts). We provide some guidelines for future gene drive research and discuss ethical, biosafety and regulation issues.

16.08.2019 |

Conference: “Science, Precaution, Innovation - towards the integrated governance of new technologies”, 14-15 October, Bielefeld

European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

Conference on the Precautionary Principle:

“Science, Precaution, Innovation - towards the integrated governance of new technologies”

When: 14-15 October 2019

Where: Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF), Methoden 1, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany

Program: www.ensser.org/pp-conference

Register at registration [at] ensser.org

The Precautionary Principle (PP) concerns situations where the available scientific information about possible harm from human-made innovations gives decision-makers reasonable grounds to suspect possible harm to human health, the environment or biodiversity, but where scientific certainty is lacking. The PP in such situations lawfully justifies decision makers taking precautionary measures to avoid such harm.

Although enshrined in the EU treaty and formally a pillar of EU policy, the PP is often ignored, misinterpreted or violated by the EU Commission and member states. The introduction in recent years of a so called “innovation principle” may well erode this science-based standard and prioritize particularly powerful incumbent economic interests over the high level of protection provided in the EU Treaty. Truly sustainable innovations, however, require conformity with the PP, and a more comprehensive assessment of what (if any) social benefits, and which social needs, may be met.

In this conference we will present and critically appraise examples which illustrate the importance of the PP and discuss what is required to ensure that it will be used wisely and more frequently. Viable paths to a reasonable confidence of no harm to public health, biodiversity and the environment will be identified and explored by reference to currently available knowledge, while acknowledging that strict proof of safety is an illusory goal. Examples including pesticide use, genetically modified crops, electromagnetic fields, endocrine disrupting compounds and nanotechnology will be presented by eminent speakers and explored by the participants.

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