Category: Culture

A geneticist examines 10 studies “proving” GMOs are harmful

killer tomoatoes

Activists often cite the alleged potential health risks of genetically modified foods. One recent example of this—”10 Scientific Studies Proving GMOs Can Be Harmful To Human Health“, posted on Collective-Evolution.com—outlines many familiar concerns and points in each case to “credible scientific studies that clearly demonstrate why GMOs should not be consumed”.

Are these concerns credible? What do the studies cited actually claim?

1) Multiple Toxins From GMOs Detected In Maternal and Fetal Blood.

The blog post cites a 2010 study that alleges to show this danger. The authors identified the Bt protein Cry1Ab in maternal and fetal blood, a protein found in some GMOs, but also commonly used as a pesticide in organic farming. The paper is flawed. The researchers’ measurements were based on an experiment/assay designed to detect Bt’s Cry1Ab in plants, not in humans. As this post in Biofortified.org explains, the pregnant women in the study would have had to eat several kilos of corn in order to get the Bt measurements that were detected in their blood.

Additionally, there’s the “so what” factor. Humans lack the receptors for the protein, so it has no impact on us. Did you know that chocolate is toxic to dogs? Are you concerned that it might be toxic to you? Probably not (if you are concerned, then you’ve missed out on the greatest source of joy known to human taste buds…). Some chemical compounds behave differently among species, and both Bt‘s Cry1Ab and chocolate are examples of this.

2) DNA From Genetically Modified Crops Can Be Transferred Into Humans Who Eat Them

That’s not what the cited 2013 study concluded. The authors found that whole genes from our food can be detected in our plasma. That does not mean that they’ve integrated into our DNA; it means that they’ve been found floating in the space between cells. And that’s any food, not just GMOs. DNA from GMOs behave no differently than DNA from organic or conventional foods

If you aren’t concerned about the DNA from blueberries “transferring” into you, then you should not be concerned about DNA from GMOs either. The paper’s deepest flaw is that a negative control was not included in the sequencing experiments. Several recent papers…have outlined the importance of including a negative control in experiments where there is very little DNA to account for possible contaminants from the environment and reagents. (For a lay introduction to the concept of contaminants in sequencing, see here)…

RTFA for the rest. Unfortunately, folks I meet who are anti-GMO and only read ideologues, not peer-reviewed science – are not often as ignorant of fact as their peers who deny anthropogenic climate change. However, their unwillingness to examine real science is as faulty. Unless you care to limit your life to making decisions based on information akin to reviews at walmart.com.

In conclusion, despite the title of the article, none of these studies proves or even persuasively suggests that GMOs can be harmful to human health. The majority are either obviously flawed or are not scientific studies.

The current scientific consensus regarding GMOs remains unchanged: they are safe and do not pose a health risk to humans. However, a scientific consensus is subject to change if there is sufficient reproducible evidence that may impact it, but none of the studies reviewed here constitute such evidence.

Layla Katiraee’s credentials appear at the end of her article. The article has all the links you might wish to pursue to evaluate the studies on your own.

If you feel the topic is important enough to guide your own life [and society as a whole] then read the real science. I debated and questioned in public and private forums online for two years at the turn of the millennium before I made up my mind about climate change. Eventually finding truly persuasive research from the Max Planck Institutes – translated into readable english for a mono-lingual student like me. I revisit the topic periodically as our regular readers know.

I feel the same about genetics.

Inaccessible nutrients may limit ability of plants to slow climate change

Many scientists assume that the growing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will accelerate plant growth. However, a new study co-written by University of Montana researchers suggests much of this growth will be curtailed by limited soil nutrients.

The end result: By the end of the century, there may be more than an additional 10 percent of CO2 in the atmosphere, which would accelerate climate change…

Cory Cleveland and co-authors looked at 11 leading climate models to examine changes in nitrogen and phosphorous. They found that nitrogen limitation actually will reduce plant uptake of CO2 by 19 percent, while a combined nitrogen and phosphorous limitation will reduce plant uptake by 25 percent.

Most of the world’s leading climate models assume that plants will respond to increased atmospheric levels of CO2 by growing more and more, which is known as the CO2 fertilization effect. The more the plants grow, the more CO2 they absorb from the atmosphere, thereby slowing climate change…

Cleveland said most climate models so far have not included nutrients because such biogeochemical processes are difficult to simulate and vary greatly from one type of terrestrial ecosystem to another. The Community Earth System Model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, is one of the first to begin considering the role of soil nutrients in the models that are used for climate change projections…

“We found that instead of acting as a carbon sink and drawing down CO2, the terrestrial biosphere could become a net source of the greenhouse gas to the atmosphere by the end of the century, with soil microbes releasing more carbon than growing plants could absorb,” Cleveland said.

Uncertainties remain, however. One of the questions is how soil microbes – which free up nitrogen in the soil, but also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – will respond to warming temperatures. Similarly, scientists don’t know if plants will become more efficient at drawing up additional nutrients from the soil. If not, plants won’t be able to keep up with society’s CO2 emissions.

Symptomatic treatment is guaranteed to change only one side of the equation – if and when it works. Unless the continuing causes of anthropogenic climate change are dealt with the ever-expanding calculus of stupidity will still result in negative sums for our species.

We get screwed so corporate barons like the Koch Bros. can continue to optimize profits.

Tennessee law allows guns everywhere – except near state politicians

Local governments in Tennessee can no longer bar people with handgun carry permits from bringing firearms to parks, playgrounds and sports fields under legislation signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The contentious measure was introduced as a welcome gift from gun-friendly Tennessee lawmakers to the more than 70,000 people who attended the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Nashville earlier this month.

The bill got tied up amid bickering between Republicans who control both the state House and Senate, and only passed once lawmakers agreed to remove the Capitol complex from the areas where permit holders could be armed.

It’s open season on anyone in Tennessee – excepting idjits holding elective office.

Is ISIS on the U.S.-Mexican Border? snopes.com says “FALSE”


Photo from a world-class source of idjit fodder

…Rumors of ISIS members slipping through southern borders escalated significantly on 7 October 2014 when U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that as many as ten ISIS militants had been apprehended at southern crossings…”I know that at least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas”…

Hunter’s claims seemed to fall directly in line with several made by the disreputable Judicial Watch site, a muckraking organization run by “political activist” Larry Klayman (who issued a press release in October 2014 announcing he was petitioning several federal agencies to deport President Obama, and who has been barred for life by multiple judges for his repetitive misuse of the court system). Since August 2014, Judicial Watch has been claiming that the U.S.-Mexico border is vulnerable to ISIS, stating in a “bulletin” on 10 October 2014 that: There are times when all of us hate to say, “I told you so.” And the latest news from Judicial Watch on the apprehension of ISIS terrorists on the U.S.-Mexico border is certainly one of them…

The claims by Judicial Watch of an “imminent” attack “coming very soon” were made on 31 August 2014, and Hunter’s statements came more than a month later. No such attack or confirmed attempt to cross the border by members of ISIS occurred in the intervening weeks between the “bulletin” and Hunter’s appearance on Fox News to substantiate beliefs that ISIS either had crossed or had intended to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

The inclusion in the rumor of an “in the last 36 hours” modifier created an impression of urgency without specifying when the event itself occurred (and enabled the rumor to spread ad infinitum.) On 8 October 2014, a senior spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security responded to Hunter’s claim about ISIS fighters captured by Border Patrol: “The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground. DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border”.

RTfA for a compilation of several more governmental sources, political and civic sources, saying the same. Of course, if you’re a stone nutball who believes all governments are part of every fear-driven conspiracy in your demented little gray cells, this means nothing to your catechism.

I love snopes.com. One of the first places I check when someone forwards an email claiming the next hard-to-believe conspiracy has come true.

Senate finally confirms Loretta Lynch as attorney general


This has nothing to do with being a woman of color. Really?

Loretta Lynch won Senate approval as U.S. attorney general on Thursday, becoming the first black woman to occupy the post at a time when deadly altercations between white police and unarmed black men are making headlines.

The Senate confirmed Lynch by a vote of 56-43 to end a five-month partisan deadlock over her nomination by President Barack Obama. She had waited for a vote longer than the last seven attorneys general combined…

Taking over the Justice Department from Attorney General Eric Holder, Lynch also will face early tests on financial cases alleging some of the world’s largest banks helped clients evade U.S. taxes and manipulated currency markets.

She is expected to start work on Monday.

Ten Republicans voted for Lynch, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The tally in Lynch’s favor was larger than expected, perhaps reflecting political concerns. Of the Republicans who backed her, four are up for reelection next year, three of them from states with big cities that have large African-American populations…

Commentary like this reminds me I’m an old cranky geek. I actually remember when a few Republicans could be counted on for votes like this – because they supported civil rights, opposed racist practices and policies.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid berated Republicans for delaying the confirmation and said Lynch was “as qualified a candidate” as he had seen in almost 30 years in the Senate…

An accomplished career prosecutor, Lynch has twice served as U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, most recently since 2010. Her office there handled more terrorism prosecutions than most other offices in the United States. For two years, she also led a committee that advised the attorney general on policy.

At a Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 28, Lynch said her top priorities would include fighting terrorist threats and cyber crime, and improving relations between law enforcement and minority communities.

Most of which is beyond the ken of Congressional Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and assorted opportunist politicians committed to doing as little as possible to rock the boats of their favorite corporate lobbyists..

Native American actors walk off Sandler film — upset over racist jokes


Saginaw Grant and Loren Anthony on the setinstagram.com/lorenanthony

About a dozen Native American actors and actresses walked off the set of Sandler’s “The Ridiculous Six,” according to the Indian Country Today Media Network. Per reports, the actors took offense to racially charged jokes and inaccuracies during the filming of the movie, which Sandler is developing for Netflix…

According to ICTMN, some female Native American characters were given names Beaver’s Breath and No Bra.

“They just treated us as if we should just be on the side,” Loren Anthony, one of the actors who walked off the set, told ICTMN. “When we did speak with the main director, he was trying to say the disrespect was not intentional and this was a comedy…”

Allison Young, a former film student from Dartmouth, also walked off the set and told ICTMN that producers weren’t receptive to the actors’ concerns.

“We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave…’

The film is expected to hit Netflix next year.

No – I won’t be watching.

The age of Hollywood making profitable films about racial and ethnic groups is supposed to be over. Really? Employing the same stereotypes as “jokes” and calling them satire is what you get from self-assigned liberated artists who think they’re above bigotry because they joke about it. What they really try to do is profit from both sides of the street – the folks who think they’re over bigotry and the scumbags who think bigotry is still funny.

Don’t kid yourself. Movie producers know exactly how that works, how it happens and make a conscious decision to take advantage of the contradictions.

Can films satirize our history of bigotry? You betcha. If you have sufficient talent and taste.

Unheard of microbial diversity found in remote Amazon tribe

Yanomami boy, early morning light
Click through to photographer’s site

A multicenter team of U.S. and Venezuelan scientists, led by researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center, have discovered the most diverse collection of bodily bacteria yet in humans among an isolated tribe of Yanomami Indians in the remote Amazonian jungles of southern Venezuela…

By comparison, the microbiome of people living in industrialized countries is about 40 percent less diverse, the scientists estimate…

The results, the researchers say, suggest a link between modern antibiotics and industrialized diets, and greatly reduced diversity of the human microbiome–the trillions of bacteria that live in and on the body and are increasingly seen as vital to our health.

The Yanomami villagers of this study, who have subsisted by hunting and gathering for hundreds of generations, are believed to have lived in total seclusion from the outside world until 2009 when they were first contacted by a medical expedition. Among a rare population of people unexposed to modern antibiotics, the villagers offer a unique window onto the human microbiome.

…Maria Dominguez-Bello…senior author of the study…says, “Our results bolster a growing body of data suggesting a link between, on the one hand, decreased bacterial diversity, industrialized diets, and modern antibiotics, and on the other, immunological and metabolic diseases–such as obesity, asthma, allergies, and diabetes, which have dramatically increased since the 1970s,” notes Dr. Dominguez-Bello. “We believe there is something environmental occurring in the past 30 years that is driving these diseases. We think the microbiome could be involved…”

A genetic analysis of gut and oral bacteria…revealed that the Yanomami villagers had bacteria containing genes coding for antibiotic resistance. The bacterial genes conferred resistance not only to natural antibiotics found in the soil but, surprisingly, to synthetic antibiotics as well…

The resistant genes, however, seem to be silenced because cultured strains of the bacteria were sensitive to antibiotics. “The silenced antibiotic-resistant genes show that you don’t need exposure to antibiotics to possess antibiotic-resistant genes,” adds Dr. Dominquez Bello.

The presence of resistance genes in microbiota unexposed to antibiotics may help explain the rapid rate at which bacteria develop resistance to new classes of antibiotics, notes Dr Gautam Dantas.

Grandma may be right, once again. Let your kids eat dirt.

OTOH, some of this work reinforces the [new] minority opinion that antibiotic resistance isn’t acquired exclusively from overuse, over-prescription.

FBI admits flaws in analysis, forensic testimony over decades

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

RTFA for a long and painful tale. One serious aspect of the questions unanswered by this declaration is the role to be played by prosecutors, local law enforcement, district attorneys in many of these cases who, like so many in state judicial systems refuse to acknowledge any need to revisit these cases. Something the Innocence Project has encountered in state after state.

Judges, prosecutors, district attorneys often are political animals. They refuse to confront fallibility or responsibility for participating in lousy trials. Even in hindsight. This is a completely separate task facing those who came together for these revelations. Updating the science is the easy part. Getting law enforcement to review trials is going to be a much harder task.

Finally — SHREDDIES have come to market in the U.S.!

UK-based inventor Paul O’Leary has received (as of 20th Jan 2015) a US patent for his ‘Underwear Garment’

“A significant amount of effort has been expended into research of clothing and, in particular, the aspects of underwear garments which help to promote confidence and self-esteem within a wearer. Such research and development has typically centred on specific areas of the human body, such as the chest or legs, resulting in a number of improvements in the form and function of, for example, brassieres, corsets and stockings. It is perhaps fair to say that less effort has been generally expended in this regard to the groin region.

The new invention – already being marketed under the tradename ‘Shreddies’ – is designed (amongst other things) to attend to some of these problems by filtering out flatulence via a ‘Zorflex’ activated-carbon back panel.”

RTFA for explanations of the science behind [pun intended] Zorflex and Shreddies.

Here’s a better posterior view from the marketing kickoff in the U.K..