African study on biodiversity in GM maize finds insects abundant


Previous studies from China, Spain, and the United States on genetically modified (GM) rice, cotton, and maize have concluded that the biodiversity of insects and related arthropods in GM crop fields was essentially the same as that among conventional crops. Now a new study from South Africa shows similar results…

“The aims of the study were to compile a checklist of arthropods that occur on maize in South Africa and to compare the diversity and abundance of arthropods and functional groups on Bt maize and non-Bt maize,” the authors wrote. “Results from this short-term study indicated that abundance and diversity of arthropods in maize and the different functional guilds were not significantly affected by Bt maize, either in terms of diversity or abundance…”

“The results of our study indicate that arthropod diversity, even in high-input farming systems, is as high as in subsistence farming systems” said Dr. Johnnie van den Berg, a professor at North-West University and one of the co-authors of the article. “More recently, surveys of arthropod and plant beta-diversity inside and adjacent to maize fields have been completed during which 30,000 arthropods and 15,000 plant individuals were surveyed along a 1,000 kilometer transect. It seems that maize field diversity is homogenized and field margins had a high beta diversity,” he added.

Oh, the heartbreak for folks convinced this shouldn’t be so.

The sad bit is folks who try to cloak their Luddite predilection end up practicing something akin to creationist “science”. They first determine the result they seek – then, try to distort scientific study to suit that belief.

Needless to say, they rarely show up to challenge peer-reviewed work with competing studies. Anymore than the True Believers who latch onto these fears are likely to read the peer-reviewed studies in the first place.

Genetically modified cows produce hypoallergenic milk

Infants with milk allergies could have an alternative to formula after scientists created a genetically modified cow that produced hypoallergenic milk.

A team of researchers from New Zealand engineered the cow so that its milk would be almost entirely free of beta-lactuglobin, a protein which causes allergies in young children.

Tests on the milk revealed that it contained 96 per cent less beta-lactuglobin than normal, but higher levels of other proteins which meant its nutritional content was not diminished.

Engineering cows to produce hypoallergenic milk could benefit the two to three per cent of children who are allergic to dairy milk in their first year of life, experts said.

Allergic reactions to proteins in cows’ milk can cause a variety of symptoms including eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps.

Children usually grow out of the condition before they reach school age, but in rare cases it can persist into adulthood…

Prof Bruce Whitelaw, Professor of Animal Biotechnology at Edinburgh University, who was not involved in the study, added: “This is notable since it represents one of the few RNA interference success stories in mammals and offers a good example of how these technologies can be used to provide alternative strategies to current manufacturing process.

Time will tell how widely applicable RNA interference will be in GM livestock – but this is certainly a milestone study in this field.”

The range of processes which can be genetically-altered to produce anything from less expensive sources of medical treatment up to and including replacement organs is beginning to reach pilot stage in research around the globe. Soon enough testing will evolve to determine which are long-term successes.

The usual conflicts between public good and private profit will be guaranteed – as will be the odd outburst of religious peristalsis from folks who still fear science more than superstition. Eventually, we will benefit as a species.

See – I told you. Cynic and optimist. We can get all this shit done – just not in my lifetime.

Genetically-modified silk worms produce spider-strength silk

US researchers have created silkworms that are genetically modified to spin much stronger silk…scientists from the University of Wyoming say that their eventual aim is to produce silk from worms that has the toughness of spider silk.

In weight-for-weight terms, spider silk is stronger than steel.

Researchers have been trying to reproduce such silk for decades. But it is unfeasible to “farm” spiders for the commercial production of their silk because the arachnids don’t produce enough of it – coupled with their proclivity for eating each other.

Silk worms, however, are easy to farm and produce vast amounts of silk – but the material is fragile.

Researchers have tried for years to get the best of both worlds – super-strong silk in industrial quantities – by transplanting genes from spiders into worms. But the resulting genetically modified worms have not produced enough spider silk until now.

GM worms produced by a team led by Professor Don Jarvis of Wyoming University seem to be producing a composite of worm and spider silk in large amounts – which the researchers say is just as tough as spider silk…

The main applications could be in the the medical sector creating stronger sutures, implants and ligaments. But the GM spider silk could also be used as a greener substitute for toughened plastics, which require a lot of energy to produce.

Bravo! A product used as an example for decades as a natural product stronger and potentially more useful than anything produced heretofore by industry.

Poisonally, I’d love to see what sort of composite might be made, what strength-to-weight ratio might be achieved by replacing carbon-fibre with this silk.

USDA approves drought-tolerant GM corn for on-farm trials

Harvesting dryland corn

Monsanto received deregulation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for MON 87460, the company’s first-generation drought-tolerant trait for corn.

Drought-tolerant corn is projected to be introduced as part of an overall system that would offer farmers improved genetics, agronomic practices and the drought trait. Monsanto plans to conduct on-farm trials in 2012 to give farmers experience with the product, while generating data to help inform the company’s commercial decisions…

…Hobart Beeghly, U.S. product management lead said, “This spring farmers in the Western Great Plains will have an opportunity to see how the system performs on their farm through on-farm trials…”

The drought-tolerant trait is part of Monsanto’s Yield and Stress collaboration in plant biotechnology with Germany-based BASF. The collaboration is aimed at developing higher-yielding crops and crops more tolerant to adverse environmental conditions, such as drought…

The USDA deregulation concludes the U.S. federal regulatory process. Import approvals in key corn import markets with functioning regulatory systems are in progress.

Most Americans stil don’t realize that the bulk of corn we read about being grown in the United States is there to feed cattle and hogs, poultry, critters we end up eating – who are fed in the first place with maize.

Dryland farming ain’t ever easy; but, developing drought-tolerant grains – for example – saves more money and energy in the long range than trying to keep land arable with irrigation and imported water.

Antiviral drug from genetically modified plants begins human trials

An antiviral drug synthesised by genetically modified plants is being tested on a small number of women in the UK to establish its safety, bringing closer the possibility of cheap modern medicines for the developing world.

The drug’s developers hope it can be used to prevent HIV infection, but the real breakthrough is that the research demonstrates it is possible for similar molecules – known as monoclonal antibodies – to be produced relatively cheaply in plants to the high standards needed for their use in humans…

Pharma-Planta is a project launched seven years ago with the objective of using GM plants to slash the cost of drugs that are hard to produce. The scientists’ aim is to increase the availability of these modern medicines – which are often highly effective – in the poorest countries of the world.

Access to medicines in the developing world is extremely limited. The World Health Organization estimates that 23 million infants worldwide do not get adequate basic immunisation and 1.7 million children under five die from vaccine-preventable diseases…

Many medicines are synthesised at great expense in fermentation vats containing bacteria or mammalian cells. By contrast Pharma-Planta produced the anti-HIV monoclonal antibody in GM tobacco plants grown in soil in greenhouses in Germany. After 45 days, they were harvested, their leaves were shredded and “highly purified antibodies” were extracted.

The researchers say there is little risk of such GM plants spreading or contaminating other crops because they are contained and would not be grown on anything like an agricultural scale…

If it does prove effective, the drug would probably have to be used in combination with other monoclonal antibodies to minimise the chance that the virus developed resistance, as it easily does to antivirals.

The process is between 10 and 100 times cheaper than conventional production systems, said Professor Rainer Fischer of the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Aachen, Germany, where the plants were grown.

The most useful monoclonal antibodies, such as the anti-cancer drug Herceptin, are still covered by patents owned by major pharmaceutical companies, but once these expire the new technique could offer a way to make cheap versions available in poor countries.

Not that our bubbas in the pharma majors won’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming into allowing a modern scheme where availability and usefulness determine a lower price.

And that will be only one side of pop culture resistance. The other will be our tried and true Luddites. Though this may be too critically focused on direct healthcare. Their strategy still seems to be keeping the cost of things like cereal grains high enough to keep the Chicago Mercantile Exchange bubbling with happiness.

USDA partially deregulating GM sugar beets

Mechanical harvesting of sugar beets

U.S. agricultural regulators…said despite a court ban, they would allow commercial planting of genetically modified sugar beets under closely controlled conditions while they complete a full environmental impact statement.

The move marks the second-such boost by the United States for contested biotech crops in a week, and underscores U.S. determination to expand the use of GMO crops amid rising global fears over food security and surging prices.

After approving genetically altered alfalfa last week in the face of bitter protest and after court rulings against an earlier sugar beet approval, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would allow Monsanto Co.’s “Roundup Ready” sugar beets back in the fields this spring.

Beet planting will be done under closely controlled conditions to prevent any potential plant pest risks, according to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

“After conducting an environmental assessment, accepting and reviewing public comments and conducting a plant pest risk assessment, APHIS has determined that the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop, when grown under APHIS imposed conditions, can be partially deregulated without posing a plant pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment,” said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS’ biotechnology regulatory services…

Monsanto’s biotech beets, engineered to tolerate the company’s Roundup herbicide and make weed management easier for growers, make up 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop and are needed to avoid a steep drop in U.S. sugar production, officials have said…

Under the partial deregulation announced Friday, growers of the Roundup Ready sugar beet rootcrop will be required to enter into a compliance agreement that outlines mandatory requirements for how the crop can be grown. APHIS expects that sugar beet cooperatives and processors will be the only entities that will enter into compliance agreements on behalf of their respective members/farmers.

Why a diminishing crop isn’t explained well in the article; but, I felt it useful to keep our readers up-to-date with the processes in play. The organic-only crowd will have predictable answers. Sadly, often involving opposition to scientific study. For that reason alone, I have to admit to a bit of sympathy for corporations for whom I usually would have no warmish emotion.

The search for accurate informed study – and that includes circumstances that change with time – achieves more than running and hiding. Even when the boogeyman is an agribiz Gargantua.

Farmers next to GM fields benefit from pest reduction as expected

Farmers growing conventional corn next to GM crops can benefit from the reduction in crop-destroying pests without paying the premium for GM seeds, a new study has shown.

The research, published today in the journal Science, examined 14 years of records in the top US corn-producing states of Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin, looking at the prevalence of the European corn borer, a moth whose caterpillars eat into corn stalks and topple the plants.

The so-called Bt GM corn varieties were first planted in 1996 and produce toxins taken from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, which is deadly to the pest. In GM fields, the pest is eradicated, but the data showed that in neighbouring non-GMO fields the pest populations shrank by 28-78%, depending on how much GM corn was being grown in the surrounding area.

The study also found that the caterpillar-killing GM varieties grown in the vast US corn belt had retained their potency 14 years after being first sown, showing the pests had not developed resistance.

Scientists said the demonstration of the “halo effect” was a triumph for genetically modified crops. Prof Bruce Tabashnik, an entomologist from the University of Arizona, who was not part of the research team, said: “It’s a wonderful success story. It’s a great example of a technology working how it should…”

The researchers, led by Prof Bill Hutchison at the University of Minnesota, also calculated the economic benefits over the 14 years of the GM corn-growing. They valued the extra corn harvested because of the reduction in corn borer numbers and took into account the extra $1.7bn farmers had paid for the GM seeds, equivalent to $10-20 per hectare. The total benefit was $6.8bn but they found it was not evenly distributed: non-GM fields gained two-thirds of the total benefit, despite making up only one-third of the land.

Another hundred years or so and there will be sufficient testing and records to show everyone whether or not GM food crops are a step forward. Probably enough to satisfy most.

And the naysayers will not change their objections one iota.

Scientists GM silkworms to produce artificial spider silk

A research and development effort…has succeeded in producing transgenic silkworms capable of spinning artificial spider silks.

“This research represents a significant breakthrough in the development of superior silk fibers for both medical and non-medical applications,” said Malcolm J. Fraser Jr…. “The generation of silk fibers having the properties of spider silks has been one of the important goals in materials science.”

Natural spider silks have a number of unusual physical properties, including significantly higher tensile strength and elasticity than naturally spun silkworm fibers. The artificial spider silks produced in these transgenic silkworms have similar properties of strength and flexibility to native spider silk.

Silk fibers have many current and possible future biomedical applications, such as use as fine suture materials, improved wound healing bandages, or natural scaffolds for tendon and ligament repair or replacement. Spider silk-like fibers may also have applications beyond biomedical uses, such as in bulletproof vests, strong and lightweight structural fabrics, a new generation athletic clothing and improved automobile airbags…

Fraser, with the assistance of University of Wyoming researcher Randy Lewis, a biochemist who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on spider silk, and Don Jarvis, a noted molecular geneticist who specializes in insect protein production, genetically engineered silkworms in which they incorporated specific DNAs taken from spiders…

Since silkworms are already a commercially viable silk production platform, these genetically engineered silkworms effectively solve the problem of large scale production of engineered protein fibers in an economically practical way.

Bravo! I doubt if we even have to worry about vegan Luddites fretting over people eating these silkworms.

Cripes. Materials engineers/structural designers will be having a ball.

Salmon will be first GM animal available for consumption

Jetliner carrying one fish to market

A salmon that grows at twice the normal rate is set to be the first genetically modified (GM) animal available for human consumption.

Usually Atlantic salmon do not grow during the winter and take three years to fully mature. But by implanting genetic material from an eel-like species called ocean pout that grows all year round, US scientists have managed to make the fish grow to full size in 18 months.

They hope that the sterile GM salmon can offer an efficient and safe way to breed salmon in fish farms, so that the wild fish can be left in the oceans.

US watchdog the Food and Drug Administration is currently considering whether the GM Atlantic salmon, called AquAdvantage, is safe to eat. The fish could be on supermarket shelves within a year

But Lord Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said the new technology is not worth the risk.

“Once you have bombarded an animal with other genes, the DNA is unstable, and there is no guarantee these fish remain sterile. It poses far too great a risk to wild salmon. A fish that grows that quickly is likely to lose some of its environmental benefits. There is no such thing as a free salmon lunch and we will pay the price,” he said.

I hope he knows more about soil than he apparently does about genomics.

And I have to laugh over the Telegraph’s headline. I can picture this giant salmon lurching through the aisles of a supermarket. When in fact the growers are aiming at bringing the farmed fish to market size sooner – not larger.

Such foolishness and sophistry.