- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* Comments On Strohman's 'The Complexity of Bioethics'
* Biotechnology in Africa- Conference Report
* Scientist Sees Hope for Africa in GM Crops
* Appropriate Technology for Sustainable Food Security
* Enhancing Research Capacity in Developing and Transition Countries
* Response on Boll Worm Names and Pesticides
* Down on the Farm
* Curing Kernels
* New GM Food Products 'To Guarantee Safety'
* GM Protesters Face Crop Damage Charges
* Biotech Talk Today at the Washington, DC Zoo
* "The Hot and the Classic": The Monarch Butterfly Controversy
Comments On Strohman's 'The Complexity of Bioethics'
- From: Andrew Apel , AgBioView, http://www.agbioworld.org/
My difficulty with Strohman's Nature Biotechnology article* is the way he attempts to bridge the dichotomies between science and ethics, and between science and technology, by making them all a species of, or subject to, ethics.
The foundation of his argument appears in the following paragraph:
> "One solution may come from the ethical component built into the structure of science itself - one that is often ignored by governmental and corporate structures as funders of research. This component includes the imperative for individual scientists to seek evidence for disproving their hypotheses (e.g., Popper1), and to consider all, and not just selective evidence (see Whitehead2). It includes also the historical record showing the capability of "normal science"to uncover the flaws (anomalies) and misconceptions of a prevailing scientific paradigm (see Kuhn3). In Kuhn's view, normal science takes Popper's imperative to another level: the scientific community as a whole. In addition, although the above ethical constraints were written with fundamental or basic science in mind, we must also inquire into the ethical constraint that has historically been applied to define the social responsibility of science: the anticipation and control of nature."
One fundamental requirement of a scientific theory (which is science's closest approach to truth) is that it be falsifiable by empirical evidence. If it is not falsifiable in this way, then it is mere belief (i.e., faith or prejudice). Strohman does not explain how this epistemological fundamental becomes a moral imperative, though it is possible to construct a credible argument along those lines.
Strohman appears to conflate the falsifiability requirement with the scientific impulse to avoid "confirmation bias"‚ the latter being a reprehensible tendency to ignore facts which do not support, or may even disprove, a pet theory. Strohman does not explain whether it is appropriate to do this, but it could easily be argued that avoiding confirmation bias is at least somewhat derivative of the falsifiability requirement. (One could argue, for instance, that confirmation bias is a species of faith or prejudice.) Regardless, this doesn't by itself establish a moral imperative.
It is fairly apparent that Strohman is at least exhorting scientists to "do good science" i.e., to advance theories based on empirical facts (and hence vulnerable to them) and to "consider all, and not just selective evidence"which necessarily might include "evidence for disproving their hypotheses."This exhortation is unnecessary, because scientists work hard to meet the standards of "good science.‚ However, the exhortation is fundamental to raising the epistemological requirement to a moral imperative.
That Strohman raises the epistemological requirement to a moral imperative becomes clear in this paragraph: "Such a failure within the scientific community is an example of a breach of ethics: scientists, regulatory agencies, and the journals working and reporting on GMOs (until quite recently) have often thought (and behaved) in nonscientifically and nonhumanly relevant ways. Quite simply, they are transgressing the code under which they are supposed to be operating."
If there are moral goods to be had from the enterprise of "the anticipation and control of nature,"and that "doing good science‚ serves that end, then it of course possible to raise "doing good science‚ to a moral imperative. That move is unnecessary, though. The epistemological requirement of falsifiability is strong enough by itself, and I submit that "doing good science‚ (in the epistemological sense) is what honest scientists strive to do anyhow.
There is a danger in raising the epistemological requirement to a moral imperative: one might then link the imperative with other moral claims, claims which might supersede the scientific enterprise (considered as a simple "seeking of truth") by steering the direction of its inquiries or even by saying some things should not be inquired into at all.
Strohman appears to recognize this danger. He says: "...it is also clear that fundamental discoveries often depend on the freedom of scientists to explore new views of the material world independently of the immediate perceived needs of society. Supporting science to deliver such needs˜usually reflecting political, economic, and social concerns˜may thus lead to a deterioration of fundamental science and thus to defective applied technologies."
So I would argue that Strohman, by raising the epistemological requirement to a moral imperative, has done something both unnecessary (the epistemological account being sufficient) and, on his own account, dangerous to the scientific enterprise.
>Strohman concludes: "One way to move this fractious debate [over GMOs] forward would be to pay independent researchers to do the necessary long-term research, to question the current hypotheses, to deepen our understanding of fundamentals of GMOs and their behaviors over time, and under the varying conditions of nature."
Scientists have been doing this for decades, if not centuries, are doing it now, and won't stop any time soon. History from Mendel to Borlaug and beyond is sufficient to demonstrate this, and it is difficult to believe that Strohman would think otherwise. It is far more likely that Strohman is attempting to conflate science and technology via ethics. He notes:
>"...given the present reality of science in society, we find a good deal of tension between the social responsibilities of science and the responsibilities of modern corporate technology based on need to produce marketable results in a cost-and time-effective manner."
Here we get a fairly clean dichotomy, about as clean as the distinction between discovering gene function and planting genetically engineered seed. If there is a tension in this dichotomy (a questionable claim), Strohman proposes that it can be resolved with ethics. He says:
>"The narrow focus on separated aspects of science in society makes difficult any coherent discussion of ethical principles that might serve to guide us in the use of new and potentially dangerous technologies. However, a way of bridging these separations may be found using the ethical principles found in science itself."
However, the scientific enterprise is fundamentally empirical and epistemological. Ethics, I submit, is implicated only when making use of scientific findings (in the form of technology). Even Strohman admits that making science subject to ethics endangers the scientific enterprise. Some dichotomies, such as those between science and ethics, and between science and technology, are worth preserving, because without the ability to work with somewhat discrete elements, things can become unmanageably complex.
"The Complexity of Bioethics,"Nature Biotechnology, Nov 2001 Vol 19 No 11 p 1007
'Biotechnology in Africa' Conference Draws 200 Participants
"Change Is Inevitable, Progress Is Optional"
This was the message brought by Prof. Prakash to African delegates at the conference organized by AfricaBio on September 26 - 27, 2001 in Johannesburg. Prakash, Professor at Tuskegee University, USA, challenged African scientists to become active communicators.
"Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of information from scientists, the vacuum will be filled by other forces". Prakash states. " Public perception will determine the future of biotechnology. Consumers need assurance on the safety of products from new technologies; this process of adoption historically has been a slow one", says Prakash. (Note: I acknowledged that the above two quotes were borrowed from Andrew Apel (Change..) and Cindy Lynn Richard (Nature..) - CSP)
Prakash was one of 20 guest speakers at the international conference, which drew some 200 delegates, including 100 from Africa, from over 17 countries. The objective was to have a range of African scientists, regulators, farmers, consumers and industry experts to debate the needs, opportunities and constraints where biotechnology could play a role.
Africa Needs Food Security
he need to turn Africa's trend in food production around was highlighted by Benny M`Poko, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "The African economy on average is 70% based on agriculture," says M'Poko. "Agriculture employs 50 - 75% of the labour force, yet Africa still imports 25% of its grain requirements and average yields are only 1.7 tons/hectre". African population is expected to double in the next 25 years, necessitating urgent improvement in food production."North - South and South - South collaboration needs to be developed but biosafety structures should be put into place as pre-requisite", cautiones M'Poko, "Biotechnology needs to be evaluated scientifically and benefits to small scale farmers demonstrated."
Application of genetic modification in crop plants is, however, complicated by recent international regulatory developments. "The Codex proposals for labelling foods derived from GM crops have drifted away from a science-based framewôrk. It has now stated to embrace philosophical concepts of the consumer needs to know", says Dr Mark Mansour of a legal firm in Washington, USA. He added that African countries are not sufficiently active in international debates. Only South Africa is a regular participant. The European Union has turned away from their temporary moratorium on GM crops by permitting widespread fields trials. At the same time extensive food labelling proposals have been developed. "This creates confusion between legislation and market forces", says Stocker, Pioneer Hi-bred director in Brussels. "Different countries in the EU have different approaches and interpretations. Legal clarity is urgently needed."
S.A. Government Supports Biotech
A turning point in the South African Government's position was the publication of the National Biotechnology Strategy. Why the focus on Biotechnology? Dr Rob Adam, Director. General, Department of Arts, Culture, and Science Technology explains: "This strategy arose from the Department's Foresight Programme which analyzed future drivers of the economy. The objective was to develop a framework to guide investors. Three drivers were identified: information technology, advanced materials and biotechnology."
"Don't Blame Others", Africa Told
The question was raised whether strings attached to international funding are acceptable. "Africa must stop blaming others for its poor performance in food production," Dr John Kilama, President of the Global Biodiversity Institute tells the delegates. "It is time for Africa to accept its failures and work towards improving its situation. Donor agencies will not provide funds blindly but will always attach some requirements". Is modern biotechnology too advanced for Africa? "Not necessarily", says Dr Florence Wambugu, Director of the International Service for Acquisition of Agro-biotech Applications. "Most of Africa has been lacking adequate telecommunications. Today Africa has the highest growth in cell phone sales, by passing inefficient landline systems."
African Views On Biotechnology
Following presentations and debates the following views and critical areas were highlighted and these will be formulated into an action plan for the next year:
African delegates are cautiously optimistic that biotechnology can play a positive role in development on the continent. · Africa wishes to implement the technology according to their priorities and in a way that will address the needs they identify. · Safe and responsible implementation requires effective national policy and biosafety frameworks. (Decisions on whether or not to implement the technology will be made at national level.) · Extensive public awareness is required to address the concerns stakeholders have about the new technology, to highlight biosafety measures and the benefits of biotechnology products. · Information on biotechnology and biosafety should be clear, accurate, holistic and balanced.
·In addition to building new capacity ways must be sought to make optimal use of existing capacity on the continent. · Strong African participation is needed from all stakeholders at all international and regional meetings to ensure that the African voice is heard and considered.
Funding will be needed to implement biotechnology and biosafety and this should include increased financial commitment from governments in the region. · Partnerships, collaboration, networking and transparency will maximize the use of resources. · Harmonization of technical activities and laws will benefit trade on the continent.
Papers presented at this meeting can be viewed at http://www.africabio.com/conference/papers.shtml
Scientist Sees Hope for Africa in GM Crops
- Reuters, November 13, 2001
Chicago - African farmers waging the age-old battle against pests and crop disease are not nearly as well-armed as their counterparts in Europe and North America. But biotechnology could provide them with powerful tools to help feed a growing population and reduce hunger, Kenyan plant scientist Florence Wambugu said.
"Biotech gives an opportunity. It's not going to solve all the problems, but there is an opportunity out there to increase food production," Wambugu told Reuters in an interview.
Though touted by seed companies as providing higher yields for less effort and lower cost, critics have derided genetically modified (GM) crops as "Frankenstein foods" and charged that they are environmentally unsafe. Wambugu countered, however, that Africa's struggles with hunger lend a different focus to the politically charged debate being waged in Europe and North America over their use. "We have serious food deficits. You have surplus food production. So we are not on level ground," she said.
Wambugu is the former director of the African regional office of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a nonprofit group funded by public and private institutions. She left ISAAA earlier this fall to begin organizing a new foundation that will mobilize support for biotechnology in Africa.
Wambugu, who grew up on a small Kenyan farm, worked with scientists from U.S.-based Monsanto Co. in the early 1990s to develop Kenya's first genetically modified sweet potato, which resists an insect-borne virus that can destroy most of a crop. She said the new variety, which should be available to farmers in two years, could double the yields of Kenya's existing varieties. Researchers are working to develop other disease- and pest-resistant varieties of common African crops such as maize and cassava that will be easy for small-scale farmers to use.
"Culturally Friendly" GM Seeds. Wambugu said attempts at organic farming, in which biological pest controls are used in place of synthetic chemicals, have failed to raise farm productivity in Africa, home to most of the world's 800 million under-nourished people. "There has been a lot of talk in Europe that what's needed in Africa is organic farming," Wambugu said. "I'll tell you from my experience that we have been a laboratory of organic farming, and all we ever had was hunger and starvation." Neither have conventional plant breeding techniques met the challenges of food production in Africa, she said. The inputs that conventional crops require, such as pesticides, pose problems in countries like Kenya, where farmers often lack the money or the education to benefit from them.
Wambugu said that genetically modified crops can raise yields with fewer inputs. Because the technology is inside the seed itself, Wambugu calls the crops "culturally friendly." "Our farmers, they own five acres. They are not as sophisticated as the American farmers. But they know how to handle the seed," she said. "So if you put the technology in the seed, every farmer knows how to handle the seed, whether they can read or write." She is skeptical of claims that GM crops pose a danger to consumers or the environment, or that genes for resisting herbicides could transfer to weeds. "I have heard many claims about 'superweeds' but have not seen any data or facts or one example that a superweed has developed," she said. "There are no data to justify a moratorium in Africa, to say we should not use biotech products."
Adoption In Africa Will Take Time. Wambugu dismissed the idea that biotechnology companies are forcing GM crops on Africa. But she said that adoption of biotech crops in Africa will be a long, slow process. "It's so difficult to get the small-scale farmers to take up anything. They don't take chances," she said, adding that researchers need to work closely with farmers and local leaders while conducting trials in Africa.
"They must see it fit within the whole farming system. Only then will they accept it," she said of African farmers. Bio tech businesses, for their part, have not always had the patience needed to develop markets in Africa. Government institutions may need to get involved to help with research, outreach efforts, and access to credit, Wambugu said. The biotech industry, she said, will eventually make money in Africa. "But it's not going to be done in a day," she said. "They have to work with the local people. The marketing models in America aren't going to work in Africa."
Appropriate Technology for Sustainable Food Security: Modern Biotechnology
- Calestous Juma, http://www.ifpri.cgiar.org/2020/focus/focus07/focus07_04.htm
The emergence of modern biotechnology has invoked a major global controversy over the future of world agriculture. The debates surrounding this controversy have often reflected the interests of developed countries and paid little attention to the needs of developing countries, especially those needs related to food requirements of low-income populations. This brief argues that biotechnology especially genetic modification represents an important technology option for meeting the long-term food needs of developing countries. However, this technology must be used within a policy framework that recognizes the importance of managing the health, environmental, and socioeconomic risks associated with it.
Divergent Needs Developed-country consumers continue to express skepticism toward transgenic foods. This is partly because they have a wide range of affordable foods from which to choose. They therefore question the need to use new technologies to make incremental changes in their foods without offering tangible benefits. In response, industry in the developed countries is looking into ways of producing foods that are relevant to the consumers. The success of such investments is still in doubt, but the concerns in developed countries evidently stem from the view that meeting food-security needs is no longer the concern of consumers. Much of the consumer interest is shifting to the quality of the food they consume and its contributions to improved health.
The situation in many developing countries especially in Africa is different. Low-income families in these countries are faced with a wide range of challenges, including malnutrition, hunger, and related illnesses. Addressing these challenges requires the deployment of available technological options. The poor often rely on a limited range of food sources, and as ecological degradation continues, their capacity to meet their needs diminishes. Raising agricultural productivity while promoting sustainable land use is key. Indeed, in many poor regions of the world agricultural production is done by women who also have other critical household responsibilities.
Responding to these challenges requires investing in technologies that are appropriate to the needs of low-income communities, which lie in diverse ecological zones often far from major markets. Agricultural production in these areas will need to be equally diverse and to reflect local needs and preferences. Genetic modification and the emerging techniques of genomics offer the possibility of designing farming systems that are responsive to local needs and reflect sustainability requirements. In other words, genetic modification and genomics make it possible to design farming systems that are decentralized and more productive than existing methods.
Current Technological Trends
In 2000, transgenic crops covered an estimated 44.2 million hectares, a 25-fold increase over the 1996 figure. This rapid expansion occurred mainly in the United States, Canada, Argentina, and China, which account for 99 percent of the coverage of transgenic crops. The bulk of this coverage was in the United States (68 percent), with Argentina accounting for 23 percent; Canada, 7 percent; and China, 1 percent. Most of this coverage is in large farms where genetic modification has been used to introduce incremental changes in existing crops. These incremental changes explain why the distribution of transgenic crops is limited to geographical areas with similar ecological conditions.
Transgenic applications are currently limited to soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Transgenic soybeans covered 25.8 million hectares in 2000; corn, 10.3 million hectares; cotton, 5.3 million hectares; and canola, 2.8 million hectares. The bulk of the crops express herbicide tolerance and disease resistance.
These trends show that the early diffusion of transgenic crops has been largely in the temperate regions and has been limited to a few major commercial crops. The promise of biotechnology in meeting the needs of low-income families in the developing world still remains a distant dream.
The promise of transgenic applications has not been realized for two main reasons. First, crop development for low-income families, such as the Green Revolution, has traditionally been carried out by the public sector. However, the biotechnology has emerged from the private sector, which lacks the incentives to invest in crops for low-income families. Second, agricultural research in the public sector has been declining, and therefore little investment has gone into developing crops for low-income families. The situation is not likely to change without a redirection of existing research priorities in private enterprises, stemming from appropriate incentives as well as significantly increased public sector funding for agricultural research. In addition, institutional arrangements will have to be created to facilitate closer cooperation between private and public sector institutions.
Redirection of Existing Technological Efforts
Efforts to redirect biotechnology to address the needs of low-income families in developing countries should be placed in a large policy framework that addresses other social issues. More important, such strategies should be part of policies designed to use science and technology to achieve sustainable development goals that embody ecological, social, and economic requirements. In addition, biotechnology should be considered one tool in a larger portfolio of technological options, to be applied where it is needed and where it offers the best available option for solving specific problems.
The choice of technology should be driven by the determination of local needs. Many developing countries have already indicated priorities that could be addressed using genetic modification in their agricultural development strategies. Many African countries, for example, lie in regions where drought tolerance, disease resistance, and crop-yield increases are priorities. Crops such as cassava, millet, yams, millet, and sorghum are prime candidates for genetic modification. Modification that seeks to prolong the shelf life of foods could help reduce postharvest losses significantly. The use of herbicide tolerance in low-till agriculture is another high priority, especially in helping to lessen farm labor and providing farm workersómost of whom are womenówith opportunities to engage in other activities.
Another potential area for biotechnology application is the development of livestock that is tolerant to many tropical diseases. Modern methods, such as genomics, could be applied in this area without requiring transgenesis. Also related to agricultural production is the significance of revegetation in marginal areas. Investment in fast-growing plants could help facilitate ecological restoration in many denuded regions of the world. Such research could also add to the fodder available in these countries.
Redirecting global research and development efforts to focus on these challenges will entail considerable international cooperation, increases in public sector funding, and incentives for private enterprises. It will also require tolerance for using science and technology for sustainable development in the developed and developing countries.
Three categories of risk need to be addressed in considering the role of biotechnology for low-income families: health, environment, and socioeconomic considerations. The advent of biotechnology demands that all countries put in place measures that ensure safety to human health and the environment. Such measures involve the judicious use of strategies for assessing, managing, and communicating risk. In addition, equity considerations also call for social policies that address the impact of new technologies on rural populations. Such policies should include ways of creating alternative livelihoods for farm workers displaced by new technological practices.
Many developing countries are currently reluctant to engage in biotechnology development because they fear some developed countries would erect barriers against their products. These concerns are real and have created an atmosphere of distrust that is likely to undermine not only the global trading system, but also the ability of developing countries to meet their basic needs.
A final area of concern is the impact of intellectual property protection on the ability of the developing countries to use biotechnology. This point has two dimensions. First, international agricultural research institutions are increasingly dealing with intellectual property issues. Ways must be found to enable these institutions to have access to technologies needed to meet the needs of low-income families. Second, national research institutes in developing countries face similar challenges. Some biotechnology firms, including Monsanto, have made public pledges to share technologies with developing countries. Realizing such pledges will require considerable institutional innovation to provide the required comfort among the providers and users of technology.
The Way Forward
Promoting the responsible use of biotechnology to meet the needs of low-income countries will require fundamental policy adjustments in the developing and developed countries. Developing countries need to formulate policies that recognize the importance of science and technology in overall economic development and in agricultural production in particular. They must reexamine existing agricultural policies to accommodate the imperatives of emerging technologies, changing markets, shifting public perceptions about safety, and rising environmental concerns.
Developed countries could play a key role by exhibiting greater sensitivity to the needs of developing countries. In addition, they need to play a leading role in exploring how scientific and technological advances in general, and biotechnology in particular, could help solve the problems of low-income families. This role will entail increased public sector funding, greater scientific and technical cooperation, and creation of incentives that allow private enterprises to work on developing-country challenges. Holders of intellectual property rights will need to demonstrate greater creativity in ensuring that those who work on meeting the needs of low-income families have the freedom to operate.
For further information, see C. James, Global Trends in the Commercialization of Transgenic Crops, (Ithaca, N.Y., U.S.A.: International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications, 2001); C. Juma, The New Genetic Divide: Biotechnology in a Globalizing World, International Journal of Biotechnology 4 (forthcoming); and M. Qaim, A. F. Krattiger, and J. von Braun, Agricultural Biotechnology in Developing Countries: Towards Optimizing the Benefits for the Poor (Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000).
Calestous Juma (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of the Science, Technology and Innovation Progam at the Center for International Development at Harvard University and Senior Research Associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Enhancing Research Capacity in Developing and Transition Countries
Workshop Held in Berne, Switzerland, 21-22 September 2000. Publication now at http://www.kfpe.ch/about/conf2000.html
Exchange of experience through presentation and discussion of strategies and tools for research capacity building and institutional strengthening
* Abstracts and written statements of the workshop Presentations
* Publication: Enhancing Research Capacity in Developing and Transition Countries
KFPE 2001The following Parts of the Book are available as PDF - Files.
* Table of Contents
* Part I: The Challenge of Enhancing Research Capacity in Developing and Transition Countries
* Part V: Overview of Donor's Main Activities Related to Research and Development
The ordinary Price is 25 Swiss Francs or 15 US$, and free of charge for institutions in developing and transition countries.
From: "Nandi Nagaraj"
Subject: Reply to query by Dr. Peter Langelueddeke
> From: "Dr. Peter Langelueddeke" Ý
> Subject: Bt Cotton in India
> 1. What is the scientific name of that bollworm?ÝHeliothis
>armigera, H. virescens or Pectinophora gossypiella, or another one?
Helicoverpa armigera = Cotton Bollworm (in India)
Pectinophora gossypiella = Pink Bollworm (in India)
> 2. Which pesticides are normally used by Indian cotton farmers to
>control this pest which apparently became resistant?
Helicoveropa armigera is the more serious pest and almost all pyrethroids, organophosphates, carbamates, etc have failed to control this pest effectively, whereas, Pectinophora gossypiella is
relatively easier to control by insecticides.
Down on the Farm
- Mary Schuler, http://www.biotechandyou.com/issue03/04.asp
Mary Schuler, past president of Women Involved in Farm Economics, discusses how biotechnology improves her family's business and our environment.
My family farm has always been a progressive enterprise that is open to new methods of farming that benefit yields, profitability and land. My family is concerned about preserving our land for future generations, because our farm is our workplace and our home. For this reason, my family and neighbors welcome the use of biotechnology and the positive impacts it can have on the environment. "My family is concerned about preserving the land for future generations."
The European corn borer is a common insect pest that causes significant damage to corn. By incorporating a protein with a built-in resistance into corn seed, the corn can now protect itself against this pest. This new biotech corn variety, known as Bt corn, means that we plow less, spray less and produce more food on the same amount of land.
"Healthier plants are another benefit of biotechnology." Healthier plants are another benefit of biotechnology. Bt corn stalks stand up straighter, enabling air to blow through and prevent the growth of harmful fungi. Since these crops are less likely to be lost to pests and diseases, more food can be harvested while using less land and less fuel to run farm machinery. And, as fuel prices rise, this helps reduce our farm's operating costs.
But biotechnology benefits wildlife too. Thanks to biotech crops farmers are able to plow their lands less frequently - a practice that can decrease soil erosion and runoff into rivers and streams. Biotech crops, in conjunction with other farming practices such as windbreaks and waterways, have made it possible for farmers to reduce sediment runoff by as much as 98 percent, according to the Conservation Technology Information Center. The result? We preserve nutrient-rich topsoil for our crops and help keep our rivers and streams cleaner for the fish and wildlife that depend upon them.
"Biotech crops ... have made it possible for farmers to reduce sediment runoff by as much as 98 percent..." Looking ahead, biotechnology offers us more choices for increasing the quality, quantity and health benefits of our foods. And, for farmers everywhere, biotechnology is an important tool for ensuring the well-being of farmland and the environment for future generations
- Dr. Michael Horn, ProdiGene, http://www.biotechandyou.com/issue04/04.asp
'An AIDS vaccine could soon be available thanks to biotechnology'
Imagine throwing a handful of corn chips into your mouth. Now imagine not only enjoying the taste and receiving excellent nutrition, but that you are vaccinating yourself against the deadly AIDS virus. You are imagining the future of medicine - edible vaccines. Soon, they may revolutionize health care by providing inexpensive, easy-to-use and widely available vaccinations.
"AIDS continues to be a killer, ravaging communities across the world. Worldwide, an estimated 33 million people have the virus with hundreds more added daily." Through a grant from the National Institutes of Health, my colleagues and I have helped develop special corn plants through biotechnology that could be cultivated to contain a potential edible AIDS vaccine. Vaccines for diseases ranging from polio to the common flu have been around for years. They work by introducing small quantities of an inactive virus to the body, which encourages the production of antibodies. Then, when a real infection hits, these antibodies are already in place to fight off the virus.
"An edible vaccine for AIDS would cost pennies a dose and have virtually no storage costs." Today, vaccines are mostly available by injection, making them expensive and requiring proper skill, sterile equipment and refrigerated storage - all things that are hard to come by in places like sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS is having a devastating impact. Researchers at universities and companies like ProdiGene are working to produce medicines in plants using plant biotechnology, a method for improving crops and plants by adding genes with specific functions. In this case, we are using a gene to instruct the corn plant to produce proteins for the AIDS virus. If successful, we can then cultivate the corn for use as an edible vaccine. The hope is that the protein from the AIDS virus will produce antibodies (specific virus-fighting substances in the body) that offer resistance to a future infection. This unique system could be used to treat or prevent many diseases in addition to AIDS.
"Corn is a great medium for this - it is easy to plant and cultivate in large quantities and it is a nutritious food that people worldwide are already eating." Our research is still in a very early stage of development. It remains to be seen which proteins contained in the AIDS vaccine will produce antibodies to the disease. However, once the vaccine is perfected, plant biotechnology could provide the pathway that allows this incredible medical innovation to reach the largest amount of people, and those most desperately in need.
New GM Food Products 'To Guarantee Safety'
- Declan Fahy, The Irish Times, November 14, 2001
Prof. Fergal O'Gara, director of Biomerit Research Centre in UCC, said GM food-producers had changed emphasis to developing products where the consumer benefit was more obvious. Speaking last night at a Science Week Ireland lecture on "What's Biotechnology Doing for Our Food?", he said the first generation of GM products - herbicide and pesticide-resistant crops - were designed to improve yields for farmers, and had no obvious consumer benefit.
Prof O'Gara added that this contributed to the concerns of consumer groups, the "slow take-up" of these foods in Europe, and the controversy over the exploitation of biotechnology to develop GM foods.
Newer biotechnology products were aimed at guaranteeing safety and quality, he said, in the lecture at Dublin City University. "New biotechnology research is geared to developing products with direct benefits to consumers such as adding nutrients to foods traditionally lacking in those nutrients, for example, adding vitamin A gene to rice," he said.
Prof O'Gara said developments from biotechnology were contributing to improving food quality and safety in a number of ways. In contrast to those who disputed the merits of these technologies, he said the benefits included producing cheese which guaranteed that no infectious agents from animals would enter the food chain; developing an environmentally friendly means of controlling disease in plants, and creating techniques of detecting viruses or bacteria in food.
GM Protesters Face Crop Damage Charges
Six people arrested during a demonstration at Wales's only GM crop trial have been charged with criminal damage.
The six, who include environment journalist George Monbiot, were charged on Wednesday by North Wales Police and will appear at Mold magistrates' court on 20 November.
(So much for objective and unbiased journalism.....Monbiot has been the fiercest anti-biotech reporter in UK....CSP)
It is expected the protesters will plead not guilty to the criminal damage of the fodder maize crop, which is being grown by Flintshire farmer John Cottle. The six are understood to be prepared to claim in court they acted in the public interest and continue their argument that Wales should be GM-free. One person was injured in the protest last July at Sealand, as an estimated 40 protesters broke into a field and allegedly began pulling up the crop. A large police presence and force helicopter had supervised the protest.
Mr Cottle said at the time of the incident that he was disappointed the protesters had broken into his field. Earlier in the day, protesters had held an all-day rally calling for an end to Wales's only GM trial. Mr Cottle refused a call from Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones to abandon the trials on the English border. In May, separate trials at Castle Cenlas Farm in Pembrokeshire were abandoned when farmer and former MP Tony Marlow accused the government of sending misleading messages over genetically-modified food. At Sealand, local organic farmers are concerned about cross-contamination but Mr Cottle remains convinced about the benefits of the trials.
Biotech at the Washington Zoo
Sue Hubbell, author of "Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering: Before we Knew About Genes" will give a FREE lecture this Thursday (Nov 15 Today!) at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Book signing: 7 p.m., 8 p.m. Lecture National Zoo's Visitors Center RSVP to 202-673-4801
A commonsense explanation of genetic modification. "We humans have been tinkering with genes for a long, long time. In "Shrinking the Cat," Sue Hubbell shows how this tinkering is the definition of humanness by telling the stories of four important species we created. She tells how we made cats easier to live with by making them smaller and their brains less complicated, taking out much of the alertness that natural selection had packed in. How ancient farmers turned a wild grass into corn, a tremendously important crop that can't live without us. How silkworms were smuggled from China to the West and bred to be completely dependent on us.
Today's tools are new, but we were engineering genes even before we knew about them, and we made some mistakes along the way. Sue Hubbell shows that if we ignore our own history, pretending that genetic engineering is something completely new and dangerous, we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. "
"The Hot and the Classic": The Monarch Butterfly Controversy
Peter V. Minorsk, Plant Physiol, Nov 2001, Vol.127, pp.709-710 http://www.plantphysiol.org/cgi/content/full/127/3/709 (Peter V. Minorsky, Dept of Natural Sciences, Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522)
This month's "The Hot and the Classic" is devoted to summarizing some new contributions that specifically address the question of the risk associated with Bt maize pollen to the monarch butterfly.
The second most widely grown transgenic crop in the United States are maize (Zea mays) cultivars that have been engineered to express genes for various insecticidal protein endotoxins (Bt toxins) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. The principal target species for Bt toxin-expressing maize (Bt maize) is the European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis), one of the most damaging pests of maize in North America. Losses attributable to European corn borer damage exceed over $1 billion annually in the United States alone. Bt toxins are widely believed to be selectively toxic, only affecting those insects (e.g. lepidopteran larvae) that have a gut alkaline enough to activate the Bt protoxin by enzymatic proteolysis. Receptor binding by the C-terminal domain of the active toxin is the major determinant of host specificity by the different Bt toxins.
Given the growing agricultural importance of Bt maize as well as Bt cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) and Bt potato (Solanum tuberosum), it is not surprising that a storm of controversy arose following the publication in Nature of a preliminary study by Losey et al. (1999). This paper raised serious concerns about the ecological safety of Bt maize cultivation to non-target lepidopterans, in particular the larvae of monarch butterfly (Danaus plexipus). On the basis of laboratory assays, the authors concluded that monarch larvae reared on milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) leaves dusted with pollen from Bt maize ate less, grew more slowly, and suffered higher mortality than those reared on leaves dusted with nontransformed maize or on leaves without pollen.
The conclusions of Losey et al. (1999) were challenged on three grounds. First, the pollen doses used by Losey et al. (1999) were not quantitatively measured but were gauged by eye to match pollen dustings on milkweed leaves collected in the field. This raised concerns about subconscious biases on the part of the researchers. Second, concerns, as it turns out, valid ones, were raised as to the validity of extrapolating from the results of Losey at al. (1999), which concerned only one type of pollen, to all types of Bt maize pollen. Third, the soundness of extrapolating from laboratory assays to the field was uncertain, although a subsequent field study by Jesse and Obrycki (2000) did seem to confirm the fears raised by the Losey et al. (1999) study.
Regardless of the deficiencies of the study, the results of Losey et al. (1999) were widely heralded by the popular press and established the monarch butterfly, one of the more beautiful creatures on our planet, as the cause celebre for environmentalists opposed to biotechnology. Berenbaum (2001) has written an engaging piece concerning the diametric responses that the lay and scientific presses have had as this controversy has unfolded.
Field Studies : To interpret accurately the results of studies that examine the effects of Bt maize pollen on monarch larvae, it is necessary to know the range and distribution of naturally occurring pollen densities on milkweed leaves. This gap in our knowledge has recently been filled by Pleasants et al. (2001), who measured the density of maize pollen on milkweed plants inside and outside of maize fields in several different localities. Average pollen density was highest within maize fields (171 grains per cm2) and was progressively lower from the field edge outward, falling to 14 grains per cm2) at 2 m (see also Jesse and Obrycki, 2000; Wraight et al., 2000). The authors also describe complexity in the pattern of maize pollen density within the canopies of milkweed plants. Younger milkweed leaves, which typically harbor more than half of the monarch larvae, have on average only 30% to 50% of the pollen density of middle leaves due to their greater exposure to cleansing rain and to their steeper leaf ang
Not All Transgenic Pollen Is Toxic: Transgenic maize hybrids that are currently or have been commercially available contain cry1Ab (events Bt11, Mon810, and 176), cry9c (event Cbh351), or cry1Ac (event Dbt418) Bt genes. In addition, registration was recently granted for a hybrid that expresses a cry1F gene (event Tc1507). Because the initial report by Losey et al. (1999) examined the effects of only one type of transgenic pollen (Cry1Ab event 176), Hellmich et al. (2001) conducted laboratory tests to establish the relative toxicity of various other Bt toxins to monarch larvae (see also Wraight et al., 2000). Bioassays of purified Bt toxins indicate that Cry9C and Cry1F proteins are relatively nontoxic to monarch first instars, whereas first instars are sensitive to Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac proteins. Older instars were 12 to 23 times less susceptible to Cry1Ab than were first instars. Pollen bioassays indicated that pollen contaminants, mostly fractured anthers, were particularly toxic to larvae. This finding sugge
Risk Assessment Studies: A proper risk assessment of the impact of Bt maize cultivation on monarch butterfly populations requires consideration of both the expression of toxicity and the likelihood of exposure to the toxin. A collaborative research effort by scientists in Canada and the United States gathered information concerning the acute toxic effects of Bt maize pollen and the degree to which monarch larvae would be exposed to toxic amounts (Sears et al., 2001). The authors estimate that even if harmful Bt maize (event 176) cultivation were to climb to 80% of the total cultivated maize, only 6% of the monarch larval population would be at risk. If nonharmful cultivars (Mon 810 and Bt11) were to climb to 80% of total maize cultivation, the percentage of monarchs at risk would fall to 0.05%. The authors conclude that the impact of Bt maize pollen from current commercial hybrids on monarch butterfly populations is negligible.
Bt Maize versus Conventional Pesticides : Losey et al. (1999) concluded their report with the recommendation that "... we gather the data necessary to evaluate the risks associated with the new agrotechnology and... compare these risks with those posed by pesticides and other pest-control tactics." Toward this goal, Stanley-Horn et al. (2001) undertook to compare the effects on monarch larvae of pollen from cultivars of Bt-expressing maize, both harmful and harmless, with those of nontransgenic maize sprayed with a conventional chemical pesticide (-cyhalothrin). As expected, they found that event 176 Bt pollen, even at low densities (23-67 pollen grains cm1), had deleterious effects on monarch larvae, whereas the pollen of other Bt maize cultivars (Bt11 or Mon810) was essentially harmless. The reduction in survivorship and weight gain seen with the harmful event 176 pollen was dwarfed by the effects of the pesticide -cyhalothrin, which is commonly used as a chemical treatment against European corn borers. M
Effects on Other Nontarget Lepidoptera: Zangerl et al. (2001) concluded that Bt maize incorporating event 176 does have sublethal effects on black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) in the field. An earlier study by Wraight et al. (2000), however, failed to detect an effect of harmless Bt pollen (Mon810) on black swallowtails.
Conclusion : Losey et al. (1999) should be lauded for uncovering and exposing the nontarget effects of event-176 maize pollen on monarch larvae. Their publication had the salutary effect of raising both the consciousness of the public and of the biotechnology industry of the possible nontarget effects of Bt crops. However, those individuals and organizations who attempted to extrapolate the results of Losey et al. (1999) to other strains of Bt maize, and to Bt crops in general, have now been shown to be in error at least in regard to the monarch butterfly. The effects of Bt maize cultivation on monarch butterfly maize populations are negligible, and current evidence suggests that Bt maize is an environmentally safer insect control strategy than conventional chemical spraying.
* Berenbaum MR (2001) Interpreting the scientific literature. Differences in the scientific and lay communities. Plant Physiol 125: 509-512
* Hellmich RL, Siegfried BD, Sears MK, Stanley-Horn DE, Daniels MJ, Mattila HR, Spencer T, Bidne KG, Lewis LC (2001) Monarch larvae sensitivity to Bacillus thuringiensis-purified proteins and pollen. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98: 11925-11930
* Jesse LCH, Obrycki JJ (2000) Field deposition of Bt transgenic corn pollen: lethal effects on the monarch butterfly. Oecologia 125: 241-248
* Losey JE, Rayor LS, Carter ME (1999) Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae. Nature 399: 214
* Pleasants JM, Hellmich RL, Dively GP, Sears MK, Stanley-Horn DE, Mattila HR, Foster JE, Clark TL, Jones GD (2001) Corn pollen deposition on milkweeds in and near cornfields. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98: 11913-11918
* Sears MK, Hellmich RL, Stanley-Horn DE, Oberhauser KS, Pleasants JM, Mattila HR, Siegfried BD, Dively GP (2001) Impact of Bt corn pollen on monarch butterfly populations: a risk assessment. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98: 11937-11942
* Stanley-Horn DE, Dively GP, Hellmich RL, Mattila HR, Sears MK, Rose R, Jesse LC, Losey JE, Obrycki JJ, Lewis L (2001) Assessing the impact of Cry1Ab-expressing corn pollen on monarch butterfly larvae in field studies. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98: 11931-11936
* Wraight CL, Zangerl AR, Carroll M, Berenbaum MR (2000) Absence of toxicity of Bacillus thuringiensis pollen to black swallowtails under field conditions. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97: 7700-7703
* Zangerl AR, McKenna D, Wraight CL, Carroll M, Ficarello P, Warner R, Berenbaum MR (2001) Effects of exposure to event 176 Bacillus thuringiensis corn pollen on monarch and black swallowtail caterpillars under field conditions. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98: 11908-11912