Today in AgBioView - April 6, 2002:
* Agbioview Archives
* Slides and Notes on the Quist-Chapela Paper
* Nature Letters
* Question to plant physiologists from an economist?
* Re: Bt Cotton in India
* Attack on safety of GM crops was unfounded
* US scientists defend Mexico corn GMO study
* Scientist claims vendetta over GM research; Biotech industry 'fighting
back against maize attack'
* Journal Blasted on Handling of Corn Study
* Nature backs off GM crop claims
* Research that raised scare over modified food is discredited
* Enable GM to deliver its full benefits
* Industry committed to abide by results of GM farm trials
* Center clears Monsantoís transgenic cotton
Apologies for the AgBioView archives shutting down recently. We are
working on this and hope to rectify soon. For recent archives, please
You can search by keyword or by date by clicking "Read Messages."
Here some slides on the Quist and Chapela paper.
Notes explaining the slides (eg about iPCR) are available too.
Drs. H. Deelstra
3584 CH Utrecht (NL)
Date: Fri, 05 Apr 2002 11:48:32 -0600
From: "Tom DeGregori"
Subject: Re: Mexican Maize Resource Library
Re- the request for where the letters on maize and the editorial
retraction are on the Nature Journals webpage. They are not going to be in
print in the current edition but in a future one. They are online as an
advanced publication. Go find them, do the following:
Click on to - http://www.nature.com/nature/
scroll down to box reading:
advance online publication
Read papers online before they
appear in print
The letters and nature's retraction come up and those with a subscription
can read them but probably, most everyone has now seen them. .
Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Houston
Department of Economics
204 McElhinney Hall
Houston, Texas 77204-5019
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg
Subject: RE: Nature and Mexican Maize; Rice Genome Decoded!; Bt Cotton in
Date: Fri, 5 Apr 2002 11:31:45 -0500
From: "Greg Conko"
I had the same problem. But, if you run an "author search" or even a
"simple search", looking for any of the author names (e.g. Metz, Futterer,
Hake, Freeling, Quist, etc.) you'll find the document.
Unfortunately, the citation still seems a little unclear to me. The
letters and the editorial note appear only to be published online (Nature
AOP, Published online: 4 April 2002; DOI: 10.1038/nature738), and I'm not
certain what the protocol would be to cite such a document.
Date: Sat, 06 Apr 2002 10:25:48 -0600
From: "Tom DeGregori"
Subject: Question to plant physiologists from an economist?
I have a question for the molecular biologists and plant physiologist in
our group. Barry Commoner, in his February 2002 article in Harper's
attacked the biological basis of agricultual biotechnology by falsely
claiming that the following - "central dogma's cardinal maxim: that a DNA
gene exclusively governs the molecular processes that give rise to a
particular inherited trait." Several postings have made it clear that this
is not the "central dogma" of molecular biology and never has been and
that from the begining, there has been an increasing understanding of the
greater complexity involved.
Reading the just published articles on the decoding ot the rice genome, it
would appear that the straw man that Commoner attacked has at least some
very rough approximation of reality for plants (or at least a closer
approximation than the more complex situation for humans and other
animals) as the greater number of genes in plants seem to code for
specific outcomes and that there is little if any splicing and fewer
transposable elements than is the case for animals. Consequently, the
outcome of a a gene insertion in a plant would even more predictable (or
far less unpredictable) than in an animal or simply the movement of genes
resulting from conventional breeding. It would seem that the decoding of
the rice genomes not only provides information for biotechnology for rice
and other grasses (grains) but that it also provides even more substantial
theoretical evidence for the safety of GM crops.
Pardon this economist trying to draw conclusions vastly outside his own
discipline but could the appropriate scientists correct me where I am in
error and otherwise amplify the theoretical implications of the rice
genome decoding for GM crops? Nevertheless, whatever our discipline may
be, we all need to understand these technical issues better if we are to
deal with those opposed to human progress.
Date: Fri, 05 Apr 2002 14:24:57 -0400
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Bt Cotton in India
I realize that the exact numbers may be a trade secret, but I would like
to know if anyone has estimates of the amount of Bt cotton seed (of the
newly-approved varieties) available for sale in the coming season. Given
that this is the first year, I can imagine that demand will very greatly
exceed supply. So, how many hectares of Bt cotton can we expect to be
planted in India in the coming season?
Attack on safety of GM crops was unfounded
By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent
April 5, 2002
BRITAINíS leading scientific journal has disowned a paper it published
questioning the environmental safety of genetically modified crops, in an
unprecedented step that weakens the scientific case against the
Nature, one of the worldís most prestigious peer-reviewed journals,
admitted yesterday it had been wrong to publish flawed research that
claimed to prove that genes from GM maize had accidentally crossed into a
traditional variety in Mexico. It withdrew its approval from the study.
The move is thought to be the first in the magazineís 133-year history.
It followed protests by more than 100 leading biologists, who spotted
mistakes in the research by two American scientists, and attacked Nature
for giving respectability to inaccurate results that were certain to
The study, by David Quist and Ignacio Chapela of the University of
California, Berkeley, was seized on by opponents of GM crops when it was
published last November. The authors claimed it was the best evidence yet
for GM contamination of wild plants growing dozens of miles away.
Campaigners renewed calls for an international ban on growing GM crops
outside. Dr Quist said their work showed that ìthe benefits of these crops
donít outweigh the enormous risks to food securityî.
Serious concerns about the findings, however, were raised almost
immediately when a Mexican group found it could not repeat the experiment,
and several researchers questioned the techniques used and the
interpretation of the results.
An online petition gathered more than 100 signatures from leading
biologists, and the influential Klaus Ammann, director of the Berne
Botanical Garden in Switzerland, accused Nature of acting like a
ìboulevard science journalî by publishing the paper.
After studying the criticisms of the paper and obtaining new information
from its authors, Philip Campbell, the Editor of Nature, agreed yesterday
that it should never have passed its process of peer-review. Two
refutations of the research, one by Berkeley colleagues of Dr Quist and Dr
Chapela, have been published on the magazineís website.
ìIn light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has
concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the
publication of the original paper,î Dr Campbell said. ìAs the authors wish
to stand by the available evidence for their conclusions, we feel it best
simply to make these circumstances clear, to publish the criticisms, the
authorsí response and new data, and to allow our readers to judge the
science for themselves.î
Matthew Metz of the University of Washington, the author of one of the
refutation papers, said the original study relied on flawed techniques.
ìThe discovery of transgenes fragmenting and promiscuously scattering
throughout genomes would be unprecedented and is not supported by Quist
and Chapelaís data,î he wrote.
The Berkeley paper said the publication of such questionable research was
particularly irresponsible given the political sensitivity of GM science.
It is the third major study claimed as evidence of the potential harm of
GM crops to be discredited, and has severely weakened the case against the
A spokesman for Greenpeace said Natureís decision would not affect their
stance on the GM issue. ìEven if gene transfer has not yet taken place,
no-one disputes that it will, and that remains an important matter,î he
US scientists defend Mexico corn GMO study
April 4, 2002
WASHINGTON - The authors of a controversial study, which concluded some
remote Mexican corn fields were contaminated by genetically modified corn,
defended their work amid questions raised by the very journal that
published it last year.
Nature, a London-based science journal, published the study last November
and on Thursday posted on its website an editor's note challenging the
"Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to
justify the publication of the original paper," the notice stated.
The on-line edition of this week's publication also published two reports
challenging the authors' findings, as well as a response in which the
authors defended their work.
Two of the researchers, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of the University
of California Berkeley, said in November that wild corn (maize) being
grown in the region of Sierra Norte de Oaxaca in Mexico was found to have
traces of transgenic DNA. Mexico prohibited all bioengineered corn in
The findings appeared to confirm environmentalists' fears about the
difficulty of controlling the spread of biotech strains.
In remarks to reporters Thursday, Quist said he has gathered new data and
the results "clearly support our original claims." Chapela added that
"three independent studies confirm" conclusions GMO corn has shown up in
the Mexican corn fields.
Chapela also said that subsequent Mexican government studies "concur with
our main statement that transgenic DNA crossed over to the land races
(native varieties of corn)".
The two researchers do acknowledge, however, that some errors were found
in their research on whether the bio-engineered strains were being
fragmented in corn plants' DNA. There are suspicions that such instability
could disrupt the normal function of future generations of plants.
"We stand corrected," Quist said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
But he insisted that his study's central finding, that Mexican corn in the
Oaxaca region had been contaminated by GMO corn, stands.
"We're very open and very glad people are beginning to ask questions
related to this," Chapela said in remarks to reporters. He added, "We
would call for other researchers to produce more data and not to simply
harp on the limited amount of data we had."
Quist said it was unclear whether the Mexican corn could have been
contaminated before the 1998 moratorium on GMOs.
He added there is "some anecdotal evidence" the Mexican plants may have
been cross-bred with U.S. corn shipped under food aid programs.
About one-third of this year's U.S. corn crop is expected to be
The flap over the study has highlighted deep, emotional divisions within
the scientific community over biotech products and research.
"Politics have entered too far, have made too many inroads into the
scientific process," Quist said, referring to Nature's decision to
distance itself from his study instead of simply presenting both sides'
data and conclusions.
Scientist claims vendetta over GM research;Biotech industry 'fighting back
against maize attack'
The Herald (Glasgow)
April 5, 2002
By James Freeman, Environment Correspondent
THE scientist who claimed wild maize had been contaminated by genetically
-modified crops said yesterday that attempts to discredit his research was
part of a "vendetta" by the biotech industry against him.
Dr Ignacio Chapela said he was surprised that the editor of Nature, the
world's leading scientific journal, now said it was wrong to have
published the paper because there was not enough evidence to support its
The research by Dr Chapela and David Quist, which claimed maize in Mexico
was affected by DNA from genetically- modified maize, caused a sensation
when it was published four months ago - fuelling the anti-GM lobby.
However, since its publication, a series of scientific articles have cast
doubt on its findings.
Environmentalists believe the sustained attack on Dr Chapela's work is
similar to the "witch hunt" faced by Dr Arpad Pusztai, who was forced to
leave the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen after revealing
experimental findings that severely damaged the biotech industry.
Nature acknowledged yesterday that Dr Chapela's paper had been
"controversial" and said that, in the light of subsequent scientific
criticism and advice, "the evidence available is not sufficient to justify
publication of the original paper".
Philip Campbell, editor, explained the authors wished to stand by the
available evidence for their conclusions and that he had decided to
publish the criticisms and the new data and allow readers to judge the
science for themselves.
However, Dr Chapela told The Herald that the scientific criticism was part
of a vendetta by supporters of a (pounds) 17.5m deal between Novartis, the
biotech giant, and the University of California in Berkeley.
One team of critics, from Washington University, Seattle and the Institute
of Plant Sciences in Zurich, claimed Mr Quist and Dr Chapela's conclusion
that GM maize had invaded native maize resulted from a flawed assessment
Another group of critics, from Berkeley and the US Department of
Agriculture, said that "transgenic corn may be being grown illegally in
Mexico, but the claim that these transgenes have pervaded the entire
native maize genome is unfounded".
Mr Quist and Dr Chapela reply that their critics have been selective, that
their findings are compatible with recent studies and have been confirmed
by Mexican government studies.
Dr Chapela said: "To read Nature you would think our entire research had
gone south. That is not the case. Our main statement, that there is GM
contamination, is not contested by the critics."
Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said yesterday: "What is
happening is very similar to the Pusztai story. "
Dr Doreen Stabinski, professor of environmental politics at the University
of the Atlantic, Maine, and a scientific adviser to Greenpeace America,
said: "This is experimental technology and there are problems associated
with it, but in my view the science probably merits the benefit of the
Anthony Jackson, of the anti-GM campaigning Munlochy Vigil group in the
Black Isle, said: "Once again as soon as critical evidence emerges of
environmental damage from GM crops a backlash from pro-GM scientists
Journal Blasted on Handling of Corn Study
Newsday (New York, NY)
April 5, 2002
By Bryn Nelson
Amid a bitter dispute marked by claims of "bad science" and "technical
incompetence," a leading scientific journal has taken the unusual step of
letting a research team and its detractors air their differences over a
study suggesting DNA from genetically modified corn has contaminated maize
in rural Mexico.
The study, published in November, and its handling by the British journal
Nature have raised questions about the quality of science on a hot-button
issue and about the rigor of the peer-review process at a pre-eminent
The study, by University of California at Berkeley researchers David Quist
and Ignacio Chapela, concluded that transgenic DNA from genetically
modified corn has infiltrated the genomes of native maize growing in a
mountainous region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The authors also suggested that some
of this foreign DNA reassorted randomly once it entered the genome, a
phenomenon never before observed. The study had contributed to fears about
the unintentional spread of modified genes into the wild relatives of
engineered crops and how such an intrusion might affect crop diversity. In
1998, the Mexican government prohibited the planting of transgenic corn to
protect the diversity of its native maize, but illegally grown transgenic
corn remains a concern.
In a brief editorial in yesterday's issue, Nature editor Philip Campbell
wrote that the journal "has concluded that the evidence available is not
sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper." Quist and
Chapela refused to back down, however, prompting Nature to publish two
criticisms of their work along with their response and new data in
yesterday's edition, "and to allow our readers to judge the science for
"Certainly for any major journal it's an unusual move," said Nature
spokeswoman Jo Webber.
Critics, however, say the move amounts to a shirking of responsibility by
"It's the height of unprofessionalism," charged Wayne Parrott, a professor
of crop and soil sciences at the University of Georgia, who said the study
in November should never have passed Nature's initial peer-review process.
Michael Freeling, a professor of plant and microbial biology at the
University of California at Berkeley, went even further. "Since Quist and
Chapela published bad science in Nature, both scientists and Nature must
come absolutely clean, retract and apologize," he said in a statement.
In their response, Quist and Chapela conceded some errors but steadfastly
defended their claims.
"We certainly stand by our original, main statement, and I have yet to see
anyone challenge it legitimately," Chapela told The Associated Press.
Critics say the work is fundamentally flawed since it relies on erroneous
results, improper controls and misinterpretations of the data.
"Unfortunately for them, they just got their science wrong," said Nick
Kaplinsky, a graduate student in Freeling's research group and lead author
of one of the criticisms published in Nature.
Matthew Metz, a post-doctoral fellow in microbiology at the University of
Washington and another critic, blasted the study as "a testament to
technical incompetence." He conceded that transgenic DNA may indeed be
present in Mexican maize, but he called the research "entirely unhelpful"
in sorting out that possibility or informing policy decisions.
Nature backs off GM crop claims
The Guardian (London)
April 5, 2002
By James Meek, Science correspondent
Britain's premier scientific journal, Nature, has disowned a paper it
published last year that offered evidence supporting the argument by the
green lobby that genes from GM crops could hop over to non-GM plants.
In an unprecedented and highly embarrassing statement last night, Nature
said: "In the light of criticisms and advice from referees (scientists who
had been consulted), Nature has concluded that the evidence available is
not sufficient to justify its publication of the original paper."
The reversal is all the more bizarre because it pits against each other
two groups of scientists from the University of California in Berkeley.
The paper, published in November, and written by David Quist and Ignacio
Chapela, apparently shows that samples of native criollo maize from fields
in Mexico carried a genetic "switch" commonly used in GM crops. Two had
another DNA segment often used by genetic engineers.
Nature's website today publishes two harsh rebuttals of the paper - one by
a group from Berkeley and the US department of agriculture, the other by
two scientists from the University of Washington, Seattle, and the
Institute of Plant Sciences in Zurich.
Both articles accuse doctors Quist and Chapela of misinterpreting the
results of the techniques they used.
GM maize has been banned in Mexico since 1998. The Berkeley department
group, led by Nick Kaplinsky, wrote: "Transgenic corn may be being grown
illegally in Mexico, but Quist and Chapela's claim that these transgenes
have pervaded the entire native maize genome is unfounded." In a third
article, Quist and Chapela stood by their results, accepting criticism but
saying it did not invalidate their findings that one in 100 criollo cobs
had genes from GM crops.
Michael Freeling, one of the Berkeley group opposing scientists on their
own campus, said bluntly: "Since Quist and Chapela published bad science
in Nature, both scientists and Nature must come absolutely clean, retract
Following criticism of the original paper, Nature arranged for a review by
three unidentified scientists. They agreed there were flaws.
Paper on biotech corn was flawed, journal reports;
Research that raised scare over modified food is discredited
Apr 06, 2002
A scare over genetically modified corn is shaping up more as alarmist hype
than real horror after months of an Internet slanging match among
scientists and activists.
The controversy came to a head Thursday when the science journal Nature
took the rare step of publicly discrediting findings it published last
year that had kicked off worldwide concern about out-of-control
The disavowal will especially hit anti-biotech activists who have heavily
publicized the original findings to argue that genetically modified crops
are endangering natural biodiversity.
The uproar had also thrown doubt on the scientific assumptions behind
government regulation of biotechnology in Canada and elsewhere.
Food safety expert Doug Powell, a University of Guelph professor, drew a
parallel with an earlier since-discredited biotech scare- that vast
numbers of Monarch butterflies would be killed by exposure to pollen of
genetically modified corn.
The public remembers bad news much more than the later corrections,
especially in a politically charged area like biotechnology, Powell said.
The original Nature report Nov. 29 claimed that DNA from genetically
modified corn had unexpectedly found its way into native corn varieties in
remote southern Mexico, even though that country banned the planting of
bioengineered corn in 1998.
The study also presented evidence that the genes spliced into corn plants
were unstable- a much more serious finding that would undermine the
scientific basis for approving biotech food crops as safe.
But the weekly journal now says there were serious flaws in the work,
which the two U.S. researchers have been unable to remedy in the
intervening four months.
Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to
justify the publication of the original paper, says a note from editor
Such a quasi-retraction is without recent precedent in the ranks of elite
scientific journals to which Nature belongs. Although trial and error is
the accepted way for science to progress, researchers usually withdraw
their findings or publish corrections when other scientists find mistakes.
In this case, however, authors David Quist and Ignacio Chapel of the
University of California at Berkeley acknowledge some mistakes in their
original article but insist their fundamental findings are nonetheless
valid. Chapel contends that biotechnology advocates are targeting his work
because he led a successful campaign to have Berkeley turn down a large
grant from Novartis, a global technology giant.
Enable GM to deliver its full benefits
April 06, 2002
SIR - GM technology has received two major boosts, with the completion of
the rice genome sequencing project and the withdrawal of scientific
approval by Nature for a published paper, widely quoted by opponents of
GM, that purported to show environmental contamination by GM crops.
This follows the heart-warming story earlier this week of a young child
successfully treated by gene therapy for a life-threatening disease. It is
an appropriate time for the public to reassess their attitudes towards
biotechnology and genetic modification.
GM foods have been grown and eaten for almost 10 years in North America,
yet there has not been one case of illness or disease associated with
these foods. Can the same be said for other accepted food production
technologies, including the organic movement? It is time for people to
assess the facts available, and not let the fear of "what might happen"
dominate their thoughts.
Aside from GM foods, there are enormous medical benefits to be gained from
GM technology. Indeed, many people are already protected from diabetes and
hepatitis by medicines produced in GM organisms. In turn, GM plants have
the potential to deliver a new generation of medicines and vaccines to the
First and Third Worlds. But the scientific community must be supported in
its research and development efforts.
Dr Julian Ma
Consultant in Immunology and Oral Immunotherapy
Industry committed to abide by results of GM farm trials
Financial Times (London)
April 5, 2002
From Mr Stephen Smith.
Sir, Your editorial "Biotech harvest" (April 2) was right to point out
that many countries (both developing and developed) are beginning to reap
the benefits of the technology of genetic modification and are using it as
part of the "toolbox" of agricultural methods to improve farmers' choices.
We are also aware that the relatively slow uptake to date of GM technology
within the European Union is largely owing to the lack of clear
information available, for which, as an industry, we know we must take
some responsibility. The establishment of ABC (the Agricultural
Biotechnology Council) marks a desire to change that and to communicate
more openly and transparently than we have done in the past. With this in
mind, I note with interest the three areas you believe to be of ongoing
concern in relation to GM technology and would like to take this
opportunity to add to the points raised.
First, on biodiversity, you will be aware that the government is
conducting farm-scale trials to establish how biodiversity will be
affected by changes in farm management as a consequence of the
introduction of GM crops. The farm-scale trials are the largest single
research programme that has ever been undertaken regarding a new
agricultural technology or policy.
Those results will be available within the next 12 months. The industry is
committed to abide by the findings of these independent scientific trials
and, if the results prove significantly adverse in any way compared with
current practice, GM technology will not be introduced commercially in
Second, on the interaction with other plants - which has been and
continues to be subject to extensive scientific scrutiny and has not been
found in the UK - it is clear that only very close wild relatives to
commercial crops would be able to cross-fertilise with GM crops. Where
fertilisation took place, it would still be possible to eradicate the
resultant plants by simply switching herbicides (the new plants would be
resistant to only one additional type), as happens in normal farming
Finally, on "super pests", it is important to note that resistance to
insect-protected crops has never been observed in the field. Even so, just
as insects have become resistant to pesticides in the past, it may be
possible for them to develop a resistance to these crops in the same way.
Special measures are therefore put in place to manage such a scenario.
This includes providing alternative habitats for insects and monitoring
the development of any resistance very closely.
We welcome this opportunity to respond on the basis of sound science, not
sound bites, and to answer the specific concerns highlighted by your
Stephen Smith, Chairman
Agricultural Biotechnology Council
London WC2N 4DF
Center clears Monsantoís transgenic cotton
News India Times
By ARVIND PADMANABHAN
April 5, 2002
NEW DELHI: In a path-breaking decision, the Center has permitted the
commercial cultivation of Monsantoís Bt cotton, enabling India join just a
handful of countries that allow genetically modified (GM) or transgenic
crops to be grown on their soil.
ìThe Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has approved three
transgenic hybrid Bt cotton seeds for commercial cultivation up to March
2005,î A.M Gokhale, the chairman of the panel, told reporters here on
March 27. The GM seeds have been developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed
Company Ltd., or Mahyco, which is a project promoted by the United
States-based food and biotechnology giant, Monsanto.
Another Bt cotton hybrid seed of Mahyco is awaiting approval, said
Gokhale, who is also an additional secretary in the Ministry of
Environment and Forests.
The cottonseeds developed by the company are embedded with a gene from a
nontoxic, ubiquitous soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Mahyco has been conducting laboratory and field trials for this transgenic
crop for around six years.
The genetic modification will help the crop develop resistance to the
family of lepidopteron insects --- bollworms being a common species ó that
play havoc with cotton plants all over the globe.
Currently, the cotton crop accounts for around 55 percent of the total
pesticides used in the country and Bt cotton is expected to reduce its
usage several fold.
This apart, the average yield of the crop ó- which is around 200 kilograms
per hectare in India ó- is expected to become comparable with the world
average of around 650 kilograms.
This could help India even become the worldís largest producer of cotton,
climbing up two notches.
According to officials in the Department of Biotechnology, Mahyco would be
able to supply seeds for 150,000 hectares of the countryís 9.5 million
hectares under cotton cultivation.
The cultivation will be restricted to Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana,
Punjab and Maharashtra, they added.
DBT officials also disclosed that transgenic mustard is the next GM crop
that is likely to be approved.
Several private sector firms such as the Indian arm of French biotech
giant Aventis and institutions such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University in
New Delhi are conducting extensive research in the crop.
Apart from mustard, soy and corn are among the common transgenic crops
commonly grown in countries that permit commercial cultivation of GM
Laboratory and field research is also on in several parts of the country
for protein-fortified potatoes, low-calorie mustard oil, pest-resistant
cabbage, insect-resistant rice, or worm-busting bell peppers.
Over the next couple of years, all these are expected to adorn the dining
table and become a part of an Indianís daily diet.
This, scientists add, will usher what scientists say will be Version 2.0
of the green revolution.