Today in AgBioView: April 25, 2002
* Corn Goes Pop, Then Kaboom
* Forget Tacos
* Why Do EU and US Consumers Differ on GM
* Plant Based Vaccines Edge Closer
* The 'Eco-Mercenaries' GM market
* Mary-Dell Chilton: Plant Geneticist, Public Teacher
* Japan's ODA Cut Wilts Global Food Production
* Benefits of GT crops: Useful Powerpoint Slides
* Thank God This Guy is in Jail!
* Starving For The Truth
* Greenpeace Got It All Wrong!
* The Tech Museum Awards Technology Benefiting Humanity
Corn Goes Pop, Then Kaboom
Nature regrets publishing a paper on transgene contamination in Mexico
- Barry A. Palevitz, The Scientist 16:18, Apr. 29, 2002
On April 4, Nature sent ripples through the scientific community and the
popular press by admitting it made a mistake. In an unprecedented action,
editor Philip Campbell concluded in the journal's online version that
"evidence available is not sufficient to justify publication" of a paper
that appeared in the Nov. 29, 2001 issue. It wasn't exactly a retraction,
but it was close. Along with its statement, Nature published two rebuttals
to the original paper, plus a response from authors David Quist and
Ignacio Chapela of the department of environmental science, policy, and
management at the University of California, Berkeley.1
The April 4 online announcement, then publication in print April 11, was
the latest in a series of skirmishes that started before the Nov. 29 issue
appeared. Using PCR to detect a DNA signature diagnostic of genetic
engineering, Quist and Chapela claimed that biotech transgenes had invaded
so-called land races of maize planted by local farmers in Mexico, probably
via cross pollination.2 The researchers said the promiscuous sequences
probably entered the maize genome many times and even fragmented˛claims
that set off alarm bells in plant molecular biology laboratories.
First Feathers Fly, Then Rebuttals The Quist and Chapela paper started fax
machines and E-mail lists humming. Environmental activists claimed it was
smoking-gun evidence of the genetic pollution it feared from biotech
crops. Many plant scientists cried foul, however, faulting the paper's
methods and conclusions.
It didn't take long before the molecular biology community responded
officially. By mid-December, Nature received at least two letters to the
editor in rebuttal; one from a collaboration between groups in
UC-Berkeley's department of plant and microbial biology and the Plant Gene
Expression Center in nearby Albany, Calif., and another joint response
from British Columbia and the University of Georgia in Athens. A third
letter followed closely thereafter from a team led by Matthew Metz, a
postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle. Nature
eventually sent four letters out for review.
Why the rush to counter Quist and Chapela? Angry scientists minced no
words. "I saw a very poorly done paper," says Metz. "It's important to
speak out, so I decided to write a critique." According to Sarah Hake, who
helped with the Berkeley-Albany response, "I was outraged when I saw the
Quist and Chapela article." Adds lead author and graduate student Nicholas
Kaplinsky, "We wrote our letter because Quist and Chapela published some
of the worst science I have seen in my short scientific career."
In the end, Nature published two of the letters, but reviewers agreed they
all made similar points in claiming that Quist and Chapela's data are PCR
artefacts. Editor Campbell says, "We published as few as possible in the
interest of page space, ensuring that what we felt to be the essential new
points were made." In response, Quist and Chapela acknowledged mistakes,
but stood on their original interpretation based on new results from DNA
dot blots. Metz still insists "transgenes fragmenting and scattering
through genomes is completely unfounded."
Much, Much More
While Nature mulled over the rebuttals, a veritable war of words raged on
Web sites and E-mail lists over the Quist and Chapela article. When
someone anonymously posted supposedly confidential reviewers' comments
about the rebuttals on the Internet, hostilities grew even hotter. In
February, the journal Transgenic Research published a lengthy editorial
saying Quist and Chapela's evidence wasn't credible.3
To counter the growing criticism, an international coalition of 144
environmental and antibiotech groups led by Food First issued a joint
statement supporting Quist and Chapela (www.foodfirst.org). In response,
the probiotech AgBioWorld Foundation circulated its own petition,
eventually signed by more than 100 scientists, calling for greater
scrutiny of Quist and Chapela's findings (www.agbioworld.org).
In publishing the rebuttals and admitting it was wrong, Nature may have
inflamed the infection further. Kaplinsky's major professor, Michael
Freeling issued biting comments about Quist and Chapela and the way Nature
handled the matter: "First, bad science must be acknowledged and retracted
if it has made it to press, to be accompanied by a sincere apology to all
who might have been misled. Second, whichever editor organized the flawed
peer review must also acknowledge error, ask for a retraction, and explain
how changes in reviewing policy will address the obvious weakness in their
Scientists who sent rebuttals are also incensed over the time Nature took
to make a decision˛more than three months. They felt hamstrung˛as debate
over the veracity of Quist and Chapela's paper raged, and whether the
Mexican government should take action, they couldn't comment because of
the journal's embargo policy preventing release of results ahead of
publication. "I was able to acknowledge that I submitted a critique but
unable to give details," says Metz. "That's a long time for an issue of
this magnitude. They took the maximum amount of time at every step." Wayne
Parrott, whose letter wasn't published, is equally peeved: "I think it was
unethical not to lift the embargo until 10 days after they knew they
weren't publishing my paper. It was socially irresponsible"
Angry researchers have other gripes too. Parrott says he heard from a
Nature editor on Feb. 15 that the editors were postponing a decision for a
month to give Quist and Chapela time to generate more data. He questions
the action's propriety. Campbell told The Scientist, "We agreed with the
authors that more data might promptly establish whether or not the
original paper's conclusions could be justified."
Parrott also argues about the 600-word limit for letters. "It puts greater
emphasis on brevity than correcting the damage," he says. Rebutters also
wonder why Quist and Chapela's published response differed from the one
they received in galley proof form.
In another twist, Nature published two news reports on the Quist and
Chapela study weeks before the original article and rebuttals appeared.
Campbell explains that there is a firewall between the news and research
divisions of the journal. "Dealings with authors of papers are
confidential to the staff in that section," he says. But, "our subscribers
pay for news as well as papers and we cannot hold off news just because we
are also a newsworthy journal. We cover the news as it happens, which
explains the timings."
Not the First Time The Quist and Chapela brouhaha didn't come out of the
blue˛in a way, Nature itself paved the way. As biotech advocates read the
Nov. 29 issue, they still winced over a paper Nature published in 1999
implicating transgenic corn as a threat to monarch butterflies.4 While
they engendered sensational headlines and dire warnings from environmental
activists, the results were roundly criticized by many scientists. Months
of follow-up studies minimized the threat.
The year 1999 wasn't at all good for corn, or Nature˛the journal published
another paper claiming that transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin
seeps from corn roots, thereby contaminating soil.5 It too was derided by
molecular biologists and the biotech industry. To add insult to injury,
Nature refused to publish an article announcing provitamin A enriched
rice. Generally regarded as a biotech tour de force that could save
millions of lives, the collaborative effort led by Ingo Potrykus and Peter
Beyer eventually appeared in Nature's rival, Science, in January 2000.6
Says Potrykus, "Nature preferred to publish about crazy experiments such
as feeding Bt pollen to monarch butterflies."
The imbroglio has left a bad taste in many mouths. Chapela blames biotech
advocates for conducting a vendetta against him. At least one prominent
scientist thinks Nature is in danger of losing its credibility. Hake is
considering canceling her subscription. Ironically, most plant biologists
believe transgenes will move into maize land races sooner or later˛after
all, corn is wind pollinated. Says Metz, "I wouldn't bet against finding
it." In other words, Quist and Chapela may be partly right, but for the
wrong reasons. Jane Rissler of Union of Concerned Scientists perhaps
summed up the situation best in saying, "Regulation of genetic engineering
products depends on sound science. In this case, the shortcomings should
have been detected before publication."
In the end, the whole affair may say more about the sociology of science,
science publishing, and the debate over transgenic crops than it does
about DNA and agriculture. But that's another story.
Barry A. Palevitz (email@example.com) is a contributing
1. M. Metz, J. FŞtterer, "Suspect evidence of transgenic contamination,"
Nature, 416:600-1, April 11, 2002; N. Kaplinsky et al., "Maize transgene
results in Mexico are artefacts," Nature, 416:601-2, April 11, 2002; D.
Quist, I.H. Chapela, "reply," Nature, 416:602, April 11, 2002, with an
2. D. Quist, I.H. Chapela, "Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional
maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico," Nature, 414:541-3, 2001.
3. P. Christou, "No credible scientific evidence is presented to support
claims that transgenic DNA was introgressed into traditional maize
landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico," Transgenic Research, 11:iii-v, 2002.
4. J.E. Losey et al., "Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae," Nature,
5. D. Saxena et al., "Insecticidal toxin in root exudates from Bt corn,"
Nature, 402:480, 1999.
6. X. Ye et al., "Engineering the provitamin A (beta carotene)
biosynthetic pathway into (carotenoid-free) rice endosperm," Science,
- Barry A. Palevitz, The Scientist 16:12, Apr. 29, 2002
I got a letter from the Sierra Club not long after the 2000 election,
sandwiched between the usual bills. In an envelope ominously marked
"priority," the granddaddy of environmental groups pleaded for "an
emergency contribution of $75." Why the crisis? According to the Sierra
Club, George W. Bush was going to "sacrifice our natural treasures, air,
and water for the profits of special interests." The new regime in
Washington was "very bad news for the environment."
Sorry; while the administration does seem to be taking big steps backward
on the environment, all the Sierra Club gets from me is a Bushian
smirk˛though I still support other environmental groups like the Nature
Conservancy. I stopped feeding the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and
Environmental Defense when they targeted genetically modified crops in a
war that looked more social and political than ecological. As part of an
activist organization called The Turning Point Project, the Sierra Club
took out full-page newspaper ads claiming that "biotechnology = hunger."
According to Sierra's sages, GM crops will "...increase pollution of the
soil, air, rivers and oceans."
That kind of charge is not only inflammatory, it's uninformed and
remarkably shortsighted, especially coming from people who supposedly
value the long-term health of planet Earth and its inhabitants. Take
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn. By placing a bacterial gene encoding an
insect-killing toxin into corn plants, scientists hoped to surgically kill
chewing bugs, thereby saving farmers lots of money and at the same time
reducing environmental damage from conventional chemical sprays.
It's not rocket science. What will kill more insects, including good guys
like ladybugs and monarch butterflies? Bt inside plants, or clouds of
chemicals outside? Better to use a tweezers to remove a splinter than an
axe. But that didn't stop environmental groups from making the monarch
butterfly their poster child.
The GM strategy seems to have worked˛farmers are using a lot less
pesticide, according to recent surveys. And despite a couple of yellow
flags, most experts agree that Bt corn isn't killing hordes of baby
monarchs. In fact, monarch populations rocketed last year, only to crash
over the winter in Mexico because of severe weather. The Sierra Club
should worry more about global warming and destruction of monarch habitat
While it's bad news for insect pests, there's no evidence Bt harms people.
Nobody has ever been certifiably poisoned by GM foods. In fact, the
Society of Toxicologists is about to give biotech its stamp of approval.1
Last year, an Environmental Protection Agency panel concluded that the
danger of an allergic reaction to the minuscule amount of Bt in food is
small. Compare that to the thousands of people poisoned each year from
food contaminated with Escherichia coli and Salmonella. I'd sooner eat GM
corn fritters - with maple syrup, please - than take any of the thousands
of untested herbal remedies overflowing supermarket shelves, including
ephedrine-laced diet aids.
If Greenpeace really cares about the environment, it should think about
feeding 8 billion people in 2030, many of them poor. Organic farming and
vague allusions to better food distribution won't cut it. Without a more
efficient agriculture, including GM crops, to improve yields and nutrition
on existing acreage, starving people will put more pressure on precious
resources. Says plant biologist Maarten Chrispeels of the University of
California, San Diego, "Environmental issues of GM crops ... pale in
comparison to the environmental impact of rural populations practicing
low-yield agriculture on marginal lands."2 Unfortunately, anti-GM
activists seem more concerned with 'what if' scenarios than hard reality,
despite the fact that scientists are already at work on the next
generation of biotech foods, including vitamin A-enriched rice and canola.
The Luddite gloom and doom scenarios also include destruction of
biodiversity due to transgene flow from biotech crops to wild relatives or
land races. A recent, controversial report claimed evidence for transgene
movement between corn varieties in Mexico (See "Corn Goes Pop, Then
Kaboom,").3, 4 While few people doubt that genes move between closely
related plants (it's been going on for millennia), many wonder if the
process is significant from an agricultural or ecological standpoint.
Still, activists want to drop GM crops because of it.5
Some think the anti-biotech battle is but one front in a war against
modern biology. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth recently joined the
Sierra Club and other activists in calling for a halt to cloning in humans
and other animals. Once again, their motives may be more sociopolitical
than altruistic. The group sent a letter to US Senators saying "it is no
secret that the pursuit of cloning technology is being driven to a great
extent by profit-driven firms and a very small number of scientists." The
letter also invoked the precautionary principle, stating that "cloning ...
would irrevocably turn human beings into artifacts." While the signatories
say they support research into therapeutic uses of stem cells, they accuse
"more than a few [of] irresponsibly dangling highly unrealistic visions of
miracle cures before the American people." I wonder what my relatives with
Parkinson disease and diabetes would say.
Though the Bush administration may smile on biotechnology, it offers
ecologists and environmentalists a lot more to worry about, including an
energy policy geared toward satisfying demand rather than conservation
(like drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), weakening clean
air and endangered species regulations, and increased exploitation of
public lands. To its credit, the Natural Resources Defense Council is
forcing the Bush administration to come clean about its energy policy.
Environmental activists should forget Bt corn and stem cells - they have
bigger tacos to fry.
Barry A. Palevitz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing
1. B.A. Palevitz, "Toxicologists label GM foods safe," The Scientist,n
16:22, April 15, 2002.
2. M.J. Chrispeels, "Biotechnology and the poor," Plant Physiology,
3. D. Quist, I.H. Chapela, "Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional
maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico," Nature, 414:541-3, Nov. 29, 2001.
4. In response to challenges to the original paper by Quist and Chapela,
Nature admitted that it should not have published the original paper. (D.
Quist, I.H. Chapela "Biodiversity [Communications arising (reply)]:
Suspect evidence of transgenic contamination/Maize transgene results in
Mexico are artefacts [see editorial footnote]," Nature, 416:602, April 11,
5. Greenpeace International, Sept. 27, 2001.
Why Do EU and US Consumers Differ on GM
A study by Jayson Lusk at Michigan State University indicates that US & EU
consumers still look at genetically modified crops in different ways. The
results of his study are shortly to be published in the American Journal
of Agricultural Economics.
Lusk says that this particular research was primarily designed to identify
whether there were differences in US & EU consumers. "Identifying why
differences might exist is a question left for future studies," he told
AgBiotechNet. "Of course I have some theories about why such differences
exist," he said.
"In the past Europeans have had more negative experience with
contamination in their food supply than Americans - i.e., contaminated
food from Chernobyl, mad cow, etc," said Lusk. This may lead them to be
more sensitive to food-safety related issues than consumers in the US."
Another factor may be trust in regulatory authorities. "Europeans may have
less trust in their government agencies that regulate food supply than US
consumers have for similar agenices (FDA, USDA, EPA, etc.) There have been
instances in the past where EU government agencies have pronounced a food
"safe" when there later turns out to be a problem - this might lead to a
lack of trust and a lower acceptance of GM food."
On top of these recent issues there may be other underlying factors, says
Lusk. "There may be deep seeded cultural differences driving the wedge
between acceptance levels - i.e., Europeans may have greater concern for
"natural-ness" and view GM foods as a "unnatural - or Europeans may have
greater concern for the enviornment and may believe GM foods pose a threat
to natural habitats."
Lusk says more research is needed to tease out this issue. "This summer I
am conducting a large-scale research project aimed at answering this
Lusk points out that it's "hard to say" whether US consumer acceptance is
growing. "I think most US consumers are accepting of the idea of GM food,
especially when they are able to learn of potential benefits. However,
when they learn that they are currently consuming GM foods, concern is
often expressed and it is not uncommon for consumers to feel a bit
outraged that they were not informed their food supply had changed." New
products might change things, he says. "Most of my research suggests that
as we move toward foods that have benefits for consumers (i.e., enhanced
quality traits or health benefits), acceptance will be quite high. So, I'd
say the trend in acceptance is dependent upon the biotechnology industry's
ability to create foods that have direct benefits for the consumer."
Industry might run into problems with the existing product portfolio. "If
they remain focused on farm characteristics, my guess is that acceptance
levels will remain constant or deteriorate," concludes Lusk.
Contact; Jayson Lusk, Assissant Professor, Dept. Agricultural Economics,
Mississippi State University Box 5187, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA.
Tel: +1 (662) 325-3796 Fax +1 (662) 325-8777 Email:
Plant Based Vaccines Edge Closer
Vaccines produced in transgenic plants are getting closer to the medical
ward thanks to the use of subunits such as cholera toxin B as carriers.
Schuyler Korban of the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental
Sciences, University of Illinois describes the progress being made in In
Vitro Cell Development and Biology - Plant.
It's very important to be able to target vaccines to the mucosal surfaces.
"Mucosal surfaces are prominent in the gastrointestinal, urogenital, and
respiratory tracts", says Korban.Ţ"These tracts provide portals of entry
for infectious agents.Ţ Therefore in order to develop an effective defense
system against these mucosal pathogens, mucosal vaccines capable of
inducing both mucosal and serum immune responses will be the most
He describes some of the ways of inducing this response. "Although there
are numerous strategies for the induction of mucosal immunity, plant-based
vaccines can be targeted to the mucosal tract through the use of targeting
sequences (fused with the antigenic protein gene in a construct) such as
the nontoxic cholera toxin B (CTB) subunit pentamerŢ which has a selective
affinity to GM1- ganglioside receptor molecules embedded in the intestinal
tract."ŢIt can be achieved through other routes, too. "Another approach is
through the use of adjuvants, such as Freund's complete adjuvant (FCA) or
QuilA, among others, that serve as carrier molecules for chimeric virus
particles that carry the antigenic protein gene," he says.
CTB seems particularly promising to Korban. "CTB is a non-toxic pentamer
subunit that functions as an effective carrier molecule for foreign
proteins, especially for plant-based vaccines that primes the mucosal
immune system.Ţ This subunit has been used in synthesizing therapeutic
fusion proteins in various plant systems by linking the gene encoding the
CTB subunit to a DNA fragment encoding the antigenic protein." It is not
clear which plant-based vaccine will be the first in medical use. "This is
hard to say, as there are several very active laboratories that are making
advances in developing plant-based vaccines against a range of enteric
diseases including cholera, entertoxigenic E. coli, and other diseases
that cause diarrhea," concludes Korban.
The paper Targeting and statement of antigenic proteins in transgenic
plants for production of edible oral vaccines by Schuyler S. Korban
appears in In Vitro Cellular and Development Biology - Plant 38, 321-236.
Plant-based vaccines: statement and oral immunogenicity by Hugh S. Mason
In Vitro Cellular and Development Biology - Plant 38, 237-240 appears in
the same issue.
Contact: Schuyler S. Korban, Professor of Plant Genetics, 310 E. R.
Madigan Laboratory, MC-051, 1201 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, Illinois
61801, USA. Tel: +1 217-333-8298 Fax: +1 217-333-8298 Email:
The 'Eco-Mercenaries' GM market
- Open I, April 17, 2002, http://www.openi.co.uk/oi020417.htm
Advantage in the genetically modified crops issue seems to be fading for
environmental activists. It makes good business sense for them to move on
to issues with better fund raising potential.
With the winter seeded British rapeseed crop in various stages of
blooming, it might have been expected that the eco-mercenaries would be
active rooting up those genetically modified trial crops which they
suppose are about to cause genetic pollution. It would seem, however, that
Greenpeace and the others have moved on to other issues which provide
better fund raising potential.
Any business or organization is ultimately dependent on marketing its
services. In the case of Greenpeace, and indeed the other environmental
activists, the marketing challenge is to sustain the impression in the
minds of potential donors that they are providing effective and necessary
environmental alert services.
Markets for many goods and services, particularly those with a fashion
component, seem to come and go without any very obvious reason. But in the
case of the campaign against genetically modified crops more than fashion
The product itself has received some serious set backs in recent months
with claims made by the environmental activists consistently being called
into question. The most recent and high profile example was the decision
by the Nature, a mainstream British scientific magazine, to retract
opinion relating to genetic contamination of Mexican maize.
After failing to achieve any serious scientific endorsement for their anti
genetically modified crops campaign, the activists have, after more than
three years of marketing this product, a challenge in promoting it.
But, like any successful business, the activist organizations do not place
all their eggs in a single basket. And how they ultimately deploy their
resources depends on their perception about probable returns they will get
in various issue markets. If the genetically modified crop's issue begins
to go stale, they will divert resources to more promising markets.
In the case of Greenpeace it has found such in the British government's
decision to refurbish doors in its Cabinet Office using African rain
forest hardwood, the felling of which, Greenpeace claims, threatens
gorillas and chimps withextinction. The eco-mercenaries accordingly
entered the building replacing the offending doors with environmentally
friendly ones and cordoning off the area with 'forest crime scene' tape.
It would seem that they have found an even softer target than farmers. Few
people care very much for government doors particularly when they are
closed. Besides central London is a preferred location for press coverage
and probably rates above anywhere in the countryside in terms of
With the government's prosecution service having failed in several
instances to prosecute successfully activists for trashing crops, farmers
will no doubt be interested to see how successful they will be in
defending their own patch.
Whether the gorillas and chimps are any more threatened than the British
countryside or important than privacy with style in the Cabinet Office is
a mute point. The reality is Greenpeace has hit on a high profile issue
that is sure to be popular with donors and generate cash flow. And while
they can milk it, they will let the difficult challenge of sustaining
public concern over genetically modified crops fade into the background.
The reality is this already happening. It is now more than six months
since Greenpeace has even issued a news release on genetically modified
crops. Its other eight headline issues have all received such attention in
the last three months.
This is not to suggest that it will be taken off the metaphorical shelf,
as there will always be people who will buy it out of habit. But their
number will diminish. There is also always the possibility, albeit a
fading one, that it will receive serious scientific endorsement.
In the final analysis Greenpeace UK and others have failed to make
genetically modified crops the kind of first tier political issue that
could shake the British government from its science-based policy. Their
chances of doing so now, the possibility of scientific endorsement aside,
seem very remote. Quietly letting the issue die, therefore, seems totally
But the matter of acceptance on a European Union wide context is still
required before the technology can be adopted by farmers. And this may be
where the activists will devote their energies, if there is advantage in
Mary-Dell Chilton: Plant Geneticist, Public Teacher
- Paula Park, The Scientist, April 29, 2002
Mary-Dell Chilton had journeyed from the West Coast to New York City in
September 1977 to demonstrate her discovery to one of the most important
plant scientists in the world, Armin Braun, a professor at Rockefeller
University. Braun theorized that Agrobacterium somehow triggered a
developmental change in plants, resulting in the tumors associated with
crown gall disease. Subsequently, at the University of Washington in
Seattle, microbiologist Gene Nester, plant viral RNA biochemist Milt
Gordon, and Chilton, a biochemist, had shown that the bacterium inserted a
sliver of its own DNA, causing the tumors. Braun was an eminent scientist
nearing the end of his career; Chilton, a promising professor. She spoke
for three hours. "It was teaching him," Chilton recalls today. "I was
spoon-feeding him the genetic chemistry we had done, piece by piece. That
was the highlight of my young career."
In the end, Braun accepted the new theory. "[Braun] said, 'Mary-Dell, you
have convinced me there was DNA moving from the Agrobacterium into the
plant,'" relates Andrew Binns, biology department head and Carolyn Hoff
Lynch professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania, who worked
with Chilton. "He had to swallow that the previous 15 years of his work
was incorrect. She was a good teacher."
Chilton, who left academia in the 1980s to join the private sector, has
leaned on that teaching skill more often than she perhaps ever reckoned.
As a pioneer in the science of transgenic plants, she is sometimes forced
to defend her work to environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and
Environmental Defense, who want to stem international trade in genetically
engineered food crops. "I never envisioned that that could happen˛the
environmentalists' slap," she says. "I'm still astonished at that, I don't
In 1977, the multidisciplinary team at the University of Washington in
Seattle showed that Agrobacterium inserted Ti plasmid DNA into a plant.
And in the mid-1980s, work by Chilton's group at Washington University in
St. Louis, in collaboration with Binns at Penn showed that the bacterium
could be used as a gene vector. For her contribution, she received the
2000 John Scott Award and was granted the 2002 Benjamin Franklin Medal in
Life Science this month.1 Past winners of the purely honorary Franklin
medal include Jonas Salk and Judah Folkman. "She not only made the key
discovery, but went on to use that mechanism to engineer that process,"
says Philip Hammer, vice president of the Franklin Center, a division of
the Franklin Institute that administers awards.
Characteristically, Chilton credits colleagues and collaborators for their
part in the research that now allows scientists to insert pesticides and
herbicides into plants as well as to inject them with vitamins or minerals
that could be beneficial to humans. "The symbolic coming of age of genetic
engineering occurred at the Miami Winter Symposium Jan. 18, 1983," Chilton
writes in a scientific memoir.2 "During one session Jeff Schell [now
director of the Max-Planck-Institut fŞr ZŞchtungsforschung], Rob Horsch
from Monsanto, and I all gave talks about Agrobacterium and its adaptation
as a gene vector for plants.... It was clear from progress from all three
groups that crop improvement by genetic engineering would become a
Shortly after Chilton published her work showing that Ti plasmid could be
used as a vector, she agreed to take a position with the biotech company
Ciba-Geigy Corp., which has since evolved to Syngenta Inc., based in
Research Triangle Park, NC. Private industry, she asserts, allowed her to
put her science to work for public benefit.
The Art of Physics Chilton did not embrace her discipline as a child. She
dropped her plans to pursue an arts career after a compulsory high-school
test showed she had a knack for science. A physics student as a freshman,
she shifted to chemistry and microbiology. "I could begin to ask questions
that people didn't know the answer to yet," she relates, saying big
physics questions were beyond a beginner's ken. "In biology they were
right in front of you, ... the research frontiers were close at hand and
students could begin to do the important work."
The transgenics plant research at Washington University has prompted
important work, including the development of golden rice, a grain
engineered to provide beta-carotene, a protein often missing from Third
World diets. Syngenta and Monsanto Corp., under attack by
environmentalists, have donated their patents for key research related to
developing this grain, so the rice will cost little.
But the donation has failed to squelch protests that challenge the
legitimacy of the scientific method, question whether altered genes will
harm other species, and even dispute the value of protein-fortified grain,
saying Third World children may not be able to digest it. "It is possible
to add new traits, really new substances to plants, that could have human
health effects," says Rebecca Goldberg, senior scientist for Environmental
Such criticisms frustrate Chilton, for the public sometimes distrusts
industry scientists, and yet, misunderstandings force many plant
scientists to educate the public. "We should take more responsibility for
teaching...[about] what the technology is and how it works," Chilton
urges. "Because what is alien tends to be scarier than what is known."
References 1. J.F. Wilson, "Furthering Franklin's legacy," The Scientist,
14: 8, Dec. 11, 2000. 2. M. Chilton, "Agrobacterium: A memoir." Plant
Physiology 125:9, January 2001.
Japan's ODA Cut Wilts Global Food Production
- Hirofumi Uchimiya, The Asahi Shimbun 25 Apr 2002. Professor of
international biotechnology at the University of Tokyo (via
Last year, the CGIAR operated with a budget of $340 million, of which
Japan contributed $27.5 million. Japan, as the leading donor to CGIAR
since 1994, is regarded highly by the international community for its
contributions. Unfortunately, though, scheduled ODA cuts will result in a
47-percent reduction in Japan's contribution to CGIAR this fiscal year
At the outset of the new millennium, the population of the world crested
at 6 billion. Of this number, 1.2 billion are living in poverty with
incomes of less than $1 per day.
Most of the poor are in rural areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Agriculture is a vital livelihood for the rural poor, who are
simultaneously both producers and consumers.
Research organs of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture
Research (CGIAR), located around the world, have a common goal of
increasing and improving agricultural production in developing countries.
Sustainable agriculture in harmony with the global environment is another
goal the centers share. CGIAR is supported by the Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank,
and a number of member countries.
Among the triumphs of the so-called Green Revolution is a high-yield wheat
developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, based
in Mexico. A ``miracle rice'' developed by the International Rice Research
Institute based in the Philippines, one of 16 CGIAR centers, has helped
increase rice production in Asia. These successes have saved many lives in
Last year, the CGIAR operated with a budget of $340 million, of which
Japan contributed $27.5 million. Japan, as the leading donor to CGIAR
since 1994, is regarded highly by the international community for its
Unfortunately, though, scheduled ODA cuts will result in a 47-percent
reduction in Japan's contribution to CGIAR this fiscal year.
CGIAR's 16 centers employ about 900 scientists recruited from around the
world, plus an additional 8,000 local staff members. Their research
encompasses a range of key sectors in developing countries, from food
production, livestock and fisheries to forestry. The researchers are also
involved in such global issues as water resources management. CGIAR
provides the most important services in the world to protect plant gene
resources. It provides to developing countries, without conditions,
research information, technology and new plant seeds.
any long-term projects to alleviate poverty are now under way based on the
assumption that Japan will continue its support. The protection, promotion
and distribution of genetic resources, the common heritage of humanity,
should not be stopped.
Experience shows that it takes decades to improve and develop new plants.
The miracle rice is a case in point. Nothing will come of interrupting
research efforts except long delays in distributing improved seeds, which
will then certainly have a negative impact on the improvement of
agricultural productivity, and therefore food production.
This raises a serious concern for Japan, which depends to a large extent
on imported food. The more countries there are where hunger is prevalent,
the harder it is for developed countries to ensure the stability of food
Japan, with its comparative technological advantage, should continue to
contribute to an international network that has proved effective at
leading research efforts at the global level.
Japan must raise to an adequate level its contribution to CGIAR as soon as
possible, and invest more aggressively in high technologies, including
information technology and biotechnology.
Benefits of GT crops: Useful Powerpoint Slides
Dear friends: Here is a really useful set of powerpoint slides on the
benefits of GT crops, mainly focusing on pesticide and herbicidce
Thank God This Guy Is In Jail!
From: "Graydon J. Forrer" Ţ
RE: AGBIOVIEW: Jail Time For Terrorists
I read the article from the NY Times Sunday Magazine below and was
astounded. Especially the statements made in the last paragraph...thank
God this guy is in Jail! I was convinced that someone would respond to
this drivel...the terrorist's point of view, not the article itself...in a
letter to the editor. I have yet to see one.
However, this piece is a wake-up call, and the words quoted in the last
paragraph should be circulated everywhere and raised whenever science and
biotechnology is attacked by Green Peace and their Ilk.
This is a call to mass murder, and it is the anarchist and the radical
eco-facists -- for that is what they are -- who believe they have the
right to choose not only how people live, but who will live or die. No one
elected them, they have to make no argument to the public, they need not
engage in public dialog. Rather, they use bombs instead of reason and fear
instead of logic. If that isn't terrorism of the worst sort, than it is
difficult to know how to describe the word.
One can not but help, after reading this piece, that these are extremely
privileged yet autodidactic individuals who can not countenance any view
but their own self-righteous viewpoint. They talk about eco-disaster and
the need to save the planet, but their price is millions (in fact, it
would have to be billions) of lives to achieve the vision they espouse.
One gets the impression that they not only know little of science or
reason, they also know little of what it takes for most of the world's
people to live. These are individuals who know nothing of true subsistence
existence, poverty, hunger or ignorance. Sadly, their way is to worship
that condition as some sort of utopia.
It seems to me that the belief that there are millions, indeed billions,
too many inhabitants of planet earth lurks beneath much of the
eco-rhetoric targeting biotechnology, modern agriculture and science
today. The truly scary part is that whether by direct intent (a'la the
misguided terrorists in this article) or through willful ignorance, lies
and deceit (a'la Green Peace and Friends of the Earth) the choice will be
made that these "extra" people are not only extraneous, but indeed a
danger to both human life and planet Earth. And that, I might add, is
exactly the kind of logic that flows from the Hitler excerpt that was
included here just a few days ago by Andrew Apel.
Starving For The Truth
- Consumer Freedom, April 24, 2002
"Sanctimonious greens" care more about being politically correct than
helping the world eat well, The Yorkshire Post's Bill Carmichael charges.
Biotech "has the potential of transforming the lives of millions by doing
no less than ending world hunger," he writes. "But many of these
developments are unlikely to go ahead because of opposition from powerful
green campaigners". Sanctimonious members of Greenpeace and Friends of
the Earth have never known the sensation of an empty stomach, but they
seek to deny genetic technology to the world's poor because it offends
against their refined sensibilities. What does it matter that children
are dying in Africa so long as green campaigners can munch their organic,
Recent research shows "most Europeans aren't concerned" about biotech, so
the anti-technology zealots who oppose genetic improvement must force
their position on them through drastic measures. The attacks on biotech
continue, and sometimes they are quite literally attacks: Activists
destroyed a field of experimental crops in Scotland last weekend, just
days after "environmental activists broke into a 15-acre field in northern
Belgium" in a similar assault.
Here in the U.S., the Organic Consumers Association, whose leader Ronnie
Cummins once said "most consumers aren't smart enough to know what they
want," recently rallied outside the Chicago Board of Trade seeking a ban
on genetically improved corn. It's just one part of the anti-corn
movement. "The Campaign," an anti-biotech outfit headed up by organic
foods and natural products industry lobbyist Craig Winters, has been
swamping the Department of Agriculture with messages calling on the
government to "take action" against biotech corn.
But those who know that biotech products are "even safer than conventional
plants and foods" (as the European Union officially declared), and that
genetic improvement could become a "major lifesaver" (in the words of the
director of the World Health Organization), are not letting the activists
roll over them. They've launched their own web site at Corn-Comments.org,
where visitors can tell the USDA the truth about the positive benefits of
Greenpeace Got It All Wrong!
-From: email@example.com From: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear friends, Greenpeace got it all wrong and the GeneScan results do not
confirm mixing in the Coop polenta the G21 event of Monsanto corn. There
are now consumer organizations demanding zero values, but those people do
not understand the science behind polymerase chain reaction: indeed, 0.05
% does not mean presence of the transgene confirmed, it neither does
confirm its absence.
from this document above more links, thanks to Lillian Auberson from
The GeneScan Document with the analysis
The newspaper article contains some additional Greenpeace insider
information, such as the value being only 0.05%, way below detection
level. Now the case is going through the Swiss press and naive readers
could get the impression that there is something toxic about the Monsanto
Also the article does not mention that apart from Argentina in other
countries this Monsanto line has been approved to be safe for feed, and in
Australia and New Zealand it is considered to be safe for food in a draft
Conclusion ANZFA (Australian New Zealand Food Authority) considers that
food derived from glyphosate-tolerant corn line GA21 is as safe for human
consumption as food from conventionally produced corn varieties and is
therefore proposing an amendment to the Australian Food Standards Code to
give approval to this food. Based on the data submitted in the present
application and in accordance with the current Standard A18, ANZFA
proposes that, as corn line GA21 is equivalent in terms of its nutritional
and compositional properties to its conventional counterpart, labelling of
this food is not required. Food derived from glyphosate-tolerant corn
will, however, be required to comply with any new labelling provisions of
the standard. ANZFA will now seek public comment on the proposed amendment
to Standard A18 of the Food Standards Code (in accordance with the
procedures described in section 17 of the Australia New Zealand Food
Authority Act, 1991).
It is fact that, if the polenta and or the transport G21 components are of
Argentinan origin, the G21 corn is only approved in Argentina for
experimental use. But there are enough regulatory documents from the USA
and Canada demonstrating that this line is benign to the environment and
can be considered as safe for feed. See the comments of Lillian Auberson
and Andreas Thierfelder in the first document link. Results and
interpretation of Greenpeace: They got it all wrong
The Tech Museum Awards Technology Benefiting Humanity
(Forwarded by "Frances B. Smith" )
Presented by Applied Materials, Inc. CALL FOR NOMINATIONS - DEADLINE May
4, 2002 FEATURING 5 AWARDS WITH CASH PRIZES OF $50,000 (USD) EACH Visit
http://www.thetech.org/techawards to electronically submit your
The Tech Museum of Innovation is an accredited organization for the World
Summit on Sustainable Development. The Tech, located in the heart of
Silicon Valley, California, invites you to submit nominations for its 2002
global awards program. Please help us draw global attention to
individuals, for-profit companies, and public and not-for-profit
organizations that are using technology to improve the quality of life
around the world in five universal categories: Education, Equality,
Economic Development, Environment, and Health.
Along with honoring 25 finalists at a gala event in November, one finalist
from each category will receive a $50,000 cash prize. Last year's winners
showcased the profound impact technology can have when applied creatively.
The 2001 Awards and winners were: * The Nasdaq Education Award: Freeplay
Foundation, South Africa, for its solar powered radio technology serving
as a lifeline for people in Africa's poorest countries. * The Knight
Ridder Equality Award: Dr. Chaz M. Holder, President,
CZBioMed,Fayetteville, North Carolina, for prosthetic technology restoring
patients' quality of life in war-torn and developing countries. * The
Credit Suisse First Boston Economic Development Award: Fabio De Oliveira
Rosa, IDEAAS, Brazil, for technology bringing electrification to rural
areas, making poor agricultural communities more viable. * The Intel
Environment Award: Dr. Betsy L. Dresser, Senior Vice President for
Research/Director Audubon Center For Research of Endangered Species, A
Facility of Audubon Nature Institute, New Orleans, Louisiana for saving
endangered species with biotechnology. * The JPMorgan Chase Health Award:
Joseph DeRisi, Assistant Professor Biochemistry and Biophysics, UC San
Francisco, for decoding Malaria for a better cure for this public health
problem that affects 300-500 million people in more than 90 countries. For
detailed information about last year's program, visit
Help us recognize innovators and join us in imagining what technology can
do next by submitting your nominations by May 4, 2002.