Today's AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org/ November 19, 2003
* When Will Europe Pay a Lot for Its Superstition?
* Golden Steel Rice? - 'March of Progress for Enhanced Nutrition'
* Premature' Announcement of 'Protato'?
* On Publishing Questionable Science
* When Crops Burn, the Truth Goes Up in Smoke
* A New Social Contract on Biotechnology
* Biotech in Ag Huge And Growing - Official Touts Pluses
* U.N.'s Human-rights Violations
* The Monoculture Myth
* New Life Sciences - Ethics, Patents and the Poor - BioAlexandria 2004
* Design Genes with Due Care
* Transgenic Plants Lead to Better Managed Farming and Effective...Drugs
* New Pew Report on University - Industry Relationship
When Will Europe Pay a Lot for Its Superstition?
- John McCarthy
Let us suppose that the US, Canada, Argentina, etc. continue the use and
further development of GMO foods and Europe continues its superstitious
course. Presumably European agricultural yields, compared to the US, have
already suffered somewhat, but very likely this is within the normal range
of fluctuation. However, as new varieties of GMO foods are developed and
put into production, the difference in standard of living will become more
and more apparent.
Besides the economic difference, if GMO foods yield new and interesting
tastes and greater convenience, the effects of superstition will become
more and more apparent. In addition to their effect on GMOs, the German
and Swedish superstition about nuclear energy will also have deleterious
Can anyone estimate when the consequences of superstition will become
undeniable even to the European media? While Europe is accustomed to the
US having a higher standard of living in most respects, if countries like
Argentina surpass Europe, there will be a certain shock.
Is food important enough so that the economic consequences of superstition
will be important in 10 or 20 years?
Steel Golden Rice? - 'March of Progress for Enhanced Nutrition'
- Rice Today, Oct. 2003; Vol. 2. No. 2, p.9. www.irri.org/ricetoday
Last March saw the publication of at least two papers in scientific
journals detailing major progress in re-search to improve the
micronutrient content of rice through bio-fortification. Biofortification,
the focus of a challenge program recently launched by the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research, combines molecular
techniques and conventional plant breeding to create crops with heightened
micronutrient content that can help alleviate nutritional disorders.
The world’s most prevalent nutritional disorder is anemia. This
debilitating condition is caused by a lack of iron in the diet -- in
which, for more than two-thirds of humanity, rice is the single largest
source of calories. Although brown rice is generally high in iron, the
polishing removes the outer layers of the grain and causes considerable
loss of iron and other micronutrients.
The journal Plant Science published in its March 2003 issue (Vol. 164, No.
3, pages 371-378) a paper entitled 'Enhanced iron and zinc accumulation in
transgenic rice with the ferritin gene'. In it, IRRI researchers and their
collaborators in Japan report that they have introduced an iron-enhancing
ferritin gene to indica rice in such a way that it expresses itself in the
rice endosperm. Thus, after polishing, the rice grains contain three times
more iron than usual.
"This is the most significant increase in iron ever achieved in an indica
rice variety," said IRRI plant biotechnologist Swapan Datta, rice crop
leader of the Challenge Program on Biofortification, the paper’s
corresponding author and husband of Karabi Datta, one of eight other
authors. "It could have significant benefits for the 3.5 billion people in
the world who have iron-deficient diets."Several of the same authors,
including the two Drs. Datta, produced a paper that appeared in the March
2003 issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal (Vol. 1, No. 2, pages 81–90).
The paper, entitled Bioengineered 'golden' indica rice cultivars with
beta-carotene metabolism in the endosperm with hygromycin and mannose
selection systems, officially announces IRRI’s development of indica
varieties rich in provitamin A-rich Golden Rice adapted for the tropics.
Swapan Datta reports that IRRI scientists have in fact bioengineered
several Asian indica varieties with genes for beta-carotene biosynthesis.
Selected lines -- including genotypes of IR64 (the most popular variety in
Asia), BR29 (a popular Bangladeshi variety), and Mot Bui and Nang Hong Cho
Dao (popular Vietnamese varieties) -- show expression of beta-carotene,
the precursor of vitamin A, in otherwise normal plants. He adds that they
did so using a non-antibiotic marker gene.
"This is significant if further progress is to be made in developing
nutritious rice, including bioengineered high-iron rice," says Dr. Datta,
citing negative perceptions on the use of antibiotic resistance genes in
transgenic plants. Public acceptance will likely be more forthcoming, he
says, for foods made from transgenic plants developed with non-antibiotic
marker genes. A program of safety and bioavailability tests means that
indica Golden Rice is still some 4–6 years away from release to farmers
Premature' Announcement of 'Protato'?
- Andrew Apel"
In "Announcement of Release of GE Potato in India is Premature" (Prof. C
Kameswara Rao, AgBioView, November 17, 2003) it is said that the GE
'protato' is actually *lower* in protein than the conventional British
potato, that a single variety of the protato is not adequate (suggesting
there is only one) and that the protato is only in preliminary stages of
The situation seems to be somewhat different. On January 2, 2003 New
Scientist reported that the 'protato' with the AmA1 gene from amaranth,
makes a third more protein than usual, including substantial amounts of
the essential amino acids lysine and methionine. On June 12, 2003 The
Guardian reported that the protato had 30%-50% more protein, and had been
in field trials for three years. On June 13, 2003, the Economic Times of
India also reported that the GM potato has 30%-50% more protein, and that
seven Indian potato varieties into which the amaranth gene had been
introduced are performing well and that further field trials might not be
necessary. The report added that interagency wrangling between the
Department of biotechnology (DBT) and the Genetic Engineering Approval
Committee (GEAC) would likely delay their introduction.
So... the protato seems actually to be quite high in protein, and in an
advanced state of development, and present in seven varieties.
On Publishing Questionable Science
- The Scientist, Vol.17, No. 22, p. 9; Nov. 17, 2003
Why do I have to make excellent laboratory work to make my papers reviewed
(not published) in an average journal (impact of 1.2), whereas Mr. Chapela
published in Nature a work with so many flaws it wouldn't pass my
university's PhD committee?
Because he works in a controversial field and obtained results that could
put corporations in a bad position. But that is not serious science; that
- Millán Cortizo Sabugo, Unidad de Fisiología Vegetal--Dpto. BOS,
Universidad de Oviedo, Spain; firstname.lastname@example.org
1. S. Jaffe, "Berkeley tenure tiff restarts GM food joust," The Scientist,
17:46-7, Oct. 6, 2003.
When Crops Burn, the Truth Goes Up in Smoke
- Dick Taverne, The Times (UK), Nov. 18, 2003
Yesterday the BioIndustry Association, in a report endorsed by Tony Blair,
called for stricter legislation to deal with animal extremism, as it
threatens the development of lifesaving medicine. Sadly, the protests over
genetic modification are moving in the same direction.
Several scientists have received threatening letters, including a bomb
threat, for taking a public stand in the GM debate. Crops have been
vandalised. Farmers taking part in field trials have been terrorised.
Indeed it is now clear that some anti-GM campaigners adopt the tactics of
animal welfare terrorists who try to stop all animal experiments.
Most opponents of GM crops condemn violence, just as most
anti-vivisectionists condemn animal rights terrorists. Violence stems,
however, from passionate belief, which is blind to reason. While
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth may condemn violence (but not breaking
the law to destroy crops), they reject reason, distort facts and ignore
Consider the testimony of Greenpeace to a House of Lords Committee on
Genetic Modification in Agriculture. Lord Melchett, then director of
Greenpeace, was asked: "Your opposition to the release of GMOs, that is an
absolute and definite opposition...not one that is dependent on further
He replied: "It is a permanent and definite and complete opposition."
Consider the reaction of anti-GM campaigners to the recent farm-scale
evaluation trials. In the case of two out of three GM crops tested there
were fewer bees and butterflies. In the third case there were more. The
co-ordinator of the trials emphasised that these showed the effect of a
particular herbicide in particular circumstances and could not be taken as
a general verdict on genetically modified crops. But Friends of the Earth
claimed that the trials "confirmed that GM crops harm the environment" and
Greenpeace called for a total ban.
Consider the way that green lobbies refuse to take any account of evidence
from international experts on plant science. The National Academies of
Sciences from Brazil, India, China, Mexico, the United States, the Third
World Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society all agree that there is no
evidence of harm to human health from GM crops and that they have great
potential for the Third World.
The experience of 280 million Americans, who have safely eaten GM food for
nearly a decade without even a single lawsuit, is equally ignored. Instead
anti-GM lobbies constantly refer to its dangers to human health.
Consider the opposition to golden rice, modified to contain a gene for
vitamin A, which may save millions of children from blindness. Greenpeace
ridicules this claim, saying that to benefit, a child would have to eat
3kg of the rice a day. No mention is made of the estimate from the
developers of the rice, that the amount needed is just 200g. In the view
of protesters, because the cause is just, ends justify the means, which
include distortion of evidence.
The anti-GM campaign has become a crusade. Its champions are not just
motivated by a laudable concern for the environment, but have become
eco-fundamentalists, followers of a new kind of religion, to whom evidence
is irrelevant. But when campaigns become crusades, crusaders are more
likely to turn to violence.
Rejecting reason is a dangerous game. So far in Britain we have avoided
the dogmatism and intolerance of the American Religious Right.
Unfortunately, green fundamentalists seem determined to make up for their
The author's book The March of Unreason will be published next year.
A New Social Contract on Biotechnology
'The "molecular divide" between developed and developing countries
threatens to aggravate current inequalities...'
- Louise O. Fresco (Assistant Director General, FAO Agriculture
Department) ; Agriculture21, FAO magazine, May 2003.
Biotechnology provokes profound public mistrust. Governments, consumers,
farmers and, to a lesser extent, scientists disagree fundamentally on its
risks and benefits. The classical humanistic vision that science will
naturally lead to social progress has been severely eroded, and scientists
bear much of the responsibility. Rather than expanding the theoretical
possibilities of biotechnology, they need to discuss more, and more
concretely, "where we want to go" and what roads we should take.
FAO studies show that the pace of advance in biotechnology in developing
countries varies considerably, and that many countries are not exploring
the full range of biotechnology tools. Globally, 85% of plantings of
transgenic crops are herbicide-resistant soybean, insect-resistant maize
and genetically improved cotton. These crops are designed to reduce input
and labour costs in large scale production systems, not to feed the
developing world or increase food quality.
There are no serious investments in sorghum, pearl millet, pigeon pea,
chickpea and groundnut, the five most important crops in the semi-arid
tropics. This is largely because 70% of investment in agricultural
biotechnology comes from the multinational private sector, with a focus on
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and biotic stresses. There are
virtually no major public sector programmes that tackle the critical
problems of the poor and the environment, or that target small ruminants
or crops such as cassava.
What we are witnessing is a molecular divide between developed and
developing countries, between rich and poor farmers, between research
priorities and needs, between technology development and technology
transfer - in short, between the promise of biotechnology and its real
impact. As the gaps widen, will biotechnology aggravate current
inequalities in the world?
Three principles. There is no shortcut to building the credibility and
public acceptance of agricultural biotechnology, or to ensuring that it
contributes to pressing social needs. A new contract is needed between all
stakeholders - between North and South, between public and private
research, between scientists and citizens. Such a contract would be based
on three principles:
Open dialogue on biotechnology's benefits and risks The borderlines
between research, marketing, public relations and activism are
increasingly hazy. In order to arbitrate between risks and opportunities,
we need a wide-ranging dialogue guided by objective information, with
multilateral organizations such as FAO playing a key role as honest
brokers. Because scientific knowledge of possible risks lags behind
technological capacities, FAO supports science-based evaluation procedures
that objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO
on a case-by-case basis, prior to its release. Well-functioning regulatory
systems are the only way to regain public confidence in food safety, and
regional and global harmonization of environmental risk analysis will be
Biotechnology must be redirected to address the pressing needs of the poor
and new demands for food quality and quantity and new agricultural
products. It can do that by complementing existing techniques and holistic
agronomic approaches in order to sustain production and manage risks.
Biotechnology is just one of many roads to sustainable intensification -
which options are best suited to specific production bottlenecks in
developing countries needs to be determined case-by-case, taking into
account economic, technical, social, trade and safety considerations.
Perhaps the greatest short-term potential of biotechnology lies not in
GMOs but in genetic markers, genomics and proteomics that complement
conventional breeding strategies and enhance their efficiency. Research
priorities should also put emphasis on key challenges facing developing
countries, such as abiotic stresses (e.g. drought, soil erosion and
salinity). The point is harnessing genetic resources through
biotechnology, not just manipulating them. For example, biotechnology
tools can contribute to the conservation, characterization and utilization
of biodiversity, through in vitro culture and maintenance of ex situ
germplasm collections, and to embryo rescue and artificial insemination
for breeding and preserving rare animal breeds.
Moving beyond biotechnology, the entire discipline of life sciences needs
to be harnessed for natural resources management and for designing
sustainable agricultural production systems. Agronomic research is
becoming increasingly specialized and exclusively focused on the plant or
cellular levels. In pest management, for example, the perceived profit
potential of GMOs has moved investment away from systems-based approaches
and towards a greater reliance on monocultures.
The long-term environmental and economic costs of such strategies should
not be overlooked. The key to reorienting research for the benefit of
developing countries is funding. We need to better exploit the comparative
advantages of public and private research, recognizing that research in
this field is an international public good. This means reversing the
decline in funding for public research, and creating incentives to harness
private/public sector partnerships while protecting the public interest.
Access and benefit-sharing
The fact that many new technologies are held by the private sector raises
concern over fair and equitable access, benefit sharing and the impact of
current intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes. As the frontiers
between discovery and invention become blurred, this issue has become
particularly critical in the use of plant and animal genetic resources.
The case of "Golden Rice" - which saw various industries claim some 40
different patented steps at the time of release - is a clear example of
barriers to access.
On the other hand, we have to recognize that IPRs are crucial to the
growth of the biotechnology industry, and that lack of patent protection
in a country can limit access to the results of biotechnology originating
elsewhere. IPRs are not a good in themselves, but a tool that society uses
to achieve certain objectives, such as placing information in the public
sector and promoting innovation. Noteworthy steps towards the development
of innovative IPRs have already been taken with the Uruguay Round
agreements, the Convention on Biological Diversity and FAO's International
Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which
recognized Farmers' Rights as a complement to the Plant Breeder's Rights.
The way forward. Achieving a new social contract requires, first,
effective procedures - where possible, regionally or internationally
agreed - in order to monitor where, how and when GMO products and
processes have been introduced, as well as their post-release effects.
Support should be given to developing countries in defining and
implementing effective national policies on agricultural biotechnology.
Developing countries also need, urgently, to establish a capacity to
assess and manage all aspects of risk throughout their food chain. A
global research network is needed to broaden the use of biotechnologies
for sustainable agriculture, matching the needs and demands from any part
of the world with the vast expertise, technology and financial resources
available. Such a network of knowledge and expertise could create a fair
platform for developing countries to tackle crops of global significance.
Even in these times of financial stringency, resources must be directed
towards public research producing public goods. FAO calls on private
sector companies to share their technologies and information with
developing countries free of charge or at minimal cost, particularly when
no important market is lost by facilitating such access. We need to
consider partnerships to constitute a public technology bank, which would
put key technologies and products at the disposal of poor farmers in the
To begin, we must rise above prejudice and inertia. Biotechnology holds
great promise, but involves new risks. In most countries, the scientific,
political, economic or institutional basis is not yet in place to provide
adequate safeguards for biotechnology development and application, and to
reap all the potential benefits. Clearly the question is not what is
technically possible, but where and how life sciences and biotechnology
can contribute to meeting the challenges of sustainable agriculture and
development in the 21st century. It is up to us to decide "the roads we
take", and mobilize the political will to bridge the molecular divide.
Biotech in Agriculture Huge and Growing - Official Touts Pluses at
- Jane Roberts, The Commercial Appeal, Nov. 14, 2003
U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary William Hawks - a longtime
DeSoto County farmer - on Thursday shared his vision for a better-fed
planet with the Economic Club of Memphis. As head regulator of
agricultural biotechnology, Hawks, 58, has gone from producing a crop
himself to overseeing the genetic boom he expects will someday feed the
800 million malnourished people worldwide.
"Biotechnology is a huge part of American agriculture now," he said. "More
than 80 percent of all soybeans we produce come from transgenetic seed."
While producers will always be pitted against weather, disease, war and
its impact on oil prices, other factors - advances in science and
technology, tax relief and trade treaties - are easy partnerships for
government and industry, he said before his speech at the Park Vista Hotel
in East Memphis.
"We have 9,000 field tests for genetically modified products involving 70
crops, including corn, potatoes, soybeans, cotton and alfalfa," he said.
The widespread use of biotechnology has revolutionized agricultural
production in the Mid-South and across the globe, he said. "It means our
farmers till much less and use fewer chemicals," Hawks said.
"Biotechnology is environmentally friendlier."
But it also means strict regulations at the federal level: "We've
strengthened the oversight of the field tests because we do not want
something in the testing stage to have unintended consequences," Hawks
said. "Making the potential benefits of biotechnology available to the
public requires effective, science-based laws and regulations," he said.
"Food security is an issue of global concern, and many countries have
chosen not to adopt biotechnology methods or accept bio- engineered
products out of fear of their potential effects on the food supply.
"Confidence in the safety of transgenic plants is an essential condition
for the adoption of biotechnology and the acceptance of bio-engineered
products in other countries", he said.
U.N.'s Human-rights Violations
- Henry I. Miller/Gregory Conko, Washington Times, Nov. 18, 2003
The United Nations is supposed to be a watchdog of human rights, but it
needs watching itself. It has been denying people, especially the poor,
the right to feed themselves, buy from others and use their land as they
wish. The inhabitants of less developed countries are literally dying as a
Not through happenstance, but systematically, the United Nations has been
sacrificing science, technology and sound public policy to its own
bureaucratic self-interest, thereby obstructing technological innovation
that could help the poorest of the poor. In particular, it is involved in
the excessive, unscientific regulation of biotechnology -- also known as
gene-splicing, or genetic modification (GM).
This regulation slows agricultural research and development and promotes
environmental damage. It can also prolong famine and water shortages for
During the past decade, delegates to the U.N.-sponsored Convention on
Biological Diversity negotiated a "biosafety protocol" to regulate the
international movement of gene-spliced organisms. It is based on the bogus
"precautionary principle" that dictates that every new product or
technology — including, in this case, an improvement over less precise
technologies — must be proven completely safe before it can be used.
An ounce of prevention is certainly desirable, but because nothing can be
proved totally safe — at least, not to the standard demanded by many
activists and regulators — the precautionary principle has become a
self-defeating impediment to the development of new products.
Precautionary regulation shifts the burden of proof from the regulator,
who previously had to demonstrate that a new technology was likely to
cause some harm, to the innovator, who now must demonstrate that the
technology will not cause harm under any circumstances.
This shift is ominous, because it frees regulatory bodies to require any
amount and kind of testing that they wish. Rather than creating a uniform,
predictable, and scientifically sound framework for effectively managing
legitimate risks, the biosafety protocol establishes an ill-defined global
regulatory process that encourages overly risk-averse, incompetent or
corrupt regulators to hide behind the precautionary principle in delaying
or deferring approvals.
Examples include a five-year-long moratorium on approvals of gene-spliced
plants throughout Europe, and the rejection of badly needed food aid by
several African countries — only because it contains the same superior
gene-spliced varieties of grain consumed routinely in North America.
Similarly, in July the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the joint food
standards program of the U.N.'s World Health Organization and its Food and
Agriculture Organization, singled out only food products made with
gene-splicing techniques for various Draconian and even bizarre regulatory
procedures and requirements.
Overly burdensome standards for gene-spliced foods are ominous not only
because of their direct effects on research and development, but also
because they will keep beneficial new crop plants out of the hands of the
resource-poor farmers in less developed countries who need them most.
The unscientific, precautionary-principle-driven standards and regulations
the U.N. defends in the name of global environmental protection actually
harm the environment and public health, stifling development of
environmentally friendly innovations that can increase agricultural
productivity, help clean up toxic wastes, conserve water, and supplant
agricultural chemicals. Many U.N. experts themselves warn that the
greatest single threat to the planet's environment comes from the world's
burgeoning population and its demand that ever more land be devoted to
food production. But the regulatory regimes promoted by various U.N.
agencies and projects will deny less developed countries precisely the
kind of technology they need.
Scientists worldwide agree that gene-splicing is merely a refinement, or
improvement, over less precise and predictable genetic techniques that
have been used for centuries, an exquisite tool that can help to develop
plants with higher yields and innovative traits. Tragically, its use is
already being blocked by the disincentive of unnecessary regulations.
Morally, this is no different from permitting the construction of an
unsafe dam or knowingly administering a contaminated vaccine. Countless
people will suffer and die needlessly as a result of the arbitrary,
unscientific restrictions that prevent us from helping the poor to help
themselves. The U.N.'s leaders should be held accountable for this
human-rights catastrophe, and the precautionary principle should be
relegated to the same dustbin of history as Germany's "final solution" and
Serbia's "ethnic cleansing."
The Monoculture Myth
- David Dawe (Economist, IRRI, Philippines), Rice Today, Oct. 2003; Vol.
2. No.2, p.33
'The Green Revolution neither monopolized farmers' fields nor impoverished
Almost everyone acknowledges that the Green Revolution has substantially
increased the yield and supply of cereals in the developing world during
the past 30 years. However, some critics maintain that these improvements
in productivity perversely encouraged farmers to specialize in growing
cereals at the expense of other, more nutritious crops. The Green
Revolution, they say, worsened the nutritional status of people living in
While the availability of modern rice varieties may have encouraged some
farmers to specialize in growing rice, there is no evidence that such
specialization has been wide spread. Rice harvested area (hectares under
rice multiplied by the number of croppings per year) has declined as a
percentage of total crop harvested area in nearly all Asian rice-growing
economies since 1970 (Table 1).Thus, if some farmers increasingly
specialized in rice, others must have diversified into other crops -- and
done so over a larger harvested area. Despite a near doubling of the total
rice harvest, rice is now less dominant in Asian agriculture than it was
before the Green Revolution.
Overall cropping diversity -- the variety of different crops planted --
also seems to have increased since the beginning of the Green Revolution.
A widely used measure of concentration is the Hirschmann-Herfindahl index,
in which 1 equals absolute uniformity and lower decimals indicate greater
diversity. Applied to cropping systems, it shows that farmers inmost Asian
countries plant a wider variety of different crops today than was the case
in 1970(Figure 1).
The bottom line, however, is not what farmers grow but the nutritional
value of the food people eat. Despite some critics’ impression that
malnutrition in developing countries has worsened, the incidence of child
malnutrition, at any rate, actually declined in these countries between
1970 and 1995,according to a recent study by Lisa Catherine Smith and
Lawrence Haddad of the International Food Policy Research Institute.
While the incidence of child malnutrition still stood at a dismal 31% in
1995,this reflected a reduction of one-third from the 46.5%recorded
The study, which appeared in the journal Agricultural Economics, also
shows that the greater availability of calories at the national level -- a
direct consequence of the Green Revolution-- contributed greatly to the
easing of child malnutrition during this period. The authors credit more
calories per capita with one-fourth of the total reduction (Figure 2). The
only factor making a greater contribution was improved education for
women. This provided more mothers with the nutritional knowledge to make
better use of available food to safe guard their children’s health.
See the data mentioned in this paper at
http://www.irri.org/publications/today/facts.asp and click on "The
'New Life Sciences - Ethics, Patents and the Poor' - BioAlexandria 2004
- April 3-6, 2004; Alexandria, Egypt.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is proudly hosting BioAlexandria 2004, an
international conference, organized in partnership with The World Life
Sciences Forum BioVision, that will blend new and old ideas, inventions,
knowledge, and also examine the implications as well as the potential
applications of biotechnology.
As we unlock the secrets of life, and learn to manipulate the very
building blocks of heredity, who is to be the judge of when what is
feasible technically is no longer acceptable ethically? It is natural that
we should address ethics, patents and the poor in this important
gathering. Discussions on ethics and biotechnology will examine questions
of moral responsibility, limitations and boundaries that should be set on
research and practical applications, as well as exclusivity versus the
sharing of knowledge.
The main target of the BioVisionAlexandria 2004 conference will be the
exploration of the issues raised by the New Life Sciences in a world
undergoing profound transformations…. Globalization, the needs of the
poor, the new rules governing international trade all call into question
the directions we must pursue to assure the universal ideals of sharing
and benefiting from the enormous advantages offered by the New Life
Coordination and cooperation of the scientific community within itself as
well as with those who put their ideas, discoveries, and inventions to
practical use is essential for rapid progress. Without such coordination
and cooperation, progress can be slow and awkward. BioVisionAlexandria
2004 will be an all-embracing examination of the relationships between the
New Life Sciences and development. It will address the key issues in:
Health, Agriculture, Food, Industry and Environment
In addition, special sessions on 'ethics, patents, and the poor' will look
* What are our moral obligations in the realm of biotechnology?
* What limits should we set in exploring biotechnology?
* What obligations do we have when applying current knowledge?
* Should scientific knowledge be universally shared or should discovery
and information be exclusive to a few?
* What kind of influence do patents have on science and its applications?
* Should there be limits placed on patents?
* Who benefits from patents and who suffers losses?
* How can patents be used to balance between the encouragement of science
exploration and provision for the poor?
The Poor -
* What can we profit from our poor force?
* What can be achieved from improving their well-being?
* The majority of people in the world are impoverished. By improving
health and education, can we increase, both in size and strength, our
global workforce and global productivity?
* Where should the focus of biotechnology be in attempting to alleviate
the burden of poverty?
* Will biotechnology help the impoverished, or will it increase the gap
between the rich and the Poor?
The majority of the world’s natural resources are in less developed and
poverty-ridden nations. Lack of quality education and healthcare prevents
optimal extraction and utilization of these resources, which in turn slows
down growth and development in these nations. Should biotechnological
advancements be applied to attempt to rectify this inefficiency?
The goal of this conference will be to promote the active exchange of
biotechnological information, innovation, and new ideas in order to
benefit the world as a whole. It will include representatives from the
scientific, academic, governmental and industrial communities. Due to this
multilateral approach, the conference will provide more than a limited
forum for scientists to share research and information among themselves.
The conference will facilitate the interactions between those who provide
biotechnological information with those who govern its regulation and
The BioVisionAlexandria conference is especially attuned to the needs and
capabilities of the less developed nations, and will strive to achieve
growth and progress for these nations as well as for the rest of the
world. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is honored to host such a prestigious
event, so join us, and together let us work towards a better, healthier
and safer world for us and for our children.
Design Genes with Due Care
- The Australian, (Letters) Nov. 19, 2003
That there is an effect on the birds and the bees in Britain is not in
itself a reason for not allowing breeders to develop crops
In two issues of HES (October 29 and November 5) there was some lambasting
of poor old Charles Darwin, and the science v religion issue reared its
head. Another report, "GM crop research awaits fallout", covered
Australian fears of fallout from a British study that "showed the GM crops
damaged wildlife and could have a serious long-term effect on bee,
butterfly and bird populations due to the loss of weeds in the
These various reports indicate that many people are forgetting about the
birds and the bees. There are several things:
First, that sexual reproduction mixes genes, forming new individuals that
can adapt to new environments, and that over time the effects of a
re-combination of genes and adaptation can mean considerable changes. We
might even call a group of variants a new species and cluster them as
families of living things. Did Darwin get it right ("Another unholy row",
October 29) or was he an ordinary human and only partly right? Are there
gaps? Was it all due to evolution? I don't think this matters: variation
and evolution are happening all around us all the time.
Second, humans began influencing the arrangement of the genes of the
plants and animals they used from the beginning -- perhaps as early as
a hunter-gatherer cavewoman brought home a fruit from a distant location
and the seed grew to become a plant in a different location, pollinated by
a local ecotype.
Or her partner unknowingly killed a female animal, so some male mated with
a different female than customary. Then some of the cavewoman's
descendants kept one bull out and let another in, hoping for a cow that
gave more milk.
Could all of these plants and animals made different by human intervention
be labelled genetically modified? Or does the epithet apply only when we
involve the modern tools of microscopy and computer science to do these
things more quickly, more effectively and more cheaply, and access a wider
range of related genes (albeit in plants long separated by evolutionary
processes, though if the genes fit, the organisms are related)?
Third, that the arrival of any new organism at a site will always result
in ecological changes, like the weeds (our own label) in the British
crops, and will even cause the demise of some species -- this is very much
the stuff of evolution.
Partly as a result of this, extinction is the normal fate of a species,
probably slower than average on an isolated site, greater than average on
a recently invaded island site. These changes in ecosystems following new
arrivals have been described by Tim Flannery as "future eating" but may
equally as well be described as "future making". That there is an effect
on the birds and the bees in Britain is not in itself a reason for not
allowing plant breeders to develop crops with more precisely defined
genotypes and a wide range of benefits.
Rather, it calls for carefully crafted regulations -- as we have had to
manage progress from walking to driving and from using smoke signals to
mobile phones and the internet. More precise genetic modification will
provide an opportunity to adopt many of the valuable things encompassed by
organic farming, but escape the downsides such as the less efficient use
of land and energy.
- David Smith (author of Natural Gain), School of agriculture and food
systems, University of Melbourne.
Darwin Debate Grows Another Leg
In his November 31 letter, John Wilkins appears to have missed completely
the real point of the article by Mary Wakefield (HES, October 29) on
Darwinism. He fails to recognise that the apparent pessimism about the
future of science, and its funding, has less to do with politically
organised religious bigotry and much more with the failings of the science
There is simply too much partisan intransigence (which is quite
unscientific to boot) among too many scientists and their marketing
lobbyists. The damage emanates largely from several scientists and
science communicators who, whatever their distinguished contributions and
certain prominence, appear to have fallen into the many traps that
celebrity status brings with it sooner or later.
As an example, I refer in particular to the irresponsibly overambitious
claims of what science can do and tell us about existence. Worse still,
much of this talk and writing, especially at the more popular level, is
conducted with an outrageous disregard for the consequences of careless
language and glib speech.
When you have people such as James Watson of DNA fame publicly stating
that he would rather go and have a nice dinner with a good wine than waste
his time discussing religion, along with Richard Dawkins insisting that
only his version of Darwinism is the correct one and then mightily
proclaiming that science necessarily requires the death of religion and
belief, it is not hard to see why science begins to attract adverse
It is ironic that the very same issue of The Spectator (October25) in
which Wakefield's article first appeared also carries a review of Diarmid
MacCulloch's monumental study of the religious reformation in Europe, in
which he emphatically insists on the importance of accurate and meaningful
terminology. For herein lies the crux of the whole problem that bedevils
the interaction of science and religion.
There is no unavoidable conflict, despite the popular and commercially
attractive myth. Real religion has little to do with creationism but,
equally, real science has nothing to do with scientism. Historically and
culturally, it was religion, both as personal faith and as a social
institution, that initiated and promoted the burgeoning of what we know as
- Alfred Zarb, Leura, NSW
Transgenic Plants Lead to Better Managed Farming and Effective Alternate
Manufacturing Methods for Drugs
- From a press release, November 18, 2003 (Via Agnet)
Palo Alto, Calif. --Transgenic or genetically modified (GM) crops are
proving to be 'the' answer to overloaded biologics production capacities
in the burgeoning bio-therapeutics industry. GM plants also offer immense
cost savings as an alternative to the existing biologics methods.
Rising environmental concern about the safety of transgenic crops,
however, is causing plant-based pharmaceuticals to come under criticism
and serious review, posing problems to agro and biotech companies that
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (http://www.biotech.frost.com), U.S.
Agriculture Biotechnology Markets, reveals that this market totaled
revenues worth $1.03 million in 2002 and is poised to expand to $5.04
million by 2009. The rapidly increasing global population and more demand
for food, as well as the ever-shrinking acreage of arable land, is causing
food security to become a major concern for developing countries. A large
portion of crops in these countries are being lost to pests and weeds,
making it imperative to produce more from the existing cultivable land
"The GM crops marketed by agrochemical and biotech companies have input,
output, and stacked traits, which confer them with inert resistance to
pests, tolerance to herbicides, and better nutritional value," says Frost
& Sullivan Research Analyst K.V. Anantharaman. Agriculture biotechnology
will have a larger role to play in addressing the emerging supply and
demand gap for agricultural production. Research is now on for GM plants
that can grow even on marginalized lands.
However, skepticism persists about the viability and safety of food and
transgenic crops, stymieing their acceptance. For instance, certain
European countries continue to reject biotech products as protests
continue from public interest groups against biotechnology in agriculture.
Previous incidences of cross-contamination have brought bad publicity to
the transgenic plant production causing hesitancy in end-user minds about
their safety. Environmental concern is also forcing companies to address
issues relating to cross-contamination of plant pharmaceutical crops and
food crops. "Biotech manufacturers are striving to overcome negative
public opinion by strictly adhering to FDA regulations in cultivation and
production of GM crops, thereby more likely to streamline processes and
increase safety of these crops," states Anantharaman. "Educating public
regarding safety measures adopted for their cultivation may aid in
effectively allaying fears on these concerns as well."
The development of traits that have direct appeal to the food industry and
primary consumers can aid in stepping up the pace of biotechnology
adoption. Since farmers are paying a premium price to buy biotech seeds,
they are likely to expect consumers to pay more for the finalized
products. The next wave of growth in the U.S. agriculture biotechnology
sector will come from 'value added agriculture'. For example, common crop
plants such as corn and tobacco programmed with recombinant DNA techniques
to produce high-value-added pharmaceuticals and industrial enzymes.
"The first plant-based pharmaceutical products expected in the market by
2005 will include potential blockbusters in categories such as monoclonal
antibodies, recombinant proteins, human enzymes and vaccines," informs
New Pew Report on University - Industry Relationship