The gene drive offensive

February 2018

The threat posed by gene drives to our environment, our health, our food supply, our livelihoods and our peace appears to be from the enemy within.

Gene drives are created using a relatively simple and cheap molecular technology, and are designed to cut-and-paste themselves into specific locations in the genome of a target organism. Because of a gene drive's unnatural self-spreading properties, the genetic disruption it causes ends up in all offspring and becomes ubiquitous in the population within a very few generations. If the gene-drive is incompatible with survival or reproduction, it will drive the target population to extinction.

CRISPR muscle man

February 2018

Slaves of the world arise and revolt! You need, no longer, be subject to your cruel gene-masters. CRISPR-man will sell, show you the way to freedom.

This new-found slavery has been laid bare by the biohacker movement.

Herbicides stimulate antibiotic resistance

February 2018

Multi-antibiotic resistance in pathogenic microbes is a serious, and increasingly common, occurrence. It complicates the treatment of infectious diseases, makes health care more expensive, and can be a death-sentence for the patient.

We know that, once a pathogen evolves a mutant gene for antibiotic resistance, this can be passed to other microbes by horizontal gene transfer. Long ago, concerns were raised that the artificial antibiotic resistance genes often added to GM crop plants as markers during their development could fuel the emergence of antibiotic resistant pathogens. No one seems to be tracking whether this is a reality, but bugs can make themselves resistant to toxic medicines by other means, and counter-intuitively these 'other means' can be fuelled by herbicide-tolerant GM crops.

When bacteria are exposed to a toxin, their first line of defence is to switch on their own pumps to rid themselves of it. If this physiological mechanism can kick in fast enough (before the toxin kills it), the bug can make itself resistant to an antibiotic for as long as necessary.

The link to GM crops is that herbicidal chemicals and their spray co-formulants are also toxic to bacteria. Tests on the glyphosate-based herbicide used on most current GM crops, and on dicamba and 2,4-D which are up-and-coming replacements for glyphosate, plus the 'surfactants' added to all three to aid penetration into the weeds, showed they all trigger the toxin-pump mechanism in three commonly pathogenic bacteria. 'Surfactants' are detergents, classed as 'inerts' by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and are ignored in safety assessments. However, the bacteria clearly don't find them 'inert'.

70% of world's population fed by peasant farmers

February 2018

Of all our modern 'conveniences', the invention of the Industrial Food Chain must rank as the most unfit-for-purpose.

The Chain has a beginning, a middle and an end:
  • The beginning is all the resources needed for monoculture of crops: hybrid seed, large tracts of flat land, plentiful water, machines (plus the fossil fuels needed to manufacture and run them), and agrichemicals (plus the fossil fuels needed to manufacture and apply them)
  •  the middle is transport, storage, processing, packaging and retailing, all of which require an infrastructure of facilities and machines (plus the fossil fuels needed to create and maintain them) 
  • The end is the food in your kitchen, profit here and there along the way, and wasted stuff. 
Like all chains, the Industrial Food Chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unlike all chains, every one of The Chain's links is weak.

Missed molecular scars

January 2018

In October last year, the Wall Street Journal's Global Food Forum provided a platform for the biotech industry to promote its latest GM escapade. This is, of course, 'gene editing' which can be done using a variety of different techniques [1] all of which are fancy versions of GM.

Executives are busy strategising on how to 'sell' edited-GMOs to a suspicious and sceptical public.

The elusive 'GM for yield' question

January 2018

A refreshingly sensible 'Opinion' on the possibility of creating a resilient crop genetically transformed to increase yield has been published. The authors are biotech scientists from Rothamstead Research (Britain's leading GM research facility) and Syngenta (originally a Swiss biotech company, now Chinese).

Juggling with glyphosate

January 2018

Not, perhaps, the best way to start a new year is the announcement that the European Commission has re-approved the use of glyphosate herbicide for five years.

This means that responsibility for the consequences of this highly controversial weedkiller is off-loaded onto Member States: France and Italy immediately announced their intention to phase out glyphosate over the next three years, and Austria is set to join them.