It’s a sad day for the reality-based community, within the critiques of Jane Goodall’s new book ‘Seeds of Hope’ we find that in addition to plagiarism and sloppiness with facts, she’s fallen for anti-GMO crank Jeffrey Smith’s nonsense.

When asked by The Guardian whom she most despised, Goodall responded, “The agricultural company Monsanto, because I know too much about GM organisms and crops.” She might know too much, but what if what she knows is completely wrong?

Many of the claims in Seeds of Hope can also be found in Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, a book by “consumer advocate” Jeffrey Smith. Goodall generously blurbed the book (“If you care about your health and that of your children, buy this book, become aware of the potential problems, and take action”) and in Seeds of Hope cites a “study” on GMO conducted by Smith’s “think tank,” the Institute for Responsible Technology.

Like Goodall, Smith isn’t a genetic scientist. According to New Yorker writer Michael Specter, he “has no experience in genetics or agriculture, and has no scientific degree from any institution” but did study “business at the Maharishi International University, founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.” (In Seeds of Hope, Goodall also recommends a book on GM by Maharishi Institute executive vice president Steven M. Druker, who also has no scientific training). As Professor Bruce Chassy, an emeritus food scientist at the University of Illinois, told Specter, “His only professional experience prior to taking up his crusade against biotechnology is as a ballroom-dance teacher, yogic flying instructor, and political candidate for the Maharishi cult’s natural-law party.” Along with fellow food scientist Dr. David Tribe, Chassy runs an entire website devoted to debunking Smith’s pseudoscience.

And it apparently escaped Goodall’s notice that Smith’s most recent book—the one that she fulsomely endorsed—features a foreword by British politician Michael Meacher, who, after being kicked out of the Tony Blair’s government in 2003, has devoted a significant amount of time to furthering 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Goodall is, of course, not the first scientist of fame and repute to fall in for crankery and pseudoscience. From Linus Pauling to Luc Montagnier, even Nobel Prize winning scientists have fallen for psuedoscientific theories. However, we should always be saddened when yet another famous scientist decides to go emeritus and abandon the reality-based community.

There always seem to be a couple of different factors at play when this happens. For one, such scientists appear to have reached a such a status that it becomes very difficult for others to criticize them. It’s like a state of ultra-tenure, in which you practically have to insult the intelligence of an entire continent before people will object to your misbehavior. The second common factor seems to be that they start operating in a field in which they lack expertise, but seem to assume their expertise in other unrelated fields should allow them to waive in. This appears to be the case with Goodall, as even someone with rudimentary knowledge of molecular biology should be able to see the gaping holes in the anti-GMO movement’s logic.

For example, let’s start with the easy-pickings at Natural News. A recent article by Jon Rapaport entitled “Brand new GMO food can rewire your body: more evil coming” is a perfect example of how the arguments made against GMO foods are based on fundamentally-unsound understanding of biology. The author writes:

It’s already bad. Very bad. For the past 25 years, the biotech Dr. Frankensteins have been inserting DNA into food crops.

The widespread dangers of this technique have been exposed. People all over the world, including many scientists and farmers, are up in arms about it.

Countries have banned GMO crops or insisted on labeling.

Now, though, the game is changing, and it’ll make things even more unpredictable. The threat is ominous and drastic, to say the least.

GM Watch reports the latest GMO innovation: designed food plants that make new double-stranded (ds) RNA. What does the RNA do? It can silence a gene. It can activate a gene that was silent.

If you imagine the gene structure as a board covered with light bulbs, in the course of living some genes light up (activation) and some genes go dark (silent) at different times. This new designed RNA can change that process. No one knows how.

No one knows because no safety studies have been done. If you have genes lighting up and going dark in unpredictable ways, the functions of a plant or a body can change randomly.

Pinball, roulette, use any metaphor you want to; this is playing with the fate of the human race. Walk around with designer-RNA in your body, and who knows what effects will follow.

At this point, I think anyone familiar with the science of RNA interference (RNAi) has slapped themselves in the forehead, for anyone who wants a decent introduction the Wiki does a pretty good job. It’s clear that the author is projecting his own ignorance of RNAi onto the rest of us. Briefly, until about 20 years ago, the so-called “central dogma of molecular biology” was a one way road from DNA being transcribed into RNA which was then translated into a functional protein. Even this is a pretty gross simplification, but it’s fair to say, that prior to the discovery of RNAi, RNA was thought to be little more than a messenger in the cell, serving as an intermediary between the DNA code, and the protein function. Yes, we knew that some RNA had enzymatic function, was incorporated into some proteins, etc., but it wasn’t seen so much as a regulatory molecule.

Then, after a few intriguing findings in plants, Fire and Mello discovered that RNA itself could control the translation of other genes in c. elegans. Almost by accident, they found that if you inserted a double-stranded RNA molecule corresponding to a RNA transcript, that transcript would be degraded and the protein it encoded for wouldn’t be expressed. It was a surprising finding. One would think that what would work would be the anti-sense strand of RNA that would bind the sense strand and somehow inhibit it’s entry into the ribosomal machinery and ultimately interfere with translation. Instead, what they found was double-stranded RNA had a function all of it’s own, with a previously unknown cellular machinery specifically-purposed with processing dsRNA and inhibiting gene function through an entirely different mechansim. Subsequently we’ve also found the RNAi not only can directly regulate the levels of RNA transcripts, but can also regulate gene suppression, and activation directly on promoter sequences on DNA itself.

It’s amazing, decades after the discovery of RNA and understanding of its primary function, we discovered this new and incredibly complex layer of regulation of genetics by RNA molecules involved in everything from development to disease. But what does that mean for us? Should we be worried about gene-regulating RNA molecules in our food?

Of course not! RNAi is an intrinsic function of most eukaryotes. Just about every food you’ve ever eaten in your entire life is chock-full of RNA molecules, including double-stranded inhibitory RNAs involved in the normal biological processes occurring within the cell. If other organisms could affect us by poisoning us with RNA, we wouldn’t last a minute. Weirdly, in GMO paranoia world, however, whatever we consume has the potential to take over our bodies. The basic molecules of all life, that exist in everything we eat, take on new powers once handled by human scientists. The article hinted at as evidence of this risk (but of course not actually cited by the author) that suggests miRNA may have “cross-kingdom” effects, is a great example of crank cherry-picking, as the evidence demonstrating it may be artifact is of course not mentioned. And we shouldn’t be surprised, as it would be a pretty extraordinary hole in our defenses if other organisms could so easily modify our gene expression.

One of the great limitations of gene therapy as a potential therapy has been that it’s extremely difficult to introduce genes, or specifically regulate them with external vectors. If it were as simple as just feeding us RNA that would be something. For better or worse (likely better), your body is extremely resistant to other organisms tinkering with its DNA or cellular machinery.

Ok, but then you say, “Hey, that’s Natural News, we know they’re morons.” Ok, how about Clair Cummings in Common Dreams panic-posting about the GMO threat to our water supply from this week? Great evidence that “progressive” is no insulation from “anti-science”:

Today is World Water Day. The United Nations has set aside one day a year to focus the world’s attention on the importance of fresh water. And rightly so, as we are way behind in our efforts to protect both the quantity and quality of the water our growing world needs today.(Image: EarthTimes.org)

And now, there is a new form of water pollution: recombinant genes that are conferring antibiotic resistance on the bacteria in the water.

Researchers in China have found recombinant drug resistant DNA, molecules that are part of the manufacturing of genetically modified organisms, in every river they tested.

Genetically engineered organisms are manufactured using antibiotic resistant genes. And these bacteria are now exchanging their genetic information with the wild bacteria in rivers. As the study points out, bacteria already present in urban water systems provides “advantageous breeding conditions for the(se) microbes.”

Antibiotic resistance is perhaps the number one threat to public health today.

Transgenic pollution is already common in agriculture. U.C. Berkeley Professor Ignacio Chapela was the first scientist to identify the presence of genetically engineered maize in local maize varieties in Mexico. He is an authority on transgenic gene flow. He says it is alarming that “DNA from transgenic organisms have escaped to become an integral component of the genome of free-living bacteria in rivers.” He adds that “the transgenic DNA studied so far in these bacteria will confer antibiotic resistance on other organisms, making many different species resistant to the antibiotics we use to protect ourselves from infections.”

Our expensive attempts to filter and fight chemicals with other chemicals are only partially effective. Our attempts to regulate recombinant DNA technology has failed to prevent gene pollution. The only way to assure a sustainable source of clean water is to understand water for what it is: a living system of biotic communities, not a commodity. It is a living thing and as such it deserves our respect, as does the human right to have abundant fresh clean water for life.

You heard it, now they’re making up a new category of pollution “gene pollution”.

Let’s go back to some of the basic science here, so again, we can display just how silly and uninformed these Chicken Littles are. When molecular biologists wish to produce large quantities of a DNA or protein, what they usually do is insert the sequence into an easy-to-grow organism like E. Coli, or yeast, or some other cell, and then have the biologic machinery of those cells produce it for us. This is one of the most simple forms of genetic modification, and we use it from everything to making plasmid DNA in the lab, to the production of recombinant human insulin for diabetics. In order to make sure your organism is making your product of interest you include a gene that encodes for resistance to an antibiotic (in bacteria most commonly to ampicillin) so that when you grow your bug you can make sure the only cells growing are the ones that are working for you by including that antibiotic in the mix. Other resistance genes we use are often for antibiotics we don’t use in humans, like hygromycin or neomycin, which is nephrotoxic if injected (but also poorly absorbed).

“That’s terrible!”, you say, “how could we teach so many bacteria to be resistant to antibiotics! Surely this will kill us all!”

Um, no. For one, the resistance genes we use aren’t novel or made de novo by humans, they already existed before a single human was ever treated with an antibiotic. The first antibiotic discovered, penicillin, is a natural product. It’s an ancient agent in an ongoing war between microorganisms. The antidote for penicillin and related molecules was actually discovered at about the same time as we discovered penicillin. Beta-lactamase, which breaks open the structure of the penicillins and inhibits their antibiotic effects was around long before humans figured out how to harness antibiotics for our own purposes. The gene, which we clone into plasmids to make our GMO bacteria work for us, came from nature too. Now if we were growing bacteria in vancomycin or linezolid, yeah, I’d be pissed, but that’s not what’s happening. And even though we still use older penicillins clinically, it’s with full knowledge that resistance has been around for decades, and they are used for infections that we know never become resistant to the drugs, like group b strep (or syphilis). The war for penicillin is over. We lost. Any bug that’s going to become resistant to penicillin already is.

The antibiotic resistance that plagues our ICUs and hospitals doesn’t come from GMOs being taught to fight ampicillin, it comes from overuse of more powerful antibiotics in humans. The genes that are providing resistance to even beta-lactam resistant antibiotics like the carbapenems or methicillin are the result of a more classic form of genetic modification – natural selection.

So what is the risk to humans from the DNA encoding a wimpy beta-lactamase or whatever being detected in water? Zilch. Nada. Zip.

The paranoia over recombinant DNA has persisted for decades despite no rational basis for a threat to humans or other living things. The continued paranoia over rDNA is a sign that the GMO paranoids get their science from bad movies, not textbooks or serious knowledge of the risks and benefits of this technology. rDNA is why we have an unlimited supply of insulin, it’s how we have virtually all of our knowledge of molecular biology, it’s how we even have an understanding of how things like antibiotic resistance work. It’s been around since the 70s and how many times have you heard of it actually hurting a person?

This is the state of the argument over genetically-modified organisms. To the uninitiated this stuff sounds like it might be kind of scary. But with any real understanding of the molecular mechanisms of these technologies, the plausibility of their risk drops to zero. Sadly, Goodall has not only shown a pretty poor level of scholarship with this new book, but also, has fallen in with cranks promoting implausible risks of this biotechnology. It’s unfortunate because she should be respected for her previous work as an environmentalist and a conservationist. This is what is so annoying about anti-GMO paranoia. It makes environmentalists look like idiots, as it distracts from actual threats to the environment with invented threats and irrational fears of biotech. I’m sure I’ll now be accused of being in the pocket of big ag, as I am in every thread on GMO, but I assure you, I have no financial interests, or any dealings with these companies ever. I’m irritated with the anti-GMO movement because it’s an embarrassment. It’s Luddism, and ignorance masquerading as environmentalism. It’s bad biology. It’s the progressive equivalent of creationism or global warming denial. It’s classic anti-science, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.

Comments

  1. #1 Max
    Canada
    March 29, 2013

    I hope people wont take your nonesense for actual facts, this article is clearly meant for paople who have the same GMO diet as you have, keep ont eating McDonalds and drink Fluorided wtaed with aspartame goodies my friend, your are just a endoctrinated mainstream Med student Advertising Monsanto biotech depopulation agenda. There is Nothing Healthy about GMO, get your facts straight! Shame on you!

  2. #2 Beeswax
    March 29, 2013

    I echo what Max said.

    There’s this program called Hearts and Minds that the Air Force accidentally forgot should be classified and posted on the FBO.gov site in 2010. Monsanto must have built it or is using it. This program is software for “persona management.” It allows Monsanto shills to post all over the Internet, commenting on Blogs, posting blogs, and attempting to create the impression that they are a whole slew of different people, all saying the same message: anti-GMO people are crazies. This is called “relationship management.” They want to give the public impression that many people agree with them.

    Babble away in what you think is science. Science says our population has been getting sicker and more allergic over the two decades of eating Monsanto’s faux food. There are too many variables involved in people’s food to say whether GMOs are the cause. However, the Evil One who brought us Agent Orange, aspartame, and a list of other atrocities (namely Monsanto) has zero proof that they are safe. They can only prove that their very limited, isolated, and unmonitored testing has not proven it to be unsafe.

    How many years were we unable to prove cigarettes were unsafe?

  3. #3 Sou
    http://blog.hotwhopper.com/
    March 29, 2013

    Thanks – this is one of the best articles debunking all the weird stuff that’s floating around about GMOs. It’s a shame that so many ‘progressives’ fall for the anti-GMO rubbish.

    I think the trigger is the word “Monsanto”. Large corporation + GM commercialisation = ‘bad’. No brain cell required or used. (I wonder sometimes if the anti-GM crowd knows how the mammalian digestive system works.)

    There is plenty enough to think about with large scale farming in general without having to make genetic engineering a monster. (Trying to maintain collections / areas of wild/precursor plants of common crops being one of them, especially as climate change).

    I’ll be referring people to your article when I come across uninformed GM comments elsewhere.

  4. #4 Sou
    March 29, 2013

    (Mark, can you check – my comment may have been lodged in your spam folder – or maybe you moderate?)

  5. #5 Mike
    March 29, 2013

    GMO use an expression of a foreign toxic gene.
    Real science (as opposed to what you are doing in this… blog) is trying to help, for example by creating safer vaccines that contains no pathogenic RNA — the genetic material viruses use to replicate themselves — so there is less chance of accidental infection during vaccination.
    Read about it on PLOS Pathogens magazine, and learn.

  6. #6 Mark
    March 29, 2013

    Wow. Lot’s of the Monsanto shill gambit here. Lot’s of “Monsanto is bad, grrr!” responses. The usual scientifically-illiterate replies of the anti-GMOers. It’s just like debating creationists.

    Anyone want to discuss the science? Anyone have an actual citation from the literature? Anyone have actual training in biology? Anyone want to defend Goodall on the merits? Maybe try to explain how she isn’t a plagiarizing dupe? Because this Monsanto shill stuff is just boring, I even predicted it would be the only reply, because you have no science, no data, not even a plausible mechanism to explain your paranoia. In general your attacks on GMO are so implausible that what you’re afraid of usually already exists in nature. I mean, worrying about eating RNAi? Really? What do you think you’ve been eating all your life from every natural plant and animal on the planet?

    This is the liberal anti-science. The progressive creationism or global warming denial. It’s embarrassing.

  7. #7 Sou
    March 29, 2013

    I wouldn’t assume the responders are ‘liberal anti-science’. At least I hope not.

    There’s at least two crank conspiracy theorist here with the ‘fluoride monster’ and ‘depopulation agenda’ and ‘Monsanto shills’ using persona management software!

    And I have to wonder about conflating the ‘safer vaccines that contains (sic) no pathogenic RNA’ (which is real enough) with ‘GMO use an expression of a foreign toxic gene’ – which juxtapositioning is just plain silly. It also spells paranoid conspiracy theorist.

    Surely those examples should be enough to give the anti-GMO-ers who might think they are (otherwise) progressive food for thought.

  8. #8 David
    March 29, 2013

    Mark, you really can’t blame *most* people for being distrustful or having a lack of knowledge to properly evaluate scientific claims. It is an issue of bad science education and corporate distrust not of being “liberal anti-science”. Despite having a reasonable understanding of GMO science (a requirement of too many years study for two biology related degrees – not coming from authority, just background) I still have a reasonable distrust of many large corporations based upon recent and past history. But without the scientific knowledge I possess, my distrust would rule over my understanding of the subject. So rather than calling someone “antiscience” understand the reason of their misunderstanding. At least with some “antiscience” liberals you don’t have religion getting in the way.

  9. #9 Oliver
    March 29, 2013

    “This program is software for “persona management.” It allows Monsanto shills to post all over the Internet, commenting on Blogs, posting blogs, and attempting to create the impression that they are a whole slew of different people, all saying the same message: anti-GMO people are crazies.”

    You’re right, a six-year-old blog that devotes a couple of posts a month (if that) to debunking anti-GMO cranks is obviously just a sockpuppet for Monsanto shills using a three-year-old software. All those other posts about global warming and gay marriage and evolution? They’re just to hide the fact that it’s Monsanto and the Airforce behind the whole thing!

    How stupid of me not to have realized.

  10. #10 Chris
    March 29, 2013

    Fantastic article, well stated and lucid. Please do a more in-depth article debunking Anti-GMO ‘reasoning’ or ‘points’ if you have the time, I’d love to read it.

  11. #11 Mark
    March 29, 2013

    David, distrust of corporations is healthy. Writing articles about the danger of eating RNA, or “gene pollution” is a different matter. While some skepticism of new technology is healthy, that’s not what is going on here with anti-GMO advocates. This is the assertion of negative health effects based on laughable mechanisms, misunderstanding of some basic biological facts, and creeping paranoia about science and scientists in general. The first author, after all, called RNAi technology “evil”, called the biologists working on this “Dr. Frankensteins”, and said, “They blithely accept the latest thing, and refuse to acknowledge that scientists can be crazy, stupid, or malevolent.”

    That’s not skepticism about technology, that’s virulent anti-science, and it’s based on some pretty embarrassing ignorance of basic biology. Once we’ve gotten to calling scientists evil, malevolent Dr. Frankensteins, a line has been crossed.

    In terms of the liberal nature of anti-GMO movement, the data is mixed. Dan Kahan, studying risk assessment with regard to GMOs found liberals and conservatives reacted with similar levels of concern over the technology. However, when it comes to where I find this nonsense being disseminated, it’s largely from environmentalist websites, liberal activism websites, and the quasi-libertarian wackiness of places like prison planet, infowars and natural news. My impression based on the source of the denialist arguments is that they consistently are starting from more liberal/environmentalist/anti-corporatist sources. Each of those things is fine, but when you start making up crazy bullshit about biology, I get irritated. Monsanto may or may not be the devil, but RNAi isn’t going to change your genes, and bacterial resistance genes from molecular biology labs have nothing to do with antibacterial resistance in humans.

    There are powerful anti corporatist arguments to be made when it comes to these issues. One can, and should, make the argument that big-ag abuses antibiotics, and this is a source of antibacterial resistance clinically in humans. I believe antibiotics should be banned for animal use without a prescription from a veterinarian for a specific malady in an animal. There’s no mystery to the risk of this practice, it’s simple natural selection on a grand scale. It’s genetic modification of bacterial organisms by constant selection for tougher and tougher resistance genes, and the clinical significance is established, with ever-increasing rates of resistant infections being found in farm workers and resistant organisms being found on our food. Now there is some old fashioned GM that pisses me off a lot more than the controlled stuff happening in the lab.

    Another environmental threat backed by big business is the likely role of neonicotinoids on pollinating insects. There have been signs of worsening CCD in the last decade concurrent with introduction of these pesticides. The proposed mechanism is plausible. And while there isn’t smoking gun data in terms of evidence of chronic exposure directly causing CCD, there is enough circumstantial evidence to justify limits or a moratorium of the pesticide use on crops that are pollinated by insects.

    There are real issues facing threats to food supply and human health. They don’t include paranoia about “gene pollution” or consuming RNA, and articles such as these both distract from actual environmental threats, as well as diminish the credibility of environmentalists as a whole.

  12. #12 Ridahoan
    March 29, 2013

    Sure, there is a lot of typical paranoia about GM, but I think this article is over the top when it goes to extremes such as this:

    “But with any real understanding of the molecular mechanisms of these technologies, the plausibility of their risk drops to zero.”

    I’m not sure what risks you are talking about. GMO, like just about any technology, is not inherently safe. Do stupid or malicious things with it, and there is vast destructive potential.
    Personally, as a biologist, I have little fear of GM food for myself, but there is the very real possibility of humans having allergies to the expressed proteins of introduced DNA. I agree that this is not very likely to affect a large number of people as long as some basic safeguards are followed.

    I for one think that efforts to make crops more drought tolerant, disease resistant, or nutritious could be beneficial, and I would probably support such efforts.

    But in the larger context there are plenty of examples of questionable uses for GMO. Are Roundup Ready crops a good thing? Perhaps not for the insects that relied on the plant diversity around the margins of fields that now all are heavily treated. Perhaps not for the farmers who are already dealing with weeds that have developed glyophosate tolerance. These uses may have just fostered bad management practices that ignore ecological realities.

    Whenever boundaries that shaped evolution are breached, and the genetic boundaries are, among eukaryotic species, quite strong, and you have the potential for unintended destruction. An analogy is the vast harm caused by exotic species.

    And then you have personalities in science as well in which hubris reigns supreme. Take George Church from Harvard. He wants, and his lab likely has the technical prowess, to engineer strains of bacteria with opposite chiralitly. This would be of great economic benefit to the many industrial processes that rely on bacteria metabolism, as it would probably eliminate the constant struggle with phage (virus of bacteria) predation. And, it would seem safe, as the amino acids required by these mirror image organisms would not exist in nature, and have to be created as well. But, these also would likely be produced by engineered bacteria, and sooner or later, the engineered genetic modules for producing opposing amino acids might be laterally transferred into the mirrored bactera.

    What could we have then? The potential of bacteria capable of exponential growth free from predation. Get that into a blue-green algae, and voila, green oceans.

    The thing is, in the real world, tinkering with genes may be relatively simple in the lab, but isn’t simple in the larger context, and therefore, not simply a good idea.

  13. #13 Mark
    March 29, 2013

    Ridahoan, don’t over-interpret that sentence. I was specifically referring to the examples in these two essays which are pretty absurd. You’re a biologist, would you be afraid to eat RNAi? Of course not, because you know that you already do every day.

    Could GMO be used to generate something harmful? Sure! You could insert anthrax toxin into soybeans. Why the hell anyone would do that would be the question. Just because abuse of technology is possible isn’t a reason to suggest that the technology should be abandoned as fundamentally unsound as the anti-GMOers suggest. There have even been examples already of an allergen from Brazil nuts being transferred into a GMO, but the existing regulatory framework identified it and the organism was scrapped before it made it to market. It’s an example, if anything, of the safety and testing being perfectly adequate as they already have to be tested for allergenicity before they make it to market. Do you really think you’re the first person to have thought of this?

    As far as RR crops, resistance is usually used as an argument against it, but I think that’s a poor argument as resistance is a problem with conventional herbicide technology as well.

    As far as “tinkering”, your example of creating an organism with a completely new activity could be seen as being potentially very dangerous. I agree, I hope he’s working at at least BSL3 with that stuff until we have a better grip. But for the most part, we’re not talking about de novo genes. We’re talking about transfer of existing genes in nature from on species to another. This is something we’ve been doing with cruder techniques for millenia. Some of the older methods, like using mutagens and radiation to generate variability could even be seen as riskier as who knows what you’re going to get? Why a more sophisticated technique is scarier to people than the old-fashioned random shotgun approaches is beyond me.

    The fears we are going to generate some kind of godzilla corn though because we’ve taken a gene it already had and modified it slightly to make it RR strike me as even more overblown (hence the absurdity of the Seralini paper). And worrying about Bt? When we used to use it as a sprayed pesticide? People just aren’t thinking about this stuff.

    And finally, can anyone actually defend the scientific plausibility of the claims made by the linked authors? It’s one thing to drive by troll and call me a Monsanto shill. It’s another to actually stand up and explain a plausible mechanism by which RNA is a threat for me to eat.

  14. #14 Ridahoan
    March 29, 2013

    A few responses:

    >>>”Do you really think you’re the first person to have thought of this?”

    No, that’s why I said it is likely not a problem for many people. But a brazil nut protein is among the more obvious allergens (heck, I’m allergic to brazil nuts).

    >>> “You could insert anthrax toxin into soybeans. Why the hell anyone would do that would be the question.”

    It would be a question as to why you or I or an agricultural company would do this. But, unfortunately, we all know that there are enough people that would, given available technology. I hardly understand why people write malicious code, for that matter. I agree, though, that this is not enough reason to try to halt the technology, but I do think it a very real future concern.

    Even more though I fear ‘stupid.’ The consequences of ‘stupid’ in general are in proportion to the power of the technology. I think that is why people fear the modern techniques over the older methods, and certainly over breeding.

    >>>But for the most part, we’re not talking about de novo genes. We’re talking about transfer of existing genes in nature from on species to another.

    I wouldn’t have much fear of ‘de novo’ genes or their proteins, except as allergens, because they would probably have very little biological activity. However, from an ecological perspective, I think there are good reasons to exercise extreme caution when creating new organisms by mixing existing species.

    >>>The fears we are going to generate some kind of godzilla corn though because we’ve taken a gene it already had and modified it slightly to make it RR strike me as even more overblown.

    ‘Godzilla corn?’ This is hyperbole from both you and those afraid of it.

  15. #15 Mary
    March 29, 2013

    Thanks so much for this piece. I’ve been watching the RNA scare percolate among the clueless since an unsound take on it was published in the Atlantic. Luckily Emily Willingham took an actual science-based look at it: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31975/title/Plant-RNA-Paper-Questioned/

    And there was later a fear factory report led by Jack Heinemann who did an embarrassing sequence analysis for a report for hire to an activist group.

    The problem with the anti-GMO team is that they realize they are about to lose the public. Once the consumer + health benefit GMOs start to come out (like golden rice, and the lower glycemic index wheat), the public will override the hair-afire claims when they decide they like the products.

  16. #16 Todd
    March 29, 2013

    Max, Beeswax, and Mike – thanks for posting and exemplifying the average IQ of the anti-GMO crowd.
    Sou – it is liberal anti science and it should be called out as such in the same way that climate skepticism is characterized as conservative anti-science; unfortunately the mainstream media does not do this because of their liberal leanings and the fact that they only use science when it is convenient to support their views.
    Ridahoan – how do I know organic farmers are not purposefully covering their crops in E.coli contaminated sh*t? They ought to ban that crap.
    Mark – thanks for the great post.

  17. #17 Nonya
    California
    March 29, 2013

    Maaan, this article is booooring, I understand you went to college and all but god man, bring it down to earth, to those of us who aren’t as educated, in lamest terms as it is more commonly referred to… But to say something, I grow my own food, thank god I live in a farm, but what about those who can’t grow their food, wouldn’t it be nice to know what they are putting in their mouths, I am all positive that people would not buy GMO products if they knew. But ppl don’t know and that is what is scary…

  18. #18 Chimel
    March 29, 2013

    One bad anti-GMO writer does not make GMOs better. What about the loss of all Mexican creole corn varieties due to cross-pollination? How are we ever be able to keep these non-GMO traditional varieties free of the Roundup Ready gene?
    What about the Bt gene that produces the Bt toxin 24/7 in every single cell of the plant? And it’s not just one gene, commercial corn and soybeans are stacked with several variants of Bt, like one for the root worm, one for the leaf worm. All these forms are more efficient on a specific pest, but they are still generic enough that they kill many more useful insects than the ones they were designed for, like pest predators and pollinators. And now we have weeds and insects that are tolerant to Roundup or Bt, some weeds are even starting to thrive on Roundup and use it to build special proteins.

    GMOs don’t do anything that normal selection cannot do. It’s high time that we seriously balance the risks, especially contamination miles away via cross-pollination, with the benefits. The genetics to reduce stress caused by high planting density can and are being developed in a traditional way, that should allow us to “feed the world”, which the biotech companies with all their PR haven’t achieved. Look at the disaster of GMO introduction in India.

  19. #19 Kagehi
    March 29, 2013

    But without the scientific knowledge I possess, my distrust would rule over my understanding of the subject. So rather than calling someone “antiscience” understand the reason of their misunderstanding.

    While this is undoubtedly true, the problem is that they won’t learn any real science either. I mean, here is the basic problem:

    Known toxin + plant + GM = toxic plant <- completely logical.
    Non-toxic, very common, substance, which has no effect at all in people + plant + GM = toxic food <- Insane.

    Even if you allow the premise that some RNAi could have effects, such as altering some gene regulation, Bt isn't something they invented in a lab, its something "already in" plants, in various amounts, and it was already "in" some plants we eat, as I understand. The argument is even more idiotic when you are talking about say.. taking something out of a bug, which some people eat, and putting it into a plant, to make it cold resistant. And then, there is the completely insane idea that inserting something like a gene for a vitamin into a plant would make it toxic, never mind all the plants that already produce it, using the same gene, and with very similar genetic machinery.

    The equation they present isn't just adding a non-toxic to a plant, via GM = toxic, which is bad enough, its that adding ***anything*** to them will somehow, in contradiction to all genetics, nature, and logic, result in them churning out completely unidentifiable toxins (you will note they can never list what they are, just that people who where paranoid already, or made so, by being told they where going to be fed franken-foods, reported mysterious problems…).

    Its not that there is "no" plausibility. There isn't much, since one of the things you need to be able to do is "get" a gene into the cell, for it to actually do something, instead of being just ripped apart, and rendered into simpler materials, and RNAi, by itself, doesn't have the lock and key type markers needed to actually trigger cells to do so. But, even if there was, it would already be happening. We have snakes with venom that "specifically" targets pain receptors in a small set of species, which doesn't work on others. There are several ways that could work – 1. target the cell membrane, and cause it to alter internal function, 2. intercept/block specific neural transmitters, unique to those cells, and 3. get into the cell, and monkey with its own processing. Odds are, its doing #1, or #2, since the only way to get "into" the cell is to do #1 in the first place, and you have the same chemical monkey with the cell's outer surface, and *also* be small enough to get through the gaps that result, to monkey with the insides.

    But, the key thing here is that you need:

    1. Evidence that people are being effected, without them knowing you are feeding them different stuff, or presuming they are, etc.

    2. Repeated results that replicate this result.

    3. Large enough samples to believe its not accident.

    4. An explanation, or at least attempt at one, for any other anomalies that you get, which may include, "You screwed up an did it wrong."

    5. A real explanation for what is going on, how its happening, and which specific cellular processes are being disrupted, which is not to say, "vague hand waving toxins, as a result of more hand waving, which is effecting mumble mumble some genes and stuff!”

    Every study, including the rat guy, has failed at least two of these criteria. In his case, he had no explanation for the anomalies in his own study, and no “mechanism”, beyond the vague hand waving stuff, and.. oh, right, no one has been able to replicate the results he got.

    As for Goodall. Even her primate research has been, to some extent, called into question. Not all of it mind, just the stuff where she ignored her own accidental biasing of the data. Seems, other pimatologists have been asking, “Are some of the behaviors, including much of the inter-group warfare seen, a result of real behavior, or behavior that was induced, as a result to changes in their environment. Specifically, did given them a hard to get at, but valuable, food source, which was too limited to effectively share, as an enticement to remain close enough for study, cause a shift in their behavior towards each other? A shift that wouldn’t have happened, in a less stressed situation?”

    The answer to that question has profound implications to both a large amount of assumptions she made in her studies, many others have built, based on them, and even on the attempts to project this onto human behavior (never mind the questionable decision to pick chimpanzee as a “comparison group”, in such projections, because of those very behaviors, like warfare, instead of bonobo, with whom we share far more genetic similarity).

    The easiest person to fool is yourself, and the first step in that direction is to fail to recognize your own biases, and how they are, or may be, distorting the evidence, its collection, its source, or even your interpretation of it, assuming you haven’t already poisoned the results with one of the first three. It doesn’t make the resulting information valueless, but it may make it untrue, invalid for the subject and conditions you are actually testing against, or at least partly inaccurate.

    And, in the case of something like GMO.. All of those things have an impact on whether or not its “safe” for humans.

    But, yeah, everything I have seen so far from the self styled “I am an expert, even though I didn’t even pass high school biology” types, and the few, “out of my field, but I will pontificate about it anyway”, scientists, is the logical equivalent of someone claiming it will ruin their car if they had to put real diesel in it, instead of bio-diesel. I.e., a complete lack to comprehension of the actual chemistry, mechanics, physics, or anything else involved, other than their distrust of Exon, over McDonalds.

  20. #20 sherpl
    Australia
    March 30, 2013

    Thanks for the write up Mark, there is definitely a fair bit of uninformed scare mongering concerning the realities of GMO organisms and the threats posed by genetic manipulation. That said, these people do have their finger on the pulse, perhaps they just need to better research their arguments. The organisms chosen by Monsanto to manipulate and market are perhaps the most ill suited to the purpose. Both Maize and Canola are out crossing species, the first of which is wind pollinated and the later has numerous weedy relatives growing in agricultural areas the world over, in terms of isolating or quarantining marketed genes, I can’t conceive of a worse choice of species for this purpose. Its almost as if disseminating the new genetic material throughout extant populations was the purpose of the commercial exercise. I also believe the private appropriation of the genetic commons tends to rile people the wrong way, and rightly so, they are being robbed of their cultural and historic wealth. Does identifying the particular location or effect of a gene which has been previously selected for and maintained for thousands of years without knowledge of its precise location on the chromosome allow for a change in ownership and a break in the historic rules of access? The courts seem to think so, but I would argue this is no more than legalized theft or ownership laundering. These people smell a rat, and rightfully so, there’s rats a plenty in the current game of genetic manipulation and appropriation. But your right also, many of your mentioned examples reveal a current lack of knowledge concerning genetic technology on the behalf of campaigners. I hope for all our sakes that these people improve their arguments

  21. #21 Mark
    March 30, 2013

    @ Chimel “Look at the disaster of GMO introduction in India.”

    Not so much. It’s a persistent journalistic myth that has been investigated and debunked. Sorry, you’ve fallen for the propaganda again. There are a bunch of myths being promoted about GMO in India, for those that would like to hear about what’s actually happening see This video by Ronald Herring. The reality is, the GM crops do better, so Indian farmers are violating their country’s own laws to import them from China on the black market.

    Further you have to cite the evidence that these things have happened in Mexico. my reading of the literature on the Bt corn dispute is that there is no evidence of transgenic mixing in Oaxaca, and the study purporting that was fundamentally flawed and no one has been able to replicate. Further, the risk to lepidopterans was totally overblown, and could only be demonstrated by contaminating the pollen from the plant (which is low in Bt) with parts of the plant that do express Bt.

    You are relying on shoddy information. The USDA weighed on these studies and found no risk to monarchs. This is the classic crank problem of never presenting the totality of the evidence. One study, years ago, suggested a risk to lepidopterans, it was shown to be methodologically-flawed and irreproducible. But will GM advocates ever stop citing it? No, never.

  22. #22 Addie
    March 30, 2013

    Have a look at this video in which a former founder of the anti GMO movement discovers science.
    http://www.npr.org/2013/01/20/169847199/former-anti-gmo-activist-says-science-changed-his-mind

  23. #23 Shaun
    Colorado
    March 30, 2013

    I do have more than enough of a science education and work background to not be fooled by the BS from both sides. I get irritated also, we have within our grasps, the means to accomplish goals undreamed of by most people. Yet here we are again and the agenda people are going to ruin it. I am sorry, you are not unbiased in your report. There is research that should be of some concern to us. By us, I mean scientists. There is also more than ample reasons to distrust Monsanto. I though a large part of this article/post was very well written, but you do as the other side does, it throws the baby out with the bathwater. Such a shame.

  24. #24 Paltrow Bock
    March 30, 2013

    If people want all natural food, they will buy that.
    But GMO’s don’t really need any proponents. They dominate the food market, in large part because of protectionism implemented by Government.
    Using Govt. force to keep GMO’s out, or to force labeling serves only to promote the use of force and will only grow Govt. and GMO’s.
    For myself, I tend to think that what you can measure and comment on with science may not sufficiently evaluate the whole event, you dont know what you dont know as it were.
    My proof is sadly anecdotal: When I eat all natural food and remove processed foods I feel better and am healthier. I see this pattern clearly in those around me.
    But I wont force you to do the same.

  25. […] bring all this up because I just came across an insightful post on the bad science behind the anti-GMO movement. It’s rather long and science-y, but well worth your time. The author’s frustration is […]

  26. #26 Mark
    March 30, 2013

    Shaun:

    Yet here we are again and the agenda people are going to ruin it. I am sorry, you are not unbiased in your report. There is research that should be of some concern to us. By us, I mean scientists. There is also more than ample reasons to distrust Monsanto.

    I’m not unbiased? What is my bias? Where is this research of which you speak? And Monsanto and it’s business practices have nothing to do with the attacks leveled at GMOs from a safety perspective. If they’re acting monopolistic and obnoxious, that’s a separate issue from asserting that rDNA is dangerous, or that RNAi can somehow affect us when we eat it.

    Where are the reasoned opponents? Where are the reasoned arguments (I’ve seen the UCS arguments, they’re pretty anemic)? Where in my arguments have I made an error about the biology? Where have I demonstrated bias?

    These are the arguments that are out there. They’re being published, daily, on left-wing, progressive and environmentalist blogs all over the internet.

  27. #27 Kagehi
    March 30, 2013

    When I eat all natural food and remove processed foods I feel better and am healthier. I see this pattern clearly in those around me.

    And you are conflating GMO with additives, methods of production, and preservation why exactly?

    Food preservation in much of the west, outside hospitals, which use irradiation for some (most?) of it, to kill parasites, without leaving behind any dangerous radiation (one of the myths given by the anti-irradiation people is that such low doses “stay” in the food, and are dangerous, but then these same people will often freak over a cell phone {low levels}, while getting a sunburn {high enough levels to kill skin tissue}), is to either a) add a lot of preservatives, some of which are derived from plants, but others of which are not, and/or b) cook it at temperatures, and for lengths of time, which render it the consistency and flavor of dog food. Basically, despite all our advances, and in part due to fear from a certain segment of the population, our solutions are – cook it until barely edible, or salt the shit out of it, or at least the equivalent of the latter, using various additives. I am hardly surprised that eating foods that don’t have this done to them are likely to make people feel better.

    The problem, however, is that they go whole hog. They don’t stop eating preserved food, they also start buying on “organics”, and every stupid thing that says “natural” on it, etc. This means that the people who do this have no clue which changes *actually* matter. Oh, and btw.. there was another blogger who brought up an interesting point about trying to find “natural” foods. The definition of that word is far looser than for organic, and even organic can be misleading. Some organics will *always* be organic, because there has been no practical way found to grow them otherwise, yet, you will find two identical items, priced differently, one in the “organic” section, and one in the “normal” section, rendering the word basically meaningless. “Natural” is even worse. There are lots of preservatives that are “natural”, methods of treating the food that are “natural”, and even ingredients they may add as filler, which is “natural”. The word, by itself, without clear qualifiers, or a clear ingredient list, is worthless, and, from my own brief look at some products, the law in the US, unlike say, the UK, allows them to only show “some” ingredients, and just put things like, “contains natural blah.”, on the label. In fact, the worst of these has got to be some drinks, where you can’t even tell what flavor something, in some cases, is supposed to be, because all it says is “natural flavors”.

    Organic and Natural rapidly went from meaningful to “marketing”. And a lot of the marketing is just absurd BS, to pander to people that imagine they are eating healthier by buying some of it. The matter is only made worse by the very real self-bias effect, which you see in a wide swath of things, from wearing lucky socks, to taking a sugar pill, which claims it “treats x”, to, yes, even the food you buy. If you believe you are feeling better, you will feel better.

    This is not to say that there isn’t “some” point to avoiding certain foods, just that, once you have eliminated a certain amount of things that actually *are* having an effect on your health, anything after that falls into the margin of error you get out of “belief”, as apposed to a real result. And that margin of error can muddy the waters to a bloody large degree, even to the point of convincing people that have no allergy, or sensitivity, to something, to “react” as though they do, because they “believe” in the movement, and the movement is telling them, this week, that X and Y are toxic, and might be what is making them feel bad, or, alternatively, that drinking the latest fad “super-food” mega-anti-oxidant, drink will make them feel better.

    Oh, and the joke on that last one. the same guy that originally came up with the anti-oxidant theory attempted to prove it by using genetic engineering, to see if animals whose ability to produce their own “natural” versions was disabled. He had to do a 180 (or is at least on the way to one) on his theory, because the animals he was testing with actually lived “longer” than they should have normally, by about 25%, I think it was, with those genes disabled. Feeding them foods containing high antioxidants.. dropped their life span back down to normal again.

    http://skeptvet.com/Blog/2013/02/the-myth-of-antioxidants/

    Not sure if this is paywalled, but it appears to be the article on the “current” research, by the guy who came up with the theory on free radicals in the first place: http://www.nature.com/scientificamerican/journal/v308/n2/pdf/scientificamerican0213-62.pdf

    Seems, free radicals, those horrible things we have been told by advertisers, and magazines, for years are killing you (while the people claiming this ignored the fact that it was a theory, and based on preliminary results, not a complete study of the effects), are actually triggering cellular repair functions, which have the effect of extending the life of the cells.

    Mind – there does seem to be a slight, but noticeable decrease in cancer risks by taking lots of vitamins, and antioxidants, but.. its kind of interesting that you might have a choice between a “slightly” higher risk of cancer, or living to be 125. Especially if the cancer risk gets reduced via other means, as it has begun to be.

    Basically, the facts are complex, not all of them are available yet, but quacks, marketing departments, and various “movements” are all jumping on board as fast as possible. The first two, because they know they can make lots and lots of money from people in the third group, as long as they only look at the facts that they want to see, and ignore the rest.

  28. #28 dogctor
    March 30, 2013

    How disappointing this article is. Half of it is pure ad hominem filler devoid of any science. Whatever science is actually included is absent any clinical insight.
    1) Antibiotic marker genes. The most commonly used plasmid in commercial GMOs is nptII coding neomycin and kanamycin resistance. Surely you’ve heard of MDR and cross resistance, no? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22499999

    Your entry on RNAi, likewise offers zero, zip, nada, zilch of insight, given the rice miRNA study which shows miRNA are absorbed and are regulating genes across kingdoms. I don’t feel any warm and fuzzies when I think that rDNA creates novel miRNAs, whose sequences are not even published.

    But with any real understanding of the molecular mechanisms of these technologies, the plausibility of their risk drops to zero. sounds great in theory, Now go fetch me some DATA, will you? I have looked far and wide and found nothing reassuring about the safety of currently commercialized GMOs–in actual living beings.
    Please prove me wrong with scientific clinical data, rather than verbose patronizing rhetoric.

  29. #29 dogctor
    March 30, 2013

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=hammond+safety+assurance

    Read those first….let me give you a heads up.
    The statistics are shit, half the rats are missing, as are all sorts of crucial tests- urinalysis, bile acids, and test for pancreatitis. These SAFETY ASSURANCE studies are suggest hepato-renal toxicity in under 90 days. Think about that!

  30. #30 Mark
    March 30, 2013

    dogctor
    March 30, 2013

    How disappointing this article is. Half of it is pure ad hominem filler devoid of any science. Whatever science is actually included is absent any clinical insight.
    1) Antibiotic marker genes. The most commonly used plasmid in commercial GMOs is nptII coding neomycin and kanamycin resistance. Surely you’ve heard of MDR and cross resistance, no? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22499999

    Of course I have, and I mentioned neomycin specifically in the article. The mistake you’re making is assuming that the cassettes used in molecular biology have anything to do with MDRs. They do not. You have only further exposed your ignorance.

    Your entry on RNAi, likewise offers zero, zip, nada, zilch of insight, given the rice miRNA study which shows miRNA are absorbed and are regulating genes across kingdoms.

    Except that I quoted the study which demonstrates that the paper you are referring to was studying artifact. There is no evidence of cross-kingdom RNAi effects. And when one thinks about it, RNA is a terrible molecule to transmit any kind of effect. It can not exist for long in the open outside the cell, your skin, your digestive tract, etc., is covered with RNAse so it’s not surprising that the findings were found to be nothing but contamination.

    sounds great in theory, Now go fetch me some DATA, will you? I have looked far and wide and found nothing reassuring about the safety of currently commercialized GMOs–in actual living beings.

    Except the last 20 years of implementation, the safety studies demonstrating no effect etc. Blah blah blah. You’ve got nothing.

    And you’re worried about glyphosate tolerance? You realize that the enzyme already exists in the plants, it’s just been slightly modified to resist glyphosate. The mechanism is laughable.

    Despite all your protestations you’ve got nothing.

  31. #31 nick
    Southampton, UK
    March 31, 2013

    Isn’t it sad that I can’t figure out if Max’s comment and Besswax’s follow up are sincere comments or clever parodies of the typical anti-GM nonsense commonly posted on science forums.

  32. #32 Skeptico
    March 31, 2013

    Mark, you were right that you would soon be accused of being in the pocket of Monsanto, et al. There is something about GMOs that bring the crazy. I was especially impressed by the guy who informed us that the government has special software to allow pro-GMO articles to be published “all over the Internet.” Imagine that – “all over the Internet.” The fiends!What chance to the anti-GMO people have against such government power?

    One of the ways you can quickly tell if an argument is bogus and not consistent with the science, is if the arguments have been refuted and yet the arguers repeat the refuted argument as if the rebuttals had never been made. I first noticed that trend with global warming deniers after I became aware of them about ten years ago. It was the first thing that made me skeptical of the so called climate “skeptics.” Like you, I also see it in this anti-GMO movement. See dogctor’s post above who (as you pointed out) ignored the rebuttal link provided in your post and just repeated the (refuted) claims about the rice miRNA study. Ditto the person writing about the risks to Monarchs. Here you are repeatedly and calmly asking for reasoned arguments and good science, and this is what you get in reply? Thanks for the article, anyway.

  33. #33 Gaythia Weis
    March 31, 2013

    The debate as presented here is, IMHO making the same mistake as was made for years in battling antivaxxers. That debate gave decades of publicity to Andrew Wakefield and his ilk and did little, in fact to address gaps that needed to be addressed in public health. A tit for tat battle with extremists plays into exactly what they desire, which is after all, headlines and publicity.

    Here, there are several key issues that are real, and do concern the public, that currently many members of the public have conflated with GMO science in general. These concern corporatist, unsustainable agricultural practices such as monocultures, seed patent policies, disclosures, and a decline in the American diet that has led to a corresponding decline in American health. Rather than addressing these issues and disassociating them from actual GMO science, scientists, in many instances, appear to be working hand in glove with the likes of Monsanto or Pepsico. Corporations such as these contain many excellent scientists, but also have made actions as corporations interested in short term profits, clearly have deficits in promoting scientifically sound outcomes.

    A more comprehensive view of the consequences of change need to be taken into account. For example “golden rice” seems clearly a benefit, but some implications may be questionable.. The underlying issues here involve not the details of genetics but those of economics, environmental concerns and those of nationalistic and personal aspirations. The proposed introduction of golden rice assumes a greater role for multinational corporations. It assumes an enhancement of a generally large scale, monocultural planting approach to agriculture. As is currently true in the US Midwest, these planting approaches have serious negative environmental consequences that are also very destructive of local economies. These consequences are linked to the GMO’s that make such large scale monocultures possible, and drive people off the land.

    So if you take a local population, it is not exactly relevant that their families might be vitamin A deficient now and would benefit from this rice. It may not be exactly relevant that they don’t really own enough land to run a small scale farm for their family or perhaps even that they don’t currently own any land at all. The issue is that it is a package deal. And that deal involves a clear disruptive effect on what they desire for their own futures. Which would be a future in which they would somehow have living wage occupations that effectively provide for their families. And that like the rest of us, that they too would get to eat a varied diet with not only rice but also meat and fish and plenty of vegetables.

    The message is here, you survive on this all in one vitamin chow, that’s good enough for you, corporations are taking over. In that message GMO gets equated with a greater evil. When the forces of science neglect the impact of these real concerns, the extremist, anti-science viewpoints that do feed into those concerns get a more sympathetic hearing than they deserve.

    The future public support of science and the success of implementations including golden rice, that do have much positive potential, depend on breaking that equation, not enhancing it.

  34. #34 Mary
    March 31, 2013

    @Gaythia: Andrew Wakefield drew the media and the hysteria himself. He’s the one who had a press conference and whipped up the frenzy.

    Are you suggesting that should have been ignored by scientists and science-inclined folks? That would have worked? Do you have any evidence of this?

    And you think the strategy when scientists recognize the next Wakefield–maybe it’s Jeffrey Smith, maybe it’s some other dissembler–to let the claims go unchallenged?

    It’s fine to have multiple strategies. But calling out the BS has to be among them.

  35. #35 John
    March 31, 2013

    Are we really all that surprised that Jane Goodall falls so easily for gut-feeling science? She is CERTAIN that there exists an “extra-cosmic power” because she can’t imagine nothingness before the Big Bang, and because she can’t accept that her daily experiences of awe and beauty could have come about by chance. Let me repeat: she is CERTAIN.

    http://www.templeton.org/purpose/essay_Goodall.html

    Disappointing that she is so prone to jump to hasty conclusions, but more disappointing that the masses will leech on because she’s a renowned scientist.

  36. #36 Gaythia Weis
    March 31, 2013

    Mary, I think that the focus should not have been on Wakefield but rather public health. I think we are capable of being much more sophisticated in the manner in which the BS is addressed. Given the “give both sides” manner in which the media handles most controversial issues, calling out BS directly gives the BSers equal time. The more time spent on this side battle the less time is spent on more significant ones. This spotlight is exactly what the activists want. A better approach would be to focus on the general public and address their real concerns.

    So, what I’d advise is not so much anti-vaxx attacks, or anti GMO attack as serious listening to real people’s real concerns as well as supporting real education efforts. In the case of vaccines that would include:
    Programs that focus on providing a cocoon of safety around too young to immunize infants.
    Reminders that measles is still a prevalent disease and the consequences can be quite serious. Polio is not eradicated and neither Afghanistan nor Nigeria are really far enough away to consider ones family safely isolated. Pertussis outbreaks have been due to a lack of immunization of some parents, such as immigrant parents,or a decline in immunity by those who were vaccinated with the newer, weaker vaccine.
    And focusing on efforts not directly related to vaccines: Combating cervical cancer now, not 20 years from now requires much greater attention to pap smears. Reducing hepatitis B in infants requires focusing on infected mothers.
    We can recognize that science informed vaccination policy is not set in stone.
    There is a large reservoir of public support out there for vaccination in general, even when specific instances are questioned. And even, in fact, examples wherein the public is the force driving public health officials to change position opposing some vaccinations (meningitis in Fort Collins, Co is my favorite example of this).
    Good communication is essential. First time parents build strong links with obstetricians only to be handed over to new to them pediatricians. For healthy infants, vaccinations happens to be the first issue that comes up. This may be before enough time has past for trust to build.
    Public efforts to call out those questioning vaccination as being the forces of anti science are unlikely to have the desired effect.

    In the case of GMOs that requires serious efforts to build more awareness of plant and animal genetics overall. That involves pressure for a great deal more public disclosure, not campaigns to restrict public disclosure. That may mean “outing’ some methods of genetic manipulation which now fall under conventional breeding but deserve more oversight. It means separating the findings of science from the corporatist goals of the likes of Monsanto or PepsiCo. It means focusing on such things a sustainable agriculture, taste and nutritional aspects of food and food processing. It means relating those efforts to environmental and personal health.

    In the long run, I believe that those sorts of broadly focused efforts will lead to public acceptance of some GMO products as part of an overall agricultural and food processing system that is more open and more oriented towards serving the common good.

    Continuing a battle against anti GMO acitivists will mostly serve to keep these in the headlines the way that a battle against antivaxxers kept them as a central focus. It enhances credibility of these activists with those members of the public who feel that their real concerns are being buried and ignored. Crackpots don’t deserve that sort of attention. And even scientists such as Jane Goodall who are renown for their efforts in an unrelated area can be seen as one voice of many seeking a more sustainable path forward. And thus not a threat to GMOs in their entirety.

  37. #37 dogctor
    March 31, 2013

    Except that I quoted the study which demonstrates that the paper you are referring to was studying artifact. There is no evidence of cross-kingdom RNAi effects. And when one thinks about it, RNA is a terrible molecule to transmit any kind of effect. It can not exist for long in the open outside the cell, your skin, your digestive tract, etc., is covered with RNAse so it’s not surprising that the findings were found to be nothing but contamination.

    Please quote a scientific study indicating that miRNA were a contaminant.

    sounds great in theory, Now go fetch me some DATA, will you? I have looked far and wide and found nothing reassuring about the safety of currently commercialized GMOs–in actual living beings.

    Except the last 20 years of implementation, the safety studies demonstrating no effect etc. Blah blah blah. You’ve got nothing.

    Exactly, Couldn’t agree with you more. Please cite these studies.

    And you’re worried about glyphosate tolerance? You realize that the enzyme already exists in the plants, it’s just been slightly modified to resist glyphosate. The mechanism is laughable.

    I am worried about 2,4-D, quizalofop, dicamba + glyphosate.
    glyphosate is a teratogen via the retinoic acid pathway.
    There is a study on pub med associating a “fop” with congenital urogenital anomalies.

    There is a thing called polymorphism, which suggests that different people have entirely different sensitivities to xenobiotics ( active ingredients + adjuvants) than others, who are genetically sturdier.

    Despite all your protestations you’ve got nothing.

    Dear Mark, BS, MS, MD.PHD etc

    Please explain to me the accuracy of a medical assessment of renal function withOUT a urinalysis.
    And please explain to me how one assesses metabolic trends with a single blood test… no baseline, no repeat tests….no way, no how can you assess any TRENDS.

    Please ask the global warming crowd how they assess global warming with a single time point…. ie ice core data from one day?

    And them go fetch me the urinalysis results in safety assessment studies, dear.

    Once you are done, please explain to me the type of renal changes described in the rats in those safety assurance studies, and whether they are the same changes ascribed to normal aging in that species of laboratory rats.

    A link to 20yrs worth of safety studies on cats, dogs, horses and people, much appreciated. Especially if they are in a form of a blinded statistically powered controlled feeding trial.

    Thanks much
    Happy Easter

  38. #38 dogctor
    March 31, 2013

    When you are good and ready ( I am taking off for the day, BTW), please join us on http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2013/03/31/why-are-greens-seduced-by-anti-biotech-charlatans/#disqus_thread

    Thanks,

    Ena

  39. #39 Sara
    March 31, 2013

    The Monsanto article in BMC Genomics showed that there were small RNAs from plants found in animal samples in publicly available data sets. I agree that it is difficult to assess the source of small RNAs because they are so short, but I think characterizing this study as demonstrating that the findings of the initial Cell article were artifacts goes too far.

    In my opinion, they seemed to mostly blame finding the sequencing on contamination from other libraries sequenced in the same facility. While we certainly do see barcode leakage where I work we never, ever see barcode leakage from plants because, like may core research facilities, we never ever sequence plants. It may have missed it but I don’t believe Monsanto even establish that the data sets they used were barcoded or that they were sequenced in facilities that even sequence plants. I think misalignment is more likely to be a source of contamination, and they probably should have done an analysis of the hamming distance between I also wasn’t convinced that the small RNAs found in the cell line data was a good control because the rate of plant RNA rates in the human plasma was so much higher than in the other human samples.

    And anyhow there’s also a PlosOne article that did not rely on publicly available data sets that also found exogenous small RNAs with a few more controls for contamination and some qPCR validations: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0051009

    I agree that it is possible to be less than 100% convinced that exogenous plant small RNAs are crossing into human plasma because the small reads are so short and contamination can be such a problem (particularly shown in the PlosOne paper), but on the the whole these two papers and the original Cell paper together suggest rather more that it is occurring than that it is not.

    The fact is that a fundamental assumption of the FDA framework is that novel proteins are require to undergo scrutiny before they are allowed into food but RNAs are considered de facto safe. Small RNAs are not considered safe because we eat them all the time, as you suggest. That, frankly, is not a scientific argument because by that logic all proteins would be considered safe because we eat proteins all the time. They are considered safe as a class primarily because they were considered too unstable to cross the gut.

    If this assumption is incorrect then the approval process needs to be adjusted to treat novel RNA molecules the same way that novel proteins are treated.

    It is not alarmist to point that out, but I think it is irresponsible for scientists to deny there is a flaw in the approval process, or to cast people who point out the flaw as anti-science.

  40. #40 Sara
    March 31, 2013

    And by the way, the miRNA levels in the original Cell Research (sorry not Cell) were not reliant on the Solexa sequencing anyway.

    The Solexa sequencing was only one part of a large study. The Solexa findings were validated by qRT PCR (Figure 1, Figure 2), which is not addressed at all by the Monsanto paper. Further, there were several additional experiments that had nothing to do with next generation sequencing. These included in vitro and, more importantly, in vivo functional experiments that used protein assays with GFP and luciferase reporters.

    Yet you say:

    “Except that I quoted the study which demonstrates that the paper you are referring to was studying artifact. There is no evidence of cross-kingdom RNAi effects.”

    You are accusing someone else of cherry picking? Or did you just not read these papers?

    Your science is terrible. I think you should print a retraction and apologize to Zhang et al.

    Is there an ombudsman for this thing? I’d like to file a complaint.

  41. #41 Mark
    March 31, 2013

    Sara, I’d hate to see you leave after you’ve demonstrated clear knowledge of the literature, and actually contributed a data-based contribution to the thread. I’d rather have you stick around and keep me honest if necessary. But let’s at least argue more before you get too pissed off.

    I think the PLoS article you linked is very interesting, but a few things still make me wary of accepting a cross-kingdom interaction. For one, detection is not function. And while the most interesting aspect of the paper was the finding that the identified miRNA sequences could be associated with RISC complexes, it’s still highly questionable whether this could have physiological effects at the levels involved.

    I think it’s still fair to say there is not evidence of cross-kingdom RNAi effects. RNAi detection? Maybe.

    As far as my language as dismissing this as artifact, maybe I was too certain in my language. As the authors of the BMC paper said, ” plant miRNAs observed in some public animal sRNA datasets and our own insect feeding experiment sequence data may be artifactual “. If you think my wording is too extreme, I can understand that. I might consider adding a “may” or clarify that the evidence is equivocal, rather than thoroughly-debunked.

    The other plausibility problem is known issues we’ve had with attempts at gene regulation and therapy with siRNA in humans. At levels far higher than suggested by the feeding study, it’s very challenging to demonstrate consistent effects. The majority of the experience with siRNA and miRNA conflicts with the notion that mammalian cells so readily accept delivery of exogenous RNA molecules, and that at such low levels it still strikes me as extremely unlikely that we are going to confirm that there physiological effects.

    So, is there evidence of detection? Sure. Is there evidence of function? Not really, and that’s what I was referring to as cross-kingdom effects. The data is just not there yet. And, it’s going to take some weighty evidence before I’m convinced of such a gaping hole in our intrinsic defense of our cellular and genomic functions. So far in my searches, I do not see that this field has expanded significantly beyond a couple of papers (some 30 citations of the original paper, lots of essays and opinions, not a lot of new evidence). I’m perfectly within my rights to remained unconvinced that the literature has proven this phenomenon, especially in the absence of expansion upon the authors original findings. Please provide me with links if they exist, but I went through the papers citing Zhang’s original, and I don’t see extension of their findings yet.

    Also you say, “It is not alarmist to point that out, but I think it is irresponsible for scientists to deny there is a flaw in the approval process, or to cast people who point out the flaw as anti-science.”

    If this is what I had been responding too, sure, maybe then I’d be the asshole. But please read Rappaport’s assay, and tell me how calling the technology evil, scientists “stupid and malevolent” etc., is not antiscience. A reasoned essay based on a realistic assessment of the evidence in the literature (as you provided) would be one thing. But the irrational alarmism of Natural News is indefensible. So please stick around Sara, people that know what they’re talking about have the benefit of making our arguments better, smarter, stronger, and if I’m wrong, I’ll be happy to reverse. I don’t think I am, yet, but it’s always a possibility.

  42. #42 Mark
    March 31, 2013

    Dogctor, I can’t even begin to address your criticisms if you don’t at least provide a link. As far as 20 years of data in various animal models, there’s a denialist phenomenon of “impossible expectations” I might point you towards.

    If you want me to address specific arguments you are going to have to write in a clearer fashion, because for the most part I can’t detect a consistent line of reasoning.

  43. #43 Sara
    April 1, 2013

    I don’t think you wording is too extreme. I think it is incorrect.

    Is there evidence of function?
    There is evidence is in figure 5 of the Zhang et al. Cell Research paper.

    There is no counter evidence that this specific finding is erroneous, to my knowledge.

    The onus now, I believe, should be on the makers of GM food to prove their product, in light of the new findings, is still safe, not on the opponents to do further experiments to prove that their product is unsafe.

    The experiments are easy enough to do. Just feed some rats some GM food and see if you see the novel small RNAs in their bloodstream. If they aren’t there (as Monsanto would have you believe from their BMC Genomics paper) you don’t need the functional tests.

    If they are there then they have to establish they aren’t functional as a class.

    If they can’t they have to treat the RNAs like a novel protein.

  44. #44 Mark
    April 1, 2013

    Is there evidence of function?
    There is evidence is in figure 5 of the Zhang et al. Cell Research paper.

    There is no counter evidence that this specific finding is erroneous, to my knowledge.

    Except a corrigendum was published, did you look at the updated figure 5? It doesn’t change the figure a great deal, but there remains the question of physiologic signficance. Take a look at their full spread of Westerns on LDRAP. The first one? Sure, it looks like effect, then inhibition with the anti-miRNA. The second, eh, not as pretty but ok. The third? Pretty unconvincing. What if we’re just looking at noise (not to mention their tubulin band is way overexposed, I can not interpret normalization bands that are clearly so far out of the linear range of detection)? It’s known to happen, even to the best of us, hence John Ioannidis’ work and the importance of replication. Now, also consider when evaluating this Western, that there is no baseline. Critically, each of the other westerns in the paper shows an increase from baseline with the chow of LDLRAP levels. So are we seeing decreased LDLRAP with rice/miRNA, or are we seing chow causing an increased LDLRAP signal (Figure 6E, 6f)? They try to suggest it’s from the miRNA alone, but then look at figure 6j! The return of function with injection of a supposedly anti-miRNA results in a minimal increase in LDLRAP levels despite injecting nanomolar concentrations. This is in the face of an effect that supposedly occurs with tiny femtomolar increases in miRNA from picomolar feedings.

    The onus now, I believe, should be on the makers of GM food to prove their product, in light of the new findings, is still safe, not on the opponents to do further experiments to prove that their product is unsafe.

    Given what I think about the strength of this data I disagree. For one, we’re talking about a single finding in a single paper that purports to show something pretty extraordinary, in the face of evidence that suggests the miRNA identified might have been artifact. It’s just not strong enough evidence to overcome some pretty big plausibility problems, and in the year and a half since published, I don’t see in the cross-ref record extension of what are pretty revolutionary findings. This, to me, is disturbing.

    I still have major issues with this data before I would accept this is a “proven” mechanism. For one, experience with siRNA suggests exposures of much higher levels than femtomolar would be required before one sees effects in cells. The great limitation of exogenous gene modification has always been delivery, and this suggests, amazingly, that small levels of RNA, which survive all the RNAse of the GI tract, arrive in the serum, are taken up by cells by an unknown mechanism, and then, even at extremely low levels, modify the physiology of a cell. If you look at figure 6, for instance, you see the chow diet increased the plasma levels of the mi168 sequence from about 3.5 femtomolar (femtomolar!) to 6 femtomolar. Now look at figure 6F, the level of LDLRAP increases in the chow, and drops in the miRNA/rice treated group. If you compare to the d0 point, you have to ask, why did that happen? If you compare to the baseline, these are small changes. If you look at 6E, it’s clear chow is significantly elevating the levels of this protein from baseline. Why would that be? Could it be this isn’t properly controlled, and something is happening in the chow vs fresh rice groups separate from the presence of the miRNA? Notice in the methods, to get a response of the anti-mRNA they inject 10 nanomoles (10^-9) of pure miRNA to get a puny recovery effect, yet feeding picomoles (10^-12) of RNA (in 5g of food no less) resulting in femtomolar (10^-15) changes in serum levels has effects that are physiologically-significant? This beggars belief.

    This is such a profoundly unlikely result, one should expect a much higher level of evidence, at the very least confirmation, before we accept this as a true mechanism. What do we really have so far? One western blot, poorly controlled (there’s a lot more going on than miRNA when you are comparing rice vs chow with no baseline). Against this we have experience with difficulty in delivering siRNA for physiologic effect, the much higher serum levels required in previous experiments, as well as the issue that, if it were so easy for other organisms to modify our genes, and with supposedly physiologic effects of femtomolar changes, how come we don’t have an example of this in nature? Protein toxins exist (albeit they’re pretty rare like ricin and other lectins, bacterial toxins like botulinum or cholera, prions), where are the RNA toxins? No life form has figured a way to harness dsRNA to poison another? If these mechanisms were plausible, it would be astounding to find they don’t exist in nature. I suspect the reason they don’t is that RNA is extremely unstable outside the cell and degraded rapidly in the gut.

    The way I read the state of evidence at this time is that:
    1. plant miRNA has been detected in blood, but the assays are extremely noise-prone given the similarity of the putative plant miRNA to miRNA that exists in the animal, and the difficulty of accurately amplifying/cloning, small ~21 nt is going to be very prone to error, as well as the contamination issues discussed in the BMC paper.
    2. There exists evidence that one can detect tiny quantities of plant miRNA in animal sera from other researchers.
    3. At least one attempt to replicate this phenomenon in insects (BMC) failed.
    4. There is very, very questionable evidence, from one paper, that has not been confirmed, that this results in a physiological effect, but this should be held with extreme skepticism given the tiny changes in quantity of the the miRNA identified. After all, the supposedly unexposed animal starts with a similar femtomolar concentration of this miRNA, which then increases by a tiny amount. Could it be, that we’re just looking at noise?

    This paper simply does not convince me on it’s own. And without replication? Color me unimpressed.

  45. #45 Matthias Mayse
    April 1, 2013

    Just look at Greg Laden and you’ll understand the shift to pseudo-science.

  46. #46 dogctor
    April 1, 2013

    Hi Mark.

    I did provide a link to four studies, which are the basis of safety assessments at the FDA.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=hammond+safety+assurance

    Lets crack open one of these studies. Can I assume you have it, or would you like me to email you a copy?
    I believe it is legal to do so, if money doesn’t exchange hands.

    Results of a 90-day safety assurance study with rats fed grain
    from corn rootworm-protected corn
    B. Hammond a,*, J. Lemen a, R. Dudek a, D. Ward a, C. Jiang a, M. Nemeth a, J. Burns b
    a Monsanto Company, 800 North Lindbergh Blvd., St Louis, MO 63167, United States

    Abstract
    The results of a 90-day rat feeding study with YieldGard
    Corn rootworm-protection was accomplished through the introduction of a cry3Bb1 coding sequence into the corn genome for in planta production of a modified Cry3Bb1 protein from Bacillus thuringiensis. Grain from MON 863 and its near isogeniccontrol were separately formulated into rodent diets at levels of 11% and 33% (w/w) by Purina Mills, Inc. Additionally, six groups of rats were fed diets containing grain from different conventional (non-biotechnology-derived) reference varieties. The responses of rats fed diets containing MON 863 were compared to those of rats fed grain from conventional corn varieties. All diets were nutritionally balanced and conformed to Purina Mills, Inc. specifications for Certified LabDiet 5002.
    There were a total of 400 rats in thestudy divided into 10 groups of 20 rats/sex/group. Overall health, body weight gain, food consumption, clinical pathology parameters(hematology, blood chemistry, urinalysis), organ weights, gross and microscopic appearance of tissues were comparable
    between groups fed diets containing MON 863 and conventional corn varieties.
    —————————————————————————————————–

    Table 5
    Serum chemistry mean values ± SD in female rats following 90 days of exposure to MON 863 grain in the diet
    BUN (mg/dl) 10 13.2 ± 2.3 14.6 ± 1.8 15.5 ± 2.5 14.4 ± 1.9 58 15.0 ± 3.48
    CREA (mg/dl) 10 0.56 ± 0.05 0.61 ± 0.06 0.63 ± 0.07 0.60 ± 0.07 58 0.60 ± 0.12

    &

    Table 7

    Kidney Focal chronic inflammation 7 11 7 6
    Focal tubular regeneration 8 14 2 3
    Tubular mineralization 0 0 9 2*

    &

    (3.2.3. Urine chemistry (data not shown).
    http://www.merckmanuals.com/vet/clinical_pathology_and_procedures/diagnostic_procedures_for_the_private_practice_laboratory/urinalysis.html

    Medicine 101:
    Kidney disease is Silent until it is very Advanced.
    The earliest signs are polydypsea and polyuria which leads to production of dilute urine ( low specific gravity) +/- other changes: presence of protein, glucose ( Fanconi’s), blood or casts.

    http://www.merckmanuals.com/vet/urinary_system/noninfectious_diseases_of_the_urinary_system%C2%A0in_small_animals/renal_dysfunction_in_small_animals.html

    It takes destruction of greater than 60-75% of the kidney cells (nephrons) before there are ANY clinical signs, and before blood tests can detect it
    BUN/creatinine are not elevated until approximately ¾ of the kidney tissue is not viable and it is too late

    Question
    1-Are you able to determine that the 20 female rats( out of 40), similar to the males, for whom BUN and creatinine are reported are not suffering from Stage I/II renal disease?

    Table 1
    Experimental design
    Groupa Animals/sex State corn
    grown
    Dietary level
    (% w/w)
    1. Control 20 Hawaii 11
    2. Control 20 Hawaii 33
    3. MON 863 20 Hawaii 11
    4. MON 863 20 Hawaii 33
    5. Reference A 20 Illinois 33
    6. Reference B 20 Illinois 33
    7. Reference C 20 Hawaiib 33
    8. Reference D 20 Hawaiib 33
    9. Reference E 20 Hawaiib 33
    10. Reference F 20 Illinois 33
    a Control and reference grain are from conventional varieties that
    are not biotechnology-derived.
    b Grown in the same geographical location, but different from the
    locality where MON 863 and its control were grown.

    Question:
    2Are you happy with an experimental design in which 80 animals are experimental and 320 are reference/control…which raises statistical risks of false negative findings?
    —————————————

    Table 3
    Hematology mean values ± SD in female rats following 90 days of exposure to MON 863 grain in the diet
    Parameter N 11% Control 33% Control 11% MON 863 33% MON 863 N Reference population
    mean ± 2SD
    WBC (103/ll) 9–10 6.78 ± 1.71 5.64 ± 1.52 8.20 ± 1.59 6.78 ± 2.20 58 6.43 ± 3.56
    PT (s) 8–10 14.9 ± 0.42 15.3 ± 0.29 15.4 ± 0.20* 15.0 ± 0.45 56 14.7 ± 0.80
    APTT (s) 8–10 17.0 ± 1.91 15.8 ± 1.57 17.2 ± 1.22 16.5 ± 1.10a 56 20.0 ± 4.80
    Statistically significant differences *P < 0.05.
    a Statistically significant difference from reference population mean only, P < 0.01.

    Questions:

    3 Are these statistics, in which standard deviations are reported for a range of rats (8-10, 9-10), rather than a specific number of rats reliable?
    4 Are you satisfied with scientific integrity of this paper, reporting findings for 58/120 reference rats ( and a similar fraction of experimental rats, but in NO case for all the rats)?
    5Does it bother you at all that laboratory findings are missing for more than half the rats?
    6Does it bother you that there is no baseline nor any way to evaluate metabolic trends?

    Thanks,

    Ena

  47. #47 Derek
    Ohio
    April 1, 2013

    Thanks for posting this, Mark. I’m disheartened by the anti science, anti-GMO rhetoric I see some of my friends espousing, and it’s helpful when I can point them to a full-throated defense of science like this.

  48. #48 Mark
    April 1, 2013

    Ena, if you have a problem with the literature, why don’t you write a paper critical of these studies and submit them to a journal for peer review. Or start your own blog. It’s not my job to defend the entire literature based on lists of papers commenters send to me, and it’s not a valuable use of my time. I brought up two issues as part of this post, and I think defended them adequately. It takes me a great deal of time to read papers carefully, and I’m not going to get citation bombed this way. Stay on topic.

    As far as the MDR paper you cited, it did not support the point you were trying to make. I was making the point that the resistance genes we use in rDNA already exist in nature. The MDR plasmid described had nothing to do with transfer from a GM source.

  49. #49 dogctor
    April 1, 2013

    You, Mark, are an ignorant pretentious wimp who lacks basic medical training. If you were the last physician on the planet, I wouldn’t see you. You are a sell-out / a slut/ a prostitute and an embarrassment to the world of medicine and the world of science.
    Have a grand life.
    I wont be back to a site designed for meek sheep.

  50. #50 Mark
    April 1, 2013

    Stay classy Ena.

  51. #51 Mark
    April 1, 2013

    Dogctor/Ena, you’re banned. I’ve deleted your (multiple) cut and paste junk posts. Go away. I don’t need this to become a forum for childish invective.

  52. #52 Patrick 027
    April 1, 2013

    I don’t know nearly enough about this stuff to provide answers, but I know just enough to have some questions:

    (re/inspired by Gaythia Weis @ 33): are there no other vitamin-A rich crops that would or could be made to (with reasonable effort) grow well and keep well in Africa, relative to golden rice?

    If I were going to be concerned about irradiated food, I’d think about proteins being broken up in such a way that you might get a prion, or general nutrient destruction. Are the bonds holding these molecules together generally stronger than those of DNA and RNA – ie are they relatively unaffected? Is the accidental creation of a prion extremely unlikely?

    (not that all DNA codes for proteins, but)… substituting an existing DNA code for protein already in our food into a different species would make that species produce the protein under different conditions (the conditions in that species’ cells – in whichever tissue is involved). Would the same protein be produced (and fold the same way) without any other effects, or would there be some interaction that could produce novel substances or lack of key nutrients – well I should be able to reassure myself because they’d find that out in the lab (and if the novel substance would only appear after ingestion – well we already consume a lot of stuff that could have interacting effects so it’s kind of like the point originally made about ingesting RNA – well, not exactly – we do need to worry about interactions (vitamin D and Ca, drugs, etc.), but it’s not at all unique or necessarily relevant to GMOs). (Related point: the substances in food change in preparation: the substance that provides the smell of Garlic doesn’t actually exist until – as I understand it – you break some cell walls. Well, they can chop up (and cook) food in the lab, too.)

    Has there been any effort made at using GM to remove allergens from food (such as Brazil nuts, or peanuts) – (or would simply not roasting peanuts be as effective?) – or produce food lacking in certain amino acids (or contain the enzymes needed to digest them) for people with metabolic disorders?

    PS I wouldn’t eat a GMO tomato – unless it was a glacier tomato :) (the only tomatoes I know of which actually taste good without adding sugar, wine, etc.). But go ahead and make ketchup and sauce of the rest of ‘em.

  53. #53 Mark
    April 1, 2013

    If I were going to be concerned about irradiated food, I’d think about proteins being broken up in such a way that you might get a prion, or general nutrient destruction. Are the bonds holding these molecules together generally stronger than those of DNA and RNA – ie are they relatively unaffected? Is the accidental creation of a prion extremely unlikely?

    Extremely unlikely, as prions have a specific folding function that (as far as we can tell) spread by misfolding the same specific protein in a chain reaction. it would be very unlikely that through irradiation a protein would have such a gain of function (especially as DNA is the molecule being damaged by the irradiation) and then be able to misfold the same protein in us. Proteins are pretty resistant (you die from radiation poisoning from your cells dying from DNA damage, not by being melted). Similarly, I don’t worry about cooking, or enzymatic digestion breaking proteins into new prion forms.

    (not that all DNA codes for proteins, but)… substituting an existing DNA code for protein already in our food into a different species would make that species produce the protein under different conditions (the conditions in that species’ cells – in whichever tissue is involved). Would the same protein be produced (and fold the same way) without any other effects, or would there be some interaction that could produce novel substances or lack of key nutrients

    It’s possible that different species my process a protein slightly differently. The code is the same between species, but there is a lot of post-translational processing. It’s unlikely it will create a radically-different protein or toxin, because toxins have very specific enzymatic effects.

    Has there been any effort made at using GM to remove allergens from food (such as Brazil nuts, or peanuts) – (or would simply not roasting peanuts be as effective?) – or produce food lacking in certain amino acids (or contain the enzymes needed to digest them) for people with metabolic disorders?

    It’s been suggested but so far it has not been implemented. I would generally be opposed to it, because all you need is to introduce some human error and have some cook throw the wrong peanuts in the mix and kill someone with anaphylaxis. It’s probably better just to avoid that food altogether as it’s unlikely you’ll eradicate the non-allergenic forms. Allergy testing is a part of new GMO approval though.

    PS I wouldn’t eat a GMO tomato – unless it was a glacier tomato :) (the only tomatoes I know of which actually taste good without adding sugar, wine, etc.). But go ahead and make ketchup and sauce of the rest of ‘em.

    We ruined the tomato with good old fashioned breeding for a hard, round, flavorless (but very red) lump that trucks well. I pretty much only eat heirlooms that are funny-looking, funny-colored but actually with taste. There is some talk of restoring the tomato to its original glory with GM or breeding, but I don’t know if anything has come of it. The mutation that makes the tomatoes turn uniformly red has apparently removed their taste and natural sugar content (this was achieved with breeding).

  54. #54 theoldman
    April 2, 2013

    It seems many people do suffer from SAS, Shill Accusation Syndrome. It strikes those who can’t believe that you can independently come to a conclusion that differs from theirs.

  55. #55 theoldman
    April 2, 2013

    It really amazes me how the very same people who worry about the trace amount of Roundup on their food worry about weeds getting resistant to it. If they don’t want Roundup to be used in the first place, why are they concerned if weeds get resistant to it?

  56. #56 theoldman
    April 2, 2013

    Speaking of the easy pickings and the virulent anti-scientific,

    http://www.naturalnews.com/035790_scientific_suicide_humans.html

    You can’t get much more so than that.

    And this gem from the, “Stealth Danger”:

    http://www.naturalnews.com/037262_GMO_Monsanto_debate.html

    “GMO-pimping scientists are laughing at all the death they’re causing. They enjoy tricking people and watching them die because it makes their sick minds feel more powerful. These were the geeks in school who were bullied by the jocks. But now, with the power of genetic manipulation at their fingertips, they can invoke their hatred against all humankind and “bully” the entire world with hidden poisons in the food. That makes them smile. It’s the ultimate revenge against a world that mistreated them in their youth. Death to everyone!”

    Makes me wonder if MIke Adams did any of that bullying himself.

  57. #57 Patrick 027
    April 2, 2013

    Thank you ! (re Mark @ 53 re me)

  58. #58 John Seven
    United States
    April 2, 2013

    This is a great piece, but as a layman, I just get more and more confused about the information on GMOs that is out there. For instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists doesn’t have a lot good to say about GMOs, so I wonder what the difference between their viewpoint and that of denialists is, because to someone on the outside, it all seems very similar. Any chance you could put the position of the Union of Concerned Scientists in context of what you are saying here?

  59. #59 Truth serum addict
    April 2, 2013

    GMOs should be banned, but it will never happened now that obama is in bed with Monsanto.

    Things that should be outright banned from existance –

    GMO food (causes cancer, instestine problems, digestion problems, metabolism decrease, type 2 diabetes, and renders immune system useless)

    sodium fluoride(decreases intelligence, cognitive function, and may contribute ot mental health and well being)

    sodium laurel sulfate (toxic to the skin)

    aspartame (causes cancer)

    mercury and thermosil in vaccines (causes autism, paralysis, and death)

    ethanol – ensures that your car gets LESS MPG, ensures that your car does not run well, destroys small engines, causes food to be used for food instead of feeding people, prematurely burns up spark plugs and make an engine run slightly hotter whil adding increased wear and heat on fule pumps, injectors, plugs, and eventually disintegrates rubber fuel lines. Ban ethanol and imprison those who started its use.

  60. #60 Mark
    April 3, 2013

    Any chance you could put the position of the Union of Concerned Scientists in context of what you are saying here?

    Generally I agree with UCS but I think their criticisms of risks of GMO are pretty weak. They, hem and haw, and won’t make a statement of what the realistic assessment of these risks are, at the same time repeating some of the same, ignorant criticisms.

    Briefly, the risks they list:
    1. New Allergens in the Food Supply

    This is of course possible, but very unlikely, and current regulatory schemes test for allergenicity (and products have been pulled in pre-market testing – showing it works. The UCS claims allergenic proteins may be put in another food and then consumers wouldn’t know their carrot had an allergenic milk protein. This assumes that of the tens of thousands of genes for some reason scientists would chose one that transfers the allergy, then fail to identify it in subsequent allergen testing. This strikes me as extremely low risk, and is committing a logical fallacy of attributing a part to the whole. Worse, the UCS lists an example of successful regulatory catch – the brazil nut protein – as an example of a failure. The product was pulled pre-market when allergen testing found the problem!

    2. Antibiotic Resistance

    Most genetically engineered plant foods carry fully functioning antibiotic-resistance genes, which are used as “selectable markers” early in the engineering process, helping to select cells that have taken up the foreign genes. Such genes could have two harmful effects. First, eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease if the antibiotics are taken at the same time as the foods. Second, the resistance genes could be transferred to human or animal pathogens, making them impervious to antibiotics—an effect that has already been demonstrated experimentally in the human digestive system.

    This paragraph, I think, exposes that whatever “scientist” at UCS that wrote this, knows nothing about antibiotic resistance or rDNA, as I explained above. For one, the antibiotic resistance genes used in GE, to use a weapons analogy, are like a slingshot, or crudely-sharpened stick. The antibiotic resistance that’s being generated of clinical significance in our ICUs from overuse of antibiotics (with natural selection as the genetic driver) is like a cruise missile with multiple independent warheads. They’re saying that arming bacteria with the sharpened sticks is going to be some kind of risk for clinically-significant antibiotic resistance. Not really. The cat’s already out of the bag for these resistance genes since we cloned them from nature, they existed before we even used antibiotics in people, and clinically we don’t use drugs like the first generation penicillins unless we know we’re targeting a bug that doesn’t develop resistance, like group B strep. I don’t buy this at all, and whoever wrote this is, sorry to say, completely ignorant of what constitutes clinically-significant resistance.

    3. Production of New Toxins

    Many organisms have the ability to produce toxic substances, which help to defend them from predators. Some plants contain inactive genetic pathways leading to toxic substances, and new genetic material introduced through GE could reactivate these pathways or otherwise increase the plant’s production of toxic substances. This might happen, for instance, if on/off signals associated with an introduced gene are located on the genome in places where they could turn on the previously inactive genes for producing the toxins.

    This is completely magical thinking. Hidden toxins in our food will be activated by GM and we’ll have no idea! Oh noes!@!11! Actually, most food we eat, even vegetables, are full of all sorts of “toxins” that just aren’t toxic to us, are in the part of the plant we don’t eat, or at such low levels we don’t notice. Tomatoes, for example, are a member of the nightshade family, their leaves and stems are full of all sorts of fun toxic alkaloids (don’t eat tomato leaves) and when unripe these toxins are at low levels. Could we accidentally turn on one of these genes in the fruit (or turn it on more)? It’s possible, albeit extremely unlikely. Are we also going to figure it out in like 2 seconds that the fruit is now poisonous? Yes! These concerns make no sense to me, because it seems to assume there is no product testing.

    3. Concentration of Toxic Metals

    Some genes added to crops can remove heavy metals like mercury from the soil and sequester them in the plant tissue. This allows the use of municipal sludge, which contains toxic heavy metals, as fertilizer.

    I have no idea what they’re talking about here. What GE crop is being made for heavy metal sequestration? If it exists, I’ve never heard of it, and in google searching the only relevant link seems to be the UCS page. And municipal sludge! It’s already being used! There isn’t a need for a specific crop to make it safe (it’s probably not safe), and it’s one of the few good reasons to chose organic foods – not because it presents a realistic threat to the consumer, but there is suggestive evidence, and plausible mechanisms to suggest it is dangerous for workers applying it, and for the local communities in which it’s used. You’re basically concentrating all sorts of crap (literally crap, but also other pollutants including heavy metals), spraying it, etc., around workers and farm communities. I’d be more wary of the use of municipal sludge than of the GM crop.

    Although most GE health risks result from adding new genetic material to organisms, the removal of genes and gene products can also cause problems. For example, GE might be used to produce decaffeinated coffee beans by deleting or turning off genes associated with caffeine production. But caffeine helps protect coffee beans against fungi. Beans that are unable to produce caffeine might be coated with fungi, which can produce toxins. Fungal toxins, such as aflatoxin, are potent human toxins that can remain active through processes of food preparation.

    This is so bizarrely stupid an argument, it deserves to be on natural news. Why would it be easier to GM a caffeine free bean? Why lose the benefit of caffeine salvage from the decaffeination process? Are the authors aware that there are already natural coffee varieties that don’t have caffeine? (Coffea charrieriana) Guess what, they don’t poison us with fungus. This criticism is just stupid, stupid, stupid.

    4. Increased Weediness

    Serious weed problems can result when a plant is introduced—either accidentally or intentionally—into an environment where it inhibits crop yields or disrupts ecosystems. GE has the potential to create weed problems by adding traits that enable a plant to thrive unaided in environments where it becomes a new weed. One example would be drought-tolerant turfgrass or switchgrass, which may become invasive in drier environments.

    Who is engineering tougher weeds? I don’t get this argument. Who is GM engineering switchgrass, and why would GM techniques be more or less risky than normal breeding for this problem? This isn’t a problem specific to GM, so this doesn’t make sense to me, or maybe I’m reading it wrong.

    5. Gene Transfer

    Novel genes engineered into crops can easily move via pollen to wild or weedy relatives of those crops that may be growing nearby. The new traits might confer on those relatives the ability to thrive in unwanted places. Several wild relatives of crops in the U.S., such as jointed goatgrass (a wheat relative), are already serious weeds—and gene transfer could exacerbate this problem. (A related but distinct problem is gene contamination of non-GE crops by nearby GE crops.)

    The second “problem” does occur, but it’s more of a Monsanto/patent/jerk corporation problem than a GMO problem. This is the well-known vertical gene transfer. The risk of horizontal gene transfer is being way overblown, it is extremely low-frequency.

    6. Change in Herbicide Use Patterns

    Widespread use of herbicide-tolerant crops has led to the rapid evolution of resistance to herbicides in weeds as a result of increased exposure to the herbicide. As these herbicides become less effective, farmers may increase their use of older, more toxic herbicides, with resulting environmental harm.

    This is one of the most common, and most irrelevant, anti-GM arguments I see. So what if resistance develops to GM? Resistance is a problem with all pesticide, herbicide technologies! This is not a GM-specific problem, this is a “growing food” problem. This is “other things want to eat our plants and always will” problem. This is like saying we shouldn’t develop new antibiotics because the bacteria will just become resistant to them. True! But in the meantime we’ll have new antibiotics, and we’ll fight another day.

    7. Squandering of Valuable Pest Susceptibility Genes

    Many insects contain genes that render them susceptible to pesticides. These genes are a valuable natural resource because they allow pesticides to remain effective. “Bt crops,” which are genetically engineered to contain a gene for the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin—one of nature’s most valuable pesticides—threaten the continued susceptibility of pests to the Bt toxin. Because the crops produce the toxin throughout the life cycle of the plant, pests are constantly exposed to it. This continuous exposure selects for the rare resistance genes in the pest population and in time will render the Bt pesticide useless, unless specific measures are instituted to avoid the development of such resistance. (Bt resistance has already been observed

    Another resistance argument but finally a good one! Yes, irresponsible use of a pesticide will generate resistance. One could argue that since the plants make the pesticide continuously, it will more likely create resistance. evidence of this already exists in the literature. I don’t have a good solution to this problem, and I think it’s a legitimate critique. I do have some faith though that the scientists working on this will find additional solutions, or it is possible a rotation system will help prevent evolution of tougher pests. But the reality is, everything we do to fight off pests is susceptible to defeat by evolution of tougher pests. This is the one good argument though, because it suggests we’re playing a bad evolutionary game by creating a greater selective pressure on the pest. I agree. They should work on that. Doesn’t turn me against GM from a safety issue though.

    8. Poisoned Wildlife

    Addition of foreign genes to plants could also have serious consequences for wildlife in a number of circumstances. For example, engineering crop plants, such as tobacco or rice, to produce plastics or pharmaceuticals could endanger mice or deer who consume crop debris left in the fields after harvesting.

    Oh no, the poor deer and mice! Sorry, I’ve got no sympathy for either of these two pest species. Goddamn deer, eat our grapes every damn year so we have to build these huge damn deer fences. However, the plastics plants that have been produced could actually be a great environmental boon. They have promise to replace plastics produced from petroleum while at the same time being biodegradable. Risk benefit? GM, degradable plastic versus unknown threat to pest species? I’ll take GM biodegradable plastic. What the hell is wrong with the UCS that they would present such a technology as a potential downer because it might (might!) hurt some mice? Guess what. There’s no shortage of mice.

    Fish that have been engineered to contain metal-sequestering proteins (such fish have been suggested as living pollution clean-up devices) could be harmful if consumed by other fish or raccoons.

    I’m worrying about raccoons now? These arguments about theoretical uses of technologies that are barely more than hypothetical are not a good use of my time to debunk.

    9. Creation of New (or Worse) Viruses

    One of the most common applications of genetic engineering is the production of virus-tolerant crops. Such crops are produced by engineering components of viruses into the plant genomes. For reasons not well understood, plants producing viral components on their own are resistant to subsequent infection by those viruses. Such plants, however, pose other risks of creating new or worse viruses through two mechanisms: recombination, in which plant-produced viral genes and genes of incoming viruses recombine to produce viruses that are more virulent or can infect a wider range of hosts than the parent viruses; and transcapsidation, in which plant-produced viral proteins encapsulate the genetic material of another virus, producing a hybrid virus that could transfer viral genetic material to a new host plant that it could not otherwise infect.

    This is actually kind of a pain to deal with because there are so many different types of viruses, some that temporarily hijack cellular machinery, some that permanently insert themselves into the genome etc. so it’s hard to know specifically what viruses they’re worried about. Let’s take the likely possibility they’re worried a retrovirus will magically pick up the GM gene from the thousands of genes in the plant genome, because viruses do that all the time right? Not so much, while retroviral recombination between host DNA and retroviral DNA is possible, it’s somewhat random (it does prefer certain DNA areas). If anything, the risk will be lower, because a virus would be far more likely to recombine with a related virus that is co-infecting the same cell! Decrease the rate of viral infection, decrease the likelihood of coinfection, decrease the likelihood of viral recombination between related viruses. This is a strange complaint to me, because while the virus could recombine with the plant DNA (albeit an unlikely, infrequent event would give it the GM gene) it would be far more likely to have accomplished such a feat already by recombining during co-infection, if this is a true plant pathogen. I’m not a virologist, and if there’s one out there, please speak up if I’m getting this wrong, but this strikes me as a “so what” kind of problem. Viruses are perfectly capable of doing this on their own without our help, and I don’t see why they think they’ll be more likely to pick of the gene from the genome of the plant from random recombination as they would from coinfection, a much more common mechanism of viral recombination. As far as transcapsidation this is another bizarre theoretical concern, but the virus wouldn’t carry the new envelope gene so it would just be a genetic dead-end. It might infect one more plant, but then wouldn’t be able to continuously infect after that. They’re not thinking very hard if that’s their worry.

    I hope that’s helpful John.

    TSA says:

    GMO food (causes cancer, instestine problems, digestion problems, metabolism decrease, type 2 diabetes, and renders immune system useless)

    Bullshit. No evidence of any of these. Cite the literature or get lost, I hate drive-by trolling with these unfound assertions as if they’re some proven thing. This is a science blog, not a screamed-myth blog.

    sodium fluoride(decreases intelligence, cognitive function, and may contribute ot mental health and well being)

    Also total nonsense, one of the most durable and safe public health practices ever, it’s why I’ve never had a cavity (despite my parents having tons) and sure evidence of a real crank.

    mercury and thermosil in vaccines (causes autism, paralysis, and death)

    One of the most thoroughly-debunked myths of all time. Studied time and again, and disproven, not to mention thimerosal has been removed from vaccines voluntarily without a concomitant decrease in autism rates. Again, excellent evidence of crankery.

    ethanol – ensures that your car gets LESS MPG, ensures that your car does not run well, destroys small engines, causes food to be used for food instead of feeding people, prematurely burns up spark plugs and make an engine run slightly hotter whil adding increased wear and heat on fule pumps, injectors, plugs, and eventually disintegrates rubber fuel lines. Ban ethanol and imprison those who started its use.

    Proof that a broken clock is right twice a day, yes! Ban bioethanol production! It’s stupid to take food crops being fed by the haber process, taking up land, raising food prices, to generate a fuel for cars, not decreasing GHG emissions by one iota, and at the same time decreasing my fuel efficiency. Agreed!

  61. #61 Mal Adapted
    April 3, 2013

    Mark:

    Who is engineering tougher weeds? I don’t get this argument. Who is GM engineering switchgrass, and why would GM techniques be more or less risky than normal breeding for this problem? This isn’t a problem specific to GM, so this doesn’t make sense to me, or maybe I’m reading it wrong.

    I agree with most of your post, but in at least one case, genes for herbicide resistance (“Roundup Ready”) were deliberately introduced into a pernicious weed. Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera), a Eurasian species, is a popular turfgrass, used in lawns, golf courses, etc. In some areas, e.g. Oregon’s Willamette valley, it is an agressive invader of native plant communities, and once established is nearly impossible to eradicate (personal experience). In 2002, the Scott’s Company and Monsanto Corparation conducted field trials of RR creeping bent in a “production control” area of Oregon, in the process of obtaining APHIS approval for commercial release. Despite precautions, the RR genes escaped into feral populations, and intensive efforts at eradication have failed. USDA-APHIS has not approved RR creeping bent for commercial release, but the genes are now in the wild, and conservationists and ecological restorationists are losing one of the few effective weapons against a troublesome invasive alien plant.

  62. #62 Mark
    April 3, 2013

    Ah, ok. I couldn’t find an example of this, and it seemed like such an obvious bad idea I can’t believe someone did it. They should have to pay to deal with the problem if that’s the case. Morons. One issue that continually comes up in these GMO threads is that I don’t believe the technology is inherently dangerous, but yes, it of course can be misused by morons, but that’s a separate issue. If we banned all technology that can be abused by idiots we wouldn’t even have the wheel.

  63. #63 Truth Serum Addict
    April 4, 2013

    wrong again. Russia banned GMOs simply becuase they are dangerous for consumption. GMOs do indeed cause cancer.

    Sodium fluoride, not calcium fluoride is dangerous. It does indeed decrease intelliegnce and cuase mental problems.

    ethanol is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. It damages car engines and causes less MPG, not to mention takes food away from people who need it. It should be banned. I have many problems finding a gas station that sells real gasoline anymore. Let’s face it, the days of good quality premium gasoline are gone. All the goods brands have corn in their gas and all the offbrands have fewer cleaning and lubricating additives so I end up buying those in addition to the high priced fuel. There is no such thing as global warming. Let’s get gas back down to below $1.50 per gallon again, take the ethanol out of it, and go back to the good old days.

    Recently a study was done that confirmed that apes given modern vaccines did indeed to show signs of autism. Case closed. Proof enough for me. How many times do we read on a regular basis about some poor kid being paralyzed of killed by your vaccines and the worst one yet is the new sex disease vaccine for girls. How many girls have died or in a wheelchair becuase of it? A good many …

    http://truthaboutgardasil.org/

    A useless vaccine becuase what it is designed to protect against is totally 100 percent preventable without it. Remaining abstinent is a surefure way of avoiding fornicators diseases and it is more moral and Biblical to boot.

    How many countries have now banned GMOs? Now, if we can kick out the bloodsucking lawyers from this nation, we could ban some things too.

  64. #64 Mark
    April 5, 2013

    Ah yes, because the Russians of all nations have a grasp of appropriate regulation and consumer protection. Sigh.

    TSA, we don’t argue with cranks here. The repeated assertion of nonsense doesn’t make it any more true. The vaccine nonsense with autism is one of the most thoroughly-debunked associations in modern science. And your willingness to believe their propaganda is only evidence of your lack of competence in evaluating scientific arguments.

    I’m not interested in having you overrun threads with baseless assertions and crank nonsense. It’s not a good use of our time.

    If you need examples of what comments look like that further a useful conversation about actual evidence of risk of these technologies, look above at some from Sara, or John. Off topic ranting on vaccines, abstinence, and repetition of unfounded assertions is just going to land you in the spam bin.

  65. #65 Broonsta
    April 5, 2013

    Gawd Mark – what an unbelievable shill you are. You’re welscome to it though! Enjoy!

  66. #66 theoldman
    April 5, 2013

    Broonsta has a bad case of SAS, Shill Accusation Syndrome.
    It strikes those who can’t believe that you can independently come to a conclusion that differs from theirs.

  67. #67 theoldman
    April 5, 2013

    TSA,

    A) Birds sing in the early Morning.
    B) The sun then rises within hours.
    C) Liberals, don’t see the connection !

  68. […] Anti-GMO writers show profound ignorance of basic biology and now Jane Goodall has joined their rank… Elephants without tusks? Genomics Pioneers: Nusbaum Calls 2013 the Year for Single Cell Genomics Spring arrives to the prairie garden Gorgeous Glasswing Butterflies Plagiarism spat over scientific poster prep advice escalates to legal threats […]

  69. #69 Montanatl
    April 6, 2013

    I thought the US was a free country? I should be free to decide whether I want to eat genetically engineered food or not. There is obviously a problem if GMO producers need to be protected and GMO food has to be snuck into our diets. But, hey, don’t worry all you GMO lovers. If what they say is true in a few years there won’t be any non-GMO crops left and this won’t even be an issue.

  70. #70 Craig
    USA
    April 6, 2013

    When I started reading this article, I thought it would be more scientific in its approach, but it quickly descended into a political, pro-biotech activist agenda. That’s okay, but disappointing. I was after science, not politics.

    The real clincher was near the end of the piece where the author states, “But with any real understanding of the molecular mechanisms of these technologies, the plausibility of their risk drops to zero”. Fantastic statements like this undermine credibility. No honest, intelligent scientist would claim that the risk of any aspect of any technology is zero – especially risks associated with an infant technology like genetic engineering. .

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  72. #72 theoldman
    April 7, 2013

    Craig, he’s speaking of the plausibility of risk from transfering certain antibiotic resistant genes into certain bacteria. The risk is zero because the particular antibiotics involved aren’t for humans and the particular antbiotic resistant genes already exist in nature in bacteria. Perhpas it would be clearer to say the plausiblility of added risk is zero.

  73. #73 Mark
    April 7, 2013

    @Craig

    The real clincher was near the end of the piece where the author states, “But with any real understanding of the molecular mechanisms of these technologies, the plausibility of their risk drops to zero”. Fantastic statements like this undermine credibility. No honest, intelligent scientist would claim that the risk of any aspect of any technology is zero – especially risks associated with an infant technology like genetic engineering.

    I addressed this criticism before at #13:

    Ridahoan, don’t over-interpret that sentence. I was specifically referring to the examples in these two essays which are pretty absurd. You’re a biologist, would you be afraid to eat RNAi? Of course not, because you know that you already do every day.

    Could GMO be used to generate something harmful? Sure! You could insert anthrax toxin into soybeans. Why the hell anyone would do that would be the question. Just because abuse of technology is possible isn’t a reason to suggest that the technology should be abandoned as fundamentally unsound as the anti-GMOers suggest.

    Maybe I wrote that sentence a little too loosely as there seems to be room for some to think I’m saying stupidity is impossible with technology. But that would require you to ignore, well, basically every single other thing I’ve said throughout the thread. I think you guys are trying to find excuses to be dismissive.

    If others want to see the comment in which I address the UCS criticisms for example (where I do acknowledge a couple valid points) see this comment.

    Reading comprehension people.

  74. #74 Roger
    April 8, 2013

    Wow, this was far more entertaining than I expected! Granted, I expected the idiots to be out in droves, but Mark’s patience with them was fairly remarkable (fortunately, I’m not a credentialed scientist, so I can just call them idiots and move on).

    Craig,
    Recall that this is a blog post, not a paper. I agree that sometimes the rhetoric comes across as non-scientific, but that’s because it IS rhetoric, vice science. Others have done/are doing the science. Abstracts and papers aren’t always user-friendly; I’m glad the blog scene is.

    Great little debate between Sara and Mark. I enjoyed reading that ALMOST as much as the conspiracy theorists’ ranting and raving. (It was less than a month ago that I read about CT’s tendency to latch on to any and ALL CTs, and here TSA, Max, and Beeswax come along and provide perfect examples!)

  75. #75 Mark
    April 9, 2013

    Except I feel like she left before we were done. I’m still curious what Sara thinks about the power of femtomolar miRNA changes.

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