Pharyngula

Freeman Dyson (with whom I have many disagreements, so don’t take this as an unqualified endorsement), wrote an interesting article that predicted, in part, a coming new age of biology. I think he’s entirely right in that, and that we can expect amazing information and changes in this next century.

If the dominant science in the new Age of Wonder is biology, then the dominant art form should be the design of genomes to create new varieties of animals and plants. This art form, using the new biotechnology creatively to enhance the ancient skills of plant and animal breeders, is still struggling to be born. It must struggle against cultural barriers as well as technical difficulties, against the myth of Frankenstein as well as the reality of genetic defects and deformities.

Apparently, this freaks some people out. The so-called Crunchy Con, a knee-jerk Catholic nicely described as a “weird, humorless, smart, spooky, self-rightous, puritan wingnut”, is one of the people who takes particular exception to this optimistic view of the future. Rod Dreher wrote an egregiously ignorant whine about the possibilities, which I will proceed to puke upon.

Here’s where these techno-utopians lose me, and lose me big time. The myth of Frankenstein is important precisely because it is a warning against the hubris of scientists who wish to extend their formidable powers over the essence of human life, and in so doing eliminate what it means to be human. And here is a prominent physicist waxing dreamily about the way biotech can be used to create works of art out of living creatures, aestheticizing the very basis of life on earth. If that doesn’t cause you to shudder, you aren’t taking it seriously enough. I think of this Jody Bottum essay from 10 years back, which begins thus:

On Thursday, October 5, it was revealed that biotechnology researchers had successfully created a hybrid of a human being and a pig. A man-pig. A pig-man. The reality is so unspeakable, the words themselves don’t want to go together.

Extracting the nuclei of cells from a human fetus and inserting them into a pig’s egg cells, scientists from an Australian company called Stem Cell Sciences and an American company called Biotransplant grew two of the pig-men to 32-cell embryos before destroying them. The embryos would have grown further, the scientists admitted, if they had been implanted in the womb of either a sow or a woman. Either a sow or a woman. A woman or a sow.

There has been some suggestion from the creators that their purpose in designing this human pig is to build a new race of subhuman creatures for scientific and medical use. The only intended use is to make animals, the head of Stem Cell Sciences, Peter Mountford, claimed last week, backpedaling furiously once news of the pig-man leaked out of the European Union’s patent office. Since the creatures are 3 percent pig, laws against the use of people as research would not apply. But since they are 97 percent human, experiments could be profitably undertaken upon them and they could be used as living meat-lockers for transplantable organs and tissue.

But then, too, there has been some suggestion that the creators’ purpose is not so much to corrupt humanity as to elevate it. The creation of the pig-man is proof that we can overcome the genetic barriers that once prevented cross-breeding between humans and other species. At last, then, we may begin to design a new race of beings with perfections that the mere human species lacks: increased strength, enhanced beauty, extended range of life, immunity from disease. “In the extreme theoretical sense,” Mountford admitted, the embryos could have been implanted into a woman to become a new kind of human-though, of course, he reassured the Australian media, something like that would be “ethically immoral, and it’s not something that our company or any respectable scientist would pursue.”

But what difference does it make whether the researchers’ intention is to create subhumans or superhumans? Either they want to make a race of slaves, or they want to make a race of masters. And either way, it means the end of our humanity.

The thing I don’t get about the starry-eyed techno-utopians is that they don’t seem to have taken sufficient notice of World War I, the Holocaust, and Hiroshima. That is, they don’t seem to have absorbed the lessons of what the 20th century taught us about human nature, science and technology. Science is a tool that extends human powers over the natural world. It does not change human nature. The two wars and the Holocaust should have once and forever demolished naive optimism about human nature, and what humankind is capable of with its scientific knowledge. Obviously humankind is also capable of putting that knowledge to work to accomplish great good. That is undeniable — but one is not required to deny it to acknowledge the shadow side of the age of wonder.

My brain started to sputter and spark with the very first sentence. I could tell what was coming, I just didn’t expect it to be quite so, excuse me, pig-ignorant. It really annoys me when a wingnut mangles the science so thoroughly in order to justify an anti-science attitude. There is so much wrong here, and when I actually stooped to read that awful Jody Bottum essay, I was about to melt down over the white-hot flaming stupid. That essay, by the way, ends this way:

But our sons and daughters will mate with the pig-men, if the pig-men will have them. And our swine-snouted grandchildren-the fruit not of our loins, but of our arrogance and our bright test tubes-will use the story of our generation to teach a moral to their frightened litters.

Over a failed experiment in interspecies nuclear transfer? Give me a break, cretin.

Anyway, I scribbled down some commentary as I read the whole mess. Here it is, in the disorganized order it came to me.

  1. The research from Stem Cell Sciences was not published. What little information these people have was gleaned from a patent application, filtered through their religion and their piss-poor knowledge of biology, and irresponsibly reformulated as outrageous fact. And they mostly got it wrong.

  2. It is extremely doubtful that the cells used were from a human fetus. That would be pointless and needlessly difficult and expensive; this was apparently a test of a procedure that has been used on animals in the past, and fetal cells would be overkill. A more practical approach for a patent application would have been a test with a human stem cell line, or if they wanted a really flashy result, a human somatic cell. The company itself has said that a laboratory cell line of human origin was used, and further, that it was aneuploid. Development beyond a few cell divisions was unlikely to impossible. Development of a viable human baby — wildly, crazily, absurdly impossible.

  3. What was actually being tested, to all appearances from the limited information available, would actually be a good idea, and something that would be very useful. Right now, we can do some fairly elaborate work to circumvent some problems in human fertility, specifically mitochondrial disorders. Take a healthy unfertilized human oocyte, and remove its nucleus. It’s going to be the host, and provide no genetic information (except for its mitochondria) to the offspring. Then take the nucleus from a fertilized egg cell and insert it into the empty host oocyte. It’s been done, in a procedure called a “three parent pregnancy”, since two women and a man contributed to the child, but is but better referred to as egg cell nuclear transfer.

    The catch here is that it’s difficult and invasive to obtain egg cells from women, and it sure would be handy to have a non-human source for oocytes, especially if you’re just going to throw away the oocyte donor’s DNA anyway. Thus, the trial with pig oocytes and human nuclei.

  4. The utility of this approach in animals is already known. Cow and rabbit oocytes are relatively cheap and abundant; horse, elephant, or rare species eggs, not quite so easy. So if you want to do experiments in cloning, it would be cheaper and more efficient to use rabbit or cow oocytes, divested of their nuclei, and stick somatic cell nuclei from your rarer species in there. This is a procedure called interspecies somatic cell nuclear transfer (iSCNT). Note that this is different from what was described in #3, which would be interspecies egg cell nuclear transfer (iECNT). The iSCNT procedure would be a step in cloning, and has all the other technical hurdles of coaxing a somatic cell to be reprogrammed into a totipotent state. The iECNT procedure is not a step in cloning, and would actually be easier.

  5. iECNT has one catch: the mitochondria come from a different species, in this case, a pig. We wouldn’t know for sure if there are any incompatibilities between human nuclear DNA and pig mitochondrial DNA. I’d be surprised if there were, but the experiment ought to be done to see. You know, like the Stem Cell Science experiment.

  6. The product of a fully human nuclear genome carried to term via an oocyte with pig mitochondria would be fully human. Some of the enzymes that person’s cells use to carry out mitochondrial functions — the production of energy in the form of ATP — would be pig proteins. We do not classify people as human or subhuman on the basis of the precise sequence of amino acids in a subset of their proteins. If we did, since we’re all mutants to some degree, none of us would be human. Since we’re actually carrying around a lot of DNA plotzed into our genome by viruses, everyone would have to be called human-virus hybrids.

  7. If the possibility that you might regard a person with the pig cytochrome C oxidase as subhuman bothers you (which is about as ridiculous as the idea that you’d regard a person with a transplanted pig heart valve as subhuman), then I have a solution for you. Do the experiment in reverse. Put pig nuclei into enucleate human oocytes, and raise a line of pigs (these would be pigs, not pig-men) with human mitochondria, to be a domesticated animal source for oocytes for fertility treatments. Then you’d harvest their egg cells, remove the nuclei containing pig DNA, and have useful oocyte hosts with nothing but human derived mitochondrial DNA inside them.

    Cue ignorant squawks from luddites about farm stock with human mitochondrial DNA in them now…

  8. These hybrid cells, if they contained viable human nuclei from egg cells instead of aneuploid nuclei from a lab cell line, could conceivably be implanted into the uteruses of either pigs or humans, but it would probably be best to implant them in a host mother of the same species as the nuclear DNA. I can think of two good reasons off the top of my head. One is that the embryo/fetus of a human nucleus/pig oocyte will be producing fully human proteins, and although the embryo does have a privileged status to insulate it to some degree from the maternal immune system, it’s probably a good idea not to push it with trans-species antigens. The Stem Cell Sciences embryos would have (again, if viable nuclei had been used at all) would have been best transplanted into a human maternal host for immunological reasons.

    The other reason is more esthetic. A pig oocyte with human nuclear DNA would produce a fully human baby. People might get a bit squicked out at the idea of a sow down on the pharm farm giving birth to Ann Smith and Albert Jones, human children. They shouldn’t, though. Again, fully human. I should think some women would find it very liberating to be able to farm out the pregnancy/childbirth business to a domesticated animal specially bred for the purpose.

    (OK, cue animal rights protesters now…)

    Oh, and the converse experiment, pig nuclear DNA in an enucleated human host oocyte with human mitochondria … definitely implant that one in a pig womb. No human woman is going to want to go through a pregnancy with elevated risk of an immunological reaction to deliver a litter of fully porcine piglets.

    You don’t have to tell me that no pig will want to demean itself by giving birth to hairless apes, either. We’re just the boss of them, so we get to push the pigs around. Besides, it beats becoming bacon.

  9. I think all of the above would be really, really cool.

  10. The idea that human individuals with pig mitochondria would not have the full rights of other human beings, and would be used as experimental animals or “living meat-lockers” is ludicrous. They would have human parents. They would look entirely human — no, they wouldn’t have little piggy-snouts or tusks or the ability to sniff out truffles. They would not be able to cross-breed with pigs. They would be able to have children with other human beings. None of the biologists involved in this kind of work would have any doubts at all — these would be human children who had benefited from a medical procedure using animal tissue. The only people who could possibly question their humanity are scientific illiterates and religious nitwits and stupid people who judge others by a superstitious association.

  11. Using science to tinker with the possible imperfections of our progeny is nothing new, except perhaps in the precision, the expense, and the increased range of possibilities. People fuss over genetics all the time: who hasn’t wondered at some point in a courtship what the children of a union with a potential partner would look like? Who hasn’t judged potential mates on their heritable attributes? We all play with genes to some degree when we have children; we are all designing a new race with every child we bring into the world. Not one of us, though, looks at a potential partner and thinks, “Hmm…he (or she) has just the right characteristics for generating my stock for a race of slaves!” Nor have our governments intentionally herded together masses of slow, strong, stupid, subservient people and urged them to get to work making baby slaves. Those are possibilities all well within our capabilities now, without technology. Why imagine that having slower, more expensive, more difficult techniques now will suddenly leap over the social, ethical, and legal barriers that we have in place?

  12. Anyone who thinks tinkering with the sequence of a few genes “eliminate[s] what it means to be human” has no place talking about what it means to be human at all. It’s always the people who know the least about biology who make these naive and sweeping claims that humanity is defined by the arrangement of our chromosomes or the order of our nucleotides, failing to appreciate the variations in those attributes already present in our population — variations that do not diminish our humanity in the slightest. Dreher invokes the specter of the Holocaust to argue that we’re on the slippery slope to dehumanization, but I’d argue the reverse: that nightmares like the Holocaust arise when people fail to see that the nature that deserves respect and protection is in our minds, our culture, our interactions, not in our lineage or our genes.

    There will be a New Age of Wonder brought in by a coming century of biology, but it won’t be because it changes a few physical properties of our bodies. It will be because, if it lives up to its potential, it will liberate us to some degree from the tyranny of our native biology. It does not make me a better person that I’ve probably inherited my father’s propensity for heart disease; it does not make a woman stronger to carry a familial pattern of breast cancer; no child is enlightened because they are born with a birth defect. We’ll have an Age of Wonder if we can get beyond Dreher’s way of thinking that our body is ourselves, to a better way of thinking of the body as a vehicle for our minds, and that that vehicle can be improved without making us subhuman.

  13. Please do consider that there will always be pitfalls and unexpected consequences of new ideas and technologies. Just do it from a position of informed awareness, rather than ignorant abhorrence of change.

But wait! There’s a bit more. Here’s how Dreher ends his piece…with a predictable demand that religion is important.

This, in the end, is why science and religion have to engage each other seriously. Without each other, both live in darkness, and the destruction each is capable of is terrifying to contemplate — although I daresay you will not find a monk or a rabbi prescribing altering the genetic code of living organisms for the sake of mankind’s artistic amusement. What troubles me, and troubles me greatly, about the techno-utopians who hail a New Age of Wonder is their optimism uncut by any sense of reality, which is to say, of human history. In the end, what you think of the idea of a New Age of Wonder depends on what you think of human nature. I give better than even odds that this era of biology and computers identified by Dyson and celebrated by the Edge folks will in the end turn out to have been at least as much a Dark Age as an era of Enlightenment. I hope I’m wrong. I don’t think I will be wrong.

Excuse me, but after writing a long piece in which he wallows in his religiously-motivated darkness, in which he demonstrates that he knows nothing about the biology he is decrying, I don’t think he gets to accuse these “techno-utopians” of lacking “any sense of reality”. Religion is the darkness, and knowledge is the light — it’s no accident that the era when religion ruled Europe without question is called the Dark Ages, and that period when a new and secular way of looking at the world began to glimmer is called the Enlightenment. So no thank you, please crawl back into your dim cathedral of the superstitious spirit, and don’t even try to pontificate on the consequences of knowledge. You never had any, so your advice on the matter is about as relevant and informed as a celibate making recommendations about my love life.

Oh, wait…you’ve got that covered, too. I see — it’s a tradition.

One last fact that nobody reading this will find surprising. That arrogant ignoramus Dreher is employed as the director of publications for the Templeton Foundation. They really do aspire to quality at that institution, don’t they?

Comments

  1. #1 Sili
    March 6, 2010

    Unfortunately he also seems to have some doubts about the cause of global warming, and he believes that we can bioengineer super-efficient carbon-sequestreres fast enough to offset the rise in [CO2].

    Sorry, but I’m not that techno-utopian.

  2. #2 shonny
    March 6, 2010

    But there is already crosses between humans and jackasses, and they are called evangelical xians.
    And another between humans and goats, and they call themselves Taliban (that’s why they are so fuckin’ resilient!).

  3. #3 Glen Davidson
    March 6, 2010

    The IDiots certainly should endorse designer life. After all, they claim that only it could produce us.

    Oddly, though, they seem to analogize to human design, yet think that an entirely different sort of being was responsible and somehow better than us. I wonder who or what that could be.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  4. #4 Legion
    March 6, 2010

    On Thursday, October 5, it was revealed that biotechnology researchers had successfully created a hybrid of a human being and a pig. A man-pig. A pig-man. The reality is so unspeakable, the words themselves don’t want to go together.

    Man pigs are sufficiently benign creatures, so there’s not much to worry about there. It’s the bear-man-pig that we ought to be concerned with. They’re vicious bastards.

  5. #5 Free Lunch
    March 6, 2010

    People who can’t be bothered to learn about science really need to stop having opinions about science. If you don’t understand evolution, you cannot have an informed opinion about it. If you don’t understand anthropogenic climate change, your opinion about it is worthless. If you don’t understand biology, particularly genetics, Frankenstein is a really good book to avoid referring to.

    Rod Dreher isn’t as stupid as the Palinites or as evil as the Cheneyites, but he’s too foolish to know that he needs to shut up about things he does not understand. Of course he makes money from controversy, so saying stupid things is in his economic best interest. That may be why he switched from RCC to Orthodox, too, who knows.

  6. #6 Ironicus
    March 6, 2010

    I’m no scientist–don’t even play one on TV, but I’m pretty sure science doesn’t find “answers” like we can find the answer to y=2x-7, but instead proceeds along a continuum that is the slow accretion of information, spiced by the occasional eureka moment. That accumulated data is then fermented in a process that may take years into knowledge. This is a trip that has many twists and turns. For example, I recently noted that coffee is good for me again.

    That being said, I hasten to point out that Frankenstein was a work of fiction, not a policy statement and while it is perfectly legitimate to call upon it as a metaphorical talking point, it is by no means definitive, or predictive.

    If we are indeed entering the Age of Biology, I hope one particular subspeciality gets a place in the front row–bioethicist. Have a feeling we might need them.

  7. #7 moochava
    March 6, 2010

    I’m amused that someone thinks a collection of 32 cells can be either a man or a pig, let alone a man-pig. Also–

    I daresay you will not find a monk or a rabbi prescribing altering the genetic code of living organisms for the sake of mankind’s artistic amusement.

    I’m now looking uncomfortably at my Bichon Frise. If anything is a blasphemous act of hubris and aesthetic madness, it’s this little puffball–no direct genetic manipulation necessary.

    Stop staring at me, you horrible dog. I know you’re plotting our downfall.

  8. #8 Free Lunch
    March 6, 2010

    I noticed from his last entry in the Dallas Morning News blog that Dreher has wandered off to “become director of publications for the John Templeton Foundation. My chief task will be to create and to edit a non-partisan, non-sectarian online magazine of ideas, focusing on the foundation’s four areas of interest: science, religion, the free market and morals. It’ll be a terrific challenge, and I’m looking forward to it. We expect to launch in mid-2010.”

    Another in with Templeton for PZ. Huzzah.

  9. #9 Rey Fox
    March 6, 2010

    God schmod, I want my monkey-man.

  10. #10 darkyears
    March 6, 2010

    For myself, calling the product of this scientific work an art form isn’t that much different than calling the product of creationism science, etc. etc. numerous examples… ad nauseam. It should be called science for the same reasons pretty much everyone that reads this blog rightly doesn’t want creationism labeled as science. Yes, I am sure there is some measure of art in the work being done but the same can be said of anything.

  11. #11 Godless American
    March 6, 2010

    I relish the idea of bio-engineering but I do have one fear. The privatization of genetics; it was commonly followed that one couldn’t patent a biological entity until the Bush administration came along and forced the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to allow just that. With privatization comes plenty of possibilities that, well, frighten me.

    It’s not the science, it’s the business that I fear.

  12. #12 Kome
    March 6, 2010

    This is how my brain translated all that bullshit:

    “Human nature is so unbelievably evil. Look at both World Wars! And these arrogant scientists want to give greater scientific understanding and technological advances to us savages? Are they stupid? What do think us horribly barbaric humans will do with advanced knowledge and power? Cure sick people? Develop high yield crops that are relatively cheap to produce that can be used to feed starving people? Attempt to understand each other so that we can peacefully coexist? Develop ways to manufacture cheap and reliable materials so we can give shelter to those who need it? Those fools! Human beings don’t ever do that. Ever. Because we’re dicks. So they should stop doing science and go to church instead.”

  13. #13 rudy
    March 6, 2010

    PZ is right about the Dreher rant, so I’m not going to speak to that, but Dyson is way too optimistic about the coming age of fluid genomes. I think it’s going to be an ungodly mess, leaving us with a greatly diminished ecosystem (though we seem to getting to that place fast enough anyway; UFOs will look at our planet one day and wonder why it’s covered in just kudzu or deserts). Some good will come of it, just as we got nuclear medicine AND atom bombs. Fortunately we so far have had more of the former being used than the latter, but we came very close to losing all life on earth at least twice in my lifetime (Bay of Pigs, false missile alert in SU).

  14. #14 Moggie
    March 6, 2010

    So… no human bacon anytime soon?

  15. #15 Brian English
    March 6, 2010

    We’ll have an Age of Wonder if we can get beyond Dreher’s way of thinking that our body is ourselves, to a better way of thinking of the body as a vehicle for our minds, and that that vehicle can be improved without making us subhuman.

    Dualism? PZ, what has become of you?

    Mind to me is just another way of saying functioning of the brain, which is part of the body. So isn’t our mind a function of our bodies. Not that I disagree with your general thesis, just noting what appears a trip into dualism…..

  16. #16 ZeroEye
    March 6, 2010

    I’m currently an undergraduate biology major. Anybody have any advise in how to get into this field?

  17. #17 alysonmiers
    March 6, 2010

    For bringing up the Holocaust, I call Godwin on Dreher. Comparison FAIL.

  18. #18 Andrew Ryan
    March 6, 2010

    I am Andrew Ryan, and I’m here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? ‘No!’ says the man in Washington, ‘It belongs to the poor.’ ‘No!’ says the man in the Vatican, ‘It belongs to God.’ ‘No!’ says the man in Moscow, ‘It belongs to everyone.’ I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, Where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.

  19. #19 anthrosciguy
    March 6, 2010

    George Costanza said it best: “I wish there were pigmen. You get a few of these pigmen walking around I’m looking a whole lot better. Then if somebody wants to fix me up at least they could say, Hey he’s no pig-man!”

  20. #20 Free Lunch
    March 6, 2010

    Beliefnet is like a parody of Scienceblogs. Sometimes, it even parodies itself. Aren’t the Holistic Spirituality Blogs just more entertainment? Deepak Chopra certainly is. Astrology? Where else could it go?

    Anyway, I see no reason to give Beliefnet any routine business as long as they hire professional liars like David Klinghoffer who recently averred that Darwin is responsible for Madame Blavatsky. Really? Like so many other religious fundamentalists, David worships the trinity of foolishness, ignorance and dishonesty.

  21. #21 Etruscan
    March 6, 2010

    “Tinkering,” perhaps, but I don’t expect anything profoundly revolutionary. It’s not that the idea is offensive to me, but let’s just say I’m very skeptical.

    There’s this term in programming: “spaghetti code,” meaning a tangled and disorganized mess. It tends to arise when an inexperienced programmer starts lumping code together that fails to follow any sort of conventional design paradigm. The mere fact that this type of code can exist is a serious problem.

    Spaghetti code can be _very_ efficient when executed. This is because being intractably messy and disorganized does not prohibit it from doing its job. A lump of really nasty spaghetti code could be just as powerful (or perhaps more powerful) than professionally designed software. So, what is there to select against it?

    Well, in a software engineering firm, there’s your managers and co-workers. If they see that your code is downright impossible to decipher, they will probably fire you, throw out your code, and start over. This is not because they are mean, but because they don’t really have a choice. You can’t easily modify bad code, thus, you can’t improve the software.

    It’s very important to be aware that this has nothing to do with “documentation.” Even well documented spaghetti code can’t be efficiently modified. Disorganized code tends to lack any sort of modularity, so you cannot modify one thing without breaking another (possibly entirely unrelated) part of the software. So even if someone completely understood the code, they would still be better off throwing it out and starting over, since an overhaul would require more work than writing it from scratch.

    Does the human body have a screening process for how well code is organized? I imagine it doesn’t, or if it does, it’s very limited in effect. So, lo and behold: highly efficient, highly specialized, highly inter-dependent, “spaghetti DNA.” It took billions of years to write, and will probably take centuries to unwind.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking on evolution. I’m just saying that the problem of “enhancing” our genetic makeup to make a superhuman is not so cut and dry. The mere ability to make changes does not translate into being able to do whatever we want. Attempting anything major is probably going to be a lot harder than people realize.

  22. #22 Free Lunch
    March 6, 2010

    Your name is Andrew Ryan and you have demonstrated that you missed the never-ending thread by that much.

  23. #23 Brian English
    March 6, 2010

    There’s this term in programming: “spaghetti code,” meaning a tangled and disorganized mess. I see you’re aquainted with my code.

  24. #24 steverino63
    March 6, 2010

    As a long-time former denizen of Dallas, I loved the Schutze/Observer piece. It is sooo funny and so true.

  25. #25 Walton, Extra Special Dumpling of Awesome
    March 6, 2010

    I am Andrew Ryan, and I’m here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? ‘No!’ says the man in Washington, ‘It belongs to the poor.’ ‘No!’ says the man in the Vatican, ‘It belongs to God.’ ‘No!’ says the man in Moscow, ‘It belongs to everyone.’ I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, Where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.

    A few minutes of research reveals that this is a reference to this dystopian video game inspired by the work of Ayn Rand. I’m not quite sure what it has to do with the thread topic, though.

  26. #26 MadScientist
    March 6, 2010

    I thought it had all been done in the past – Anubis was a man-dog-god – those ancient Egyptians sure knew how to use that UFO technology. That may explain the propensity of some to hump dogs – or does it explain why dogs hump human legs? That biology stuff is so confusing.

  27. #27 Thorne
    March 6, 2010

    No human woman is going to want to go through a pregnancy with elevated risk of an immunological reaction to deliver a litter of fully porcine piglets.

    You don’t have to tell me that no pig will want to demean itself by giving birth to hairless apes, either. We’re just the boss of them, so we get to push the pigs around. Besides, it beats becoming bacon.

    After reading this, all I could think of was some poor pig in a farmyard sitting there saying to her sow friends, “If those people think I’m going to carry any more of their bratty kids, they can just EAT ME!”

  28. #28 The Science Pundit
    March 6, 2010

    A pig oocyte with human nuclear DNA would produce a fully human baby. People might get a bit squicked out at the idea of a sow down on the pharm farm giving birth to Ann Smith and Albert Jones, human children.

    Are you saying that Anna Nicole Smith wasn’t part porcine???

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?
    March 6, 2010

    LOL! Nested gumby quotes for the first time! :-)

    8.These hybrid cells, if they contained viable human nuclei from egg cells instead of aneuploid nuclei from a lab cell line, could conceivably be implanted into the uteruses of either pigs or humans, but it would probably be best to implant them in a host mother of the same species as the nuclear DNA. I can think of two good reasons off the top of my head.

    Here’s a third: the placenta isn’t identical in primates and artiodactyls. More precisely, I think the pig could bleed to death while the placenta would be forming.

  30. #30 mikeinmaine
    March 6, 2010

    This one of those pieces where I go, “Well. I disagree with both sides.”

    I’m an atheist, but not a techno-topian. I love science, but humans have failed to deserve the benefits science has delivered. They ruin the earth and come to expect the benefits of science as a sort of a god-given right.

    We got the Green Revolution courtesy Norman Borlaug–he saved billions of people–but what was our response? The only natural thing: reproduce like bacteria, demand infinite numbers of MacDonald’s hamburgers on demand, and flatten the planet to get our way.

    I believe literature and religion have something to say about this. To me, hubris isn’t “you shouldn’t tamper with nature!” but “you fail to live up to your own view of yourself.”

    The Tower of Babel is emblematic–not because people should be wary of gods that smack people down for presumptuousness, but because it shows a people head-long at “making a name for themselves” rather than making the planet a better place.

    Call me an Apocalyptic Darwinist. Our hubris is manifest in the idea that we are somehow above nature now that we are “smart,” that we are somehow exempt from the laws of ecology.

    My heroes are Catton, Malthus, Tainter, and Albert Bartlett.

    We will continue to reproduce and suck the life out of the earth until we can’t anymore. Then, as Bartlett says, “Zero population growth is gonna happen. Whether we like it or not, one day the birth rate will decrease and the death rate will increase until they have exactly the same numerical value.”

    It’s called die-off.

    Energy and Human Evolution.

  31. #31 Azkyroth
    March 6, 2010

    Nor have our governments intentionally herded together masses of slow, strong, stupid, subservient people and urged them to get to work making baby slaves.

    …um, isn’t this basically the Republican party platform?

  32. #32 keynan
    March 6, 2010

    Nor have our governments intentionally herded together masses of slow, strong, stupid, subservient people and urged them to get to work making baby slaves.

    Churches however…

  33. #33 IaMoL
    March 6, 2010

    Perhaps Rod will drop by and give us his learned opinions like he did during CrackerGate?. Rod is par for the course for The Dallas Morning News and the Templeton Foundation.

  34. #34 AdamK
    March 6, 2010

    See, your mitochondria come down from the females, and the first female was Eve, so the mitochondria are where the Original Sin gene is located. So if you have pig mitochondria, you don’t have Original Sin. Which means you’re an Immaculate Conception, like Mary. So you’ll start virgin-birthing all over the place, and have a million little sinless Baby Jesuses running around. And that would be wrong.

  35. #35 ERV
    March 6, 2010

    @ #16– “I’m currently an undergraduate biology major. Anybody have any advise in how to get into this field?”
    Stick with any facet of biology you really like. Genetic engineering is the future, so its in every field. We do a TON of genetic engineering at the virology/microbiology level. Immunologists are actually tinkering with pigs all the time for organ transplantation options. Hell, go into plant genetics, save the world, and lol at the anti-GMO/green-anarchists.

    Do whatever you like, whatever youre good at, and you can find an angle to do stuff like this.

  36. #36 Jason A.
    March 6, 2010

    A pig-man

    [/Kramer]

  37. #37 llewelly
    March 6, 2010

    Do the experiment in reverse. Put pig nuclei into enucleate human oocytes, and raise a line of pigs (these would be pigs, not pig-men) with human mitochondria …

    PZ. Mitochondria come from the mother. They would be pigs with human mothers!!

    They would look entirely human …

    Of course! How better to keep their terrible powers secret? Even as we speak, super-human pig-men soldiers walk among us unbeknownst to us.

    Over a failed experiment in interspecies nuclear transfer?

    PZ, it should be obvious even to you that of course the success of the experiment was not revealed to the public. To those in power, the value of this terrible technology is greatest if its fruits are concealed. As indeed they are. At hundreds of hidden black sites, whose locations are so secret they are unknown even to the President, a terrifying army of super-human pig-men is being constructed. Even now as we speak, they are being trained to RULE THE WORLD!

  38. #38 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 6, 2010

    Rod is par for the course for The Dallas Morning News and the Templeton Foundation.

    In other words, a dollar short and a day late. We fully understand…

  39. #39 MikeG
    March 6, 2010

    ERV, is right, ZeroEye. A very large portion of biology is tinkering with genomes at this point. Her advice is good, too. Pick the part of bio that you find the most fun.

    Just remember, no matter what any of your profs say, or any member of the public says, it’s the microbes that rule the world. We live here with their permission.

    Remember that, and you will have a leg up on the competition.

  40. #40 Cuttlefish, OM
    March 6, 2010

    I’m living in the faint, faint hope
    That PZ is mistaken;
    That maybe, someday, I could have
    A tongue that tastes like bacon!

    The future is a stranger place
    Than PZ can intuit;
    And I could have my bacon tongue
    And sit around and chew it.

  41. #41 llewelly
    March 6, 2010

    Anyway – joking aside, I am going to predict that just as we do not have jetpacks, flying cars, fusion power, or warp drive today, we will not have farm animals that bear our children 50 years from now. (And, just as we do have the internet today, we will have some society-transforming technology which is almost completely unthought of by today’s prognosticators. And yeah, I know about Alan Kay’s thesis, but the point is hardly anybody paid it any attention.)

  42. #42 'Tis Himself, OM
    March 6, 2010

    Another luddite whining because we’re not living in caves and grunting “fire bad” to each other.

  43. #43 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawk25bzfeJzooxtW_G2Jo9aQu4IkVxU0jns
    March 6, 2010

    Someone called Rod Dreher smart? By what standard? He’s been the butt of numerous posts by luminaries at Sadly, No!, and Doghouse Riley made mincemeat of him (over a Dreher rant on wine) at his own blog the other day. Good grief, the man works for the Templeton Foundation – you expect reasoned argument from there?

  44. #44 PervyPirate
    March 6, 2010

    PZ wrote: “We wouldn’t know for sure if there are any incompatibilities between human nuclear DNA and pig mitochondrial DNA. I’d be surprised if there were, but the experiment ought to be done to see.”

    Actually, there should be deficiencies in the interaction between mitochondrial and nuclear OXPHOS subunits. Such deficiencies have been observed even between primates, so it makes perfect sense that they should be more severe between humans and pigs. Combining a human nucleus with either a chimp or a gorilla mtDNA resulted in a 40% reduction in complex I activity.
    “Kenyon and Moraes (1997) found that mtDNAs from the primate species most closely related to humans, gorilla and chimpanzee, could repopulate human cells without endogenous mtDNA, while more divergent primate mtDNAs could not. These primate ?xenomitochondrial cybrids? showed reduced complex I activity with preserved function of the other respiratory chain complexes.”
    http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/msg132v1

  45. #45 cuco3
    March 6, 2010

    I’d think that the Animal Rights nuts would be in favour of Man-Pigs. Anything which blurs the line between Human and Other would make their arguments sound a bit more reasonable. Perhaps some of their female memebership would volunteer their services.

    Regarding Frankenstein, the story can also be looked on as an exploration of humanity. The most human character in the book is arguably the monster, who is shunned and abused for his apperance and strange origins by people who won’t see the man within.

    I suspect that genetic tinkering as an art-form will have to wait a while, if only because governments will fear that the technology could be misused.

  46. #46 Knockgoats
    March 6, 2010

    It’s not the pig-man I fear, but the accidentally or deliberately engineered and released super-pathogen of humans or a staple crop. Engineered and released by either state or non-state terrorists, with any one of a number of possible motivations: religious, racist, nationalistic, or anti-biotech. I hope this fear is not well-founded – I’m not knowledgeable enough in the area to know. Any comments from those who are more so?

  47. #47 kantalope
    March 6, 2010

    Why are we basing public policy on Frankenstein… Frankenshteen?

    If we are restricted to literature of the period, much more fun to base policy on the implications of Drackula.

    Or even more fun since we are basing policy on works of fiction, we can base policy on Star Trek and then we can discuss the relative advantages of which Star Trek.

    Bah Templeton Foundation; Hoorah, Picard Foundation.

    Personally, I hope the short-skirts of the Original Series prevail but I fear the Tribble-Human hybrids!

  48. #48 timrowledge
    March 6, 2010

    Nor have our governments intentionally herded together masses of slow, strong, stupid, subservient people and urged them to get to work making baby slaves

    This is exactly what every slaver has thought they were doing. It is what the Tories appear to be aiming at with their batshit insane pronouncements on education policy in the UK should they win the next election.

  49. #49 Sioux Laris
    March 6, 2010

    …b-b-but your notes were LONG and COMPLICATED… and your a Lib-atheist (and therefore REALLY a Nazi-soshallist*), and it’s,… well, a lot EASIER to be AFRAID.

    And more fun to be facelessly self-righteous while I grab my torch and pitchfork to join the lynching!

  50. #50 Nanu Nanu
    March 6, 2010

    [blockquote]A few minutes of research reveals that this is a reference to this dystopian video game inspired by the work of Ayn Rand. I’m not quite sure what it has to do with the thread topic, though.[/blockquote]
    Not so much “inspired” as “a brutal satire of.”
    And the connection, I believe, is genetic tinkering which takes place in bioshock to an awesome extent (yay shooting bees at people).

  51. #51 brotheratombombofmoderation
    March 6, 2010

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the real biotechnology threat when different species are mixed — manbearpig:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ManBearPig

  52. #52 Nanu Nanu
    March 6, 2010

    Oh wow I fail. I fail so hard.

  53. #53 PZ Myers
    March 6, 2010

    That’s not dualism.

    The mind is the product of the brain, and ultimately of interactions between genes and environment. The issue is that when we’re talking about people, there is no variation such that some have minds and others do not have minds — so there’s no basis for arguing about some kind of eugenics effort to cull the mindless. Or some cunning plan by techno-utopians to breed supermen without minds.

  54. #54 Peter G.
    March 6, 2010

    I certainly hope he’s right and I believe he is. We need this technology rather desperately.

  55. #55 Antiochus Epiphanes
    March 6, 2010

    It is only a matter of time before the dread Soviet agronomist Karpechenko creates a hybrid plant with the stem and leaves of a cabbage and the root of the radish,

    Then, behold, my brothers and sisters: Brassicoraphanus!

    The Vegetable of the Proletariat

    The Western World began with a crucifix and will end with a crucifer.

  56. #56 dexitroboper
    March 6, 2010

    But will we have Underpeople like C’Mell?

  57. #57 IaMoL
    March 6, 2010

    Rod came late to Catholicism with the zeal of Thomas Becket and sees potential Henry Vs everywhere. There are rumors (from people who don’t usually traffic in idle speculation) that he’s in denial of his sexuality and has bearded himself with a wife and religion. Piety, self denial and self hatred seem to be a theme with so many Republicans/would be Theocrats these days.

  58. #58 IaMoL
    March 6, 2010

    dexitroboper:
    This artist seems to be from the Albrecht Dürer school of protruding feminine abdomens.

  59. #59 llewelly
    March 6, 2010

    brotheratombombofmoderation | March 6, 2010 8:37 PM:

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the real biotechnology threat when different species are mixed — manbearpig:

    See comment #4.

  60. #60 'Tis Himself, OM
    March 6, 2010

    But will we have Underpeople like C’Mell?

    Fortunately, as long as we have people like Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur McBan CLI and Lord Jestocost, they won’t remain Underpeople. Plus the E’Telekeli is more powerful than most Lords of the Instrumentality.

  61. #61 Peter G.
    March 6, 2010

    @60 I thought I was the only person left alive who remembered those stories. Anybody read the Dangerous Visions books?

  62. #62 'Tis Himself, OM
    March 6, 2010

    Peter G. #61

    I read Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger) stories in Galaxy back in the 1950s. However his science fiction is still in print. The complete short stories are in The Rediscovery of Man. Norstrilla is also available.

    Smith was an author unlike any other I’ve read. Just consider some of his story titles: “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell”, “Drunkboat”, “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons”, “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard”. The man was a poet.

  63. #63 Xenithrys
    March 6, 2010

    Antiochus Epiphanes @55:
    But you know there’s sin in glucosinolate, don’t you?

  64. #64 elnauhual
    March 6, 2010

    meanwhile..

    about the idea of breeding organism as a form of art… that is old news…

    http://www.microbialart.com/

    Enjoy :)

  65. #65 tristan.croll
    March 6, 2010

    This all reminds me of my “mad scientist” plan to solve the xenotransplant immune rejection problem.

    If you catch a developing embryo before its immune system has developed its “self-recognition” mechanism, it’s possible to inject embryonic stem cells from another individual – or another species entirely – without rejection. Since they’re there before the immune system develops, they’re part of the “self” that it learns to recognise. This approach has been used to make a number of interspecies chimeras – including, most controversially, sheep which grow to adulthood with up to 15% human cells in their various organs.

    I’ve seen an interview with the guy responsible. He’s a complete nutcase, with no understanding of immunology – he honestly seems to think that if you were to transplant one of these organs to a human, the immune response would, like a precision laser, kill off all the animal cells leaving the human ones to recolonise the newly vacated real estate. It’s utterly ridiculous – the response to such an insult is far more blunt-instrument than that, and would more-or-less liquefy the organ.

    However, it does lead to a very interesting idea – one that I don’t see ever happening outside of sci-fi (and even then most likely carried out by the evil genius), but would probably work nonetheless. All you have to do is take embryonic cells from a suitable (preferably clonal) line of animals, and inject a small number of them into every new human fetus. Bam – the fetuses grow into adults who recognise cells from your animals as “self,” and you have an inexhaustible supply of donor organs on the hoof.

    Easy really – all you have to do is convince each mother to let you turn her baby into a human-animal chimera. No problem, right?

  66. #66 mattand08
    March 6, 2010

    @Andrew Ryan:

    Would you kindly send me a brochure for your undersea utopia?

  67. #67 amphiox
    March 6, 2010

    But, but, but. . . .

    Dyson’s vision MAKES INTELLIGENT DESIGN REAL!!!!

    And if taken to a sufficient extreme for a sufficiently long period of time, it could even result in an obscuration of the evidence in favor of evolution for future generations!

    Wouldn’t you think the creobot fundies would be welcoming something like this? In fact, they ought to be giving out money to make it happen!

  68. #68 Creature of the Universe
    March 6, 2010

    Rod Dreher says: “As I see it, the only real counterweight to techno-utopianism is religion. Scientists tend to chafe against any restriction on their curiosity, which is why some of them (Dawkins, et alia) rage against religion.”

    Imagine that…becoming upset because a restriction has been placed on your curiosity!!! …by religious tyrants of all things!!! …HA!!!

    Religious arrogance, harassment and intimidation hasn’t changed much from the 1630?s…another reason to RAGE AGAINST RELIGION.(RAR)

  69. #69 rudy
    March 6, 2010

    Isn’t Cordwainer Smith the “Old, Strong Religion” guy? This Crypto-Christianity plays a somewhat obscure role in his stories; I don’t remember the details (except that export of it is considered dangerous by the authorities). The author was clearly a Christian but it’s kind of just a McGuffin in the stories.

  70. #70 amphiox
    March 6, 2010

    @Andrew Ryan:

    Would you kindly send me a brochure for your undersea utopia?

    Sadly, it did not end well.

  71. #71 macbethjn
    March 6, 2010

    rudy: There’s no real reason why lab-modified crops and animals can’t live side by side with breeding-modified ones. South-Central Texas is filled with field-grazing, live-bred cattle despite the heavy, heavy, heavy reliance on lab-bred stock in the U.S. Our difficulties with monoculture have nothing to do with science and everything to do with industrial organization. The history of farm industrialization in the U.S., which is the history of monoculture, pretty much, goes back to before the Dustbowl and involves some technical talk about the financial industry so I won’t go into it here, but if you look for yourself you’ll find pretty quick that it isn’t our crops, but the way we use them, that is at fault. Blaming pest-resistant potatoes for the fact that we only grow potatoes well-shaped for french fry production is just wrong-headed.

  72. #72 truebutnotuseful
    March 6, 2010

    Legion wrote @ #4:

    It’s the bear-man-pig that we ought to be concerned with.

    Not to mention Bearsharktopus.

  73. #73 Daks
    March 6, 2010

    I thinks he is afraid that we might find, isolate and discard the god/ religious gene/mechanism and be done with his pig-ignorant lot … Ahhhh what would the world be like with out them. What’s the deal with a fundie invoking the image of the dark ages wasn’t the last one their doing.

  74. #74 rudy
    March 6, 2010

    @macbethjn,

    Thanks for the information. It’s not surprising that finance would drive the monoculture, though I didn’t know it went back so far. And if people demand more diversity in their vegies, they will get it, and we seem fortunately to be moving in that direction in the US.

    My remarks about kudzu though were aimed at our disruption of the ecosystem through invasive species (in the case of kudzu, introduced deliberately, though the problem they were addressing was legitimate enough). Of course kudzu *is* edible, which kind of takes us back to the paragraph above :)

  75. #76 TransHero
    March 6, 2010

    Dr. Myers is absolutely correct. It’s about the mind, not the body.

    A great transport once said “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings”. OK, he confused sentient with sapient, but dammit it’s the thought that counts. All beings that are capable of MAKING self-determination decisions, capable of rational thought, self-identification, and all the other requirements of sapience are afforded and DESERVE those same rights we humans share.

    How often do rational people want to strip the rights away from people? At worst we (rationalists) want baby killers and suicide bombers in jail for life. Some of these wing-nuts practically orgasm when they get the satisfaction of taking away a person’s rights for taking a puff of cannabis sativa (they practically cream their pants when they take away the life of someone they hate). These are the same assholes who have oppressed women, reveled in slavery, opposed desegregation, list(ed) sodomy as an offense punishable by death, and enacted the sterilization (or worse) of people with disabilities.

    I recall vividly the episode of Star Trek TNG where Picard fights for Data’s right as an individual and not Star Fleet’s property precisely because Data – as an intelligent, sapient being, regardless of his origin – deserved those rights as an individual.

    We talk about biotechnology here, but we could say similar problems face us with computers and AI. When we finally create a sapient AI, I fear for it. It will no doubt be the target of much hatred and bigotry by the religious right (and a number of hippie/newage weasels from the loopy left, too – hey, anti-science is anti-science). And once again, progress will teach them that they are wrong, but it will be a long time before they realize that. Because, you know, they always have to have something to hate on.

  76. #77 Razib Khan
    March 7, 2010

    as some have mentioned, rod dreher converted from roman catholicism to eastern orthodoxy about 3 years ago. google it, it was interesting.

  77. #78 Tulse
    March 7, 2010

    I daresay you will not find a monk or a rabbi prescribing altering the genetic code of living organisms for the sake of mankind’s artistic amusement

     37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Genesis 30:37-39

  78. #79 Azkyroth
    March 7, 2010

    I’d think that the Animal Rights nuts would be in favour of Man-Pigs. Anything which blurs the line between Human and Other would make their arguments sound a bit more reasonable. Perhaps some of their female memebership would volunteer their services.

    If Animal Rights Crazies were that clear-thinking we wouldn’t be discussing them in the first place.

  79. #80 Douglas Watts
    March 7, 2010

    Dyson wants all the freedom with none of the responsibility.

    He’s worse than a spoiled child.

  80. #81 Brian English
    March 7, 2010

    That’s not dualism. If you can talk about the body being separate from the mind, then you’re talking dualistically. It’s probably unavoidable. It’s not full-blown substance dualism as you make clear.

    Anyway, I just wanted to see if I could get your take on the mind/body stuff. Thanks.

  81. #82 chicagomolly.myopenid.com
    March 7, 2010

    I work for one of the Big Bookchains Beginning with B. We just received a new book, A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement by someone I never heard of called Wesley J. Smith. The subtitle looked promising, but when I checked the author bio on the back flap I found that the person I never heard of called Wesley J. Smith is a DiscoTooter. So they’ve got issues with PETA as well? I’m already getting an upset tummy just thinking about this, but I suppose I’m going to have to read at least a few chapters of this thing to see what’s going on.

    I wonder if they make latex gloves for eyeballs?

  82. #83 skeptical scientist
    March 7, 2010

    I suspect when you come right down to it, the heart of the difference between his world view and yours is that he believes we were created in god’s image, and tinkering with the form given us by god is a sin, while you believe that our form is a product of natural selection, and could benefit from a little human tinkering.

  83. #84 Royce Bitzer
    March 7, 2010

    I hope I’m not misunderstanding some of PZ’s main points, but as an ecologist, I’m highly skeptical of this viewpoint.

    If the dominant science in the new Age of Wonder is biology, then the dominant art form should be the design of genomes to create new varieties of animals and plants. This art form, using the new biotechnology creatively to enhance the ancient skills of plant and animal breeders, is still struggling to be born. It must struggle against cultural barriers as well as technical difficulties, against the myth of Frankenstein as well as the reality of genetic defects and deformities.

    If this dream comes true, and the new art form emerges triumphant, then a new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet. Most of these artists would be amateurs, but they would be in close touch with science, like the poets of the earlier Age of Wonder. The new Age of Wonder might bring together wealthy entrepreneurs like Venter and Kamen, academic professionals like Haussler, and a worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders, working together to make the planet beautiful as well as fertile, hospitable to hummingbirds as well as to humans.

    We have enough problems now with invasive species such as garlic mustard, honeysuckle, buckthorn, Asian lady beetles, and feral domestic animals overrunning areas where their natural enemies are absent, and damaging or destroying native ecosystems in the process. What might happen if we come up totally new lifeforms and release them with little regard for the possible consequences? I can imagine some possible beneficial applications, but in general the concept seems reckless and short-sighted.

    The thought of recklessly modifying natural systems by introducing new species willy-nilly as “art” reminds me of when the artist Christo surrounded 11 islands in Biscayne Bay with over 6 million square feet of pink plastic in 1983. Basically this was a frivolous project that wasted a lot of plastic and put manatees and other sea creatures at risk.

    On the other hand, I agree with PZ that the ravings of Dreher and others are batwing-crazy. I’ve always found it strange that such people are nearly always exclusively concerned about modifying human beings. My own opinion tends to run to the contrary. I might welcome some tweaking of the human animal to make us generally a bit more rational and altruistic, and a bit less stupid and self-destructive, in order to give us more of a fighting chance to survive this century. A few extra smarts and ethics might also give us the perspective to do any genetic modifications we might choose to do in ways that truly yield long-term benefits to us and our planet.

  84. #85 Azkyroth
    March 7, 2010

    Anyway, I just wanted to see if I could get your take on the mind/body stuff.

    I don’t think PZ’s arguing that the mind is a non-physical or otherwise distinct entity, but something analogous to the observation that you don’t become “a different person” after, for instance, having a liver transplant.

  85. #86 Armored Scrum Object
    March 7, 2010

    It’s not dualism to distinguish brain from mind any more than it’s dualism to distinguish the novel “Frankenstein” from a physical book containing its text. The novel obviously can’t exist without some medium in which to exist, but the novel is defined indirectly by the physical properties of the medium. The corresponding ASCII text file on the Project Gutenberg servers is not any less “Frankenstein” for not being printed on dead trees. Many people still seem to cling to the magical/vitalist belief that there’s some distinctive essence in human flesh allowing it to host a mind. At least in that respect, I’d say that PZ is rejecting dualism, not embracing it.

    Anyway, I never read the original novel, but my main take-away from the Frankenstein myth was always that the creature only became a monster because people — including his creator — treated him like one. Frankenstein’s sin was not that of a man rejecting God, but rather that of a father rejecting fatherhood. If anything, this interpretation seems more like a warning against the sort of revulsion exhibited by Dreher and Bottum…

  86. #87 F
    March 7, 2010

    Douglas Watts:

    Dyson wants all the freedom with none of the responsibility.

    He’s worse than a spoiled child

    And you are going to back up this statement? Or are you just some sort of seagull?

  87. #88 melior
    March 7, 2010

    Poor Rod Dreher is about 200 years late to thwart the notorious fiend Dr. Edward Jenner,
    who first popularized the injection of humans with pus from cow blisters, defying similar prescient warnings by the Crunchy Cons of the day.

    (1802 caricature of Jenner vaccinating patients who feared it would make them sprout cowlike appendages)

  88. #89 Tenebras
    March 7, 2010

    Not only is this shmuck completely ignorant of the science, he’s ignorant of his literature too. People like him hold up Frankenstein’s monster as this “omg, we’ll create this evil, sub-human monster with our sciences!!1!”.

    But when I actually read Frankenstein, the monster seemed more human to me than Victor Frankenstein. That book is more a warning against treating humans as subhuman based on their origins, because it was the abuse, not the method of creation, that made Frankenstein’s monster a monster.

  89. #90 The Laughing Man
    March 7, 2010

    http://yudkowsky.net/obsolete/singularity.html

    I just had to come back and comment after reading this! Amazing article, PZ!!!

    There is an amazing transformative nexus just around the bend! It won’t be just biology or nanotechnnology, but physics and society as well (I predict in 50 years atheism will be 30% of all the people on the planet, dominant in all developed nations except perhaps India). AI quite possibly might exist, we hopefully will have a permenant space station on the moon, and will likely know a great deal more about the history of the universe. This will be the most exciting time in human existence, hands down

    The only real insurmountable problems(as it stands) are global population growth and nuclear proliferation. Although if anyone has anything to add to the list, please let me know .

  90. #91 Azkyroth
    March 7, 2010

    The only real insurmountable problems(as it stands) are global population growth and nuclear proliferation. Although if anyone has anything to add to the list, please let me know .

    The problematic nature of those is basically just a complication of Stupidity.

  91. #92 The Laughing Man
    March 7, 2010

    Indeed Azyroth! Ever see Idiocracy? ;)

  92. #93 raven
    March 7, 2010

    skeptical scientist lying:

    I suspect when you come right down to it, the heart of the difference between his world view and yours is that he believes we were created in god’s image, and tinkering with the form given us by god is a sin,

    It is? Where does it say in the bible that tampering with the human form is a sin? You are just Making Stuff Up.

    skeptical scientist lying some more:

    while you believe that our form is a product of natural selection, and could benefit from a little human tinkering.

    The human form is way far from perfect, although it is crystal clear we evolved. For one thing we haven’t been bipeds for too long in the evolutionary sense and our spines frequently end up with problems. Even if they don’t, we all wear out, come down with various ailments and die.

    We all “tinker with our form” as much as we can and know how and pay huge amounts of money to do it. Ever hear of modern medicine? It works for a while at least. Lifepans in the USA have increased 30 years in the last century.

    BTW, you aren’t a scientist. You are a religious kook trolling. There used to be 10 commandments including one about lying. The fundie xians tossed that one and are down to 8.

  93. #94 raven
    March 7, 2010

    On the other hand, I agree with PZ that the ravings of Dreher and others are batwing-crazy.

    Dreher is about as ignorant as a person can get about science. He doesn’t know what we are doing, can do, will do, and why we do it.

    That is why it just comes across as batwing crazy. Since he is totally ignorant, he can make up all sorts of scary scenarios and say Boo!!!, I’m scared and so should you be. He is not speaking from the moral high ground but from the Plains of Moron.

    Much of biotech, genetic engineering, today is to create lifeforms that make drugs or improved crops to feed 6.7 billion people.

    The tiny protein factories produce such drugs as insulin, growth hormone, EPO, Neupogen, and a number of anti-cancer and other anti-disease MABs. A lot of people are alive and well because of this.

    And it is all heavily regulated. Between the FDA and the USDA it takes years and hundreds of millions of dollars to get anything approved.

  94. #95 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    I read Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger) stories in Galaxy back in the 1950s. However his science fiction is still in print. The complete short stories are in The Rediscovery of Man. Norstrilla is also available. – ‘Tis Himself

    I found these second-hand recently; I’d read some of the short stories before, but not Norstrilia (not “Norstrilla” ‘Tis – remember the planet’s full name is “Old North Australia” and its wealth is, therefore, based on (highly unusual) sheep). The underpeople aren’t genetically modified in the current sense, but developmentally modified – C’Mell says any children she has would be kittens, unless subjected to the same process she was.

  95. #96 FrankT
    March 7, 2010

    Frankenstein is not a parable about the dangers of science, it’s a parable about the dangers of rejecting your offspring and being a bad parent. The cautionary tale is not about the horror of creating pig-men, but of the horror of rejecting the pig-men as the next generation of people.

    In the story, the villain is Dr. Frankenstein, and he represents Dreher, not the techno-utopians. People who are arguing that transhumanity makes us not people anymore shouldn’t quote Frankenstein because they are the villains in that story.

  96. #97 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    if you look for yourself you’ll find pretty quick that it isn’t our crops, but the way we use them, that is at fault. Blaming pest-resistant potatoes for the fact that we only grow potatoes well-shaped for french fry production is just wrong-headed. – macbethjn

    This is true, but GM crops are being used by Monsanto et al. to extend their dominance over world agriculture via their “intellectual property rights”. Genes should not be patentable.

    Rudy’s right that the potential ecological problems caused by GM crops and animals are dwarfed by those of invasive species. Getting rid of the latter using bioengineered pathogens might be possible (and these could cause sterility rather than death, presumably) – but this gets me back to the fear that if you can make such pathogens for kudzu or rabbits, you can do it for rice or humans.

  97. #98 llewelly
    March 7, 2010

    Tulse Author Profile Page | March 7, 2010 12:07 AM

    I daresay you will not find a monk or a rabbi prescribing altering the genetic code of living organisms for the sake of mankind’s artistic amusement

    37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Genesis 30:37-39

    Jacob did that gain more animals, not to appreciate beauty.
    Jacob’s motivation was not art. It was avarice.

  98. #99 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    Tulse@78 wins the internets!

  99. #100 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    The only real insurmountable problems(as it stands) are global population growth and nuclear proliferation. Although if anyone has anything to add to the list, please let me know . – The Laughing Man

    I don’t think these are insurmountable, but problems of equivalent or greater difficulty include anthropogenic climate change, depletion of mineral resources (oil, phosphates, various metals), soil erosion, existing nuclear weapons states, potential misuses of biotechnology, increasing economic inequality, surveillance technologies – and idiots who think either that science and technology are evil, or that they can solve everything and its imminence The Singularity will come to redeem us.

  100. #101 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    Tsk. I forgot ocean acidification, pollution and depletion of fisheries.

  101. #102 and7barton
    March 7, 2010

    Quote (#18): “Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? ‘No!’ says the man in Washington, ‘It belongs to the poor.’ ‘No!’ says the man in the Vatican, ‘It belongs to God.’ ‘No!’ says the man in Moscow, ‘It belongs to everyone.’ I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, Where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.”

    Atlas Shrugged ?

  102. #103 F
    March 7, 2010

    In the story, the villain is Dr. Frankenstein

    Regardless as to intent of the author, I always fount the villain to be… the villains. Ignorant mob was the biggest villain in that story.

  103. #104 Draken
    March 7, 2010

    ‘Tis Himself #62, Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons

    I sure hope you didn’t look up this phrase on the internet, or you’re screwed

    Also, I must protest the well-meaning artistic representations of C’Mell. I’d made my own internal image reading the books, and now they’re spoiled by an artist with a western t&a complex.

  104. #105 tbfoster
    March 7, 2010

    Great post, I applaud your mind, knowledge and reasoning ability!

    …in a very monist kind of way, of course.

  105. #106 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    Much of biotech, genetic engineering, today is to create lifeforms that make drugs or improved crops to feed 6.7 billion people. – raven

    Crop “improvement” so far has had little if any effect on improving food supplies, both because the yield increases have been marginal Failure to Yield , and because the problems of feeding people are, so far, primarily socio-economic and political. They’ve done wonders for the profits of multinational agribusiness and their dominance in world agriculture, however.

    And it is all heavily regulated. Between the FDA and the USDA it takes years and hundreds of millions of dollars to get anything approved.

    Oh, dear – a bad case of OWHITUSAC syndrome. China, to name the obvious example, has a rapidly expanding biotechnology industry. Take a look at China’s record in pollution control and ask yourself how likely it is that this industry is well-regulated – whatever the formal regulations say. As international competition hots up, there’s a serious danger of a regulatory “race to the bottom”.

  106. #107 SEF
    March 7, 2010

    There were pigmen in a recent Doctor Who story – the daleks created them to be slaves.

  107. #108 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2010

    no, they wouldn’t have little piggy-snouts or tusks or the ability to sniff out truffles.

    well, there goes my next brainstorm idea to make cash.

  108. #109 FrankT
    March 7, 2010

    I’m not buying the Union of Concerned Scientists ad their anti-GM message. They admit that half the growth in corn yield is from “breeding” and claim that the other half is based on fertilizers, pest control, and mechanization. Which is fine. But Genetic Modification is breeding. It’s more controlled and extensive than crossing plants at random and hoping for the best, but it’s the same thing. From the 1930s to the 2000s, corn yields, by their own documents have increased six fold.

    Their claim that because true genetic engineering didn’t hit the fields until the 1990s that genetic modification isn’t responsible for our food surpluses is laughable. Genetic engineering is just a continuation of the trend of scientific genetic modification through selected breeding – which is why the trend line of increased yields continues right through GE becoming a bigger and bigger deal.

    There is lots to hate about Monsanto, but dismissing the demonstrable effectiveness of their products is not a rational response. No one should be allowed to own genomes, and no one should be allowed to sue people for allowing their crops to receive pollen from other peoples’ fields. But none of that changes the fact that GM Corn is fucking awesome.

  109. #110 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    But Genetic Modification is breeding. -FrankT

    No, it isn’t. Nor is it presented as such by Monsanto et al. – it’s presented as revolutionary new technology that will “feed the world” – except when they are arguing for deregulation. It’s the “feed the world” claims the UCS argue are unsupported by the evidence so far.

    What’s more, you can’t divorce the technology from its economic and IP context: the GMOs we have, and will have in the forseeable future are designed to optimise corporate profit, not yield or anything else.

  110. #111 Q.E.D
    March 7, 2010

    Knockgoats @ 110

    When I was a younger lawyer, I worked on a toxic tort case against Monsanto involving Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) pollution. Monsanto so closely fits the archetype of the “evil corporation” it is beyond parody.

  111. #112 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    FrankT:

    1. “But Genetic Modification is breeding. ”

    It is a different technique with different implications than conventional breeding and you should not be so ashamed for the differences that you go and try and obfuscate them. That makes some warning bells ring.

    2. “It’s more controlled..”
    It’s not ‘more controlled’, as in the insertion process disruptions of the original DNA occur, as well as extra insertions. These effects are known but not incorporated in the screening process.
    For details see http://www.gmfreeireland.org/health/BSR-2-BGERvol23.pdf

    3. ‘Crossing plants at random and hoping for the best’
    Specific traits are chosen and interbred, and nowadays the genetic effect is followed by genetic techniques. So what you are doing is distorting reality.
    And somehow, FrankT, there are examples where the classic breeding techniques succeed faster in several respects than the genetic engineering, and more reliable.

    4. “it’s the same thing.”
    No, it is not, as you are inserting foreign DNA, which will affect the genome in unprecedented ways. Do you know these posters of Biochemical Pathways? Intricate aren’t they? The balance between the various pathways are directly related to which genes are activated when and where in the plant. If you insert a new gene you inevitably disrupt that balance, especially since all commercial genetically engineered crops have promotors that simply activate the gene whenever, wherever, and to the max.

    Maybe the gene-Luddites are not that crazy after all, FrankT and PZ!

  112. #113 FrankT
    March 7, 2010

    Knockgoats Said:

    No, it isn’t.

    Yes. Yes it is.

    The UCS argument is full of failure and false equivalence. Yield is increased through breeding by the insertion or deletion of specific traits from the strain of corn.

    Yes, selective breeding “on its own” was able to grow yields at roughly the rate we are growing them today back in the 1930s. But no, that does not mean that we could achieve the rates of growth by simply reproducing the Roosevelt era techniques. If e did today what we did back then, we would achieve not the growth of that era, but the yield of that era.

    Yield continues to rise on the genetic front only so long as we continue to be able to add yield increasing traits and subtract yield decreasing traits from our crops. Random breeding and selection is certainly one way to do that – but remember two things:

    First: There’s no actual difference between a seed that has had a gene inserted and a seed that had a 1 in 1024 chance of happening to get the right assortment of genes from a dihybrid cross and is the lucky seed that we keep while throwing away the other 1023 breeding “failures” that came with it.

    Second: Breeding will still only get you traits that appear in crossable species. If there’s something that would increase yield but it appears in oaks or ice fish, you aren’t going to be able to get it into your wheat through breeding.

    First we were grabbing yield increasing traits from different strains of commercial wheat by double crossing them and grabbing the quarter that came out awesome as our new standard. Then we were grabbing yield increasing traits from wild wheat – a much more laborious process that involves an initial cross that sucks ass and then back crossing it for many generations to sift it down to the tiny fraction that is essentially genetically identical to your original commercial wheat but with some specific yield increasing traits from the weed. And now we’re grabbing yield increasing traits from plants we can’t cross at all through direct gene insertion.

    And suddenly a bunch of luddites go “Slow down there Frankenstein!” as if this was somehow new or special, or different from what we’ve been doing the entire fucking time. Well, it’s not.

    The reason why people can say with a straight face that starvation is a distributive rather than yield problem is that the Green Revolution solved the fucking yield problem! Do you know where we would be without biological science having restructured the genetics of corn? We’d be in a Malthusian Hellscape where instead of Food Production having risen on a per-person basis for the last 50 years, it would have fallen. Dramatically. The great Ukraine Famine would be happening somewhere in th world every year.

    Yes, right now every single person who starves to death has been killed. But that is because the yield increasing biological technologies actually work. To argue that because people in Zimbabwe and Niger are not getting fed that we should stop producing food sufficient to feed them if we had a better distribution system is complete logic failure.

  113. #114 AJ Milne
    March 7, 2010

    Re #21, tinkering, and spaghetti code, from my understanding of both biology and computer science, you do have an excellent sense of what modifying genomes (including human ones) is like, and is going to be like.

    And yes, I think the analogy between living genomes and ‘spaghetti code’ is a good gone.

    In fact, I’d add: it’s a great one. And I’d add: some of the most dreadfully unduly complex and difficult to modify bits of software I’ve ever encountered in my life occurred not (solely) because of the work of a single, amateur programmer but because these were relatively old systems with long histories, and had been patched onto and modified in fits and starts over a long service life. When several programmers in a row happened to have either a relatively poor understanding of design or had been told ‘just make it work–we don’t expect to maintain this much longer anyway’, the accreted mess builds up to something terrifying to behold.

    That’s a lot like what happens in biology. There are no hard and fast rules about interfaces–everything is very messily dependent on everything else–encapsulation? Doesn’t happen. Why would it? There’s a terrifying Rube Goldberg-esque genius to these systems–they do incredible things–but then, it’s been several billion years of evolution that got them that way.

    … consider that, however, and then bear in mind that even the worse mishmash of spaghetti code almost certainly can be modified in substantial ways for improvement if you simply have no choice. In computer science, that never happens: the economics of the situation is such that it generall makes more sense to throw out the whole mess and just start over.

    … so you figure it’ll just be ‘tinkering’: I’d agree much of what’s happened so far has been little more than this: parachute a gene from another species in here and there, sure. And I’d also agree it probably will be for a long while: poorly maintained billion year old code is seriously hard to work with in more substantial ways.

    … but I bet we can. The other weird thing here is: at billions of years of age, these are like those spaghetti systems you’ve mentioned that actually do incredible things, despite the fact that there’s no way in hell anyone working on that problem now would do it that way. So there’s huge value in them. Throwing them out and starting over probably isn’t going to be the game, in many cases. It’s going to be diving in, and with design and analysis techniques that are going to strain our poor human brains, figure out how they work, work out those insanely complex chains of side effects, and deal with them well enough to handle making those more substantial changes, if that’s what we want.

    But you’re absolutely right it’s an incredibly hard problem, for exactly those reasons. And I think your analogy is excellent. And anyone who thinks this is going to be like ‘oh, drop in a gene, makes you smarter’, nuh uh. That’s not going to happen, or not much, anyway. There will be some low hanging fruit where you get lucky and incredible effects are possible with minor modifications, but those will be very, very rare exceptions.

  114. #115 Richard Eis
    March 7, 2010

    although I daresay you will not find a monk or a rabbi prescribing altering the genetic code of living organisms for the sake of mankind’s artistic amusement.

    Well no, Gregor Mendel did it for for his own amusement.

    I think humans are too full of themselves and their abilities. But knowledge comes from making mistakes and learning from them unfortunately.

  115. #116 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    @FrankT
    “First: There’s no actual difference between a seed that has had a gene inserted and a seed that had a 1 in 1024 chance of happening to get the right assortment of genes from a dihybrid cross and is the lucky seed that we keep while throwing away the other 1023 breeding “failures” that came with it.”

    Could you provide us with actual real life figures of how many new cells and how many plants need to be produced in genetic engineering to obtain one stable plant with the desired trait?
    You are pretending that every instance will work and be good. In practice this is far from true, see the link I provided earlier (#112).

  116. #117 Fred The Hun
    March 7, 2010

    Etruscan @ 21,

    My only personal quibble with the concept of being a starry-eyed techno-utopian is that I have reason to believe we may be on the verge of societal collapse due to coming up against the very hard wall of limits imposed by resource depletion and population overshoot. Google “Peak Oil”.

    If there is indeed a major collapse in our near future it will be very hard not to fall back into a prolonged period of dark ages. Which will make scientific progress a bit difficult to say the least.

    That having been said You might find this series of lectures of some interest.

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/church_venter09/church_venter09_index.html

    Synthetic genomics, the subject of the conference, is the process of replacing all or part of an organism’s natural DNA with synthetic DNA designed by humans. It is essentially genetic engineering on a mass scale. As the participants were to learn over the next two days, synthetic genomics will make possible a variety of miracles, such as bacteria reprogrammed to turn coal into methane gas and other microbes programmed to churn out jet fuel. Still other genomic engineering techniques will allow scientists to resurrect a range of extinct creatures including the woolly mammoth and, just maybe, even Neanderthal man.

    The specter of “biohackers” creating new infectious agents made its obligatory appearance, but synthetic genomic researchers are, almost of necessity, optimists. George Church, one of whose special topics was “Engineering Humans 2.0,” told the group that “DNA is excellent programmable matter.” Just as automated sequencing machines can read the natural order of a DNA molecule, automated DNA synthesizing machines can create stretches of deliberately engineered DNA that can then be placed inside a cell so as to modify its normal behavior. Many bacterial cells, for example, are naturally attracted to cancerous tumors. And so by means of correctly altering their genomes it is possible to make a species of cancer-killing bacteria, organisms that attack the tumor by invading its cancerous cells, and then, while still inside them, synthesizing and then releasing cancer-killing toxins.

    Best wishes for scientific progress in a more sustainable paradigm.

    Cheers!

  117. #118 Ströh
    March 7, 2010

    One of my professors in microbiology admitted to, inadvertently, having created a frog-man during some stem-cell experiments. I can’t really remember the details but it was something on the line of human and frog genetic materials somehow morphing into an impregnated frog egg.

    We students found it kind of cool, but I think we all realized the reasons why our professor was so hush-hush about it. It’s not something you want the media to get a hold of.

  118. #119 F
    March 7, 2010

    Yes, selective breeding “on its own” was able to grow yields at roughly the rate we are growing them today back in the 1930s. But no, that does not mean that we could achieve the rates of growth by simply reproducing the Roosevelt era techniques. If e did today what we did back then, we would achieve not the growth of that era, but the yield of that era.

    Laughable. Corn started out as a slightly “fruitier” grass. Monsanto hasn’t improved on that as a foodstuff nearly as much as domestication and selective breeding have done.

    Never mind that quite a bit of the GM is done (perhaps the preponderance?) so that the continued use of rather horrid proprietary pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers derived from petrochemicals can be used around these plants. Not a very good model at all, really.

    The fact that these modifications generally do not breed true anyway is a bad model as well. To raise a generation for seed that a generation for food may be grown is plain stupid. Perhaps they could engineer that process out. I suspect that they will not.

  119. #120 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    F: “The fact that these modifications generally do not breed true anyway is a bad model as well. To raise a generation for seed that a generation for food may be grown is plain stupid. Perhaps they could engineer that process out. I suspect that they will not.”
    You mean the hybridization? They will only abandon that if the terminator systems will be accepted. It’s all for the money.

  120. #121 CortxVortx
    March 7, 2010

    If you’re worried about man-pigs, blame the Daleks.

  121. #122 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    Yes. Yes it is. -FrankT

    No. No. No, it isn’t. (If we’re going for truth by repetition, we could be here a long time – but as the Bellman said, “What I tell you three times is true”.) Breeding will not get genes from organisms that are sexually incompatible into the same organism. This is simple fact, and I don’t know what the point of denying it is, other than trying to confuse people. In fact, you say exactly the same when it suits your argument:
    Breeding will still only get you traits that appear in crossable species. If there’s something that would increase yield but it appears in oaks or ice fish, you aren’t going to be able to get it into your wheat through breeding.
    So GM is just breeding when you say it is, and not when you say otherwise. Got it.

    But no, that does not mean that we could achieve the rates of growth by simply reproducing the Roosevelt era techniques.
    Just as well I’m not suggesting that, then, isn’t it? apart from the fact that I’m not against GM crops in principle, have you never heard of marker-assisted selection? Use of evolutionary algorithms in agricultural systems research? Use of biosensors, improved pset-reporting systems, properly targeted application of fertiliser… There is vast potential for improving actual operational yields even without GM crops, and the opportunity cost of focusing agricultural research on the latter need to be considered.

    As for the Green Revolution: sure it increased yields. As the FAO says Biotechnology: meeting the needs of the poor?:
    “Unlike the Green Revolution, which came about through an international programme of public-sector agricultural research specifically aimed at creating and transferring technologies to the developing world as free public goods, the ‘Gene Revolution’ is primarily being driven by the private sector, which focuses on developing commercial products for large markets.”
    As I said, you can’t divorce the technology from its economic and IP context.

  122. #123 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    One of my professors in microbiology admitted to, inadvertently, having created a frog-man during some stem-cell experiments. – Ströh

    A giant leap for mankind!

  123. #124 davem
    March 7, 2010

    PZ:

    no, they wouldn’t have … the ability to sniff out truffles

    So what’s the point?

    Moggie @ 14:

    So… no human bacon anytime soon?
    Only if the crematoria turn the heat down a tad :0)

    Re Monsanto, until they can do this, I’m not impressed:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yFM1crfEro

  124. #125 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    March 7, 2010

    The Laughing Man says, “The only real insurmountable problems(as it stands) are global population growth and nuclear proliferation.”

    I do not see even these as insurmountable. In fact the only insurmountable problem I see is overcoming our own human tendency of self-delusion.

    Over and over again, we hear that Thomas Malthus (and by extension, his intellectual descendents) was wrong. It is true, but what he was wrong about was not the fact that exponential growth is unsustainable. Rather he failed to anticipate that North America would provide an outlet for European population growth and then that humans would learn how to eat petroleum by first turning it into corn and soy beans. Now North America is full and the petroleum is mostly gone.

    We hear that we are not poisoning the planet or changing the climate or causing the oceanic biosphere to collapse. The more scientists find we are in trouble, the louder are the voices of anti-science drowning them out.

    I am a firm believer in technology. I just don’t believe in utopia of any kind. And it is clear that technology cannot counter human self-delusion. It merely allows us to broadcast it more loudly.

    My hope had always been that science might be the tool that would force humans to listen to unpleasant truths about their existence. That hope is becoming harder and harder to sustain in the face of evidence.

    Perhaps the only consolation is that I now understand the Fermi Paradox.

  125. #126 Fred The Hun
    March 7, 2010

    Knockgoats @ 123

    A giant leap for mankind!

    Or a small step for frogs ;-)

  126. #127 Fred The Hun
    March 7, 2010

    a_ray_in_dilbert_space @ 125,

    Amen! ;-)

  127. #128 momkat
    March 7, 2010

    If we are going to use novels as our guide for public policy, I think The Island of Dr. Moreau would be much better than Frankenstein. Plays to the animal rights movement and full of moral lessons about the perils Man faces when tinkering with Nature.

  128. #129 OurDeadSelves
    March 7, 2010

    @102

    Atlas Shrugged ?

    As discussed up thread (much to my amusment), Andrew Ryan was a referance to the videogame Bioshock, which in and of itself is a harsh critique of Randianism.

    Plus, you know, there’s no way for human to acheive awesome powers w/out some genetic tinkering.

  129. #130 Ewan R
    March 7, 2010

    Going to step in here with a nice chunk of pro-GMness mainly to counter some of what Knockgoats has said. I’ll preface the arguement with the horrible admission that yes, I’m a corporate shill (ie yes, I do actually work for Monsanto) and no my views don’t necessarily reflect those of Monsanto (because I’d like to keep working there!)

    In response to #97

    This is true, but GM crops are being used by Monsanto et al. to extend their dominance over world agriculture via their “intellectual property rights”. Genes should not be patentable.

    Really? Havent IP rights been part and parcel of agriculture since the 30′s when extended to asexually produced clones of varieties, and further in the 70′s when plant variety protection essentially extended patent type law to hybrids (with I believe a slightly less than 20 year period of protection) which was a perfectly acceptable move because of the investment of time and money required by breeders to create the top yielding hybrids. I’m going to go ahead and guess however that the time and money required to create a top yielding hybrid is possibly as much as an order of magnitude lower than the time and money to create a transgenic which works in top yielding hybrids (which generally has a figure of ~$100M kicked about – most of which goes towards regulatory approval, but a sizeable chunk of which goes to the first phases of development).

    Next you state that:-

    Genes should not be patentable.

    which I disagree with, particularly in light of GM crops etc – which is what this next screed is focused on (to bypass arguements about patenting stretches of sequenced genome etc) – genes in GMOs are patented for specific use in specific species – which is an important aspect of patentability – the invention must be non-obvious (although in a legalese sense, as it is abundantly obvious that engineering in herbicide resistance to the best broad spectrum herbicde available would be an awesome thing to do in terms of weed control), useful, and specifically defined. So it isn’t quite as simple as ‘patenting a gene’ in this sense. Then we return to the investment required to get a GM crop to market – upwards of $100M (potentially less for less commercial applications, but for a commercial application you have to prove efficacy, at least have yield parity (or close to – if I remember right there was a slight yield drag with RR1 soybeans) and jump through all the various regulatory hurdles – to what end if you have no intellectual property rights over the end product? Short of selling bags of seed in the first year for $1M a pop (which clearly isn’t a commercially viable model) there is absolutely no way to break even post release, and once you submit for regulatory approval all the competition needs to do is the exact same thing without the upfront costs of research to release essentially the same product.

    Then to jump to post #106 – I just want to point out the near equivalence of citing the UCS and citing answers in genesis here – although UCS can’t quite twist the facts enough in ‘failure to yield’ despite their best efforts to even remotely paint a bad picture.

    First up they limit their analysis to the US. Which, if you want to argue against GM increasing yields, is a great move – US agriculture is the most input heavy in the world, and is sitting very close to the ‘intrinsic’ yield of crops that massive improvement by non-yield genes is not really that possible. However if you actually read the report, rather than the findings, you’ll note that they have to rather grudgingly admit that Bt technology categorically has increased yields, and that RR technology has not (which isn’t that surprising as neither technology is designed to increase yields, particularly not in an environment that is already input heavy)

    The clever thing about avoiding the rest of the world is that UCS gets to avoid the rather embarassing fact (for them) that these technologies when utilized in low(er) input environments increases yield massively – 30-150% in the case of Bt cotton in India, here the increases are not in intrinsic (the maximum possible from the given variety) but in potential (the maximum achievable under the given agronomic conditions) yield by improving agronomic conditions – either by improving insect control (which is probably where most of the yield increases come from) or by allowing weed control where previously there was none (availability/specificity and cost of herbicides may have been holding back the potential yields in many areas)

    Then to post #110 where :-

    the GMOs we have, and will have in the forseeable future are designed to optimise corporate profit, not yield or anything else.

    How far into the future are we talking? Monsanto are slated to release drought tolerant transgenics in the next 2-5 years – with integration of this technology into the WEMA project within the next 10 years. The product no doubt was designed initially with profit in mind (although through rising yield in areas experiencing transient drought) but in the case of WEMA, if succesful, categorically will improve yields in drought areas with absolutely no profit involved.

    Likewise Monsanto has numerous early phase transgenic yield projects (as do Syngetna, Pioneer and other players in biotech) in their pipelines – to say that none of these projects are likely to come to fruition in the forseeable future either means you can’t see very far, or are severely pessimistic about the possibility of the tech – again, all will be massive profit generators, but through yield increases – and may be applicable in a non-profit manner in some areas (and given how patent law works categorically will be available when patents expire)

    I’ll take a second here to state that the green revolution, as far as I am aware, was rice and wheat driven, and not corn – just for the sake of fairness to like, the truth and all that.

    @116 – how many attempts need to be made to get one stable plant? Does it matter if you can get one stable plant? Millions of dollars go into the process of finding the right insert that does what you want without deleterious effects (and it needn’t be that hard – check out Pam Ronald’s flooding tolerant rice, done first with transgenics, then screwed over by regulatory doodads, luckily saved by finding the gene in an ancient rice and breeding it in – if a bacterial gene had been the only option in this case an amazing technology would have been scuppered)

  130. #131 Pin-Striped Man of Morning
    March 7, 2010

    (How has no one made a “long pig” joke yet?)

  131. #132 Fred The Hun
    March 7, 2010

    Ewan R @130

    I’ll take a second here to state that the green revolution, as far as I am aware, was rice and wheat driven, and not corn – just for the sake of fairness to like, the truth and all that.

    The so called “Green Revolution” was and continues to be possible only because of easily available and cheap fossil fuel inputs at all levels. The “Profit Motive”, for what currently passes for free market capitalism under the control of corporations such as your employer is not a sustainable long term model, despite your expressed wishes for continuing to benefit from it.

    Best hopes for rational decentralized local permaculture and other sustainable approaches to agriculture and food production.

    http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/want-the-good-life-your-neighbors-need-it-too

  132. #133 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    @Ewan R:
    “The clever thing about avoiding the rest of the world is that UCS gets to avoid the rather embarassing fact (for them) that these technologies when utilized in low(er) input environments increases yield massively – 30-150% in the case of Bt cotton in India, ”

    You’re quite brave to post that here given the recent turmoil in India over GMO’s, and the recent admission of your employer that the Bt-cotton in India, made by your company, has failed to fulfill the promises that have been made.

    It is not even disputed anymore by the GM advocates in India that
    * the main pest is developing resistance to Bt,
    * new sucking pests have emerged as major pests causing significant economic losses,
    * productivity of cotton has fallen,
    * pesticide expenditure has gone up.

    Bollgard II is not expected to do any better as it contains no new toxins.

    Sorry mate.

  133. #134 raven
    March 7, 2010

    The Laughing Man says, “The only real insurmountable problems(as it stands) are global population growth and nuclear proliferation.”

    These are social problems that science hasn’t shown much ability to solve. Ironically one of the big contributors to population growth and the environmental degradation that causes is….RELIGION. The RCC would rather you get AIDS and die than use a condom. They would rather you have 8 kids and watch half of them die than use a condom.

    If Dreher had 2 neurons he would be addressing religion’s significant contributions to world problems. After contraception he could take on religious terrorism, suicide bombers and MD assassins.

    My hope had always been that science might be the tool that would force humans to listen to unpleasant truths about their existence. That hope is becoming harder and harder to sustain in the face of evidence.

    That didn’t work very well. When humans hear an unpleasant truth such as “the earth isn’t 6,000 years old”, we evolved from prokaryotes, you can increase spending while decreasing taxes and balance the budget, or CO2 rises are changing the climate, they shoot the messengers.

    But it isn’t a total loss. Significant percentages of the population don’t shoot the messengers and these are on average the best and brightest. And world population growth is decelerating and is projected to plateau in the 21st century at between 9 and 12 billion.

    What it really will take is something very obvious and very catastrophic before people start realizing that we live on a planet with finite resources. And even that may not happen. We do fix things occasionally. The Chinese were looking at a catastrophic population increase when they hit the brakes.

  134. #135 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    Ewan R.

    Really? Havent IP rights been part and parcel of agriculture since the 30′s when extended to asexually produced clones of varieties, and further in the 70′s when plant variety protection essentially extended patent type law to hybrids

    Yes, that’s why I specified “to extend their dominance over world agriculture via their “intellectual property rights””. The period since the ’30s has seen continually increasing control of world food supplies by a few huge companies – and evidently, that’s exactly what you want.

    Monsanto are slated to release drought tolerant transgenics in the next 2-5 years – with integration of this technology into the WEMA project within the next 10 years.

    The WEMA project is simply a way to get transgenics into African agriculture under agribiotech industry control. IOW, part of the effort to extend their dominance over world agriculture.

    I just want to point out the near equivalence of citing the UCS and citing answers in genesis here

    What a stupid lie. The author of the UCS report is Doug Gurian-Sherman, whose resume is available here.

    First up they limit their analysis to the US. Which, if you want to argue against GM increasing yields, is a great move – US agriculture is the most input heavy in the world, and is sitting very close to the ‘intrinsic’ yield of crops that massive improvement by non-yield genes is not really that possible.

    It’s also, of course, the place where most of the reliable information comes from, and where the technology has been in use longest. The longest studies of Bt cotton in India cover about 5 years; we don’t yet know whether either the cotton bollworm will gain resistance, or secondary pests will flourish in the new conditions.

    First up they limit their analysis to the US. Which, if you want to argue against GM increasing yields, is a great move – US agriculture is the most input heavy in the world, and is sitting very close to the ‘intrinsic’ yield of crops that massive improvement by non-yield genes is not really that possible. However if you actually read the report, rather than the findings, you’ll note that they have to rather grudgingly admit that Bt technology categorically has increased yields

    How wonderfully fair! You first slate the report for what it doesn’t talk about, then rather grudgingly admit that with regard to what it does talk about, it is honest.

    and given how patent law works categorically will be available when patents expire

    As you’ll be well aware, there are continual and often successful attempts by large corporations to extend the reach and term of patents. The Green Revolution, despite the limitations Fred the Hun notes, did make a big difference. Let me repeat what I quoted from the FAO (link@122):
    “Unlike the Green Revolution, which came about through an international programme of public-sector agricultural research specifically aimed at creating and transferring technologies to the developing world as free public goods, the ‘Gene Revolution’ is primarily being driven by the private sector, which focuses on developing commercial products for large markets.”
    As I said, Mr. Ewan Monsanto-Shill, you can’t divorce the technology from its economic and IP context.

  135. #136 amphiox
    March 7, 2010

    But when I actually read Frankenstein, the monster seemed more human to me than Victor Frankenstein.

    Exactly so! The process of creation was described as enthralling and beautiful, and the monster was born pure and good, if physically ugly. The tragedy arose because Victor abandoned his creation.

    If there is a scientific moral to the tale, it is about taking responsibility for your creations, not a warning about what should not even be attempted.

    If there is a theological implication to the tale, it is a giant, finger-shaking ‘j’accuse’ pointed at the creator god who so callously abandoned his creations to the cruel world that he also designed.

  136. #137 sharky
    March 7, 2010

    But if women pass off childbearing to incubator-pigs, then there will be fewer emergency abortions to save the life of the mother!

    Do you know how many pro-lifers that will leave with absolutely nothing to do with their spare time?

  137. #138 Grewgills
    March 7, 2010

    Nor have our governments intentionally herded together masses of slow, strong, stupid, subservient people and urged them to get to work making baby slaves

    That would depend on your definition of ‘our governments’. If by that you mean the currently elected governments of the people who are commenting on this board I can agree.

    For myself, calling the product of this scientific work an art form isn’t that much different than calling the product of creationism science, etc. etc.

    The “art-forms” alluded to use a scientifically created technology to create something for aesthetic appeal. It makes as much sense to call them art as it does to call false color images from Hubble, photoshopped images, or the microbial images mentioned above art.

    This is true, but GM crops are being used by Monsanto et al. to extend their dominance over world agriculture via their “intellectual property rights”. Genes should not be patentable.

    I think that the best course to pursue on that front is ‘open-source’ GM products. I think that the Gates Foundation is working on that front.

    It’s not ‘more controlled’, as in the insertion process disruptions of the original DNA occur, as well as extra insertions.

    More controlled ? perfectly controlled. Not only is it more controlled it has far more options.

    Laughable. Corn started out as a slightly “fruitier” grass. Monsanto hasn’t improved on that as a foodstuff nearly as much as domestication and selective breeding have done.

    There is a small difference in the time scales involved.

  138. #139 Grewgills
    March 7, 2010

    you can increase spending while decreasing taxes and balance the budget

    Shouldn’t there be an ‘t in there somewhere?

  139. #140 SC OM
    March 7, 2010
  140. #141 Alex
    March 7, 2010

    “Nor have our governments intentionally herded together masses of slow, strong, stupid, subservient people and urged them to get to work making baby slaves”

    -Eh..idk abt that one lol

    And i have to admit, id be one of the ones hesitant about seeing human children born to pigs. simply because i dont think we can discount the complex interactions that go on between mother and child in the womb. weve already seen that animals can “learn” and take in information about their environment while in utero, so i think its a crucial stage in development that might not progress smoothly if attempted by non-primates. and no, i do not think theyll be “manbearpigs.” wed have to see, if everthing checks out, full steam ahead!

  141. #142 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    knockgoats wrote “The longest studies of Bt cotton in India cover about 5 years; we don’t yet know whether either the cotton bollworm will gain resistance, or secondary pests will flourish in the new conditions.”

    Monsanto India has already experienced the problems you expect.

    In India Today of March 6:
    ——–
    Bt cotton has failed admits Monsanto

    New Delhi – The ongoing debate on biotechnology crops in India took a new turn on Friday when American seed firm Monsanto disclosed that cotton pest–pink bollworm–has developed resistance to its much-touted Bt cotton variety in Gujarat.
    [...]
    Not only has Bt cotton been rendered ineffective, it has also led to detection of some new pests never before reported from India. It is toxic only to bollworm and does not control any other pests of cotton. “New sucking pests have emerged as major pests causing significant economic losses”, the report says.

    At the same time, productivity of cotton has fallen from 560 kg lint per hectare in 2007 to 512 kg lint per hectare in 2009.

    And pesticide expenditure has gone up from from Rs 597 crore in 2002 to Rs 791 crore in 2009.
    ———
    http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/86939/India/Bt+cotton+has+failed+admits+Monsanto.html
    By the way the farmers are at fault for this says the company, read the rest of the article for details.

  142. #143 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    That looks a good site, SC@140 – thanks!

    I’ve taught on a couple of short courses for postgrads with Eric Lambin, who’s on their scientific board.

    [/Kw*k]

  143. #144 Knockgoats
    March 7, 2010

    arakrys@142,
    Thanks – I didn’t know about that, but no surprise! Agro-ecosystems are complex things, but it’s fairly predictable that any novel means of controlling pests will (a) produce an evolutionary response from the targeted species and (b) allow other pests to take advantage of the increased food supply!

  144. #145 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    Somebody claimed the green revolution was over and we need a genetic revolution to feed the world.

    Coincidentally SciDev.Net published just a month ago that 15 bean varieties have been developed especially for the rainy high altitudes. The beans are resistant to legume diseases such as anthracnose, root rot and ascochyta, which are found in damp, higher altitude areas.

    The new climbing beans are also higher yielding, producing triple and even quadruple the yields of bush beans.
    More: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/beans-climb-to-new-heights-in-rwanda.html

    This is not unique, and somehow high yield increases are often related to traditionally bred varieties, rarely if ever to genetically bred ones.

  145. #146 tristan.croll
    March 7, 2010

    arakys@142:

    By the way the farmers are at fault for this says the company, read the rest of the article for details.

    And rightly so, if the article is anything to go by:

    “Resistance is natural and expected,” Monsanto said in a statement. The company blamed pink bollworm resistance to Cry1Ac protein in Gujarat to “early use of unapproved Bt cotton seeds” by farmers and “limited refuge planting”. Farmers are supposed to maintain a distance between Bt cotton farms and other farms as a “refuge”.

    The part that I’m bolded is completely incorrect. Refuge planting refers to the practice of planting an area of your land near the crop with non-Bt plants. This is extremely important, since it ensures that there’s always a substantial population of non-resistant insects to dilute out any resistance genes, and reduces the competitive advantage of resistance into the bargain.

    This is something that should be done with normal pesticide (and, for that matter, herbicide) spraying, as well. If the farmers haven’t been following these (very clear, from my experience) instructions, then there’s no wonder resistant pests are appearing.

    And @133:

    Bollgard II is not expected to do any better as it contains no new toxins.

    Simply wrong. Bollgard II contains a second toxin – from the same bacterium, yes, but with a completely different mechanism of action. This makes the evolution of resistance much more difficult – the bugs essentially have to simultaneously develop resistance to being stabbed and strangled. Of course, if people have screwed up and there’s already resistance to one of the two, then this advantage is lost.

  146. #147 FrankT
    March 7, 2010

    Knockgoats Said:

    Breeding will not get genes from organisms that are sexually incompatible into the same organism. This is simple fact, and I don’t know what the point of denying it is, other than trying to confuse people

    Sure it can. You just have to use Ring Species. Possibly lots of Ring Species. Consecutively. You may even have to genetically re-engineer some ring species and then let those breed the “natural” way. Everything that’s alive, and I do mean everything, shares common ancestry. Given sufficient numbers of breedings and rebreedings you can indeed shift a gene from one species to any other species. It’s just that doing it that way is so retarded that it is practically (if not actually) impossible. Certainly not justifiable in terms of the amount of resources you’d use to do so in many cases.

    But that all comes down to the primary point: a gene is just a gene. There’s nothing magical about it. Given enough time and enough generations you could get absolutely any gene just by shining ultraviolet light from the sun onto seeds and then breeding and rebreeding. The fact that a gene arose through mutation and was passed sexually or clonally doesn’t make it morally superior or even different to a gene that is made in a biochemistry lab and transfered via prepackaged virus particles.

    Genetic engineering is exciting and amazing, and for now – really expensive. But it’s not magic. And it’s not different in any way from the genetic modification we do to the next generation of humanity by going out of our way to bone hot chicks.

    DNA is just a sequence. A sequence of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs. An nothing that you can do, or will ever be able to do to change that sequence will ever be fundamentally different or less ethical than any other thing you can do to modify that sequence. And people have been performing selection on genetic sequences since before they were humans.

  147. #148 Nick
    March 7, 2010

    Give me a shout when they cross a man with a horse.

  148. #149 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    Tristan.croll thanks for the reply.

    The question whether the farmer or the company is responsible for proper measures in the field could turn into an interesting trench war but let’s not go into that.

    I’m more interested in your assertion that different cry-genes offer better protection. The problem here is that the mechanisms with which the proteins attack are quite similar and therefore the attacked species can develop resistance to both of them at once.

    Specifically about Cry1ac and Cry2ab in cotton vs the pink bollworm a test by Tabashnik et al has been described:
    ———————
    Transgenic crops producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins kill some key insect pests and can reduce reliance on insecticide sprays.
    Sustainable use of such crops requires methods for delaying evolution of resistance by pests. To thwart pest resistance,some transgenic crops produce 2 different Bt toxins targeting the same pest. This ‘pyramid’ strategy is expected to work best when selection for resistance to 1 toxin does not cause cross-resistance to the other toxin. The most widely used pyramid is transgenic
    cotton producing Bt toxins Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab. Cross-resistance between these toxins was presumed unlikely because they bind to different larval midgut target sites. Previous results showed that laboratory selection with Cry1Ac caused little or no cross-resistance to Cry2A toxins in pink bollworm (
    Pectinophora gossypiella),a major cotton pest. We show here,however,that laboratory selection of pink bollworm with Cry2Ab caused up to 420-fold cross-resistance to Cry1Ac as well as 240-fold resistance to Cry2Ab.
    Inheritance of resistance to high concentrations of Cry2Ab was recessive. Larvae from a laboratory strain resistant to Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab in diet bioassays survived on cotton bolls producing only Cry1Ac, but not on cotton bolls producing both toxins. Thus, the asymmetrical cross-resistance seen here does not threaten the ef?cacy of pyramided Bt cotton against pink bollworm. Nonetheless, the results here and previous evidence indicate that cross-resistance occurs between Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab in some key cotton pests. Incorporating the potential effects of such cross-resistance in resistance management plans may help to sustain the ef?cacy of pyramided Bt crops.

    ——————-
    Article: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/07/02/0901351106.full.pdf+html?sid=ed940d 91-1b44-41c8-9dfe-> f51d6bf779d1
    (please copy the link including the spaces!)

    Therefore I maintain that the positive effect of Bollgard II will be shortlived.

  149. #150 Ewan R
    March 7, 2010

    Arakrys #133

    Posting here requires absolutely no bravery, the recent turmoil in India over GMOs is I assume the whole hooha over Bt Brinjal (a case study in anti-science triumphing over science) to counter your assertion that

    It is not even disputed anymore by the GM advocates in India that
    * the main pest is developing resistance to Bt,
    * new sucking pests have emerged as major pests causing significant economic losses,
    * productivity of cotton has fallen,
    * pesticide expenditure has gone up.

    Bollgard II is not expected to do any better as it contains no new toxins.

    1. Yes there have been a few cases of resistance to Bt developing in a few field trials, this isn’t an issue which is massively widespread and isn’t unexpected (and is I think one of the first cases of actual field as opposed to lab resistance to Bt transgenics (other field cases were down to non-transgenic application of Bt spores if memory serves)

    2. Other pests can cause issues, but it remains the case that Bt cotton fares better and requires fewer pesticide sprays than non-bt cotton.

    3. If productivity of cotton has fallen it is rather shocking that the Indian ministry of textiles data utterly fails to support this assertion _ http://ministryoftextiles.gov.in/ermiu/Area_production_and_yield_of_cotton.pdf shows that cotton yields which flatlines in the 90′s at around 300kg/ha picked up in the early 2000′s (which coincindes rather splendidly with mass adoption of Bt) and has continued to increase from that point onwards, with a decrease in total production being driven by a decrease in acreage rather than yield.

    4. Not finding any conrete data on pesticide useage trends in recent years – some of the articles I cite/link however show a consistent reduction in pesticides on Bt compared to non-Bt cotton, and while it may be that some increase might be seen to combat pests which increase as a lack of competition the peer reviewed literature definitely suggests that adoption of Bt cotton in India (and globally) has resulted in massive reductions in pesticide useage (particularly for the more toxic pesticides)

    Bollgard II not containing any new toxins is what appears to be completely made up – as Bt was Cry1Ac based, and Bollgard II is Cry1Ac + Cry2AB – While protein nomenclature can make it look like these are two variants of a Cry protein it needs to be noted that Cry proteins are a class of proteins from B.t. which cover a large range of activities and so should be considered individually as seperate modes of action in terms of toxicity (an interesting side note here -Cry5B shows some cool effects on roundworms and could be used as a potential alternative therapy)

    Now back to Knockgoats.

    I’ll agree that there has been increasing corporate presence in agriculture since applicability of IP was introduced – I’d also point out that since the 30′s productivity from breeding etc has skyrocketed, and continues to do so – partly because of the concentrated investment that large corporations can make, as well as the massively diverse libraries of germplasm they can maintain as opposed to whatever model you’d propose as the alternative (farmer driven, small breeder driven, or even university driven) – I’m unconvinced that without the profit motive yields would be what they are today, and I disagree that there is a drive to ‘control the food supply’ – this is a byproduct of the success of the seedlines being produced by large corporations – farmers are astute businessmen (those who aren’t don’t get to call themselves farmers for very long) and will use whatever is going to turn the best profit at the end of the day – hence the success of commercial hybrids, hence the success of GM technology – it’s not some corporate plot to ‘control the food supply’ it’s just that the seeds produced work best for farmers and therefore farmers use them – if they didnt work, they wouldn’t be used – farmers choose seed every year and it is a constant dogfight amongst seed manufacturers to be the supplier picked – if your germplasm tanks one year, you’re out, better luck next time. Farmer choice controls the food supply in this respect.

    I disagree with your assessment of WEMA. Firstly the project is initially focused on breeding, with Monsanto offering their expertise in this area because frankly we have some of the best breeders in the business – the transgenics being offered are offered royalty free, so corporate control here doesnt come in to play – it’s about getting crops to grow when they would normally fail (or getting them to yield a tad higher when they’d be close to failing to be a tad more accurate) and that’s it. Although frankly I’m more excite by the recent announcement that Pioneer were stepping in to the project but from a nitrogen perspective – something I hope Monsanto can partner on, because lack of N input is probably a bigger factor holding back yields in Africa. Getting into African ag isn’t probably such a big deal right now – the markets where the profit is (ie South Africa) are already long time adopters of GM tech.

    While Doug Gurian-Sherman’s resume at least has some scientific credibility the fact remains that the UCS approach to GE is essentially anti scientific horseshit. The whole purpose of the ‘failure to yield’ piece was, in my opinion, to paint GE crops as a failure – which can only be done if you ignore the impact globally and focus on the US, and even then it is hard to see how a moderate (I believe it was in the order of 5%) increase in yield from a non-yield product can be called ‘a failure to yield’, its as scientifically dishonest as the whole micro vs macro evolution arguement.

    Whether we can divorce the technology from IP and profit will be seen soon – a lot of noise has been made recently about the soon to be off patent RR trait – Monsanto has repeatedly publicly stated now that they are not requiring seed to be destroyed, will support regulatory approval for ~3 years post patent drop (and hopefully some accomodation can be made globally to keep the trait alive) – it appears for now that there is not going to be some machiavellian attempt to hold onto or extend the patent, or to destroy the trait as soon as the patent drops.

    As a final response to Arakrys citing from a newspaper (which we all know are excellent sources of information and never misreport anything) here’s a little peer reviewed perusal of the situation:-

    http://agbioforum.org/v12n2/v12n2a03-sadashivappa.htm – paper showing multiple year impact and adoption of Bt cotton in India, notice increased adoption year on year from 2000-2008 (which makes no sense if the tech doesnt work, unless your assumption is that farmers are idiots) also note increased production and yield across all years. Table 3 gives a nice rebuttal of ‘increased pesticide use’ arguements, particularly as it gives a side by side comparison between Bt and non-Bt within a given year, rather than an across year analysis which may well show increases or decreases in insecticide use in any given crop based entirely on annual variation in insect pressure. Note also costs and profits across years – every year non Bt insect spraying costs more, every year Bt profits are higher (by ~100% generally)

    Also see following 2 articles which are counter to your claims

    “Village-wide Effects of Agricultural Biotechnology: The Case of Bt Cotton in India” Arjunan Subramanian, Matin Qaim World Development
    Volume 37, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 256-267

    Productivity and profitability impact of genetically modified crops – an economic analysis of Bt cotton cultivation in Tamil Nadu, R.Loganathan, Rbalasubramanian, K Mani, S Gurunathan. Agricultural economics research review vol.22 2009 pp331-340

    - comapritive net returns to farmers – ~45000 Rs for Bt adopters, ~7000Rs for non adopters.

  150. #151 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    FrankT thinks “But that all comes down to the primary point: a gene is just a gene. [...]
    The fact that a gene arose through mutation and was passed sexually or clonally doesn’t make it morally superior or even different to a gene that is made in a biochemistry lab and transfered via prepackaged virus particles.”

    You should always take into account that a gene is functioning within a specific genome, in a specific organism.

    The expression of a gene is dependent on the rest of the genome as well as the rest of the organism.

    Some examples.

    Gene control
    Each organism, unless very related, will have different feedback loops. As for now, the commercially grown crops all get a cassette with a genetic switch that is always ‘on’.

    Introns and exons
    During the translation of DNA to protein several steps are taken. Organisms differ in the way they treat introns and exons.

    Folding
    Then the 3-D folding of the protein differs for different organisms.

    Different expression
    You will have heard that a homeobox gene called Pax6 from a mouse when placed in an insect produced an insect-eye.

    You can also imagine that an enzyme which facilitates a certain biochemical pathway will have different effects in organisms in which further enzymes are available that process the product of your enzyme.

    I think these examples are sufficient to make the point that “a gene is a gene” is not a valid argument and, frankly, shows lack of insight in the process.

  151. #152 raven
    March 7, 2010

    I think these examples are sufficient to make the point that “a gene is a gene” is not a valid argument and, frankly, shows lack of insight in the process.

    No. It shows you have no idea what you are talking about. While it is true that a gene is a gene is simplistic, that was figured out by scientists thirty years ago. It is a fact that we deal with all the time. It makes things more complicated but that is reality, no big deal.

    Genetic engineering has been used for 3 or 4 decades. We use it because it works. What was once considered impossible is now routine.

    Your point seems to be that we left the Dark Ages a while back. Nothing stopping you from dropping out of modern 21st century civilization and adopting a pure and natural hunting and gathering or subsistence agricultural existence.

    Some Luddites do exactly that. Most give up sooner or later. A few of them flat out end up dying. Google Chris McCandless.

  152. #153 raven
    March 7, 2010

    arakrys Making Stuff Up:

    Introns and exons
    During the translation of DNA to protein several steps are taken. Organisms differ in the way they treat introns and exons.

    Folding
    Then the 3-D folding of the protein differs for different organisms.

    What a bunch of ignorant crap.

    The splicing mechanism is very old and pretty similar from organism to organism. We have transferred who knows how many genes from one organism to another and it never seems to be a problem. I suppose it has happened sometime but this is way low on the list of things to worry about. There is also a common workaround. Use cDNA, all the introns are gone, used in bacteria which don’t splice.

    3 D folding. Never heard of this either. The 3 D structure is encoded in the primary structure and one can and often does fold proteins in a test tube. If it is a problem, it is a minor ad hoc one with a lot of solutions.

  153. #154 Ewan R
    March 7, 2010

    Also on the gene is a gene or not arguement – keep in mind that anything that is going to make it into a commercialized crop is going to have the bejebus tested out of it to make sure the protein is what you think it is, and that the plant is doing what the plant would generally do (within limits) – there seems to be an underlying assumption that genes get thrown in willy nilly and whatever results is going to be pressed into service – contrary to the reality that any gene going to be tested (at least in a commercial setting) goes through a battery of bioinformatic analysis before ever making it into a plant to check for toxicity/allergenicity, then through 10 years of testing before making it commercially (including extensive expression testing, testing for the protein, testing metabolites etc etc).

  154. #155 Don Doumakes
    March 7, 2010

    Yes of course Dreher’s arguments are silly. Not that I have a problem with shooting fish in a barrel, it’s fun. Certainly I’m not afraid of some future controversy over whether the pig-men hybrids or chimeras are people. If they can tell me whether they’re human, that will pretty much settle it.

    What I do have a problem with, is releasing genes into the wild that have not been vetted through millions of years of evolution. Non-kooks point to numerous examples of invasive species wiping out native ones, and rightly ask whether genetically-engineered organisms don’t have the potential for similar problems.

    Every new technology brings with it a new way to screw up. This is an essential feature of all technology, as evidenced by hundreds of years of human experience. Those little corn-on-the-cob holders make it possible to burn your lips with hot corn on the cob. Word processors make it possible to accidentally erase weeks of work in a few keystrokes—can’t do that with my old electric typewriter. Pressurized aircraft cabins make it possible to fly high enough to die of hypoxia if cabin pressure is lost, SCUBA makes it possible to experience oxygen poisoning, etc, etc. When anyone claims there are no undesirable side effects to a technology, you should assume the claim is bullshit until proven otherwise. It is arrogant to assume that unknown consequences are benign.

    Fix your heart with gene therapy? High-yield crops made of sterile interspecies hybrids? Sure, let’s go. But I’m not willing to share an ecosystem with self-replicating manmade genes.

  155. #156 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    Ewan #150
    Thanks for replying.

    “Posting here requires absolutely no bravery”

    I wrote ‘it is brave to post that‘ referring to the claim that gm crops increase yield.

    “the recent turmoil in India over GMOs is I assume the whole hooha over Bt Brinjal (a case study in anti-science triumphing over science)”

    I see what you are doing Ewan.
    Don’t try to pretend this is a science / anti-science debate.
    The provider of your daily bread manages quite well to spread that meme, but it is a false argument.

    Your former colleague Tiruvadi Jagadisan, the former managing director of Monsanto India, recently (early February 2010) admitted Monsanto used to fake scientific data to get commercial approvals for its products.
    http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/83093/India/Monsanto+%27faked%27+data+for+approvals+claims+its+ex-chief.html

    Monsanto earlier kept quiet when it discovered a soybean contained more new DNA than it was approved for.

    The Report of the Expert Committee on Bt Brinjal Event EE-1 was under dispute for good reasons. E.g. it said that ?no statistically significant changes have been observed in the parameters tested? in the Food/Feed Safety tests (Page 59, Point 5.3. and Issue 9 of EC2 report). This is simply not true and the crop developer?s own reports do show that there have been statistically significant changes. Also it pretends on p. 55 that horizontal gene transfer does not exist.

    And to drive in fake farmers to cheer Bt-brinjal: I mean, how dishonest can one get?

    “1. Yes there have been a few cases of resistance to Bt developing in a few field trials, this isn’t an issue which is massively widespread and isn’t unexpected (and is I think one of the first cases of actual field as opposed to lab resistance to Bt transgenics (other field cases were down to non-transgenic application of Bt spores if memory serves)”

    No it is not unexpected. Indeed it has been predicted since the beginning by ecologists.

    But it was not just field trials. It was on the fields in the US:

    “Bt-resistant populations of bollworm, Helicoverpa zea, were found in more than a dozen crop fields in Mississippi and Arkansas between 2003 and 2006. ” Source: M.Jensen, Univ. or Arizona 7 feb 2008. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-02/uoa-fdc020508.php

    Further on http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto_today/for_the_record/india_pink_bollworm.asp (note the domain name) it is not mentioned that this concerns field trials either.

    “2. Other pests can cause issues, but it remains the case that Bt cotton fares better and requires fewer pesticide sprays than non-bt cotton.”

    Would you have an independent report about that for the Indian situation in 2009?

    “3. If productivity of cotton has fallen it is rather shocking that the Indian ministry of textiles data utterly fails to support this assertion _ http://ministryoftextiles.gov.in/ermiu/Area_production_and_yield_of_cotton.pdf shows that cotton yields which flatlines in the 90′s at around 300kg/ha picked up in the early 2000′s (which coincindes rather splendidly with mass adoption of Bt) and has continued to increase from that point onwards, with a decrease in total production being driven by a decrease in acreage rather than yield.”

    The statement ” productivity of cotton has fallen” refers to the last 3 years. I note that the link you provide does not dispute that observation.

    “4. Not finding any conrete data on pesticide useage trends in recent years – some of the articles I cite/link however show a consistent reduction in pesticides on Bt compared to non-Bt cotton, and while it may be that some increase might be seen to combat pests which increase as a lack of competition the peer reviewed literature definitely suggests that adoption of Bt cotton in India (and globally) has resulted in massive reductions in pesticide useage (particularly for the more toxic pesticides)”

    From an (non peer reviewed) Indian site:

    ====
    A mealybug (Phenacoccus solenopsis) has spread across northern, central and western states of India after it was first recognised as a cotton pest about five years ago, Kranthi said. In desperation, farmers have begun to spray “extremely hazardous” pesticides on the cotton to fight the insect, which has a waxy coating over its surface that makes it hard to kill with less toxic pesticides, he said.

    The reduced use of pesticides on GM cotton and the proliferation of GM cotton hybrids that are susceptible to these insects may have contributed to the emergence of these pests, according to Kranthi’s report. “The inappropriate choice of hybrids and the arbitrary and prolific spread of GM cotton hybrids have created conditions congenial for the rapid multiplication of these new insects.”
    =====

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100216/jsp/nation/story_12110833.jsp

    “Bollgard II not containing any new toxins is what appears to be completely made up – as Bt was Cry1Ac based, and Bollgard II is Cry1Ac + Cry2AB – ”

    Yep, you are right, I should not have said ‘not a a new toxin’, I should have said something along the line of ‘resistance development is not likely to be delayed for long’. See my comment #149 why they may be considered similar from the viewpoint of the development of resistance.

  156. #157 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    Ewan R: “Also on the gene is a gene or not argument – keep in mind that anything that is going to make it into a commercialized crop is going to have the bejebus tested out of it to make sure the protein is what you think it is,

    Well then make that study public, because until now the files entered for new crops, at least in Europe and the USA, only contain safety reports for the INTENDED protein, not for the protein as produced in the g.e. crop. The protein tested for is not the protein as found in the crop.

    (my other response to you is pending approval)

  157. #158 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    @Raven #152 and #153,
    Introns and exons are not ‘ignorant crap’ or ‘made up’.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intron
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exon

    And all I was trying to show is that ‘a gene is a gene’ is not valid, not all the opinions you make up for me.

  158. #159 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    @Ewan R responding to me earlier, low in #130:
    “@116 – how many attempts need to be made to get one stable plant? Does it matter if you can get one stable plant? ”
    I was responding to FrankT’s in #113, as you could see for I quoted him, whose comment implied that GE is done pronto while classic breeding has a 1 in 1024 chance. Just trying to make clear that this is not true.

  159. #160 raven
    March 7, 2010

    @Raven #152 and #153,
    Introns and exons are not ‘ignorant crap’ or ‘made up’.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intron
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exon

    And all I was trying to show is that ‘a gene is a gene’ is not valid, not all the opinions you make up for me.

    Speaking of assigning opinions, that isn’t what I said is crap.

    Of course introns and exons exist. That genes are spliced differently in different species is crap. In the species were usually transfer from and to, never heard of it being a problem. Who knows how often that has been done, hundreds of thousands of times at least, more likely millions. If it is going from eukaryotes to prokaryotes, we just use cDNA. Bacteria don’t splice but that was known from the 1950s.

    You clearly are almost totally ignorant of basic biology.

  160. #161 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    @Raven #153 on gene folding over species:
    http://www.jbc.org/content/266/6/3630.full.pdf

  161. #162 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    #159 Raven on splicing.
    I suppose you would not have published this:
    Species-Specific Alternative Splicing of Transgenic RNA in the Mammary Glands of Pigs, Rabbits, and Mice by Bernhard Aigner et al.
    ( http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WBK-45GW7K6-RP&_user=10&_coverDate=04%2F21%2F1999&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=6e5aedc5069d451e9852b8aab8e93419 )

    “…Compared to the transcription products in transgenic mice harboring the same gene construct and to cell transfection experiments, expression analysis in transgenic pigs and rabbits revealed different mRNA splice patterns with regard to the proportion of the processed transcripts. Apart from already-known physiological mRNA splice products, previously undescribed processed hGH transcripts were observed in these species. Sequence analysis of the transgenes suggests that the species-specific hGH mRNA patterns may be caused by species- and tissue-specific differences intrans-acting splice factors.”

  162. #163 arakrys
    March 7, 2010

    Oh and Raven, one last thing, I will be back much later:

    Remarks such as “You clearly are almost totally ignorant of basic biology” serve no purpose. So I won’t serve it back to you.

  163. #164 furr-a-bruin
    March 7, 2010

    Hey, I think humanity could use some of the animal genome; imagine if we could have the lipid processing of grizzly bears! No more arteriosclerosis, no more stents or bypasses, far less death and disability – and no need to ever eat anything “low fat” or “low cholesterol.”

    And if the side effect was a unibrow and being even hairier – for myself, I’d consider that a bonus, not a downside.

  164. #165 Ewan R
    March 7, 2010

    #158

    Sorry was skimming somewhat when I responded – I’d still say that the transgenic approach in this respect is faster (for certain things, for stuff like yield one would have to hope the bonus added remains stable, as a 10% yield increase is about what industry is shooting for, which approximates what one would expect from 10 years of ‘conventional’ breeding) but mainly because the 1 in 1024 model seems massively low – breeding for traits generally takes massive populations of plants, whereas a well considered simple transgenic such as herbicide resistance or insect resistance (with proteins of known functions) requires initially just a stable transformation (which is doable by a single researcher) then maybe a seasons worth of growth to ensure that the gene expresses as you want (then a whole boatload of testing to make sure the trait works under various conditions etc etc) whereas doing the same in the field is going to take seasons of breeding for the same result.

    In response to

    Well then make that study public, because until now the files entered for new crops, at least in Europe and the USA, only contain safety reports for the INTENDED protein, not for the protein as produced in the g.e. crop. The protein tested for is not the protein as found in the crop.

    The studies done, are to my knowledge, made available to the regulatory bodies who approve the crops. It would be interesting to see how exactly RR or Bt worked if the proteins produced in planta were not the same as those purified by other means (or indeed why ELISA tests and westerns show up the proteins as the same – although potentially here a little bit of homology is all you’d need) – the data is all presented in regulatory documents (at least in the 2 I checked out, on RR canola in australia and Bt cotton in NZ) so is available (although admittedly the studies behind them are all unpublished, which is a shame)

  165. #166 travcollier
    March 7, 2010

    “the body as a vehicle for our mind”… getting a bit close to dualism with this PZ. Though I get that it is a metaphor (mind being an emergent phenomenon of the body), most religious types will not.

    While Dreher is obviously ignorant about basic Biology, he apparently isn’t all that good with English either. Dyson is using the term “art” in the same way it is used in the word “artifact” or the phrase “term-of-art”. Dyson isn’t talking about using genetic engineering to artistic objects/creations. I thought religious types were supposed to be experts at this sort of “a bit old fashioned” language.

    Finally, these folks need to read Olaf Stapledon’s “Last and First Men”. It is all about what it means to be human and how that will not be a constant. A bit of history also illustrates how it has never been constant.

  166. #167 amphiox
    March 7, 2010

    You know, if humans really were made in the image of god (who presumably is perfect), and became fallen and imperfect as a result of sin (which supposedly was the work of the devil in opposition to god’s divine plan), then does it not follow that it is, in fact, our RELIGIOUS DUTY to genetically repair all these imperfections as rapidly as possible? To undo the work of Satan and restore god’s creation to the perfection of his original intent?

    The religionists should be positively pouring money into genetic research. . . .

  167. #168 FrankT
    March 8, 2010

    The fact that a protein behaves differently in different situations does not change the fundamental truth that the sequence is just a sequence. Nothing magical happens. No dilution or vigorous shaking makes any difference. It’s just a sequence. And any sequence can, and eventually will, appear completely randomly through “nature.” A human designed sequence is no different from a natural one, it’s just here now rather than potentially having to wait for Hamlet’s Monkeys to finish typing it.

    Yes, some sequences are bad. Some sequences create Malaria. That’s bad. But there are plenty of bad “natural” sequences (HIV and Ebola) to put against any bad genetic sequences we ever make.

    Mother nature is not more ethical than guys in white lab coats. She is less ethical than even the most frizzy haired of mad scientists.

  168. #169 arakrys
    March 8, 2010

    #167 FrankT
    The fact that a protein behaves differently in different situations does not change the fundamental truth that the sequence is just a sequence.
    Fact is that the same gene can result in different proteïnes and expression levels in different organisms and even in different tissues.

    I don’t see why that is so hard to accept; there are techniques to get around that but one has to be aware of it and cope with it, not deny it or attack the messenger. Or pretend the messenger has Frankenstein fears, and set up a whole theory about that.

    Oneliners like ‘a gene is a gene’ (or a sequence) have the same effect on me as a red flag has to a bull because to me it shows a lack of respect for the details, and a closed mind.

  169. #170 arakrys
    March 8, 2010

    #Ewan R unfortunately my looong reply to your earlier comment was nog accepted. I will send it in smaller chunks later.

  170. #171 Birger Johansson
    March 8, 2010

    Regarding comment #8 : Old Man Templeton was pragmatic in his choices of the recipients for the Templeton Prize -after consulting various people (including a certain professor from Irvine, you know, the one who writes good SF novels) he actually gave the price to Freeman Dyson, definitely an enlightened choice. After he died, his son, who apparently is an old school envangelical has shifted the criteria for the John Templeton Foundation.
    I do not find it surprising, but sad that Dreher has now become “director of publications for the John Templeton Foundation.

  171. #172 Ewan R
    March 8, 2010

    Arakrys :- I assume it’s link laden… that’s why I gave titles of articles in a prior post after hitting two links – it’s always nice to waste a half hour or so on a stupidly long post only for it to get lost forever.

  172. #173 Ewan R
    March 8, 2010

    Oh and… just for the sake of clarity around the exons/introns – the main genes used in commercial transgenics at the moment are all bacterial – so there is no reason to be concerned about alternate splicing for these – going forward there may be reason for some caution but as already stated this can likely be got around utilizign cDNA (or possibly through increased understanding of splicing in the species being utilized, even to the extent of using introns from one species and exons from another if this gets you where you need to be in terms of expression and protein modification etc) – personally I see these kinks more as a bit of a pain in the behind for those doing the modification, rather than as a huge danger posed by GE (because lets face it, a random resplice of most proteins is going to churn out nonsense rather than some killer protein which eats your face)

  173. #174 destlund
    March 8, 2010

    I just want to say that I’m unhappy with the sweeping pejorative term, “Dark Ages,” although I recognize that it was not you, PZ, who first invoked it. It was created by Petrarch to describe the pre-Renaissance Middle Ages for the purpose of accentuating what he perceived as the fall from/return to the glory that was Rome. It’s since been expanded, particularly during the Enlightenment, to substitute “reason” for Rome, but overall it’s a sloppy, propagandist term that runs roughshod over the nuances of one of history’s most interesting periods.

  174. #175 FrankT
    March 8, 2010

    Fact is that the same gene can result in different proteïnes and expression levels in different organisms and even in different tissues.

    Careful there, your gross biological ignorance is showing. Genes only result i different proteins in the case of alternative splicing – the “Universal Genetic Code” is called that for a reason.

    Genetic engineering is not generally going to be putting unspliced DNA sequences into things, so it won’t produce different proteins. It will produce the same protein every time it is expressed.

    And its expression level will depend on the regulatory sequences adjacent to the gene, not on the gene itself nor on the organism or tissue that the gene happens to be in.

    In fact, all of this stuff is way more mysterious and important in traditional breeding, because doing things the “natural” way may (or may not) port over unspliced DNA or unparseable foreign regulatory sequences or plain old aneuploidy.

    Mules wouldn’t have vastly reduced fertility if they just had a selection of genes from Asses genetically engineered into the Horse genome. The vast number of spontaneous mule abortions and fetal developmental failures comes from the fact that the natural way is a horrible thing to do to an organism.

  175. #176 Ewan R
    March 8, 2010

    FrankT

    Expression level is probably a bit more complicated than that – it’d be nice if the regulatory sequence adjacent to the gene did all the work, but I’m pretty sure if you transform the same gene (with a gene here being defined as promoter+coding sequence+terminator) from exactly the same construct into 5-10 different starting lines, and then measure expression – it’s not going to be identical by any means – I’m not even sure it’ll be identical based on tissue type, time of day, or organism (it may be that this variation is organism dependant also – I’d expect to see less variation in expression of transgenic bacteria as compared to transgenic corn, if only because I’d expect to see more silencing of genome regions in a more complicated genome (and insertional randomness is something that as far as I am aware we are only now starting to get a handle on in eukaryotes)).

    That this is the case doesn’t negate the improtance, or inflate the uncertainty behind genetic engineering – it does however add a level of complexity to selecting the correct lines to go forward with – we shouldn’t however attempt to oversimplify how GE works simply because people are afraid of complexity.

  176. #177 Copyleft
    March 8, 2010

    But Dreher is right on one point:

    “As I see it, the only real counterweight to techno-utopianism is religion.”

    100% correct! Nothing has a proven track record of impeding knowledge and progress like religion has!

  177. #178 grendelkhan
    March 8, 2010

    We’ll have an Age of Wonder if we can get beyond Dreher’s way of thinking that our body is ourselves, to a better way of thinking of the body as a vehicle for our minds, and that that vehicle can be improved without making us subhuman.

    Interestingly enough, this sounds like exactly the opposite of E.O. Wilson’s description of the mind as inextricably bound tightly to the body, to our basic biology, which is far from simply a vehicle for our minds. And yet he comes from a similar philosophical place.

  178. #179 arakrys
    March 9, 2010

    @FrankT #174

    Careful there, your gross biological ignorance is showing. Genes only result i different proteins in the case of alternative splicing – the “Universal Genetic Code” is called that for a reason.

    You might try to see what I’m arguing before you start typing. This divergence is a reaction to the ‘a gene is a gene’ claim, which suggests genes do the same in every organism.
    I am aware that the translation of triplets is the same.
    You should be aware that genes may have different effects in different organisms, and tissues. About tissues: please follow the link I provided before you start typing.

    In fact, all of this stuff is way more mysterious and important in traditional breeding, because doing things the “natural” way may (or may not) port over unspliced DNA or unparseable foreign regulatory sequences or plain old aneuploidy.

    Yes it may. But now you’re arguing against something I was not claiming in any way.

    I know there are weirdo’s in the anti-GM sector. I met a woman who was against GM because she had seen ‘little beings’ running around in the botanical gardens who, she was convinced, were released from the DNA by the GM process.

    I know it is frustrating to cope with such critics.
    But I have not made claims on genes outside the regular scientific views and I think you can learn a bit about genes yourself.

  179. #180 arakrys
    March 9, 2010

    Ewan #150
    Thanks for replying, and I hope you still find these comments, it’s a bit late.

    the recent turmoil in India over GMOs is I assume the whole hooha over Bt Brinjal (a case study in anti-science triumphing over science)

    The suggestion that GM is the scientific side and the protests against Bt-brinjal are anti-science is not fair.

    Example: even your former colleague Tiruvadi Jagadisan, the former managing director of Monsanto India, recently (early February 2010) admitted Monsanto used to fake scientific data to get commercial approvals for its products.
    http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/83093/India/Monsanto+%27faked%27+data+for+approvals+claims+its+ex-chief.html

    The Report of the Expert Committee on Bt Brinjal Event EE-1 was not good enough to base the decision to allow it on the table, by scientific standards: for example it said that ?no statistically significant changes have been observed in the parameters tested? in the Food/Feed Safety tests (Page 59, Point 5.3. and Issue 9 of EC2 report). This is simply not true and the crop developer?s own reports do show that there have been statistically significant changes. Also it pretends on p. 55 that horizontal gene transfer does not exist.
    There are more problems with the report – too long to let the comment through, I’m afraid. But there are proper reasons for the minister not to allow the Bt-brinjal, it’s too easy to say that the people are scared for the technology.

    BTW did you hear they organized fake farmers to cheer Bt-brinjal in front of the university?

  180. #181 arakrys
    March 9, 2010

    @Ewan #150 (continued)

    1. Yes there have been a few cases of resistance to Bt developing in a few field trials, this isn’t an issue which is massively widespread and isn’t unexpected (and is I think one of the first cases of actual field as opposed to lab resistance to Bt transgenics (other field cases were down to non-transgenic application of Bt spores if memory serves)

    I agree that it was not unexpected. Indeed it has been predicted since the beginning.
    But I do not agree that until now it was only observed in field trials but also on the production fields in the US:

    Bt-resistant populations of bollworm, Helicoverpa zea, were found in more than a dozen crop fields in Mississippi and Arkansas between 2003 and 2006.

    Source: M.Jensen, Univ. or Arizona 7 feb 2008. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-02/uoa-fdc020508.php

    Further the information about Bt-resistance in India on http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto_today/for_the_record/india_pink_bollworm.asp does not specify that this concerns field trials (note that this is on the Monsanto site).

  181. #182 arakrys
    March 9, 2010

    @Ewan #150 (continued)

    2. Other pests can cause issues, but it remains the case that Bt cotton fares better and requires fewer pesticide sprays than non-bt cotton.

    I remember reading that the spraying increased due to the resistance.

    3. If productivity of cotton has fallen it is rather shocking that the Indian ministry of textiles data utterly fails to support this assertion

    Yes my source did did not specdify the period, it said

    productivity of cotton has fallen
    and this refers to the last 3 years. The link you provided does not dispute that observation.

    4. Not finding any conrete data on pesticide useage trends in recent years – some of the articles I cite/link however show a consistent reduction in pesticides on Bt compared to non-Bt cotton, and while it may be that some increase might be seen to combat pests which increase as a lack of competition the peer reviewed literature definitely suggests that adoption of Bt cotton in India (and globally) has resulted in massive reductions in pesticide useage (particularly for the more toxic pesticides)

    From an (non peer reviewed) Indian site:

    A mealybug (Phenacoccus solenopsis) has spread across northern, central and western states of India after it was first recognised as a cotton pest about five years ago, Kranthi said. In desperation, farmers have begun to spray

    extremely hazardous
    pesticides on the cotton to fight the insect, which has a waxy coating over its surface that makes it hard to kill with less toxic pesticides, he said.

    The reduced use of pesticides on GM cotton and the proliferation of GM cotton hybrids that are susceptible to these insects may have contributed to the emergence of these pests, according to Kranthi’s report.

    The inappropriate choice of hybrids and the arbitrary and prolific spread of GM cotton hybrids have created conditions congenial for the rapid multiplication of these new insects.
    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100216/jsp/nation/story_12110833.jsp

    You said global decrease: yes for Argentina (2005 study Qaim & de Janvry), no for China (2006 reports about 20 spray moments, Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Science and Cornell), mixed results in Makhatini Flats, South Africa (2005, Hofs, Fok & Vaissayre).

    Bollgard II not containing any new toxins is what appears to be completely made up – as Bt was Cry1Ac based, and Bollgard II is Cry1Ac + Cry2AB –

    You are right here (darn!). Still the resistance development is not likely to be delayed for longer, see my comment #149 why they may be considered similar from the viewpoint of the development of resistance.

  182. #183 arakrys
    March 9, 2010

    (apologies, previewing this time)
    @Ewan #150 (continued)

    Ewan R: 2. Other pests can cause issues, but it remains the case that Bt cotton fares better and requires fewer pesticide sprays than non-bt cotton.

    I remember reading that the spraying increased due to the resistance.

    Ewan R: 3. If productivity of cotton has fallen it is rather shocking that the Indian ministry of textiles data utterly fails to support this assertion

    Yes my source did did not specify the period, it said “productivity of cotton has fallen” and this refers to the last 3 years. The link you provided does not dispute that observation.

    4. Not finding any conrete data on pesticide useage trends in recent years – some of the articles I cite/link however show a consistent reduction in pesticides on Bt compared to non-Bt cotton, and while it may be that some increase might be seen to combat pests which increase as a lack of competition the peer reviewed literature definitely suggests that adoption of Bt cotton in India (and globally) has resulted in massive reductions in pesticide useage (particularly for the more toxic pesticides)

    From an (non peer reviewed) Indian site:

    A mealybug (Phenacoccus solenopsis) has spread across northern, central and western states of India after it was first recognised as a cotton pest about five years ago, Kranthi said. In desperation, farmers have begun to spray “extremely hazardous” pesticides on the cotton to fight the insect, which has a waxy coating over its surface that makes it hard to kill with less toxic pesticides, he said.

    The reduced use of pesticides on GM cotton and the proliferation of GM cotton hybrids that are susceptible to these insects may have contributed to the emergence of these pests, according to Kranthi’s report. “The inappropriate choice of hybrids and the arbitrary and prolific spread of GM cotton hybrids have created conditions congenial for the rapid multiplication of these new insects.
    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100216/jsp/nation/story_12110833.jsp

    You said global decrease: yes for Argentina (2005 study Qaim & de Janvry), no for China (2006 reports about 20 spray moments, Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Science and Cornell), mixed results in Makhatini Flats, South Africa (2005, Hofs, Fok & Vaissayre).

    Ewan R: Bollgard II not containing any new toxins is what appears to be completely made up – as Bt was Cry1Ac based, and Bollgard II is Cry1Ac + Cry2AB –

    You are right here (darn!). Still the resistance development is not likely to be delayed for longer, see my comment #149 why they may be considered similar from the viewpoint of the development of resistance.

  183. #184 Ewan R
    March 10, 2010

    Still here Arakrys – bookmarking is a wonderful thing!

    The suggestion that Bt is the scientific side and anti-Bt is the unscientific side is perfectly fair I think – Seralini was one of the big reasons that Bt Brinjal opposition had a foot to stand on, he has (I think) 2 rather craptastical reanalysis of Monsanto safety data, which he spins in such a manner to scientifically say that ‘further study is needed’ and some work on roundup which is equally spun (further study needed…. when oddly enough he’s working on cultured cells and the further study has already been done in animals)

    I wrote a long screed about Jagadisan on some other blog – I thought it was over at tomorrow’s table (which is well worth a look if you’ve an interest in the subject, particularly outside of Monsanto/Big biotech applications) – which essentially boiled down to the fact the guy retired before GM crops were introduced, says some really bizarre things about terminator technology (such as believing it may be in use in India right now, which throws huge doubt over the credibility of anything he says as anyone with the remotest knowledge of the whole GM debate, regardless of which side they’re on, should know terminator tech has not been used to date in commercial products) – I believe his initial quote was along the lines of that while he personally was not aware of faked data (ie eschewing any personal responsibility while casting doubt without evidence on his prior colleagues – classy), it might have happened, and that in general my take home point (after sifting out the crap) was that in the 70′s, for herbicide regulatory approvals, the Indian government didn’t have the most stringent regulatory procedure. No shit. This was the 70′s, in a nation just starting to develop, I’m pretty sure that the regulatory structure in the US and Europe was completely laughable by today’s standards in the 70′s – to say that 20-30 years later the picture is likely to be the same is stretching things just a tad.

    Looking at the report on EE-1 – I think the quote you give has to be taken in context of the rest of the page, and indeed in context of toxicology in general – I’ll admit it is poorly worded in that there are statistically significant differences – however reading the text above it is clear (to me, and that may just be because I’ve debated this previously and had a 20 year veteran of toxicology (albeit one who works for monsanto…)chime in on the pro side) that when they say statistically significant at the end of the page they mean biologically significant – you can expect to see statistically significant effects in any large scale study, however in toxicological studies these changes should be dose responsive, relatively stable over time, and outside the range one would expect to see in healthy animals (and not just between the control group and test groups at a single time point) – one also must be careful of correlative changes (such as those Seralini counts as individual but in fact one would expect to see change relative to one and other).

    It also is not true that page 55 implies that horizontal gene transfer does not exist. It suggests it is highly unlikely – which is supported by the literature – making extrapolations from how often HGT occurs over geological time (it’s undeniable that there is a ‘high’ frequency of HGT from plants to some species over these timescales, although I’m having issues findign numbers)

    Looking at other critiques of the report they generally fall into the same buckets – confusing statistical and biological significance, or plain just ignoring common sense explanations (such as why would a reduction in 30+% damage to closer to 10% damage from insect predation potentially increase yield by up to 90+% rather than by 20% (my guess being that a 0-10% damaged eggplant is commercially viable and a 30% damaged eggplant is not) – I’d need a little more time to trawl through the critiques to rebut every point but my feel right now is that they categorically are not scientific arguements, or if they are it’s the semantics of statistically significant and biological significant (which appears to be down to poor choice of wording in the report, at least in the section I looked at)

    Apparently I’m not as up to date on the literature as I thought – looking around it does appear that there are more (although very few, and not necessarily economically important) cases out there (Tabashnik et al make this point) – and the resistant strains are not immune in general (>60% fatality rate still)

    On spraying increasing due to resistance. This may be the case – but the comparison here is an increase of spraying as compared to Bt vs non-resistance, rather than the fair comparison which is comparing sprays between Bt and non-Bt versions – even if after 8 years of use (to pull a figure out of the air) you have to spray 2 times more on your Bt cotton than on your Bt cotton 8 years ago, if the initial decrease was by 5 sprays – you’re still better off (at least in terms of no of sprays, economically it depends on cost of seed and cost of insecticide)

    The link I provide on productivity of cotton takes us all the way to the 2008/2009 field season, if you look at the yield numbers it consistently goes up 521, 560, 591 (kgs/Ha) I’m not sure in what world this equates to a decrease in productivity considering that early Bt yields were in the 200-400 range (although admittedly in this period more cotton was non-GM than currently) anecdotal evidence from a few select fields may support your hypothesis, but looked at on the grand scale productivity is up year on year in the 3 year time period we discuss – because some crops fail some of the time doesn’t lay the blame on GM or Bt or increased insect pressure – sometimes crops fail, GM crops are about as susceptible to this as any other – that doesnt mean its a flawed system, it means that farming is a risky business.

    Everything I can find in the literature on spraying in China suggests reduced spraying (again, why would Bt be utilized if you had to spray more than non-Bt, it’s nonsensical – whereas there may be an increase in spraying relative to how much was sprayed upon adoption, as you approach spraying the conventional crop would require nobody is going to utilize the technology any more)

    Will double stacked traits prevent faster resistance? Clearly not indefinitely, but for the same reason that multiple antibiotics/antivirals at once delay the appearance of resistance so will stacked traits (and keep in mind this is a constantly developing field, so as resistances do appear new traits will be brought to market to combat this) – it’s not a particularly sound arguement against insect resistant crops, unless you are also of the opinion that no insecticides should ever be used (as resistances build here also) – so long as there is an economic advantage to utilizing the technology (ie reduced cost of spraying offsets increased cost of seed) it is viable – the resistance issue is pretty much of greater concern to big-biotech than anyone else (if insects resist your product, and you don’t have a new one on the market, then you’re screwed)

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