Green terrorists destroy GM wheat

This is why we need science blogs like Tomorrows Table, Biofortified, GMO Pundit, and James and the Giant Corn**.

"I'm sick of being treated like a dumb Mum who doesn't understand the science. As far as I'm concerned, my family's health is too important. GM wheat is not safe, and if the Government can't protect the safety of my family, then I will."

Canberra Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury this morning condoned the action on ABC Radio, citing Greenpeace's long-held opposition to GM crops, and saying that sometimes the end justified the means.

Ah well, its just plants, right? No big deal, 'the ends justify the means'.

So when are 'mums' going to start shooting geneticists to 'protect the safety of their family'?

** Please leave your other plant bio faves as comments, these are just the ones I keep an eye on, want more!

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""I'm sick of being treated like a dumb Mum who doesn't understand the science."

Then stop being one, and start trying to learn and understand the science, you stupid mum!

Thanks for the plug!
In the research field by my university we don't have a single transgenic plant growing, yet it still must be surrounded by a tall fence complete with motion sensors (which are constantly being triggered by clumsy students) because everyone knows the corn is being grown for research and some even think a purple corn plant is OBVIOUSLY the fruit of genetic engineering.

Why did Greenpeace use gas powered weed eaters instead of electric?

By tas121790 (not verified) on 13 Jul 2011 #permalink

From what I understand, here in France the main argument against GM crops (specificaly Monsantos corn) is the uncontrolled spread and subsequent lawsuits of said crops.

Monsantos corn being patented, if a single individual Monsantos corn stalk is found in an adjacent field, the owner of this field is basically fucked.

Still, we have assholes such as José Bové regularly destroying whole fields (and McDonalds, too)...

"Then stop being one, and start trying to learn and understand the science, you stupid mum!"

Problem is, Monsato et al won't LET you understand the science. All the research is vetted internally and commercial in confidence.

All the screaming about the weather data MUST be available to all, and the drug and agribusiness continue to hide everything and get defended.

Meh.

And as for "No big deal, 'the ends justify the means'" this is ENTIRELY what the agribusiness do. And unlike mums, they have money, power, and influence with the movers-and-shakers.

I've never quite understood how, having spawned, you suddenly become an expert on... well everything (seriously 5 rage-inducing minutes on the mumsnet forums and you'll see what I mean)

That's just awful. I can't believe that these same people want to claim how terrible it is that climate scientists are threatened and harassed....yet...???

Monsantos corn being patented, if a single individual Monsantos corn stalk is found in an adjacent field, the owner of this field is basically fucked.
This doesn't appear to have been a problem in the US, and I'm not sure why it would be an issue in France either - unless France has some screwed up legislation. In which case, why not just fix the legislation? It sounds like a poor excuse.

The issue in the UK seems to be that politicians are too scared to piss off the irrational green lobby groups that drown the debate with fearmongering pseudo scientific garbage. **FRANKENFOODS** etc.

"Understanding" The Science means actively preventing anybody doing any experiments according to many eco-Nazis. Unfortunately it is not confined tom GM.

However she provides a good example of how those opposed to the most basic principles of science like to shelter under its name. A phenomenon not unknown to "scienceblogs".

"This doesn't appear to have been a problem in the US"

Mostly because everyone's buying Monsato's product now. But it has caused several lawsuits in the past when trials spilt seed on nearby fields.

"and I'm not sure why it would be an issue in France either"

Because GMOs aren't nearly 100% of the market. Therefore it's still possible to infect a nearby NON-GMO-Customer's field.

"The issue in the UK seems to be that politicians are too scared to piss off the irrational green lobby groups"

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Ah, me.

The green lobby is damn near powerless. However people generally don't want GMOs, don't see why they want GMOs and want to be told if there are any GMO products in their food, which causes the USA some problem because they lump everything together and are busy crying about the trade embargo.

It's not "FRANKENFOODS", it's "Why the hell should we be made to be beholden to a corporation for our food whose only goal is to make bucketloads of money".

Spence:

I stated it was "from what I understand", which isn't a lot.

But wouldn't it be property/patent theft if some farmer had patented stuff growing on his fied without authorisation?

Honest question.

And everyone please pardon my french on my comments, I'm french (ie.e: I still have no fucking clue about how double conssonants work in english. <--- see "conssonants").

That's certainly the way Agribusiness dealt with it before. Their idea goes like this:

1) The GMO is a benefit
2) You didn't pay for that benefit
3) YOU THIEF!!!!

It's the same accountant mindset that the copyright cartels use to "prove" quadrillion-dollar losses from piracy and a multi-million dollar fine for 24 tracks.

Phil-- The only case I know of (featured in the movie 'Food Inc') was a guy who was cleaning/selling seeds for unauthorized users. It would be like me buying a DVD, ripping it, and selling it to friends, and then being surprised when Universal studios comes after me.

Its not a case of 'one stray seed/plant', its a case of consciously breaking user agreements for profit, aka pirating.

"Why the hell should we be made to be beholden to a corporation for our food whose only goal is to make bucketloads of money".
I'm pretty sure 99% of the food I eat comes from people who work for a living, make a profit, and live off that profit themselves. So I do not see this as a material distinction of GM vs. non-GM. Both are pretty much the same.

Monsanto have to compete, and the seed market seems fairly open, so I don't see why Monsanto would have any kind of stranglehold over farmers, who are free to buy any seed they want (and maybe use seeds without Monsanto genes as a marketing tool to charge more).

But GM isn't doing anything that can't be done through "natural" methods anyway (i.e., selective breeding and cross-breeding, which isn't exactly natural, but seems acceptable for some arbitrary reason). The GM technique just shortens the time frame.

Phil, you raise valid concerns.

However, these concerns are primarily driven by the regulatory requirements of GM foods. Because GM foods have to be tested to an extent far beyond any other type of food, attempting to bring such a food to market is astonishingly expensive.

The only fair way to enable this is to allow patents so that companies can protect their investment.

Another option would be to back off the stringent regulations and tests. Then bringing a product to market would be less expensive and not require patents. I somehow doubt this would be popular, though.

The irony is this; people demand tough regulations because they fear the technology, but the tough regulations push the technology into the hands of the megacorps. These two things come hand in hand. C'est la vie, if I can just momentarily borrow your language :)

Spencer: couldn't agree more. I was just pointing out the main reason publicized in France against GMO. Never said I agreed, although biological patents DO make me feel a bit nervous.

But GM isn't doing anything that can't be done through "natural" methods anyway (i.e., selective breeding and cross-breeding, which isn't exactly natural, but seems acceptable for some arbitrary reason). The GM technique just shortens the time frame.

Hey! Don't be inserting logic, facts, and reality into the conversation. This is about irrational responses to things we don't understand. I mean, how did teosinte transform into maize? By fucking magic of course!

By Onkel Bob (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Funny. Over at deltoid, it's Greenpeace:

Funny, Greenpeace took credit for it:

Greenpeace activists, including one mother who wants to protect her family, have stopped a GM wheat experiment outside Canberra this morning.

Link

By Onkel Bob (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

I have to agree with WoW's concerns. I'd also like to recommend an interesting 2009 article by agro-ecologist Don Lotter from "The Genetic Engineering of Food and the Failure of Science â Part 2: Academic Capitalism and the Loss of Scientific Integrity" (International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, Volume 16, issue 1 (2009), pages 50-68).

From the abstract:

Discussed are increasing science community and university dependence on private industry funding and on development of proprietary technologies; monopolization of the make-up of expert scientific bodies on transgenics by pro-industry scientists with vested interests in transgenics; deficient scientific protocols, bias, and possible fraud in industry-sponsored and industry-conducted research; increasing politically and commercially driven manipulation of science within federal regulatory bodies such as the FDA; and bias in the peer-review process, tolerance by the scientific community of biotechnology industry manipulation of the information environment, and of biased treatment and harassment of non-compliant scientists.

Onkel Bob - over at Deltoid Wow is trolling his/ her conspiracy theories. My comment on the Mommy-Warrior still stand despite his trolling. The woman is ignorant of basic science, something Monsanto has no control over. She's an idiot.

I wonder I'd the next step will be to say that GM crops cause autism (or maybe even the gay).

Thanks for calling this out. I wonder if these people would have destroyed Mendel's pea plants as well? I mean, it was clearly the precursor to evil modern agriculture and all of the horrors it has visited upon the world;)

here's a blog for the list:

http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com/

By isaacschumann (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Yup, there were links, but they can all be ignored if you proclaim it trolling.

Do you actually know what "trolling" means?

Hint: it doesn't mean "saying something I don't like to know forcefully".

Just a hint.

then maybe you can, instead of ignoring any facts you don't like to hear, counter those facts with others of your own?

You know, actual grown-up discussion.

Nah, that requires you do some *thinking*, doesn't it. Far better to say "trolling" rather than actually work out what's incorrect.

Badger, OF COURSE they cause autism and gayness.(you are sooo behind the times) Greanpeace was just preventing that evil CSIRO from gaying up Australia's wheat.

By isaacschumann (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

"Funny, Greenpeace took credit for it:"

What's REALLY funny is that you seem to think I was saying it wasn't one or the other.

When, in actual fact, I was commenting on how here it's all "ignorant mums" with the hysteria (along with the Green terrorism) of wondering: "So when are 'mums' going to start shooting geneticists" here, but over there on deltoid it's all "Greenpeace shouldn't have done this", "Greenpeace are just wrong here".

Nothing about mums.

And on here, nothing about how Greenpeace were doing it.

Well, until you thought you had something to beat me up with.

PS Abbie, take a look, there's a lot more out there than you know:

Second link I found:

http://bestmeal.info/monsanto/facts.shtml

"Monsanto sued an independent farmer, Percy Schmeiser, for patent infringement for growing GMO genetically modified Roundup resistant canola in 1998. Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian farmer whose canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto's Round-Up Ready Canola by pollen from a nearby GMO farm. Monsanto successfully argued in a lawsuit that Schmeiser violated their patent rights, and forced Schmeiser to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages."

Since it names names, you can check the veracity yourself.

On a happier note, I am sending Great Uncle Joachim this article. He just got a justification for the Dillon Aero M134 Gatling Gun he has had his eye on.

Hope you had fun in Australia Greenpeace....Welcome to the Midwest.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Full disclosure as I rarely have anything interesting to say about viruses and the like - I'm a Monsanto employee, I work in R&D on GMOs, the views contained herein are entirely my own and don't reflect those of the company (yadda, and indeed, yadda)

Fully intend to head over to deltoid to deal with some of Wow's other howlers on this topic but given that ERV is a funfest of lolisms and whatnot hopefully a rushed post here will go down a little smoother.

Problem is, Monsato et al won't LET you understand the science. All the research is vetted internally and commercial in confidence.

Other than that it isn't - there wouldn't be independant research if this was the issue - in dealing with the recent complaint about the restrictiveness of the research agreement Monsanto switched policy on research on transgenic seed etc (interestingly the reason for these research embargoes is likely more to do with preserving hybrid identity as a trade secret rather than anything to do with the GMO attached - not that I expect this to be widely believed, but for those few who don't require a proctologist to help them see the sunlight this may be moderately interesting)

On the wild screed about patent infringement - Monsanto don't unleash the hounds (I guess I now won't be ever working in legal... oh well!) unless there is clear evidence of intentional presence of the transgene sans license. I do rather enjoy that you brought up Schmeiser - this is a guy who discovered the accidental presence of the gene (the general feel isn't that it arrived on pollen, but blew in off the back of a truck, not that how it got there is particularly pertinent) - at which point he was totally non-culpable as a patent infringer, he then selected for the RR canola by spraying ~3 acres with roundup and collecting the seed from the plants which survived (probably still not culpable, but this isn't exactly normal behaviour) - this seed was stored separately from the rest of his seed and subsequently used to plant ~1000 acres - at which point only an utter imbecile would claim that the presence of the transgene was accidental - it's all there in the court documents - 1000+ acres of saved seed with absolute foreknowledge that these seed contained the RR gene (which unless Percy was living in a box he'd know was patented material) certainly falls under the category of intentional presence - Schmeiser decided to fight this (perhaps for celebrity, who knows? Not sure what the green global lecture circuit pays these days - probably more than farming, I know I keep it in mind as a nice early retirement opportunity should I ever become disenfranchised) and lost hard, repeatedly.

I wonder I'd the next step will be to say that GM crops cause autism (or maybe even the gay).

Been there, done that.
Soy is making kids 'gay'

By Onkel Bob (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

"I'm sick of being treated like a dumb Mum who doesn't understand the science."

Then go to college, get a degree in biology, go back get your masters, and then your doctorate.

For now you ARE a dumb Mum who doesn't understand the science.

Or how to behave in society.

"Then go to college, get a degree in biology, go back get your masters, and then your doctorate."

Then be refused to see the data for the studies in GMOs because you won't sign an NDA.

PS Greenpeace has plenty of people with biology degrees and post-docs.

PS Greenpeace has plenty of people with biology degrees and post-docs.

As Bob Park often says "A Ph.D. is not an inoculation against stupidity."

I'm just doing research in a Uni lab, and I wouldn't tell most people about my data without a NDA.

"Monsanto don't unleash the hounds unless there is clear evidence of intentional presence of the transgene sans license."

Like this guy:

"Monsanto sued an independent farmer, Percy Schmeiser, for patent infringement for growing GMO genetically modified Roundup resistant canola in 1998. Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian farmer whose canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto's Round-Up Ready Canola by pollen from a nearby GMO farm. Monsanto successfully argued in a lawsuit that Schmeiser violated their patent rights, and forced Schmeiser to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages."

"As Bob Park often says "A Ph.D. is not an inoculation against stupidity.""

So then why did Matt say "Then go to college, get a degree in biology, go back get your masters, and then your doctorate." if it means you'll STILL say they're too dumb to understand?

I guess then that you have a PhD because you're still showing the stupid.

Hey Wow did you fail to read the rest of Ewan's comment or do you just not comprehend what he wrote? Do you have any response to it beyond repeating the same claim?

I was not aware that I'm responsible for explaining others comments nor that Matt is the arbiter of what is correct (at least with respect to how much education one needs to understand GMO science). Actually I disagree with Matt on that point, to understand GMO science, you do need some bio education but not even a Master's is needed. Bob Park's point is that even people with a Ph.D. can still be crazy, especially on certain issues. For instance, wasn't it Bill Dembski* who lied his way through a Ph.D. at an accredited Uni so he could claim some authority? But hey, nice ad hominem on calling me stupid!

*some ID guy, can't remember which one.

Hey, "Wow", do you have a disability? The very sentence following your quote begins an explanation of the Schmeiser case, which was not at all as you described.

You're behavior is pretty much one-for-one with that of a creationist.

Ewan was pretty clear. I followed the case.

Percy Schmeiser "discovered" a small portion of one section of his land had patented licensed round-up ready canola on it. None of the versions of how it got there hold water. He deliberately killed off any non GMO canola in it. He harvested and cleaned seed only from that patch and planted his 1000 acres the next year with that seed then sold it.

i.e. When your neighbor's champion race horse wanders into your yard, you call your neighbor. You don't advertise $100 pony rides then grab a liquid nitrogen tank start and jacking off the horse.

If Percy Schmeiser isn't a thief he is at least an asshole.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

On a recent trip to the John Innes centre, http://www.jic.ac.uk/corporate/index.htm ,
It was most pathetic to see tiny patch of late blight resistant GM potatoes caged up and surrounded by alarms, CCTV etc. As the head of the project pointed it could end up that only large multi-national (cue evil Monsanto theme music) will be able to afford the security needed to do GM work on crops. The groups trashing GM trials should seriously consider if they think this would be a 'good thing'.

By Rambleale (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Don't fret, rambleale@41. Maybe they're pulling the same stunt as Frederick the Great.
Despite all urging, and demonstrations of the benefits of the evil potato all over Europe

The peasants remained suspicious, in spite of a 1771 paper from the Faculté de Paris testifying that the potato was not harmful but beneficial.

he planted a royal field of potato plants and stationed a heavy guard to protect this field from thieves. Nearby peasants naturally assumed that anything worth guarding was worth stealing, and so snuck into the field and snatched the plants for their home gardens. Of course, this was entirely in line with Frederick's wishes.

Personally I have two very rigid categories which no evil scientist can make me abandon.
Good food, and no food.

By dustbubble (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

I mean, how did teosinte transform into maize? By fucking magic of course!
You mean god didn't do that bit? Damn, people have been lying to me again!

Ms. ERV, thanks for posting this. My only comment is that there's no reason to make a distinction here. These aren't "green" terrorists, they're just terrorists, just like the animal rights extremists.

According to both Wikipedia and Schmeiser's own web site, he never had to pay Monsanto anything because the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that while there was patent infringement, he didn't profit from it. So Wow's assertion that "[Monsanto]
forced Schmeiser to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages" appears to be false.

On a side note, Schmeiser subsequently sued Monsanto for cleanup costs. The case was settled for $660.

But GM isn't doing anything that can't be done through "natural" methods anyway (i.e., selective breeding and cross-breeding, which isn't exactly natural, but seems acceptable for some arbitrary reason). The GM technique just shortens the time frame.

Hey! Don't be inserting logic, facts, and reality into the conversation. This is about irrational responses to things we don't understand. I mean, how did teosinte transform into maize? By fucking magic of course!

Proponents of GM often claim that it does exactly what nature and human breeders have always done, but speeded up. This is not true, and it is depressing that it's been allowed to go uncorrected here (yet again). Both natural and artificial selection work on the phenotype, whereas GM works direct on the genotype, something hardly ever seen in nature. Furthermore, GM can mix genes from widely differing species, which if it had ever happened regularly in the past by any means would not have produced the phylogeny that we see all around us and which is the foundation of the science of biology.

This is not necessarily an argument against GM; only to say that GM isn't "natural" in any way, and it isn't like human artificial selection, and it isn't like anything ever seen on the earth before. This is a giant step for humans, changing things forever in ways we don't begin to understand; and to pretend it's just a speeded-up relation of rose breeding is a frightening and depressing lie.

As with many of these issues, it should not be seen to much in black-and-white. Like Phil, I am, as a biologist, convinced that GM plants are not in any way more dangerous to us humans as such than plants bred in the traditional ways. People who think that introducing a new gene somehow makes them impure should get their heads checked. ("I don't want any genes in my food!" Right.)

On the other hand, you can hold that position and still wonder whether it is wise to have a corporation like Monsanto exert so much power over the food industry and politics. There was a time when a farmer in India or Bolivia would just store a couple of his seeds from this year to plant out next year. If GMOs continue their march of triumph, there will be a time when that is impossible, as they can only remain competitive by using them. So then they have to pay an annual fee to shareholders in the US and Europe to even be allowed to earn their living instead of buying seeds once and that's it. We should at least be aware that a world like that is a very different one from the one we had before. I at least would feel way more comfortable if all the GM crops could be developed and held by government-financed research institutions and turned into public domain when considered tried and tested. We are talking about the most basic need of all human beings here, after all.

I addition, I remain utterly unconvinced that much of what Monsanto et al are doing will actually help that significantly to feed the world population. I can certainly see splendid uses for more salt-, drought- or heat-tolerant crops, but genes for pesticide resistance will sooner or later spread into the wild relatives of the crop via pollination or weeds will simply evolve resistance themselves; same for genes inserted to kill bugs. It is a rat race. And anyway, the real problems for our future food supply seem to be climate change, overuse of aquifers, soil erosion, death of soil microorganisms, and the fact that people just can't seem to stop breeding even if they are hungry already. Of course, except the first and the last those items are caused by exactly the kind of industrialized agriculture that GMOs are developed for.

So yes, there is something to be gained from GM crops, especially in the area of making them grow in less hospitable places. Yes, those activists are loons. But there is no reason to turn into cheerleaders of Monsanto of all things! They need the same kind of watching as News of the World or TEPCO.

Both natural and artificial selection work on the phenotype

artificial selection works increasingly at the molecular level devoid of phenotype - you figure out which bits of DNA are associated with a desired phenotype (initially) and subsequently ignore phenotype and just check that your genotype stays how you want it (breeders do a surprising amount of architectural shifting of genetic sequence this way - pulling useful bits of chromosomes together so that they are co-inherited more frequently for example) - your characterization of artificial selection is very pre molecular breeding. Conceptually one could utilize a massive breeding population and a longass period of time and transform any piece of the genome to do whatever the hell you wanted it to simply by sequencing and selecting only those individuals closer to your target at the end of each generation - by this method any and all conceivable transgenes could be inserted into an organism without once checking phenotype and without incurring any regulatory burden.

Both natural and artificial selection work on the phenotype, whereas GM works direct on the genotype, something hardly ever seen in nature.

Yeah except for this little thing called 'mutation'. GM breeders still need to observe and select for the desired phenotype, like traditional breeders.

Furthermore, GM can mix genes from widely differing species, which if it had ever happened regularly in the past by any means would not have produced the phylogeny that we see all around us and which is the foundation of the science of biology.

It has happened regularly, if very rarely (at least for eukaryotes). With GM, it happens more often but is still rare in the grand scheme of things - not enough to disturb general tree-like patterns of evolution. It doesn't contradict the claim that GM does what nature has done, but speeded up.

This is a giant step for humans, changing things forever in ways we don't begin to understand; and to pretend it's just a speeded-up relation of rose breeding is a frightening and depressing lie.

Hey Loughrey, don't assume other people don't understand something just because you yourself don't get it. There is no gene that genetic engineering can create that can't be gotten from natural or artificial selection, given enough time. The only difference between a rose gene and a fish gene is a finite number of base pairs, and those are all subject to mutation.

Oh, and this?

and it isn't like anything ever seen on the earth before.

Complete B.S. Viruses have been transferring genes between species for millions of years.

Ah, ninja'd. That'll teach me to not refresh before posting.

The commons are the commons. Someone has to protect them. Scientists are utterly ignorant of history, which is why they are such useful tools for industry. You'll do anything for a paycheck.

By Douglas Watts (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Douglas,

Many scientists express their concern about patenting biological resources. The people analyzing contamination of water sources by fracking are also scientists. Scientists are usually motivated primarily by the desire to generate knowledge, not by high paychecks, otherwise they would not have become, well, scientists; there are way higher paying career paths for people with the intellectual capacity that is necessary to become a good scientist.

A mum who thinks that genes are somehow icky IS a mum who is ignorant of science. And having a different opinion about the regulation of GMOs does not mean you are allowed to destroy others' property. Especially because many eco-activists are too moronic to realize that not every plot that contains experimental plants contains GM plants; similar to what Grant pointed out, there are enough cases of ecological or taxonomic experiments that have been destroyed by vandals whose cognitive abilities are greatly overshadowed by their quasi-religious zeal.

Terrorists? That seems a tad strong. I think we're using that word much too freely these days, though more as an epithet than an actual description. I doubt anyone was fearing for their lives because some wheat was destroyed with weed whackers. We can't seem to call those who practice "shock and awe" terrorists -- but two women with lawn tools?

Wouldn't "green trespassers" or "vandals" be more accurate? What they did was a major pain for those doing the work, expensive and damaging, but until they do start threatening lives to scare people away from this research, "terrorist" seems way over the top to me.

By Achrachno (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Re: Loughrey,

The method by which DNA changes is uninteresting, if you can get to the same end result by different means (exactly what Ewan R pointed out, which is why I pointed out GM speeds stuff up). The DNA sequence is entirely within the capability of nature.

Complete B.S. Viruses have been transferring genes between species for millions of years.
There is a certain irony, given the name of this very blog, that people don't realise that...

Terrorists? That seems a tad strong. I think we're using that word much too freely these days, though more as an epithet than an actual description. I doubt anyone was fearing for their lives because some wheat was destroyed with weed whackers. We can't seem to call those who practice "shock and awe" terrorists -- but two women with lawn tools?

Are you familiar with "eco-terrorism"? It's a term that's usually used to describe sabotage (as opposed to blowing people up or whatever). Tree-spiking and the like.

By Stephen Bahl (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

I just don't understand where all the misinformation comes from! Especially since some of the "traditional" methods for creating new strains of foods are so much less predictable and relatively unregulated (giving us toxic Lenape potatoes), yet no one makes a stink because we've been doing them for so long. Why is it that when one alters an organism's genetics through breeding, it's fine, but make a precision strike with all the tools at one's disposal and it's mad science?

There's a great book for the layman on the subject (Mendel in the Kitchen), but those who need its information most will never read it. That "dumb Mum" would probably throw it at my head and say it was hurting her children.

GM foods have a chance to increase our global food production at a rate that might keep up with expanding populations--*if* we just give them a chance (and solve some of our soil issues.) I've written about this before, but this makes me mad enough to want to do a reprise.

Re: GM verses 'traditional breeding'.

A wheat fusarium resistance researcher once told me that he had a really good variety developed by knocking out a gene in a specific pathway exploited by the pathogen but as it was GM it wasn't comercially viable. Now he was trawling through various varieties searching for one with a mutation taking that gene out 'naturally' to use in his breeding program instead.

A mad waste of time,money etc.

By Rambleale (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink

Douglas Watts:
"The commons are the commons. Someone has to protect them. Scientists are utterly ignorant of history, which is why they are such useful tools for industry. You'll do anything for a paycheck."

Hey, I resent that remark. If I was a greedy money grabber, I wouldn't have become a scientist. There's no money in my field.
And if you were truly interested in defending the commons, wouldnât calls to review patent law perhaps be a little more constructive than vandalism?

My favorite story of gene transfer across species I like to tell the âOh-er GMO is unnaturalâ crowed is that of one of the species I worked on while doing my Masters. Drosophilla ananassae is a fruit fly thatâs one of the thousands of insects that carry the bacterial symbiote, Wolbachia . In some populations of D. ananassae , there appears to be a possible insertion of the whole Wolbachia genome in their second chromosome. (They think itâs they whole thing â of 45 genes screened, 44 genes were present) This isnât just merely gene transfer between species, but between different kingdoms. I think there are now groups looking at the insertion to see if anything in there is functional or if it serves any benefit to the fly.
This isnât the only time this has happened; a similar thing has occurred in another Wolbachia carrier, the beetle Callosobruchus chinensis . About 30% of the bacterial genes are present in the beetleâs nuclear genome.

While I'll admit that horizontal gene transfer is rare in eukaryotes, it is not entirely unheard of and not at all unnatural.

There is far more than DNA involved in the development of an organism.

E.g. RNA. Prions.

There are things we don't know about DNA: Junk DNA isn't junk, we just don't know what it's for.

And the proteins built by the DNA coding depend on expressions in other development pathways and changes in the enviornment (which is why a frog has more DNA information than humans: it has to code up how do build a baby in an uncontrolled environment).

This is why cross-breeding is a safer bet.

Genetic progress by cross-breeding explores the nearby possible. Genetic progress by artificial insertion explores any possible. And unless we know the consequences, we can't say it's right.

Of course, if there were a problem in 20 years with Bt Cotton, for example, the CEO at the time of its production and all the people who pushed it will clear it up, won't they?

"Terrorists? That seems a tad strong. I think we're using that word much too freely these days, though more as an epithet than an actual description."

Yup.

If they'd blown up a shopping center and said "As long as you allow GM foods, further actions will be taken", THEN it would be fair to call them terrorists.

They are saboteurs.

It's a real word.

You can use it.

And it's actually accurate.

"If I was a greedy money grabber, I wouldn't have become a scientist. There's no money in my field."

There is if you're willing to prostitute your honour.

It's also possible to happen if you're immersed in a culture of greed. It's the driver of the moving overton window: to fit in, you'll migrate a little toward the median position of the people you meet most often. Then a little more. And so on.

There's also a lot of money in science if you're willing:

1) Geology. Work for the fossil fuel industry.
2) Mathematics. Work for the investment bankers
3) Chemistry. Work for Agribusiness
4) Biology. Work for Big Pharma

and so on.

NOTE:

a) Getting paid for work is not wrong.
b) Working for these companies is not wrong.
c) Evidence of wealth or working for these companies is no proof of malice.

You don't have to be evil to work there, but it helps.

One of several problems with businesses now is that they're being run by MBAs (Accountants) or Bankers (Accountants). A biopharm company OUGHT to be run by a chemist, biologist or similar.

That's not to say that they'd be more honourable (see Wegman or the Wehrmacht for example), but that the operation of the business would be run for the purposes of that business, not for the purposes of extracting maximum profit with a side helping of running away before it all goes south.

If I were putting my money in a bank, I'd want the bank to be run by a banker, not a scientist.

But why are most businesses run by bankers, even though they're not about banking?

And the proteins built by the DNA coding depend on expressions in other development pathways and changes in the enviornment (which is why a frog has more DNA information than humans: it has to code up how do build a baby in an uncontrolled environment).

Argh, no. First of all a frog does not necessarily have a larger genome than a human. It's salamanders that have the huge genome sizes. This has nothing to do with an "uncontrolled environment" (it would be strange if salamander environments were several times more uncontrolled than those of frogs) And how does this relate to GM, anyway?

In that giant wall of text he managed to not explain his position on the Schmeiser case and Ewan's comment, but managed to drop additional turds.

I'm very shocked.

Well Salamanders LOOK a lot like frogs.

What it has to do with GM is that genetic modification doesn't modify the non-genetic expressions that cause an organism to grow and develop.

E.g. we don't change prions.

It also neglects the environmental factors that change gene expression. E.g. what if it's a cold winter and your genetic modification doesn't express itself in the right toxin production? What about if it's really wet? We can check many, but not most of these changes.

I;m with you too, JohnV, I couldn't get anything sensible out of EwanR's wall of text either. Best I could get from it is "I knows it's safe and I'm right". Which is certainly a statement, but hardly anything to take to the bookies.

No you're certainly not with me. However, that response does answer my question at 36 :p

Well, Ewan hadn't apparently read mine, so I figured that sauce for the gander was also fine.

I note that despite your postings you haven't explained your position on the Schmeiser case nor your feelings about Ewan's post (I have).

But I guess it's easier to snipe than have an opinion and defend it, isn't it.

So I'm rather glad there's a difference between us. You, counting your money until your soul turns green.

Well, Ewan hadn't apparently read mine, so I figured that sauce for the gander was also fine.

How exactly had I not read your piece - you posted a rather glossed over version of the Schmeiser case devoid of any of the actual details of the case - I merely interjected with the facts of the matter as reported in the court documents - facts which you've done utterly nothing to post feelings or position on.

But I guess it's easier to snipe than have an opinion and defend it, isn't it.

would certainly explain

I couldn't get anything sensible out of EwanR's wall of text either.

Personally I prefer a spray and pray approach to the whole sniping thing however (hence my walls of text)

(are there bonus points for FPS references?)

One of several problems with businesses now is that they're being run by MBAs (Accountants) or Bankers (Accountants). A biopharm company OUGHT to be run by a chemist, biologist or similar.

From what I remember Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto, has a BS in agricultural zoology, a postgrad degree in agriculture, and only then went on to get an MBA - so apparently you're totally digging the leadership of Monsanto, which I guess is a good thing. (most of the MBA holders I work with have a background in the sciences and then took the MBA later in life simply to get ahead in the company in management positions etc - my guess is that this would likely also apply in other agribusinesses and chemical companies)

Wow:

I should have been clearer perhaps- I meant my specific field of science. I am in evolutionary genetics. If anyone is interested, our groups' work focuses on how populations adapt to environmental stresses, such as the effects of climate change or insecticides. Trust me when I say it can be difficult to procure funds, and for anyone to imply that we are only in this for the money is laughable.

Aye, Ellyn, but it's not sufficient to say "I wouldn't have gone into science if I wanted money". The money is out there. If there's a commercial edge available by exploiting it, it'll pay.

Yours is one (of many) where there's no large economic windfall so doesn't get much in the way of dosh.

Well Salamanders LOOK a lot like frogs.

LOL! I suppose, like weasels have a striking resemblance to kangaroo rats... are you trying to Poe us?

E.g. we don't change prions.

And that's a bad thing?? Do you know what a prion is? Anyway, afaik, no prions have been identified in plants, so it's kind of a weird reason to be suspicious of GM wheat.

It also neglects the environmental factors that change gene expression. E.g. what if it's a cold winter and your genetic modification doesn't express itself in the right toxin production? What about if it's really wet?

Do you think traditional cross-breeding of new plant varieties is somehow immune to these concerns? There's always Lysenko's method that didn't require any sort of genetic modification of the plants (traditional or GM), but that didn't work out so well...

S.B. "Are you familiar with "eco-terrorism"? It's a term that's usually used to describe sabotage (as opposed to blowing people up or whatever). Tree-spiking and the like."

Yes, but tree spiking is designed to scare people out of cutting trees. Chain saw hitting spike results in metal bits flying all over the place. But oddly, as far as I know, tree spikers have always warned people that some trees in forest X were spiked. They apparently don't want anyone to get hurt: even that form of terrorism is much milder than setting off a car bomb in a market or dropping bombs from the sky on a city. Milder than real terrorism, that is. Using a weed whacker on wheat is substantially less terrorizing than even tree spiking (with warning). It's aggravating and all, but I doubt that any of the researchers were actually in terror of the women with weed whackers. POed big time, no doubt.

Let's try to use words that reflect reality, rather than becoming verbal extremists.

By Achrachno (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

"Do you think traditional cross-breeding of new plant varieties is somehow immune to these concerns?"

Since cross-breeding reaches the nearby possible rather than reaching well beyond any reliable extrapolation, yes.

Or, if you want to be REALLY silly about it, the chance of disaster is reduced to the minimum level, though we still may get ripped a new one years down the line like we did with bananas:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana#Modern_cultivation

"There's always Lysenko's method"

No, there isn't. Sorry:

"In reality, the technique was neither new (it had been known since 1854, and was extensively studied during the previous twenty years), nor did it produce the yields he promised."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysenkoism#In_agriculture

PS what do you mean "that didn't work out so well..."? The method was used (see link), but just didn't work. Your phraseology would infer that we had some actual damaging result of the method in agriculture.

Are you sure you're not getting it mixed up with Lysenkoism ideology, rather than the method?

And doesn;t this sound more like the GM trials than the opposition to them?

"So quickly did he develop his prescriptions - from the cold treatment of grain, to the plucking of leaves from cotton plants, to the cluster planting of trees, to unusual fertilizer mixes - that academic biologists did not have time to demonstrate that one technique was valueless or harmful before a new one was adopted. The Party-controlled newspapers applauded Lysenko's "practical" efforts and questioned the motives of his critics. Lysenko's "revolution in agriculture" had a powerful propaganda advantage over the academics, who urged the patience and observation required for science."

(from the same link)

Gish Gallop FTW!

Gish Gallop FTW!

Bullfrog!! ...or is it a salamander? I can't tell anymore!

"as far as I know, tree spikers have always warned people that some trees in forest X were spiked. They apparently don't want anyone to get hurt:"

The IRA used to warn ahead of time before blowing up their bombs.

Not really, windy. I don't have the reference with me, so made light of the issue.

I didn't think that would be too big a deal for you, but if that's your bag, then I'll get back to you.

Meanwhile, anything of substance about post 34:

"Monsanto don't unleash the hounds unless there is clear evidence of intentional presence of the transgene sans license."

Like this guy:

"Monsanto sued an independent farmer, Percy Schmeiser, for patent infringement for growing GMO genetically modified Roundup resistant canola in 1998. Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian farmer whose canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto's Round-Up Ready Canola by pollen from a nearby GMO farm. Monsanto successfully argued in a lawsuit that Schmeiser violated their patent rights, and forced Schmeiser to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages."

Or were you doing a bit of tag-team gishgalloping yourselves?

Wow. It's like you're incapable of reading anything that conflicts with your views. Everything Ewan R @29 said after "Monsanto don't unleash the hounds unless there is clear evidence of intentional presence of the transgene sans license." was a direct refutation of your pitiful take on that story, and this is the second time you've ignored that. It's already clear your thoughtbox is broken; there's really not a need to parade that fact anymore, so save whatever face you have left and stop posting crap.

holy shit Wow.

Questions for Wow: These are all yes/no, either/or type questions.

So is a non-profit organization, say like Feed the Children, purchasing GM crops or seed to help feed starving children in a third world country a bad thing?

Should they only purchase non-GM crops and/or seed knowing that they will successfully feed fewer starving people and consequently more people will die?

My next door neighbor is a PhD plant geneticist that works for a large ag company (not Monsanto). I am going to his daughter's wedding next weekend. Should I kill him? And, if so, should I kill him before or after the wedding to help fit a more rigorous definition of terrorism? I think his daughter is going to be upset either way but she's a social worker so I guess I won't have to kill her, although she may carry some of those GM corn genes that took over his mind and body years ago. (He can get pretty excited talking about his corn experiments so it must have happened!)

My next door neighbor uses neither herbicides or pesticides on his yard. If I have to kill him to protect the planet, is it okay if I steal his beautiful tomatoes that were probably grown from a GM seed and make a nice salad? Or should I burn his house and yard down to make sure those tomatoes don't turn into giant killer tomatoes like the ones in that science-based movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"?

Please guide me in my journey toward enlightenment.

Let's try to use words that reflect reality, rather than becoming verbal extremists.

I don't know what a verbal extremist is, but I should make it clear that I haven't called these people terrorists nor defended the notion that they are terrorists. My point was merely that the word "terrorism" is commonly used to describe stuff like this. "Eco-terrorism" usually doesn't involve intentionally killing or maiming anyone and I've typically seen it used to describe the destruction of property (like this) in conjunction with political motives regarding the environment, sometimes only vaguely (like burning down houses that were purported to be "green" because they considered that claim to be a lie).

Anyway, there's certainly a difference between vandalizing someone's research and killing people, but the use of "terrorism" as a term to describe stuff like this is already quite widespread. If you were already aware of this but want to argue against this use of the word on the basis that it conflates two different things, fine, I guess I don't really have an opinion either way on that.

By Stephen Bahl (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

There is far more than DNA involved in the development of an organism.

E.g. RNA. Prions.

There are things we don't know about DNA: Junk DNA isn't junk, we just don't know what it's for.

Perhaps you mean "proteins" instead of "prions"?

Anyway, some DNA really isn't "for" anything. I remember some posts on this very blog giving examples of this, although I can't remember which ones off the top of my head.

By Stephen Bahl (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

@Achrachno: So when does it change from sabotage to terrorism? When there is a press release? "We have destroyed this field/spiked these trees/burned down these houses to make you stop doing X."

Is there a minimum monetary value to the damage? A number of years of research lost? A number of endangered species destroyed? Or is it not terrorism until someone dies?

I guess the only thing to be thankful about this incident is that the people chose to use weedwhackers rather than setting the field on fire.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

@Windy 49 quoting me 46:

Furthermore, GM can mix genes from widely differing species, which if it had ever happened regularly in the past by any means would not have produced the phylogeny that we see all around us and which is the foundation of the science of biology.

It has happened regularly, if very rarely (at least for eukaryotes).

Whoops. Indeed it has. My brain meant "commonly", not "regularly". Apologies.

With GM, it happens more often but is still rare in the grand scheme of things - not enough to disturb general tree-like patterns of evolution.

Well, this is the key point for me. We're still at the beginnings of the application of this technology. So far, the number of GM gene transfers across species and higher taxa is negligible, and we know where and what they are, and it's all carefully monitored and jolly good. But the genetic sciences are progressing at Moore's Law rates and faster (for example, about a decade to sequence the first human genome, about 60 sequenced in the decade after); and, unlike the number of transistors on an IC, the genetic sciences show no sign of plateauing-out any time soon. The question you must ask yourself is whether in the relatively near future - say the lifetime of those just being born now - GM will be common and cheap and unregulated enough to "disturb [the] general tree-like patterns of evolution". In fact, don't ask "will that happen"; ask "might it". If your answer is yes, you should be worried. Just imagine. If the GM provenance and history of a particular organism isn't known or available (or is secret for IP reasons!), there'll be no clear way of classifying organisms by phenotype; a new Linnaeus wouldn't be able to get started. Life will not form a neat aggregational hierarchy, with no lower-ranking nodes belonging to more than one higher-ranking one; a new Erasmus Darwin wouldn't be able to get started. No longer will we be able to make falsifiable predictions of the internal or non-apparent traits and characteristics of an organism based on our knowledge of the organism's classification; how, for example, are you doing to trial new drugs on mice? In short, if all our knowledge of biology were to be destroyed - I dunno, some kind of global catastrophe or giant war - then there could be no rediscovery of biology for the millions of years it would take for phenotypes to settle back into an obvious tree-like pattern.

I happen to think that would be a pity.

It doesn't contradict the claim that GM does what nature has done, but speeded up.

I concede that eventually "nature" might insert arctic roe's genes into potatoes, or grow an ear on the back of a mouse. I suggest the time before it'll happen is one of these many-times the age of the universe numbers. I also suggest the resulting hybrid might not be viable, or that its resulting phenotypical effect might not be selected; in contrast, GM companies will make sure their products are "selected" (ie by farmers) and those products will become dominant.

@Ewan 46

artificial selection works increasingly at the molecular level devoid of phenotype - you figure out which bits of DNA are associated with a desired phenotype (initially) and subsequently ignore phenotype and just check that your genotype stays how you want it (breeders do a surprising amount of architectural shifting of genetic sequence this way - pulling useful bits of chromosomes together so that they are co-inherited more frequently for example) - your characterization of artificial selection is very pre molecular breeding.

Yes. See above - "we're still at the beginnings of the application of this technology." (Apologies if I've misunderstood you).

Conceptually one could utilize a massive breeding population and a longass period of time and transform any piece of the genome to do whatever the hell you wanted it to simply by sequencing and selecting only those individuals closer to your target at the end of each generation - by this method any and all conceivable transgenes could be inserted into an organism without once checking phenotype and without incurring any regulatory burden.

Please see above - how many ages of the universe is a longass?

@Nsib 50

Complete B.S. Viruses have been transferring genes between species for millions of years.

Uh-huh. But not enough to "disturb [the] general tree-like patterns of evolution." (Windy again.) I believe in my post 46 I said that "GM was unnatural", not that rare and hard-to-observe viral transfer between species is "unnatural". Of course the latter happens - but it is rare in the grand scheme of things, and completely invisible to the naive naturalist classifying and researching a real individual plant or animal. GM has the potential to do this on a scale which will completely change life on earth, and in a way that nature could never realistically have done. So, I think I stand by the word "unnatural" here; if anything is, GM is.

You're saying that because we are modifying a small number of cash-crops, we may end up with crocoducks?

It's not "FRANKENFOODS", it's "Why the hell should we be made to be beholden to a corporation for our food whose only goal is to make bucketloads of money".

Because they're the ones who have the incentive to produce lots of good quality food (cos otherwise everyone will buy someone else's grub instead).

The alternative to this state of affairs is not pretty.

By Corkscrew (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

holy shit @ loughrey

Just reread my post 88 and I'd like to add that I'm not arguing that because GM is "unnatural", we should or can abandon it. I'm just saying that it's a big big decision, and society should go into it with its eyes open, and it should be decided democratically by common men and women, and not giant multinational companies or (I dare say) the kind of people who post on this board; and I'm saying that the oft-repeated claim that GM is just natural or artificial selection speeded up is a simple lie, and that the matter is too important to play Junior Common Room debating like that with.

Just reread my post 88 and I'd like to add that I'm not arguing that because GM is "unnatural", we should or can abandon it. I'm just saying that it's a big big decision, and society should go into it with its eyes open, and it should be decided democratically by common men and women, and not giant multinational companies or (I dare say) the kind of people who post on this board; and I'm saying that the oft-repeated claim that GM is just natural or artificial selection speeded up is a simple lie, and that the matter is too important to play Junior Common Room debating like that with.

So these people who are advocating for an elimination of democracy and the rule of multinational companies and/or rule by those who comment at ERV...

...Where can I find them? I sort of missed that part.

By Stephen Bahl (not verified) on 15 Jul 2011 #permalink

ErkLR 89:

You're saying that because we are modifying a small number of cash-crops, we may end up with crocoducks?

Can you be absolutely 100% sure that, say within the lifetime of my children (the next 70-odd years), we won't? If not, aren't you a little bit worried?

A year or so ago someone mooted GM mosquitoes that would be unable to carry the malaria parasite. Such mosquitoes would also be given some kind of selective advantage so that they would become dominant in a wild population, and then released. Is that a good thing? It will save many lives, but the ecological effects are unknown and the lives might have been saved anyway if the money were invested in water technology, nets, drugs, etc. Honestly, everyone - I really don't know; it's a tough call. Just about the only thing I'm sure of is that GM won't stop with "a small number of cash crops", and that as soon as a decade from now we'll be seeing many more ideas like the mosquito one. IMO we should all be frightened of this technology - very frightened. Perhaps we should adopt it anyway, but that's because we're humans, and humans are able to overcome their fear. But to adopt it and change the structure of life on earth just because it will make Monsanto a few dollars... well that's simply incredibly depressing. (See Alex @ 47, every word of which I think all sides can agree with).

Loughery:
and I'm saying that the oft-repeated claim that GM is just natural or artificial selection speeded up is a simple lie
Nothing pisses me off in a scientific debate than this. On a point of scientific disagreement, one side ratchets up emotional rhetoric by accusing the other side of lying. It is an unscientific way of discussing things, and in this case utter bullshit; we're talking about people's understandings of evolution, and saying something is a lie implies that they accept your version of evolution but are intentionally choosing to ignore it. Utter bullshit. You have no way of knowing this, short of telepathy. And given how weak your understanding of evolution appears to be - your thinking has more in common with a creationist than a biologist - you really are in no position to make such a claim.

In short, in science it is acceptable for people to hold different perspectives. Flinging around accusations of lying are evidence of political advocacy and trolling and not evidence of being willing to engage in scientific discussion.

I concede that eventually "nature" might insert arctic roe's genes into potatoes, or grow an ear on the back of a mouse. I suggest the time before it'll happen is one of these many-times the age of the universe numbers.
This is classic creationist thinking. Appealing to the fact that any given sequence is incredibly unlikely.

Of course, given the number of permutations DNA can take, any given perm is fantastically unlikely. This is how creationists claim that evolution cannot have happened, because it is just so unlikely.

That any single DNA sequence is fantastically unlikely is irrelevant. It doesn't mean nature can't reach it. The question has to be, what are the risks associated with these sequences? Which your point fails to answer.

Well, what we do know is that nature does indeed randomly splice huge chunks of DNA from one form of life to another. We have loads of evidence of this. Even the title of this blog alludes to evidence of this taking place over and over again. We can trace back histories of evolution by looking at how viruses have spliced into the population.

Most of these individual splices end up being non-viable. So, in fact, what we see in our population is just the tip of the iceberg. Some end up as just junk. Of those that end up as junk, some coincidentally happen at the same time as an advantageous DNA change and are kept. It is just these that we get a record of.

And if you count up the ones we have a record of, plus the more common ones we don't have a record of, none of these changes have resulted in the end of the ecosystem as we know it.

As you seem to have tacitly acknowledged, there is no barrier in nature to these things. The path of evolution is not deterministically predictable - there is no set path to nature, and nature does not care about what types of lifeforms are created. The idea that the remoteness of probability of some creature evolving is a meaningful indicator of the risk associated with such a creature is just irrational. Not only is there no barrier, but nature (plus geological time spans) have run tests aplenty of splicing all sorts of DNA together. And you know what? There were no big problems. Life carried on in much the same way it always has.

That isn't a reason not to test. Indeed, GM crops are more carefully tested than any other crop designed through other means (which could, given enough time, reach the same end). Which means, to my mind, GM crops are probably safer than any other crop type.

Re ErkLR @ #37

I think that Mr. ErkLR is thinking of Jonathan Wells, currently with the Dishonesty Institute in Seattle, who got his PhD in biology at UC Berkeley at the behest of the Reverend Moon. Others who have taken this route include PhD astrophysicists Jason Lisle and Marcus Ross, both of whom are YECS.

Justa: "So when does it change from sabotage to terrorism?"

When terror is used as political weapon to force a government or population to change a policy, activity or belief through fear -- which it plainly was not in this case. No one was terrorized. Please use a more appropriate word.

By Achrachno (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Can you be absolutely 100% sure that, say within the lifetime of my children (the next 70-odd years), we won't? If not, aren't you a little bit worried?
**Facepalm**

Firstly, you can't be 100% sure of anything. But you can be pretty sure that we won't have crocoducks, or anything else that will cause enormous devastation. Furthermore, we can be pretty sure of the significant benefits GM crops can provide. Reduced water usage. Reduced pesticide usage. Increased crop yields that feed more people. Crops with greater nutritional benefit that can counteract malnutrition and ill health associated with it, especially in the poorest countries.

And you want to give up these benefits from a Pascal's wager style concern about crocoducks and the like? Really?

No one was terrorized.
You mean no one you know was terrorized, which means it doesnt count.

Spence 93: Well, perhaps "lie" is a trifle strong - "wilful and wishful self-deception" might be more accurate. But please blame my inarticulacy for the error, not my politics or religion; your post is way more insulting in ascribing motives than mine was (and, I have to say, was intended to be).

Spence 99:

And you want to give up these benefits from a Pascal's wager style concern about crocoducks and the like? Really?

Not at all. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've said several times that the benefits might well outweigh the risks. But I do think that we shouldn't breezily proceed as if it's all ok, as if GM were just nature speeded up. The science isn't easy; the function of the people who understand it (like most of the people on this board) should be to advise and educate the population, but not to proselytise or even influence them. It's not your decision, boys and girls; and, thankfully, it's not Monsanto's decision either. It's the decision of millions of people like the derided mum the OP talked about. You remember, the same way prime ministers and Presidents get elected?

A "No one was terrorized."
ERV "You mean no one you know was terrorized, which means it doesnt count."

I mean I've not seen any evidence that ANYONE was terrorized, whether known to me personally or not. Plus, I just inherently find it hard to believe that anyone would be terrorized by two women with weed whackers cutting wheat. Two women that apparently no one even saw doing their vandalism.

If there is evidence, testimony from one or more researchers would count, that someone was terrorized (contrasted to angry, irritated, discouraged, or a similar emotion that I can imagine feeling after an incident like this) then I'll change my opinion. This does not seem like terrorism to me. I don't even see evidence that these people wanted terrorize anyone. They just seem to have been in a panic about GMO wheat and were desperate to get it out of there. They seem to have proceeded in the least terrorizing direct action they could imagine. They snuck in when no one was around and used common lawn tools. If they'd intended to terrorize couldn't they have thought of something more dramatic?

As I said earlier, we seem to be abusing that word "terrorism" these days in order to get the additional emotional punch it provides against our enemies (but not much longer, as the edge wears off).

By Achrachno (not verified) on 16 Jul 2011 #permalink

Spence 96:

This is classic creationist thinking. Appealing to the fact that any given sequence is incredibly unlikely.

Of course, given the number of permutations DNA can take, any given perm is fantastically unlikely. This is how creationists claim that evolution cannot have happened, because it is just so unlikely.

I don't see the logic here. Appealing to the fact that any given event is unlikely is a perfectly valid way of getting through life. There is a small-but-non-zero chance that all the air molecules in my room will suddenly rush out of the window, but I don't keep an oxygen tank by my desk on the off-chance. The question is: how unlikely? The creationist point is completely different - they are assuming that because heritable variation is random, evolution as a whole is. This is a logical error (in fact, a category error). Oh, and Spence, mate - do stop calling me creationist. If you knew the trouble these people have caused me...

Most of these individual splices end up being non-viable....

This is the point!

Do you agree with this simplified description? "Nature" works by monkeying about with the genotype, by whatever means. "Monkeying about" means that the changes are essentially random - there's no purpose or plan to them - they're done on spec. These changes feed through to the phenotype, and it's that that's judged as viable or not. The changes at the genetic level don't stand or fall on their own merits, but on those of their organism and its environmental fitness & effects. Of course, there's huge wastage. Nature, not being stupid*, mitigates this wastage by making sure all changes are small. The end result of this beautiful system is a gradual but illusionary directionality.

*Don't write in accusing me of panpsychism, please - this is a figure of speech.

Now compare this with GM. GM works by deliberately altering the genotype in a specified non-random way. The alternation produces an exactly predictable phenotype (within each generation's variation). The organism is never judged on its fitness, except in the limited sense that its environment is engineered to ensure its survival. There is no wastage, and consequently changes at each stage can be large. The end result is a rapid and genuine directionality.

Hmmm. Well, I guess a jet airplane is just walking speeded up.

I mean I've not seen any evidence that ANYONE was terrorized, whether known to me personally or not. Plus, I just inherently find it hard to believe that anyone would be terrorized by two women with weed whackers cutting wheat. Two women that apparently no one even saw doing their vandalism.
*shrug*

brb, gonna go destroy the local African American restaurants.

Just a chick with a hammer, wont hurt anyone, who cares?

brb, gonna go destroy all the work of my classmates who used animals in their research.

Just a chick with a lighter, wont hurt anyone, who cares?

brb, gonna go destroy a field of GMO corn.

Just a chick with a weed-whacker, wont hurt anyone, who cares?

Its not just vandalism. Its vandalism that sends a message. Part of that message is "This time its wheat. The next time it might be you. Might not. Wanna keep doing this kind of research and risk it?" Part of that message is scaring people away from 'undesirable' activities-- if they want to keep doing the undesirable activity, and their fields burn down, or their research labs burn down, and their houses burn down, well, they were 'warned'.

The ends justify the means, theyve said it plainly.

Loughrey,

Nature, not being stupid*, mitigates this wastage by making sure all changes are small.

Here's another place where you demonstrate that your knowledge of evolution is piss-poor. Never heard of autoploidy or alloploidy?

GM works by deliberately altering the genotype in a specified non-random way. The alternation produces an exactly predictable phenotype (within each generation's variation).(Emphasis mine)

Also, lol.

IMO, the word "terrorist" should mostly be avoided by careful thinkers. It's emotive and manipulative and depends too much on the long-term judgement of history. Mandela and Gandhi were both called terrorists; the Boston Tea-Partiers would have been, if the word had been around. (By the way, doesn't the Tea-Party remind you of the GM destroyers? What would you have said if you'd been writing in the 1780s? Or do you think - "oh, that's different"?)

On the other hand - the French bombing of the Rainbow Warrior is a good candidate for "terrorism"...

Loughrey #102:

Well, perhaps "lie" is a trifle strong - "wilful and wishful self-deception" might be more accurate.
OK, I still disagree with this, but my point was made above and I will stick to it.

But please blame my inarticulacy for the error, not my politics or religion; your post is way more insulting in ascribing motives than mine was (and, I have to say, was intended to be).
If you have an interest in science and critical thinkin, the first thing you need to know when reading the words of a scientist (or critical thinker) is that those words are typically carefully chosen and nuanced. In science, it is not acceptable to jump to "implied" conclusions or anything else, and I would expect others to understand this.

In my post above, my language was chosen carefully. I stated that the emotional rhetoric about lying is typically evidence of advocacy and/or trolling. I am not saying these are the reasons you are posting what you have done here. Perhaps it was an error, or an inarticulate statement. This gives you the opportunity to defend yourself, which you did.

I'm pretty sure I've said several times that the benefits might well outweigh the risks.
OK, and to be fair, I should stress that I agree with you on this. (Usually I only pick out the points that I disagree with, but it can be a worthwhile exercise to identify points of agreement)

But I do think that we shouldn't breezily proceed as if it's all ok, as if GM were just nature speeded up.
Well, I didn't say GM was nature speeded up (to be fair to you here, others may have made this point and I may have missed them). Once again, I was very careful and nuanced in my post. My first post made it clear that GM was the equivalent of *selective breeding* speeded up, not nature. I even made it clear in my first post that I considered selective breeding to be "unnatural", i.e. a clear difference to what would have happened without man's influence. What I wanted to know was why one method was acceptable and the other wasn't.

Also: I don't see "breezily proceeding" as a fair or accurate characterisation. Here in the UK, I think that no GM crop has been licenced for general use despite their use in the US for the last - what - twenty odd years? Even in the US, the regulations are more stringent for GM than any other crop.

Final points: I am not a biologist, and do not know much compared to many posting here. If I can see mistakes in the thinking, I know we're not even close to the science. I appreciate that my approach isn't typical of modern spin doctoring designed to sway the most people. But I'm not interested in that (ends justify the means); I just want to get the science right.

Oh yes, and it appears that the "derided mum" was a member of greenpeace, so hardly representative of the wider public view.

There is a small-but-non-zero chance that all the air molecules in my room will suddenly rush out of the window, but I don't keep an oxygen tank by my desk on the off-chance. The question is: how unlikely?
No. Just focusing on "how unlikely" is why your commentary is equivalent to Pascal's wager. The precautionary principle and Pascal's wager share failings of (1) ignoring potential value (benefits), (2) assuming costs are so large any miniscule risk is not acceptable. This is not credible in the case of GM. The *correct* questions are; what are the benefits; what are the costs; correctly accounted for including risk. There is a rational debate that can be had on this topic, but we're not going about it the right way here by pushing the precautionary principle.

"Nature" works by monkeying about with the genotype, by whatever means.
Once again, I'm not comparing GM to nature, I'm comparing it to selective breeding. Secondly, as I've already pointed out, not all of nature's changes are small. Thirdly, big changes happening over a long time are still big changes.

The idea that nature has some mechanism to protect life through these timescales is an unconvincing projection of the concept of a fragile, mothering representation of nature. Nature isn't like that. Nature has no moral values or protection. Nature could wipe out life in an instant and not have any hang ups about it. Life has remained on earth *despite* nature, not *because* of it, because life is incredibly robust.

The end result is a rapid and genuine directionality.
Yes! I agree with that. But that is not a bad thing, it is a good thing!

Loughrey [94]

Can you be absolutely 100% sure that, say within the lifetime of my children (the next 70-odd years), we won't [have crocoducks]? If not, aren't you a little bit worried?

Do you have some sort of proposed mechanism for how these crocoducks would end up happening? Such as, if you splice in a gene from another species, you'll have the same genes in 2 species. You know what that means? You might have homologous recombination tiniker! As for the rest of you who refuse to follow this fear-based reasoning, if you doubt this is possible, how is it there are PYGMIES + DWARFS??

SLC[97]
Heh, too many liars for Jesus to keep up with.

You might have homologous recombination tiniker!
I shall use my incredible knowledge of SCEINCE to point out you are missing the letter "l" from your comment. The *actual* effect you are referring to is known as a homologous recombinaltion tiniker. Any for reals scientist wud no that.

The question you must ask yourself is whether in the relatively near future - say the lifetime of those just being born now - GM will be common and cheap and unregulated enough to "disturb [the] general tree-like patterns of evolution". In fact, don't ask "will that happen"; ask "might it".

Just like reproductive technologies â right now it's mostly about some lesbians and career women wanting babies, but in the future it MIGHT lead to some Brave New World type dystopian society -you can't deny it!

In short, if all our knowledge of biology were to be destroyed - I dunno, some kind of global catastrophe or giant war - then there could be no rediscovery of biology for the millions of years it would take for phenotypes to settle back into an obvious tree-like pattern.

You're talking about something we already have had to discover â gene trees are not equal to species trees. Now you'll probably cry that it isn't the same thing, but why assume these hypothetical future biologists won't be able to figure it out without following the exactly the same route of discovery? Should we also not dig up any fossils since it might give future scientists the wrong impression? If I were a hypothetical scientist of the future, I dunno, I might be more upset about us having driven untold numbers of species extinct and causing a civilization-destroying catastrophe than messing with the genetics of selected species.

And assuming corporations will be to blame for this - what possible profit is there in scrambling the genomes of most species on earth?

the word "terrorist" should mostly be avoided by careful thinkers. It's emotive and manipulative

I could say the same thing about your scenario where GM prevents the ârediscovery of biologyâ.

Well, I didn't say GM was nature speeded up (to be fair to you here, others may have made this point and I may have missed them).

My #50 and Ellyn #61 and some other posts have made the point that the gene insertion step in GM is similar to horizontal gene transfer in nature (Loughrey's first post didn't make it clear what the 'unnatural' part was supposed to be). I agree that it's better to compare the end result to the results of traditional selective breeding.

"GM foods have a chance to increase our global food production at a rate that might keep up with expanding populations--*if* we just give them a chance (and solve some of our soil issues.) I've written about this before, but this makes me mad enough to want to do a reprise."

This assumes that to foster expanding human populations is a *good* thing. That's a very subjective and anthropocentric view. In my opinion, we should be working to create food that sterilizes human beings.

Let's be cladistic about this nature/ breeding/ GM thing. Note: in the following I'm coarse-graining the three processes; sure, there are important (sometimes essential) exceptions to this pattern, but these exceptions are invisible unless you already have an advanced biology. The difference is between things that happen rarely, and those that can or do happen often. If you like, I'm asking what Darwin would have thought. Yes, things have moved on extraordinarily, and I'm jolly pleased to hear it, but most of the planet still thinks in a Darwinian way, the same as we do in a Newtonian way. And quite right too: it's a good enough approximation for most things.

Here's my list.

Random mutation of genotype: Nature yes, breeding yes, GM no.
Mutation or change in genotype tend to be small: N yes, b yes, GM not necessarily.
Genotypes of fit phenotypes tend to spread through the population: N yes, b yes, GM not really (they *are* the population)
Huge wastage in every generation: N yes, b yes, GM no.
Evolution is gradual: N yes, b yes, GM not necessarily.
A genotype can get stuck in "local maxima", where an fitter phenotype exists nearby on the genetic landscape but it can't get to it because the path involves becoming less fit first: N yes, b yes, GM no.
Crocoducks possible: N no, b no, GM as possible as any other transfer.
Creates general tree-like structure which enables classification: N yes, b yes, GM no.
Enables consilience - the ability to predict the genotype of an unknown organism from its place in the classification: N yes, b yes, GM no.

I've really tried to be honest here. I've missed out lines where all three produce the same answer (like "genotype feeds through to phenotype"), but I tried and failed to think of a single thing which GM has in common with one of nature or breeding but not the other. The closest I got was that the environment of both GM and breeding is a human construct, but that doesn't seem to me material because it's still selection. Everything else is nature yes, breeding yes, GM no (or the other way round).

I really can't see how anyone can say GM is in any way in common or speeded up with the other two, unless (as I said) you also believe that an airplane is just speeded up walking.

Loughrey #116,

You are kidding, right?

Please tell me you're kidding.

Crocoducks possible: N no, b no, GM as possible as any other transfer.
Creates general tree-like structure which enables classification: N yes, b yes, GM no.

OK, I was certainly ridiculing you previously, but still I would like to know, how are you proposing this would happen? On purpose, by accident, and what would be the actual mechanism?
If you just have a fear, but no reasonable mechanism to produce these things, it's hard to take you seriously.

I've stuck a jelly fish protein-tagged rat gene into pig cells. But that didn't make them jellyrat-pig cells, it made them modified pig cells.

ErkLR@#118

"jellyrat-pig"

Where do I send the check because I am soooo getting one of these?

What flavors are available? I like raspberry.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

Awesome!

Just in time for Halloween.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 17 Jul 2011 #permalink

You're in luck Prometheus, I just happen to need to clean out the cryobank. However, you won't be getting an actual animal out of this, I'm pretty sure not even nuclear transfer could make a pig out of cells whose parent line had been in culture >30 years.

Heh, I hadn't even heard of those fruit-themed fluorescent molecules Abbie linked to.

@Percy

You and your descendants should volunteer to be the first ones sterilized.
As a matter of fact, it can be done now without waiting for someone to develop a food that will do so.

ErkLR@#122

"However, you won't be getting an actual animal out of this, I'm pretty sure not even nuclear transfer could make a pig out of cells whose parent line had been in culture >30 years."

How will you know until you try?

Hmmmmm?

I think you people are underestimating the worlds desperate need for fruit flavored glow-in-the-dark luncheon meat.

How many sandwiches will be misplaced in the darkness because you have no sense of adventure?

By Prometheus (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

How many sandwiches will be misplaced in the darkness because you have no sense of adventure?

It is after all better to light a sandwich than to curse the darkness.

Fruit-flavoured still won't happen, those fruit-themed fluorescent molecules are just fruit-named, no actual flavour *sad panda*. However, if you want glowing meat, I'm not surprised to find someone is way ahead of me on that front: http://www.conncoll.edu/ccacad/zimmer/GFP-ww/cooluses7.html
I also read an abstract from a Chinese group who independently did GFP pigs. Sadly, these still require an external power source to glow. There's your dose of Debbie Downer.

"How far that little sandwich throws his beams!
So shines a good BLT in a naughty world."

The Delicatessen of Venice, Act 5, Scene I

By Prometheus (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

Loughrey - are you seriously raising the issue that classification may not be as easy at the molecular level as a valid reason not to use GMOs?

This seems spectacularly odd, particularly as presumably whoever you're tryng to protect would have to either live long enough after the extinction of mankind that the knowledge itself was lost, or are aliens - is the capacity of aliens or the future cockroach derived overlords of our planet's ability to create easy molecular phyolgenies a germane topic of debate? hey sure, some kids might be spared blindness - but Thx'Mkkklian paleogeneticists might have to beef up their algorithms lest they think that teosinte is an ancient ancestor of the rat!

to go through the rest of your list

Random mutation of genotype: Nature yes, breeding yes, GM no.

I'd say most GM is random in that is unpredictable in advance (not those that have been commercialized thus far, but those in development now rarely, in my experience, does a gene do exactly what you expect - its rather exciting when it does happen, although when it doesn't it can also be quite illuminating

Mutation or change in genotype tend to be small: N yes, b yes, GM not necessarily.

I'd say not necessarily on all counts here, some mutations are fricking massive in nature, others not so much - likewise in my experience the vast majority of gene insertions (at least in corn) don't do a bloody thing - it's rather highly annoying.

Huge wastage in every generation: N yes, b yes, GM no.

There is enormous wastage in GM in the equivalent of selection generations - to date I'd guess over 10,000 individual events have probably been tested across crops - very few even make it past the early stages of testing - even succesful genes will only have a single event of many make it to the field (as each event needs reg approval it makes no sense to commercialize mutliples)

Crocoducks possible: N no, b no, GM as possible as any other transfer.

That's a no on all counts (less for breeding than the other two, but still wildly unlikely), and frankly would be more achievable at our current or any near term future predictable knowledge by breeding rather than GM - considering we've turned wolves into fricking chiuauas.

Creates general tree-like structure which enables classification: N yes, b yes, GM no.

I'm pretty sure any remotely competant molecular geneticist could create trees using genes not altered - it'd be pretty obvious also which were engineered in (we can see genes which have been intorduced by HGT right now, so it isn't like there is no precedent for this) - you'd have to erase all knowledge first for this to be an issue I think.

Enables consilience - the ability to predict the genotype of an unknown organism from its place in the classification: N yes, b yes, GM no.

I'm thinking that anyone can predict as much, if not more, about the genotype of a GMO based on its tree classification (given that it will nest precisely within its own variety of its own species) than one can about even closely related species - GMOs at present have at most 7 (I think, I forget how many genes smartstax is) genes added to the whole genome - unpredictably these plants are virtually indistinguishable at the genotype level from other corn (and are more like their non-GM variety brethren than they are like other varieties of corn) - how many genes exactly are you postulating will be altered in order that genotype is unpredictable (on the same matter what is genotype predictability? I can see phenotype (the arguements would run the same, and I'm assuming thats in the ball-park of what you're on about) working along lines like you are discussing somewhat.

"It's not just a publicity thing. There are real consequences to people."

As does the strongarming tactics that caused a farmer in India to commit suicide.

"Firstly, you can't be 100% sure of anything. "

We CAN be sure that the research and development of GM crops is hidden. We can also be 100% sure that there has to be a reason why GMO products are not labelled in the USA.

I dunno Ewan, Loughrey might be right. The next Charles Darwin is only going to try and construct phylogenetic trees using Arctic Salmon antifreeze genes. Of course, since he's the next Charles Darwin he'll look at a tree that contains 1) arctic salmon and 2) tomatoes on the same branch and be like "oh fuck it".

In other news, we should quickly destroy all airplanes. After all, their existence is preventing the next Leif Ericson from sailing west and discovering north america.

"So is a non-profit organization, say like Feed the Children, purchasing GM crops or seed to help feed starving children in a third world country a bad thing?"

Yes.

"Should they only purchase non-GM crops and/or seed"

Yes

"knowing that they will successfully feed fewer starving people and consequently more people will die?"

They couldn't know this until they bought the stuff.

And, if you want to go that road, they'd know that since they couldn't replant the GM seeds that weren't eaten, the GM option would mean more starving people the next year.

And, since they can't control their seed population as well under such stress, they wouldn't be able to sell seed to the European Union, reducing the market for purchasing their product, leading to more future starvation.

I wouldn't go down that "what if" road, but if you want to go along, that's one of the roads down there.

PS forgot to check the frog thing, I'll try to remember to do that tonight.

"My next door neighbor is a PhD plant geneticist that works for a large ag company (not Monsanto). I am going to his daughter's wedding next weekend. Should I kill him?"

No.

"My next door neighbor uses neither herbicides or pesticides on his yard. If I have to kill him to protect the planet,"

You don't have to.

I find it a little creepy that you're so fixated on killing people mind.

"is it okay if I steal his beautiful tomatoes that were probably grown from a GM seed and make a nice salad?"

No.

"Or should I burn his house and yard down to make sure those tomatoes don't turn into giant killer tomatoes like the ones in that science-based movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"?"

No, you should see a psychiatrist. Now.

"Perhaps you mean "proteins" instead of "prions"?"

No, I believe I meant prions. A protein bent the wrong way doesn't work. Prions bend it like Beckham but aren't themselves DNA.

"Anyway, some DNA really isn't "for" anything. "

That we know about.

It may have been used to allow cyanide-rich plants to be digested when we were all derived from pretator plants 2.5 billion years ago.

It may have only expressed itself when we were under 5x the CO2 levels and changes our digestion pathways.

It may have expressed itself only with another DNA strand that humans have lost but insects still contain.

All we know is that we don't know what it's for.

Note: in the latter case when we then combine the insect DNA with our food and pick the wrong carrier for the DNA strand we may find ourselves expressing some of that DNA we currently call junk. This need not necessarily be good for the human concerned.

PS as to:

"Because they're the ones who have the incentive to produce lots of good quality food (cos otherwise everyone will buy someone else's grub instead)."

Why would they care? You just buy out the other corporations and then they buy from you when they leave. Or they don't know because it takes some time and that could be anything that killed you off.

You're imagining the invisible hand working here but that requires we be fully informed. Not something the invisible hand is doing for us, is it.

Worse, it's giving us the invisible finger.

"It may have expressed itself only with another DNA strand that humans have lost but insects still contain."

Sorry, can you clarify that? Upon first glance it seems like you're suggesting insects have a triple helix and humans (presumably a pre-human ancestor) also used to have triple helix DNA.

I just read that wrong, right?

We CAN be sure that the research and development of GM crops is hidden. We can also be 100% sure that there has to be a reason why GMO products are not labelled in the USA.

It's probably the Illuminati. Or Free Masons. Or the Illuminated Free Masons (GFP-modified super secret controllers of the world).

You're also conflating purchasing milled rice for food with farmers growing and selling rice in the poor countries. AFAIK, milled rice purchased for food is not plantable, but I could be wrong.

Since rice is specifically being discussed here, the aim is to cross Golden Rice with local varieties in poor countries and the farmers will be able to do the same things with it, they can with their traditional rice.
http://www.goldenrice.org/Content3-Why/why3_FAQ.html see: Administering the Golden Rice Project. "These farmers will be able to grow, save, consume, replant and locally sell Golden Rice." Wikipedia cites $10,000 USD as the maximum profit before royalties need to be paid, but doesn't cite the source.

Wow@#134

"Note: in the latter case when we then combine the insect DNA with our food and pick the wrong carrier for the DNA strand we may find ourselves expressing some of that DNA we currently call junk. This need not necessarily be good for the human concerned."

How does this happen? Homologous recombinaltion tiniker? If I can't have raspberry flavored glowing jelly rat pig kebabs I would totally take a set of wings. Nothing flashy, something nice like the Orthoptera that I can fold under a sport coat and that will get me across an airport parking lot.

I think I should have both. Imagine gliding home from a luau while literally and figuratively lit up.

I have an altimeter so The Bride isn't going to be picking me off of the grill of a semi.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

Note: in the latter case when we then combine the insect DNA with our food and pick the wrong carrier for the DNA strand we may find ourselves expressing some of that DNA we currently call junk. This need not necessarily be good for the human concerned.

Pick the wrong carrier? Just make sure it ain't T-mobile and it's all golden, shurely?

What of the junk that contains entirely repetitive elements (which clearly doesn't code for anything now, nor has done)? Does your bizarre conspiratorieal view of biology account for this - I mean, we know how the genetic code works, it is essentially universal (with a few minor variations just to make life interesting), "dead" genes are pretty bloody obvious (hey look, it appears to be code but there's no start codon, or there's an inapproriate stop codon which truncates the protein down to a few amino-acids, or the TATA box is buggered beyond all recognition) - bits of junk really are bits of junk, great big honking sequences that repeat on an on for thousands of bases and clearly have no function (that some DNA has function we don't know about is true, but this doesn't remove the fact that great honking chunks simply don't have function), obvious remnants of viruses etc.

Not that you'd be expected to know this, your knowledge of how DNA functions or can be expected to function appears to derive more from Marvel than from molecular biology.

obvious remnants of viruses etc.

Someone should totally start a blog about that kind of thing.

No, I believe I meant prions. A protein bent the wrong way doesn't work. Prions bend it like Beckham but aren't themselves DNA.

This is gibberish. I'm sorry, but there's no nice way to put it. You seem to think you're saying things that make sense, but you're not.

By Stephen Bahl (not verified) on 18 Jul 2011 #permalink

JohnV 131:

... dunno Ewan, Loughrey might be right. The next Charles Darwin is only going to try and construct phylogenetic trees using Arctic Salmon antifreeze genes. Of course, since he's the next Charles Darwin he'll look at a tree that contains 1) arctic salmon and 2) tomatoes on the same branch and be like "oh fuck it".

Well, I didn't mean that, because Darwin was only able to examine apparent features - he didn't have access to the genotype. In the unlikely event he even noticed the tomatoes were frost-resitant, he'd have put it down to convergent evolution. This isn't nit-picking - it's the whole point. None of the plentiful examples of "natural GM" (for example, at GM Pundit) would have been apparent to Darwin, or indeed anyone without specialist equipment and the advanced theory we now have to back it up. Consequently, none of these upset the general tree-like structure of nature, and so (Erasmus) Darwin was able to ask, why is nature arranged thus? The answer being of course that the classificational tree is also a phylogenetic one. If the natural GMOs had have upset the tree, Erasmus would never have asked that question, and shazam! no theory of evolution. The same goes for human GMOs - only a genuine crocopig (or whatever it was a million posts ago) would throw a new Darwin. Which is why I'm having such an uphill struggle convincing anyone, including myself.

Loughrey he would put it down to convergent evolution until he sequenced it and saw that they were the same damn gene (allowing of course for mutations/the length of time from now to 2.Darwin).

If we're talking about some post-apocolyptic world 50,000 years from now, then honestly and sincerely, who gives a shit. If humanity ends up in that position then its fucked because we've already used up all the easily accessible anything on this planet and they'll be too busy trying to figure out what they can do with wood instead of metal.

And Loughrey, what happens when physicists create atoms and isotopes which don't occur in nature? How are they going to cope with that in the future?

And when chemists create molecules that don't occur in nature?

How on earth can science possibly cope with this? Or, looking at it another way, why should physicists and chemists get all the fun?

only a genuine crocopig (or whatever it was a million posts ago) would throw a new Darwin. Which is why I'm having such an uphill struggle convincing anyone, including myself.

You know, having a mechanism for this wild, uncontrolled genetic mixing pot would be a first step to convincing anyone. Furthermore, I would suggest you're having problems convincing anyone because it's a ludicrous fear-based scenario. If you can't even convince yourself, I think it may be time to let it go, and if you really can't convince yourself, why the feck are you wasting so much type on it?

@ErkLR 118.

OK, I was certainly ridiculing you previously, but still I would like to know, how are you proposing this would happen? On purpose, by accident, and what would be the actual mechanism?
If you just have a fear, but no reasonable mechanism to produce these things, it's hard to take you seriously.

I've stuck a jelly fish protein-tagged rat gene into pig cells. But that didn't make them jellyrat-pig cells, it made them modified pig cells.

I confess I don't have a mechanism. All I have is - four billion years of natural GMOs - result: bugger all, at least on a coarse-graining view. A decade or two of GM - result: well, just look at you guys. It's absolutely amazing, yet you treat it so calmly! Oh, just stick another jelly-pig rat-tagged protein gene into the mix, as if you were just making chicken soup... and the genetic sciences are accelerating at faster than Moore's law rates, and show no sign of plateauing out. Don't get me wrong - I think it's brilliant, and I think we're really entering the age of science. The next fifty years are going to be amazing. But, on the other hand, at this rate I can't see any reason why there shouldn't be crocoducks within that time. The technology will be there, and it seems to me that you're the one being unreasonable by hoping it won't be used, for one reason or another.

I've stuck a jelly fish protein-tagged rat gene into pig cells. But that didn't make them jellyrat-pig cells, it made them modified pig cells.

Hmm. If you look at an organism as just the series of its base-pairs, then yes, I agree you just have modified pig's cells. One series of base-pairs are much like another and all the pig's genes are mutable anyway, as several people have pointed out. But organisms aren't just the sequence of their genes: they have niches in the environment, and places in the classification, and in the phylogeny, and are selected by their environment and they collectively select the environment in turn. At that level, I'd say yes, you have produced a laboratory jellypig, or would have if it had been alive (I assume it wasn't). Of course, even then it's not a real jellypig, because you're regulated and monitored and prevented from introducing the little critter to the one thing that would enable it to express its phenotype - the environment. That won't always be the case, as GM gets going. Then, thinking of your jellypig as modified pig (instead of thinking of its cells as modified pig cells) is a serious category error. Of course, your jellypig probably doesn't have much survival value, or commercial value for that matter; so I'm as unworried by it as I am by any of GMO pundit's natural GMOs. But as GM gets going, GMs will be installed in protected favourable environments, and thus will spread through the population regardless of their natural fitness. Then, maybe when a new Darwin comes along, perhaps without the history of modification, he or she really will think - well, this doesn't make sense; I know, I'll become a priest after all.

That really will be a pity.

Wow @ 134: everyone following this conversation is now a little dumber for having read that. I award you no points, and may Cthulhu have mercy on your soul.

Seriously, crack open an elementary molecular biology text.

Well, I have overcooked this Darwin 2 business. As JohnV 143 says, there won't be any civilisation any time soon after the next apocalypse, because we've used up all the easily accessible resources. Bummer, but we are were we are. So forget all this new Darwin stuff.

But I only got into it because I was trying to show the word "unnatural" applied to GM because it had the potential for disturbing the general tree-like structure. Nothing in nature - including human-driven "artificial selection" - has ever disturbed this structure before, and nothing anybody here has said has convinced me that GM cannot disturb it. As I said right at the start - maybe humans should take that risk anyway (taking risks is one of the things humans excel at), but I believe we should go into it with our eyes open, and that the decision should be taken by the polity and not by scientists - people like the derided mum in the OP, for example.

Thanks, everyone.

why the feck are you wasting so much type on it?

*Blinks wonderingly* Because I like to stretch myself. Why do you do things?

I would like to propose a new law of science/skeptical blogs:

Within the regular, friendly commenters on any scientific or skeptical blog that addresses a contentious subject, there exists a substantial proportion who possess no scientific or skeptical skill whatsoever. They fit in because (a) they happen to agree with the blog owner on their pet subject, and (b) they're very good at camouflage - piling on when the more knowledgable commenters signal that someone is wrong. They're mainly there for the feeling of group identity, rather than the advancement of any particular cause.

The best way to work out who is who is for the blog owner to make a post on a different, contentious scientific/skeptical subject, and closely monitor behaviour. It all becomes clear very, very quickly.

Nothing in nature - including human-driven "artificial selection" - has ever disturbed this structure before,

afaik molecular phylogenics gets pretty messy when you consider bacteria, as such your whole theory is essentially nonsense - it just happens that most of life that we're interested in now stopped utilizing horizontal gene tranfer to any great degree and destroyed the prior pattern of untreelike genetics which had predominated.

Loughrey, I think you've come very close to saying why a giant mixed pot of organisms won't happen. First off no one wants to make a crocoduck, second even if they wanted, they can't now. Even if they could in the future, as you've said they would not compete in a natural environment. Ignore the pig cells I've modified since they never were for creating animal and can't be used as such as I've said, the topic is actual organisms. The genes added to GMOs are generally useless to the plants/animals outside of our selective breeding. As I've said, people have already made GFP pigs (Green Fluorescent Protein is from jellyfish). If we released them into some wild population, the GFP gene would at best sit around at a very low frequency in the population and over time, likely collect inactivating mutations, as it is not subject to natural selection keeping it. Furthermore these modified pigs are just that, modified pigs. It is not a category error to call them pigs, they aren't jellypigs.

It seems you were first articulating a fear that with many GM plants and animals running around we'd end up with a monstrous soup of cross-animals. There is no mechanism for this, we know it doesn't happen in nature, so it can't happen except in some far future possibility where we do it on purpose. If you want to talk about the ethics of truly designer animals as some exercise, fine. But to use a fear-based approach with no mechanism of how it would happen just because we have GMO's around, is quite frankly silly. I may have a fear of zombies, but no one's going to take me seriously* because there's no way for zombies to happen.

Really, it seems what you're doing is committing the naturalistic fallacy and using an appeal to nature.

*The recent CDC stunt not withstanding.

"Sorry, can you clarify that? Upon first glance it seems like you're suggesting insects have a triple helix and humans (presumably a pre-human ancestor) also used to have triple helix DNA."

I'm saying that we evolved from other species. The remnants of useful DNA remain, but since the expression of DNA building depends on other factors, including other DNA strands, that "junk" DNA isn't junk, just like our appendix isn't junk, or the Coccyx isn't junk: we just don't use it.

Are you saying that our ancestors had a triple helix DNA? That's the only way you can get that reading of it. Or were you just being an idiot in an attempt to project it away?

Tristan was dumb to begin with.

Of that there is no doubt.

Maybe he'll be visited by the Ghost of Intelligence Past tonight...

(by the way being able to make that yard-of-lard thickchick dumber would be nearly a superpower!)

"This is gibberish."

Yes, so much easier to just throw away a point of view you don't like than to correct it.

This is exactly why GMOs are not accepted by the public: their defendants are all amoral idiots who insist that only they know what's going on and that anything that isn't in support of GMOs must be done because of a lack of intelligence.

OK, so what stops prions being formed and becoming malignant?

Or would you rather ignore that expressing the coding of DNA depends on non-DNA elements and that junk DNA isn't useless, it's just we don't know what it's used for.

Alternatively, you can just pat yourselves on the back and insist that only you know the truth and that anyone who asks "where's the data?" is on the level of the illuminati conspiracies.

Makes it so much easier to sleep soundly if you can belittle before you ignore what you don't want to see.

You are, as the mums said, arrogant assholes who treat everyone as if they cannot ever understand. As you managed to prove with one person saying "So get a PhD" followed by another saying "A PhD doesn't stop you being wrong". A rather direct statement that not only do these mums NOT know what's going on, but that they can NEVER know what's going on (unless they decide that it's all safe).

S'funny how you KNOW you're right and ignore the facts you don't like to see.

A bit like creationists.

I suppose it hasn't occurred to you Wow, that you are not taken seriously because you say ridiculous things and in a manner that suggests you are not open to reason?

I'm aping the people talking here, Erk.

Go back, have a look.

"Go get a PhD then"

Greenpeace HAS people with PhDs

"Having a PhD doesn't stop you from being an idiot".

And note that all I've had back is what these mums have been complaining of and avoidance.

Ewan may legitimately never have known about Monsato suing farmers. ERV may not have known about the problems GM crops cause (being American with a more targeted and repressed mainstream media), but all I've had back is nothing but insults and denies of any problems whatsoever.

It rather looks like there's not a single person here who is not open to reason.

And I'm not here to reason with you: I'm here to educate you.

Ewan may legitimately never have known about Monsato suing farmers.

Which of my posts even remotely suggests that I don't know that Monsanto sues farmers - I responded to your piece about Schmeiser with a clarification of Schmeiser's actions as depicted in the court doucments which rather suggests that I'd be fully aware that Monsanto had sued the guy because otherwise how would one explain the presence of court documents - my point is not, and never has been, that Monsanto does not sue farmers who infringe on the patent, but that the infringement has to be at levels which are non-accidental presence and which logically have occured with the farmers explicit knowledge of the presence of the trait - I'd assume most people would decry legal action against farmers for true accidental presence (I'd count myself amongst these numbers) but that for clear patent infringment there would be a tad more support (although obviously not for those who oppose patents on transgenic traits, but then that isn't generally the light in which the Schmeiser, or any other case is presented - it is generally presented as a poor innocent farmer who didn't know about the presence of the trait - and this is clearly horseshit in the Schmeiser case, and I would argue in any other case that has been prosecuted - for the main reason that even if Monsanto were the bullies they are portrayed as I don't see a true accidental presence case having a creationists chance in Pharyngula of succeeding)

Ewan may legitimately never have known about Monsato suing farmers.

This is an example of what I'm talking about. He specifically addressed this issue in his last paragraph of post #29. He spoke specifically about the case in Canada you mentioned. He had a very different version of events. He may be wrong, you may be wrong, but you addressed none of what he said about the case. Is he wrong about what the farmer did? Are the court records wrong? Did Monsanto lie about what the farmer did?

And yeah, I'm the one who said having a Ph.D. doesn't make you correct or not crazy (through a quote from Bob Park). It's true, as illustrated by the ID and YEC people who have Ph.D.s from legit universities.

I think you belie your intentions of asking "where's the data" when you say "I'm not here to reason with you: I'm here to educate you" ie) Your asking "where's the data" is really on a rhetorical device, you're really only here to tell people what you consider the truth, and can not be convinced otherwise.

And Ewan beat me to it while I was starting an assay.

consciously breaking user agreements for profit, aka pirating.

"consciously breaking user agreements for profit" == hijacking, robbery, and murder on the high seas?

is that the way language is being abused these days? damnyoukids, geddoffamylawn, back in my days words MEANT THINGS.

(this pet peeve of mine started back in the "software piracy" days. no, violating software copyrights is not and never was "piracy" EITHER, it was and is copyright violation. call me back when those geeks in their basements start not only wearing eyepatches and cutlasses, but chopping people up with said cutlasses.)

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

Yes, so much easier to just throw away a point of view you don't like than to correct it.

I tried to correct it. But I couldn't. It wasn't coherent enough for me to understand what the problems were. I know you'll just assume that I'm dismissing you offhand or that I'm being deliberately obtuse or that I lack reading comprehension or whatever. But the truth is that I'm being sincere. I don't understand why you brought up prions in the first place, because it doesn't make any sense to do so. And I'm not really sure what you mean by "bending" proteins, so I can't really correct you except to say that it's not a thing, and that doesn't seem helpful.

OK, so what stops prions being formed and becoming malignant?

Prions have been discovered in animals and fungi. Not plants. I have no idea why they haven't been found in plants. Do you have some reason to think that recombinant DNA technology would create prions in plants?

Or would you rather ignore that expressing the coding of DNA depends on non-DNA elements and that junk DNA isn't useless, it's just we don't know what it's used for.

Who's ignoring expression? What point did you have about expression?

And again on junk DNA, there really is some DNA that isn't "used for" anything. Look, I don't think anyone is saying you need to be an expert on biochemistry to talk about it. I certainly wouldn't say that. I'm not an expert either. But if you don't know about something, don't pretend that you do and talk about it as though you know everything. People will catch on. No good will come of it.

Alternatively, you can just pat yourselves on the back and insist that only you know the truth and that anyone who asks "where's the data?" is on the level of the illuminati conspiracies.

Where's what data? The data that recombinant DNA technology induces prions in plants.

By Stephen Bahl (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

For any junk DNA deniers:

Do you have a plausible explanation for the variation in exon/intron structure in eukaryotes where the same gene occurs that doesn't invoke non-functional DNA?

Thanks in advance.

"Green terrorists destroy GM wheat"

Most stupid title ever. Just try to get informed to what is really terrorism before using this word for destroying some crops.

Intimidation used toward political ends = terrorism.

Denying that these acts were terrorism = apologetics.

I'm sure the crops were really scared... Grown up a bit, please. Terrorism is when you use violence and murder against peoples. Plants are no peoples. Or maybe you think they are ?

And, btw, US is the main terrorist state in the world. If you are US citizen and if you really want fight terrorism, fight its foreign policy.

>not realizing that destroying people's property is one of the main means of intimidation.
>tu quoque

Cool logic bro.

According to your definition a child throwing a rock at a glass of a car full of soldiers heavily armed is intimidation and terrorism...

As I understand it, plop, much of what the IRA did in Northern Ireland in the Troubles was not terrorism, because it gave warnings. Is that correct? Ditto the Weather Undergound, which in all its incarnations only ever went after property.

By Robin Levett (not verified) on 22 Jul 2011 #permalink

Ewan, if you're still around, what is your opinion of Monstanto's sweet potato project in Kenya that reportedly didn't solve any problems at all? If you were with Monsanto at that point, or have heard of this, is there any feeling of lessons learned? Is there some other side to this story?

Here's a link for the text, since it doesn't seem to be on the Science in Society Site: http://www.greens.org/s-r/35/35-03.html

It seems that if the figure of around $6 million spent on the project is correct, and the lack of success is correct, that's a significant failure. (In contrast, in the last few years the Scottish Crop Institute apparently got a grant from the Monsanto Fund totaling £186,000 to help Kenya with their methods for producing disease-free seed tubers.)

As for the blog entry, I agree that "green terrorism" in this particular case is more hyperbole than description, and I also think the link to a picture starving children is more (and more shameful) hyperbole. That GMO wheat wasn't going to go into Wheat-Soya blend food aid destined for Somalia.

As someone uses a term like terrorism to cover widely varying events, that person risks equivocating very different actions and intentions, which is unfair to both the perpetrators and the victims. As confused as the angry mum may be, it looks real preposterous to call it terrorism.

I'm still around... Wambugu's project was before my time at Monsanto - I shall have to see who is around who actually remembers anything significant about it - it appears the only thing I can find online is that the project seemed to be working, and then... didn't - I'm still trying to parse out whether this is just because it didn't translate to the field, or whether it is because breeding got there first (or if a combination of the two occured)

Lessons learned? One would hope a reduction in hubris prior to real field testing of products, and approaches which utilize both biotech and breeding towards the same end - I would say that WEMA manages the second in spades, however the former possibly not so much. I think that lessons learned on the reality of moving from greenhouse studies to field studies are probably a lesson more harshly learned on internal projects rather than just this one external.

It'd be interesting however to know also what was learned on the positive side - what'd we learn about why the approach didn't work, what molecular techniques were developed specifically for sweet potato etc

It seems that if the figure of around $6 million spent on the project is correct, and the lack of success is correct, that's a significant failure.

I'm not sure that is the case - $6M for a project that made it into phase II studies and international field trials etc may sound a lot, but the figure actually seems relatively decent in terms of an R&D project - I think the industry generally expects somewhere in the region of 50% of phase II projects to not actually make it - here's a case where the wrong side of the coin was landed on, when the potential benefits are in the 100's of millions I think gambling $6M isn't necessarily a bad risk to take (given that a similar project for virus resistance in the Hawaiian papaya industry virtually saved the industry you can't really write off the approach - although it seems a shame that Hawaii got the version that worked and Kenya didn't)

I shall poke around and see what I can find - I used to work a couple of cubes over from the scientist charged with running the transgenic side of WEMA - she seems like a good bet as a first contact (I presume lessons learned from the sweet potato project would include how to go about running transgenic experiments on a different continent to where you live..)

"As I understand it, plop, much of what the IRA did in Northern Ireland in the Troubles was not terrorism, because it gave warnings"

Well, they also blew things up with explosives and mined army transport busses. It may seem like a tiny difference to YOU...

"Do you have some reason to think that recombinant DNA technology would create prions in plants?"

Prions were an example of non-DNA coding for a viable organism. Plants may do something else.

Of course, if prions exist in insects and we put insect DNA in a plant, what says we won't get prions in plants?

1. Complain people avoid your rhetorical questions.
2. Avoid legitimate questions about one of your points.
3. ???
4. Profit.

Prions were an example of non-DNA coding for a viable organism.

You're really falling foul of the first rule of holes right here. In epic proportions.

Of course, if prions exist in insects and we put insect DNA in a plant, what says we won't get prions in plants?

Unless we stick in DNA that specifically codes for a prion then essentially everything we know about molecular biology says we won't. If of course we put in DNA that does code for the prion... well, then quite unexpectedly... insect prions in plants... although I don't know that mad grasshopper disease is a good approach to pest management - probably takes too long to kick in and what not.

Prions were an example of non-DNA coding for a viable organism. Plants may do something else.

Prions are indeed not DNA. But they aren't "coding" either. I'm not sure where you got that idea.

Of course, if prions exist in insects and we put insect DNA in a plant, what says we won't get prions in plants?

Ewan R seems to have covered this, but I'll be redundant. Firstly, most proteins don't have a prion form at all. We would have to put an insect gene that codes for a protein that has a prion form in the first place into a plant. And then we'd have to make sure that the protein could go into its prion form somehow (not sure what the best way to do this would be). If we did all that, the result would be insect prions in plant tissue. I suppose that could be cute, but making them glow sounds easier and way more fun.

By Stephen Bahl (not verified) on 25 Jul 2011 #permalink

@Wow #171:

Well, they also blew things up with explosives and mined army transport busses. It may seem like a tiny difference to YOU...

I was responding to plop's comment that:

Terrorism is when you use violence and murder against peoples. Plants are no peoples.

So far as I am aware, the Europa Hotel (which from my recollection at this distance in time they seemed to blow up every other week) isn't peoples either. Soldiers are, of course; as are civilians and members of the various paramilitary groups, and the IRA murdered many of each, hence I did not claim that the IRA exclusively attacked property with warnings. My question was whether plop really meant that events such as the Europa Hotel bombing(s) were in his view terrorist. I say yes.

By Robin Levett (not verified) on 26 Jul 2011 #permalink

Thanks, Ewan. I'd be interested to hear what you find, if anything. Also, I'm a big fan of sweet potatoes.

StanR - just dropping a note to let you know that you haven't been forgotten... the period from Tasseling to harvest (and beyond) is a tad busy and I simply havent had time for my normal internet meanderings.

"PS forgot to check the frog thing, I'll try to remember to do that tonight.

Posted by: Wow | July 18, 2011 1:15 PM"

Had loaned the book out, so I had to wait for it to come back.

Frogs.

It was frogs.

Check the index of "The Science of Discworld" for frogs. On my hardback version, pages 265-267.

There's no need to apologise for all those who insisted frog was wrong.

Pro GMO people don't have a leg to stand on as long as the right to vote with their dollars and not involuntarily subsidize GMO foods is available and considered inviolate. This is science perverted by un and miss-regulated profit motive with all freedom to choose removed from people.

By Defiantnonbeliever (not verified) on 05 Dec 2011 #permalink