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Project News and Views

God’s Red Pencil? CRISPR and The Three Myths of Precise Genome Editing

Published today in Independent Science News, “God’s Red Pencil? CRISPR and The Three Myths of Precise Genome Editing” was written by Jonathan Latham, PhD.

crispr-cas9-300x166Synopsis:  According to the media, “genome editing” techniques can precisely alter the DNA of living organisms. Furthermore, these new genetic engineering techniques are so “red-hot” and “game-changing” they will transform the landscapes of medicine and agriculture. Their safety and effectiveness hinges crucially on the claim of precision, yet how plausible is it? This article delineates three ways in which these technologies currently lack precision. 1) Present versions of CRISPR and other technologies are error prone and unpredictable. 2) Even if they were precise, purposeful manipulation of DNA depends on understanding of its functions, which we largely lack 3) CRISPR boosters are proceeding on a commonplace but faulty premise of gene function that is not supported by science. They have a dangerously narrow vision of how DNA influences traits that frames risk assessment as unnecessary.

Read the full article “God’s Red Pencil? CRISPR and The Three Myths of Precise Genome Editing” at: http://www.independentsciencenews.org/science-media/gods-red-pencil-crispr-and-the-three-myths-of-precise-genome-editing/

Additional Reading: Scientific reports and articles about novel genetic engineering techniques and their regulation:

Cotter, J., Zimmermann, D. & van Bekkem, H. 2015. ‘Application of the EU and Cartagena definitions of a GMO to the classification of plants developed by cisgenesis and gene-editing techniques‘. Greenpeace Research Laboratories Technical Report (Review) 07-2015.

Steinbrecher, R. 2015. ‘Genetic Engineering in Plants and the “New Breeding Techniques (NBTs)”. Inherent risks and the need to regulate‘. Econexus Briefing.

Lin, Yanni, et al. “CRISPR/Cas9 systems have off-target activity with insertions or deletions between target DNA and guide RNA sequences.” Nucleic acids research (2014): gku402.

Fichtner, Franziska, Reynel Urrea Castellanos, and Bekir Ülker. “Precision genetic modifications: a new era in molecular biology and crop improvement.” Planta 239.4 (2014): 921-939. Available on ResearchGate.
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Jonathan Latham speaks in Endicott: GMO Hazards to Health and Ecosystems

Jonathan Latham, Bioscience Resource Project Executive Director, will give a talk in Endicott on Tuesday April 19 at the Susquehanna Sierra Club.

The title of the talk is: GMO Hazards to Health and Ecosystems.

Location: Central United Methodist Church in Endicott, 17 Nanticoke Ave (close to the Cider Mill).

The meeting time is 7:30 and the event is free and open to the public.


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Does “anti-GMO” equal “anti-science?”

Does “anti-GMO” = “anti-science”, or “pro-GMO” = “pro-science”? Jonathan Latham of the Bioscience Resource Project explains in a video interview with Bob Schooler: Latham Interview: Does “anti-GMO” = “anti-science?”

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Ithaca Event: Join NOFA-NY to Create a New York Organic Action Plan on April 7, 2016

NOFA-NY will hold two gatherings, back-to-back, April 7, 2016. The first is from 3 pm to 6 pm. There will then be a light dinner. The second gathering is from 6:30 pm to 9 pm. The gatherings and dinner will be held in the Community Space, Green Star, Ithaca. Come for either session and get a bite to eat before or after, free of charge.

Please join NOFA-NY for this brainstorming session in Ithaca and help create NOFA’s New York Organic Action Plan. It is a chance to work together for the future we want.

National Policy Consultant Liana Hoodes and Board member and farmer Elizabeth Henderson will facilitate. Jonathan Latham of the Bioscience Resource Project has been asked to speak briefly.

More from NOFA-NY: Tell us what you think is working and what is not working for organic farming and food in NY. Share your thoughts on how NOFA-NY can play a stronger role in creating a food and farming system that is socially just, environmentally resilient, and economically vibrant. Help set NOFA-NY priorities for organic advocacy and policy. Read More »

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Biofuel or Biofraud? The Vast Taxpayer Cost of Failed Cellulosic and Algal Biofuels

Published today (Mon 14th March) by Independent Science News: Biofuel or Biofraud? The Vast Taxpayer Cost of Failed Cellulosic and Algal Biofuels by Almuth Ernsting.

Synopsis: The biofuels in use today are the result of cherry picking. Starches or oils (usually from the grain of commodity food crops such as maize and soybeans) are being turned into ethanol or biodiesel because the raw materials are easily available. In consequence however, the majority of the crop biomass has to find another use. This is not an efficient use of resources and to function even minimally as a business model it requires major government interventions, such as renewable fuel mandates. The presumption and PR of the many biofuel advocates, however, are that the biofuels now under development will be much more efficient. Things are not going to plan, however.
In this article, Almuth Ernsting, Co-Director of the non-profit Biofuelwatch explains that, whether the goal is ethanol from cellulose or biodiesel from algae, results have so far ranged between unpromising and truly dire. Billions of dollars in taxpayer money has been expended on ventures yielding no discernible public benefit or technical progress.  Where taxpayer money went, and continues to go, is of ongoing interest.

To read the full article go to: http://www.independentsciencenews.org/environment/biofuel-or-biofraud-the-vast-taxpayer-cost-of-failed-cellulosic-and-algal-biofuels/

For More Information on the Costs of Biofuels:


http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/ Biofuelwatch provides information, advocacy and campaigning in relation to the climate, environmental, human rights and public health impacts of large-scale industrial bioenergy.

To learn more about the social and environmental costs of biofuels (also known as agro-fuels as the feedstocks are the product of industrial agriculture) read the excellent article by Eric Holt-Gimenez: Biofuels: The Five Myths of the Agro-fuels Transition.

Visit the Bioenergy/ Biomass Resource page on the Econexus website.

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Why Chimpanzee-Testing in Medicine Had to End

Why Chimpanzee-Testing in Medicine Had to End by John Pippin, MD was published on Monday, March 7th 2016 on Independent Science News.

Synopsis: The recent decision of the US National Institutes of Health to end chimpanzee testing and move US chimps to a sanctuary in Texas was based on good science, says John Pippin, MD and former animal researcher. The differences between chimpanzees and humans were too great for chimpanzee experiments to have much value. Consequently, medical funding was being wasted, treatments were not moving forward, and sometimes patients were dying.

To read the full article go to: http://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/why-chimpanzee-testing-in-medicine-had-to-end/

Further Reading on Animal Experiments: Bad Science and Bad Ethics

Akhtar, Aysha. “The flaws and human harms of animal experimentation.” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 24.04 (2015): 407-419.

Eisenman, Stephen F. “Criticizing animal experimentation, at my peril.” Altex 33.1 (2016): 3. Initiatives leading to even modest reduction in animal use at major US universities are likely to continue to face strong opposition. At least, that’s the conclusion the author draws from his efforts at Northwestern University.

Evans, Erin M. “Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones? The Problems and Promises of Policy Reform for the Animal Advocacy Movement.” Sociological Perspectives (2015): 0731121415593276.

Couzin-Frankel, Jennifer. “When Mice Mislead.” Science 342.6161 (2013): 922-925. A revealing article about the state of mouse research — from tiny sample sizes to missing mice to unblinded and unrandomized studies to the “poor patients [who] are exposed to things they shouldn’t be” – it is clear that neither health nor scientific understanding is being well-served by the current situation.

Seok, Junhee, et al. “Genomic responses in mouse models poorly mimic human inflammatory diseases.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.9 (2013): 3507-3512.

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“Unlawful” UE Pesticide Approvals Similar to Lax US EPA Approvals

Published on Wednesday 2nd March by Independent Science News: Many European Pesticide Approvals Are “unlawful” Says EU Ombudsman was written by Jonathan Latham, PhD.

Synopsis: Currently, 88 pesticides are approved in Europe having incomplete data sets on health and safety. Under a procedure called the Confirmatory Data Procedure (CDP) pesticides can legally be approved even where applications are incomplete. However, many of these ‘temporary’ registrations occurred over ten years ago and still have not been finalized. Therefore, according to a complaint brought by Pesticides Action Network of Europe the EU is using the much weaker CDP registration process as a loophole and not in the manner intended. This is leading to high risks to health and the environment. The complaint was upheld on this and other points by the EU Ombudsman who ruled that using the CDP as a default was illegal on narrow grounds but also because it appeared to violate the precautionary principle which is the legal standard in the EU.

Like the EU, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also been  approving pesticides under less stringent conditional registration standards and then failing to enforce full registration. US EPA has been heavily criticised for this, including in a 2013 NRDC report: Superficial Safeguards: Most Pesticides Are Approved by Flawed EPA Process.

To read the full article go to: http://www.independentsciencenews.org/news/many-european-pesticide-approvals-are-unlawful-says-eu-ombudsman/

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The Centrality of Seed: Participatory and Evolutionary Plant Breeding

The Centrality of Seed: Building Agricultural Resilience Through Plant Breeding by Salvatore Ceccarelli, PhD has just been published on Independent Science News.

Synopsis: Once the exclusive domain of farmers, plant breeding is now nearly always practiced without any meaningful farmer input. The downsides associated with this transition have hardly been explored. They include losses of genetic diversity, local adaptability, plant robustness, flavor, nutritional quality, and many other important crop traits. In particular, commercial seed breeding focuses on the specific needs of chemical agriculture. Commodity crops are thus bred for close spacing and short stature so farmers have to buy more seeds per acre and herbicides to suppress the weeds. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have extended this trend and are even bred to sell specific herbicides. By abandoning seed saving and animal breeding, farmers have thus surrendered control over the long-term direction of agriculture. Its future is now almost exclusively in the hands of the chemical industry while breeding for organic agriculture is almost nonexistent.

But can breeding be returned to farmer control without sacrificing short-term benefits? Salvatore Ceccarelli is a leading international scientist and proponent of farmer-led participatory and evolutionary plant breeding methods based on solid scientific grounds. He works with diverse crops and here describes how even common commercial varieties can be used as the gene pools from which to successfully create evolutionary populations from which farmers can select high-quality locally-adapted varieties.

The complete article is available at: http://www.independentsciencenews.org/un-sustainable-farming/the-centrality-of-seed-building-agricultural-resilience-through-plant-breeding/

Salvatore Ceccarelli lives in Hyderabad (India) and cooperates in organizing participatory and evolutionary programs with different organizations, with various crops and in a number of countries. He is associated with the organization: Rete Semi Rurali, Via di Casignano, 25, Scandicci (FI) 50018, Italy (http://www.semirurali.net/). His website is: http://www.miscugli.it/ and it links to the full text of many useful scientific papers under the Publications tab. Many of Salvatore Ceccarelli’s papers can be accessed by joining: https://www.researchgate.net/. Some academic articles can be accessed if you create a free JSTOR account: http://support.jstor.org/independent-researcher/


Further Reading on Participatory and Evolutionary Plant Breeding

Döring, Thomas F., et al. “Evolutionary plant breeding in cereals—into a new era.” Sustainability 3.10 (2011): 1944-1971.

Free Participatory Plant Breeding Toolkit from the Organic Seed Alliance.

Participatory Plant breeding programs for broccoli and organic spelt, quinoa and buckwheat. Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Phillips, S. L., & Wolfe, M. S. (2005). Evolutionary plant breeding for low input systems. The Journal of Agricultural Science, 143(04), 245-254.

Produce Your Own Seeds: A biology handbook for farmers (worldwide ebook)
by Salvatore Ceccarelli.

WIRFP Participatory Plant Breeding: Concepts and Examples This Paper presents the results of a participatory maize breeding collaboration between Indian farmers and agricultural universities.

Plant Genetic Resources

Open Source Seed Initiative OSSI was created by a group of plant breeders, farmers, seed companies, and sustainability advocates who want seeds that are free of patents.

Seed Savers Exchange conserves and promotes America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

USDA National Plant Germplasm System. The U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) is collaborative effort to safeguard the genetic diversity of agriculturally important plants.

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GMO OMG and Q&A with Bioscience Resource Project Scientists

Save S-VE  (Spencer-Van Etten) invites you to join them for a screening of the film GMO OMG on Sunday, February 28, 2:00 p.m. at the Van Etten Community Center, 4 Gee Street, Van Etten. The screening will be followed by a talk and Q&A with Jonathan Latham, PhD, executive director, and Allison Wilson, PhD, science director, of the Bioscience Resource Project, who will help put this all in context and answer questions after the screening.

A bit about GMO OMG:
What exactly are GMOs (genetically modified organisms)? How do GMOs affect our health, our children’s health, the health of our planet, and our freedom of choice? And perhaps the ultimate question, which filmmaker and father Jeremy Seifert tests: Is it even possible to reject the current food system, or have we lost “real” food forever?

These and other questions take Seifert on a journey to gain insight into a question that is troubling people all over the world: What’s on our plate?

NON-GMO refreshments will be provided. The event is free and open to all.

What: Screening of GMO OMG and discussion with Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson (and food!)
When: Sunday, February 28, 2016, 2:00-5:00 p.m.
Who: You and friends.
Why: Food matters. And we need to know what it is before we put it in our mouths!
How much? Free! Although we welcome donations.
Please check “Going” on the event Facebook page so we know how many to provide food for!

Please spread the word. Download an event poster.

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Climate Technofix: Weaving Carbon into Gold and Other Myths of “negative emissions”

Published today on Independent Science News: Climate Technofix: Weaving Carbon into Gold and Other Myths of “negative emissions” by Rachel Smolker, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch.

Synopsis: IPCC models for achieving even potentially safe levels of climate change (i.e. 430-480ppm CO2 and 2ºC of warming) are not as plausible as is widely assumed. Buried in the small print of those models is an expectation that viable carbon capture technologies will create “negative emissions”. Yet no such technology currently exists. The only one mentioned by the IPCC as “near term available” is Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (BECCS). Smolker’s excellent article describes the short, costly and painful history of BECCS (and carbon capture as a whole) and why the 2ºC roadmap needs a new route if it is to avert disastrous climate change.

To read Rachel Smolker’s important article go to: https://www.independentsciencenews.org/environment/climate-technofix-weaving-carbon-into-gold-and-other-myths-of-negative-emissions/.

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    The Bioscience Resource Project provides scientific and intellectual resources for a healthy future. It publishes Independent Science News, a media service devoted to food and agriculture, and their impacts on health and the environment. It also offers resources for scientists and educators and internships and training for students. Through its innovative scientific journalism and original biosafety review articles, the project provides unique and revealing perspectives on issues that are fundamental to the survival of people and the planet. The project does not accept advertising or corporate funding and is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. It is completely dependent on individual donations.

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