Biotech Company Starts Work for Spider Silk Production in Vietnam

Kraig Biocraft Laboratories has announced that the key members of its management and production team have laid the groundwork for the company’s Vietnamese spider silk production initiative. Kraig Biocraft Laboratories is a reporting biotechnology company and the leading developer of genetically engineered spider silk based fibre technologies.

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SEARCA BIC Releases Policy Briefs on GM Crops

The SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) released its 2018 Policy Brief series, which is the latest addition to its knowledge resources. The series is the product of SEARCA BIC’s collaboration with scientists and experts to enlighten policy-makers on a range of agricultural biotechnology trends and issues.

The five policy briefs highlight and provide deeper insights on various topics including the cost of regulatory delays for genetically modified crops; the need to strengthen support for biotechnology in the Philippines; new plant breeding techniques; consensus of the scientific community on the safety of GMO technology; and an analysis on personal constructs and social discourses on GMOs.

The 2018 Policy Brief series is produced in partnership with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP), Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO), Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), and DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).

The policy briefs are available for download on the SEARCA BIC website.

(Danellie Joy O. Medina, SEARCA-BIC)

bic pb3

 

Forest Tree Species Undergo ‘Genetic Diversity’ Assessment

To boost the production and ensure the constant supply of quality wood, five forest tree species—the Benguet pine, bagalunga, molave, ipil and narra—have been placed under “genetic diversity” assessment by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Read more

Don’t Believe the Anti-GMO Campaign

GM crops have reduced pesticide use, increased yields and profits, and cause no health hazards

A review article, “Modern technologies for sustainable food and nutrition security”, which appeared in the November 25 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Current Science, is deeply worrying. The article was authored by geneticist P.C. Kesavan and leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan and describes Bt cotton as a “failure”. As the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, K. VijayRaghavan, rightly said, this paper is “deeply flawed”. It has the potential to mislead the public and the political system.

Rely on scientific evidence

While the general public can be easily swayed by unauthenticated reports, the authors, as scientists, should have relied on hardcore scientific evidence before making such adverse comments. The statement that “only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology [GM]” is not in consonance with their other statements such as the one in the concluding paragraph: “Genetic engineering technology has opened up new avenues of molecular breeding. However, their potential undesirable impacts will have to be kept in view. What is important is not to condemn or praise any technology, but choose the one which can take us to the desired goal sustainably, safely and economically.” Professor Swaminathan also said in a response to the criticism of the article: “Genetic modification is the technology of choice for solving abiotic problems like drought flood, salinity, etc. It may not be equally effective in the case of biotic stresses since new strains of pests and diseases arise all the time. This is why MSSRF [M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation] chose mangrove for providing genes for tolerance to salinity.”

Abiotic stress in crops is a major hazard and does not fall under the less than 1% category mentioned in the review article. Major science academies of the world such as the U.S.’s National Academy of Sciences, the African Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science Academy have supported GM technology. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, after a massive consultation process, published a 420-page report in 2016 with the observation that “Bt in maize and cotton from 1996 to 2015 contributed to a reduction in the gap between actual yield and potential yield under circumstances in which targeted pests caused substantial damage to non-GE varieties and synthetic chemicals could not provide practical control”.

Bt Cotton being harvested near Salem, Tamil Nadu, in 2005. (Image Credit: Shaju Joh, www.thehindu.com)
Bt Cotton being harvested near Salem, Tamil Nadu, in 2005. (Image Credit: Shaju Joh, www.thehindu.com)

In 2016, 107 Nobel laureates signed a letter challenging Greenpeace to drop its anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) technology stance. They stated that the anti-GMO campaign is scientifically baseless and potentially harmful to poor people in the developing world. Data from a large number of peer-reviewed publications have shown that, on average, GM technology adoption has reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yield by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68% (“A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops”, published in PLOS One by Wilhelm Klümper and Matin Qaim in 2014). Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. Data from a billion animals fed on GM corn have not indicated any health hazards. Those in the Americas and elsewhere consuming Bt corn or soybean for over 15 years have not reported any health issues. It is preposterous to think that governments would allow their people and animals to be fed “poisonous” food. Even reports based on faulty studies in experimental animals that stated that GMOs cause cancer were withdrawn. Major food safety authorities of the world have rejected these findings.

Not a failure in India

Bt cotton is not a failure in India. The yields hovering around 300 kg/ha at the time of introduction of Bt cotton (2002) have increased to an average of over 500 kg/ha, converting India from a cotton-importing country to the largest exporter of raw cotton. There was a small dip for a couple of years and the yield has now increased to over 550 kg/ha. The question to be asked is, what would have the yield been if Bt cotton had not been introduced in 2002?

It is unfortunate that farmer distress is being wrongly attributed to Bt cotton failure. Farmers continue to grow Bt cotton. The development of resistance can be tackled through practices like Integrated Pest Management and by stacking Bt genes to fight secondary pests. The priority is to accelerate development of Bt cotton varieties that can be packed densely in fields and increase the yields to over 800 kg/ha, as is the case with other countries.

GM mustard (DMH-11) is a technology to create mustard hybrids. Being a self-pollinator, mustard is difficult to hybridise through conventional methods. Genetic modification allows different parents to be combined easily, helping yields go up substantially. The herbicide glyphosate is only used for selection of hybrids and is not meant for farmer fields. In any case, reports on the probable carcinogenic potential of the herbicide have not been accepted by major science academies. Yield data can only be assessed in farmers’ fields. For this, trials are necessary. The question then is: why are the trials being scuttled? The moratorium on Bt brinjal is the most unfortunate step taken by the government in 2010 and has crippled the entire field of research and development with transgenic crops. Bangladesh has used India’s data to successfully cultivate Bt brinjal, despite all the negative propaganda. Reports indicate that as many as 6,000 Bangladeshi farmers cultivated Bt brinjal in 2017. How long will it take for Bt brinjal to enter India from Bangladesh?

India has one of the strongest regulatory protocols for field trials of GM crops. Many scientists have been part of the monitoring processes, and it is an insult to the integrity of our scientists to indict the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee as lacking in expertise and having vested interests. The paper by Dr. Kesavan and Dr. Swaminathan seems to have got most things wrong for whatever reason.

GM technology is not a magic bullet. It needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There is definitely scope for improvement in terms of technology and regulatory protocols. But it is time to deregulate the Bt gene and lift the embargo on Bt brinjal. A negative review from opinion-makers can only mislead the country. In the end, it is India that will be the loser.

 

Written by G. Padmanaban in The HIndu. G. Padmanaban is a former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Chancellor, Central University of Tamil Nadu. See original article link here.

Policy Brief Volume 1, No. 5: Personal Constructs and Social Discourses on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Policy Brief Volume 1, No. 5: Personal Constructs and Social Discourses on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

SUMMARY:

Message or narrative frames (or key messages or story lines grouped together in support of a particular message) in biotechnology more often than not pertain to agriculture and food production, or medicine. Both messages and narrative frames (that of agricultural production and medicine) suggests the linearity in a way biotechnology is currently viewed by the public. Such narratives may contain metaphors and frames that play an important role in the communication of science, and have direct impact on public opinion, and eventually, government policy. Such entrenched metaphors and frames can likewise contribute to the misunderstanding of the science itself.

Thpb5e fifth Policy Brief, which is based on a recent study conducted by Dr. Maria Monina Cecilia A. Villena (Program Head of SEARCA’s Knowledge Management Department), explores how the public makes sense of message frames used by the government when disseminating information about genetic modification or biotechnology. It also explores the public’s (specifically, farmer leaders and traders) personal constructs about the science, and how these aid them when participating in societal discourse about GM crops.

Substantially, results of the study suggest that although biotechnology adoption is seen as a major element in the promotion of Philippine agricultural development, the communication gap may be well placed in the numerous communication channels and networks involved in the numerous advocacy efforts. Hence, future science communication efforts need to be based on a systematic and empirical understanding of the audience’s values, knowledge, and attitudes in relation to the respective interpersonal and social contexts.    

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New Biocontainment Strategy Controls Spread of Escaped GMOs

Hiroshima University (HU) researchers successfully developed a biocontainment strategy for genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Their new method prevents genetically modified cyanobacteria from surviving outside of their test environment, enabling ways to more safely research the effects of GMOs. Their results were published in ACS Synthetic Biology.

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Nobel Laureate Rallies Global Support in Favor of GMOs

The Los Baños scientific community came out in full force to welcome Sir Richard J. Roberts, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, at his recent conferment of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, by the University of the Philippines (UP) for his contributions in the field of molecular biology on November 21, 2018 at UP Los Baños in Laguna, Philippines.

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Re-engineering Food

Supermarket shelves in the United States would soon be featuring the next generation of biotech food. An Associated Press report, for example, revealed the advent of granola bars made with genetically tweaked soybean oil that is heart-healthy. Foods from plants or animals that had their DNA “edited” are expected to begin selling by early next year. “Gene editing” is a different technology than the so-called genetically modified foods. It is “more like faster breeding that promises to boost nutrition, spur crop growth and make farm animals hardier, and fruits and vegetables last longer.”

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GM Eggplant Can Reduce Pesticide Use in Bangladesh

The first replicated field trials comparing genetically modified eggplant varieties with their non-GM counterparts in Bangladesh have confirmed the Bt gene confers almost total protection against this vital crop’s most damaging pest.

The field trials were carried out in the Bogra district of Bangladesh by a Bangladeshi-U.S. team of researchers. The results are published in the Nov. 21 PLoS One.

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