1. Altered animals and the knock-on effects of genetic engineering
2. Stop the clock, support the ban
3. Biological & Toxic Weapons Convention: Workshop, July 5, London
4. First Batch of Genetically Modified Calves Born. BioFinance Summit 2001, September 11, London
6. Modified Mouse Changes Color then Changes Back
7. In Africa the Hoodia cactus keeps men alive. Now its secret is stolen to make us thin
1. Altered animals
New Scientist June 16, 2001
Your editorial comment regarding the usefulness of producing genetically modified cattle resistant to trypanosomiasis asks a serious question about the knock-on effects of genetic engineering (26 May, p 3). While cattle farmers might approve of the new strains of livestock, I am 100 per cent certain that many of the dedicated researchers and guardians in Africa's protected areas will be less than pleased. The tsetse fly and its "Trypanosoma" parasitic companions represent one of the most important factors limiting the number of livestock encroaching on protected areas. Substantial vegetation that provides the biting flies' habitat makes much of the bush a no-go area for domesticated livestock. Producing trypanosomiasis-resistant animals would have the effect of opening up the last remaining wilderness areas in parts of Africa to the ravages of cattle and their masters. What seems like a good idea is likely to have dire consequences for the local habitats and wildlife. It seems to me that much of the debate about GM organisms ignores the complexity of the systems into which they are likely to be introduced. It is likely that many of the revolutionary GM strains of organisms will have similar knock-on effects. While they may not harm anything directly, their very existence may be enough to upset the balance of ecosystems in ways that we have not anticipated or are unable to predict. For more science news see http://www.newscientist.com
Stop the clock, support the ban
The Economist June 16, 2001 U.S.
IS THE century that was pockmarked by the tank and the atomic bomb to be followed by one blighted by the test-tube? Until now arms control has meant curbing numbers of countable tanks, ships, aircraft and bombs, or monitoring mostly prominent events, such as nuclear tests and missile firings, or even at a stretch tracking suspiciously large quantities of harmful chemicals. But the task of controlling biological-warfare agents--like the horrifying weapons they can be made into--makes the hair stand on end. With the wrong knowledge, test-tube-sized quantities of bacteria, toxins and viruses could spread plague or smallpox, two of history's most virulent killers; or wipe out animal stocks with foot-and-mouth disease or swine fever; or destroy crops with rusts and blights. Marry this to modern biotechnology and it may be possible eventually to direct these easily-hidden horrors at a particular group, thereby removing a deterrent to the use of such weapons: their unpredictability. All the more troubling, then, that the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention--known as the BWC--still has no means to monitor its sweeping ban on the development, production, stockpiling or acquisition of biological warfare agents. Thirty years ago there was no sensible way to do so. A new "compliance" protocol was due to be presented to a five-yearly BWC review this November.
But the effort is faltering. Since the next shot in the battle over the protocol is likely to come from the United States, where the Bush administration has made no secret of its unhappiness with some of its provisions, America will be an easy target for a finger-pointing row at the next, supposedly final, drafting session next month. Better for those who want to curb the biological menace--not even all BWC- signers do (see article)--to avoid a bust-up and find ways to build on the work done so far. For, if this protocol falls, there will be plenty of blame to spread around. One country on which to spread it will be Russia, which for years maintained a vast illegal biological-weapons establishment, despite being a depository power for the BWC. It is trying to narrow the blanket biological ban in ways that will allow some research it has never quite stopped. Another blame-worthy country is China, which has no wish to admit snoopers to its labs and recently delivered a fierce attack on the draft protocol. Or blame Germany and Japan for wanting too many commercially-inspired restrictions on inspections. And by all means blame America. It, too, has wanted to limit inspections to protect confidential business information in a lucrative industry. Yet its own inspection trials in 1995 and 1996 raised concerns about the limits being put on some sorts of visits (those aiming to clear up anomalies in declarations of work being done, not the tougher inspections to be carried out when actual wrong- doing is suspected). These could not clear the good guys, let alone snag the bad guys, making them worse than useless. Yet the Clinton administration did nothing. Some dispute the American results, but even some protocol supporters acknowledge these bits of the rules are weak. Inspections need to provide answers, not just more questions. The purpose of the protocol has never been "verification" of the precise sort that can be applied to tanks or nuclear tests. In the biological business, under a sinister regime every brewery or yogurt maker could be up to no good.
Rather, the aim is to enable companies and countries to demonstrate compliance, while using the process of declarations, visits and the close tracking of outbreaks of disease to make cheating harder. Some of the protocol's critics in America are pushing to drop it entirely or renegotiate it all. Like the convention itself, it includes words they dislike about encouraging legitimate research and trade. But without these, many countries simply would not sign. Attempting a sweeping reformulation would thus scupper the entire effort. Other governments are keen to adopt a protocol in November no matter what.Inspect, or be damned A better approach would be to stop the clock and set a limited period in which to tinker with the protocol's inspection rules so as to produce better results. Such a proposal from America--it's broke here, so let's work to fix it- -combined with wording allowing for the adoption of new and better verification techniques in the future, could produce a protocol really worth having. In the biological nether world, reliable information will be well nigh impossible to get without some international means to gather it and investigate it properly. If this opportunity is tossed away, it will not easily come again. GRAPHIC: Don't make the quick the enemy of the good
3. Sent (via GEN) on behalf of Alan D B Malcolm, Chief Executive, Institute of Biology
The Institute of Biology is organising a workshop to discuss and develop a position on the fifth five-year review conference (Nov/Dec 2001) of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention. The workshop will be held at the IoB headquarters in South Kensington on Thursday 5th July and we would be very pleased if you were able to participate.
The day will be divided into 4 main discussion sessions, led by facilitators as follows:
09.30 Registration & coffee
10.00 Session 1: The function of the Review Conference and the opportunities for the IoB (Facilitator: Graham Pearson)
11.30 Session 2: Scientific and technical advances of relevance to the Convention (Facilitator: Tony Phillips)
13.40 Session 3: Education and international cooperation (Facilitator: Malcolm Dando)
15.20 Session 4: Discussion of the IoB position (Facilitator: Alan Malcolm)
There will be no charge for registration and a buffet lunch will be provided.
I look forward to seeing you on 5th July.
Alan D B Malcolm
Institute of Biology 20 Queensberry Place London SW7 2DZ
tel. 020 7581 8333
4. First Batch of Genetically Modified Calves Born
June 15, 2001 [shortened]
THREE genetically modified calves have so far been born at AgResearch's Ruakura site. The calves, which have been altered with part of a human genetic code, are designed to express a human protein in their milk. If the experiment works, the protein might be of use in research to find ways to avert the worst effects of multiple sclerosis.
5. WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE - BioFinance Summit 2001
Event Date(s): September 11, 2001 to September 11, 2001
The Dorchester Park Lane London W1A 2HJ United Kingdom
The Wall Street Journal Europe is hosting a gathering of the most pre-eminent biotech scientists and investors to discuss the science and technology driving the sector's growth and its valuation.
Dr N. Leigh Anderson, CEO, Large Scale Proteomics Corporation
Dr Jonathan Knowles, President of Global Pharma Research, Roche
Professor James Jimzewski, UCLA
Professor Dr Thomas Lengauer, Director, GMD - German National Research Center for Information Technology
Professor Daniel Cohen, Chief Genomic Officer and CEO, GENSET
Francois Maison-Rouge, Managing Director, Head of European Healthcare, Credit Suisse First Boston
Four panel discussion plus a special Executive Interview conducted by the Editor, The Wall Street Journal Europe, will cover:
Genomics and proteomics
Cellomics: computational chemistry and biology
Nanotechnology and microtechnology
Plus... special networking time built in to the program with breakfast, lunch, cocktail reception and dinner.
Sponsor: Wall Street Journal - Europe
Host Name: n/a
Nick Corbyn, WSJE Event Research Manager
37-41 Mortimer Street
London W1T 3JH, United Kingdom
For Further Information or to Register http://www.biofinance-europe.com/?source=9
6. Mouse Changes Color With Supplement, Then Changes Back
A mouse that changes color when a food supplement is added to its diet -- and then changes back again when the supplement is removed -- is the product of transgenic work at the University of Virginia.
Researchers there have developed a new and powerful transgenic mouse model system that allows them to introduce a foreign gene into the mouse and turn this gene on and off at will through a simple dietary change.
7. In Africa the Hoodia cactus keeps men alive. Now its secret is 'stolen' to make us thin
Sunday June 17, 2001
For thousands of years, African tribesmen have eaten the Hoodia cactus to stave off hunger and thirst on long hunting trips.
The Kung bushmen who live around the Kalahari desert in southern Africa used to cut off a stem of the cactus about the size of a cucumber and munch on it over a couple of days. According to tradition, they ate together so they brought back what they caught and did not eat while hunting.
Now the Hoodia, which grows to 6ft - taller than the bushmen themselves - is at the centre of a bio-piracy row. Campaigners say the cactus has attracted the interest of the Western drug industry, which exploits developing countries through the international patent system.
In April, when pharmaceutical giants were being accused of failing to provide affordable Aids drugs in Africa, Phytopharm, a small firm in Cambridgeshire, said it had discovered a potential cure for obesity derived from an African cactus.
It emerged that the company had patented P57, the appetite-suppressing ingredient in the Hoodia, hoping it would become a slimming miracle.
Phytopharm's scientists boasted it would have none of the side-effects of many treatments because it was derived from a natural product. The discovery was immediately hailed by the press as a 'dieter's dream' and Phytopharm's share price rose as City traders expected rich returns from a drug which would revolutionise the £6bn market in slimming aids. Phytopharm acted quickly.
It sold the rights to license the drug for $21m to Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical giant, which hopes to have the treatment ready in pill form within three years. Having made millions from Viagra, the impotence drug, Pfizer now believes it has in its laboratories a drug that is going to beat fat. But it appears that while the drug companies were busy seducing the media, their shareholders and financiers about the wonders of their new drug, they had forgotten to tell the bushmen, whose knowledge they had used and patented.
Phytopharm's excuse appears to be that it believed the tribes which used the Hoodia cactus were extinct. Richard Dixey, the firm's self-proclaimed Buddhist chief executive, told the Financial Times : 'We're doing what we can to pay back, but it's a really fraught problem... especially as the people who discovered the plant have disappeared.'
Yet this weekend leaders of the people Dixey believed had disappeared are having their annual gathering at a farm 45 miles north of Cape Town. One of the top items on the agenda is to plan their strategy against Phytopharm and Pfizer. They are angry, saying their ancient knowledge has been stolen, and are about to launch a challenge and demand compensation.
Roger Chennells is the lawyer for the tribal bushmen, who number 100,000 across South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. He argued their case in 1999 when the bushmen won 100,000 acres of white-owned farmland on the edge of the Kalahari.
Speaking to The Observer, Chennells said: 'They are very concerned. It feels like somebody has stolen their family silver and cashed it in for a huge profit. The bushmen do not object to anybody using their knowledge to produce a medicine, but they would have liked the drug companies to have spoken to them first and come to an agreement.
'I believe there is grounds for a legal challenge, but there is certainly a strong moral case for the drug companies to pay proper compensation to those whose knowledge they have taken and now claim to own.'
Alex Wijeratna, a campaigner for ActionAid, the international development charity, said: 'This is a major case of bio-piracy. Corporations are scouring the globe looking to rip off traditional knowledge from some of poorest communities in the world. Consent or compensation is rarely given. The patent system needs urgent reform to protect the knowledge nurtured over generations by groups like the African bushmen.'
When presented with news of this weekend's tribal gathering and the bushmen's anger about what has happened, Dixey reacted with genuine astonishment.
He claims that one of the reasons he set up Phytopharm was precisely to help tribal people profit from their ancient medicinal knowledge of plants. He said: 'I honestly believed that these bushmen had died out and am sorry to hear they feel hard done by. I am delighted that they are still around and have a recognisable community. The ownership of medicinal plants is extremely complex, but I have always believed that this type of knowledge is the most valuable asset of indigenous tribes. Instead of weaving baskets and taking tourists around, royalty payments from medicines could transform their prospects.'
Dixey, who insisted that he would now be happy to enter into talks with the bushmen community, said that Phytopharm was approached with the deal by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, which had been investigating the properties of the Hoodia cactus.
He claims it was the CSIR that told him the bushmen tribes who used the cactus no longer existed and assured him that agreements were in place to help local communities.
Dr Marthinus Horak, the man in charge of the CSIR project, defended the deal. He claimed there were only a few hundred bushmen left in South Africa itself, living in isolated areas, and were very hard to contact.
He said: 'We always intended to speak to the community at some stage, but we did not believe it would be appropriate to do so before the drug had passed on the clinical tests and been finally approved. We did not want to raise their expectations with promises that could not be met.'
Horak said the CSIR was committed to sharing financial benefits and had a track record in dealing with local communities through a variety of benefit-sharing programmes.
Yet critics - such as the South African campaigning group BioWatch - believe that these benefit-sharing agreements are nothing but a sham and mainly result in money being invested back into CSIR itself - which is half-funded by the South African government.
Rachel Wynberg from Biowatch said: 'All we hear is words, but we see nothing on paper. They talk of benefit-sharing, but it seems more of a myth than reality and most of the money seems to end up back in the CSIR.
'The details of agreements are all confidential and we have no access to them. The Hoodia drug has the potential to be South Africa's first blockbuster drug and this should have all been sorted out before the patent was awarded and not after.'
Sandy Gall, the broadcaster and former ITN newsreader who next month is publishing a book on the bushmen of southern Africa, described the situation as 'disgraceful'. He said: 'These ancient people have been exploited for years and it is disgraceful that it is still happening.
'They have been displaced and dispersed, but for someone to claim they thought the bushmen no longer existed is either naive or deceitful.'
The harsh environments in which the Kung bushmen have lived for thousands of years have led them to become expert botanists. They can readily identify more than 300 different types of plant with different properties and campaigners believe that the row over the Hoodia patent is just the first of many such battles to come.
Tomorrow pressure groups will converge on a meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva to protest against the system of patents which they claim helps drug corporations to exploit developing countries and prevents them from getting access to cheap drugs.
WHEN BIO COMES TO TOWN - BIO(DEVASTATION)2001
BIO? No! BIOJUSTICE!
** Call to Action! **
International Days of Action against the Biotechnology Industry
June 24-25th, 2001, EVERYWHERE
Join thousands of activists, farmers, scientists, and others from around the world in opposing the biotechnology industry!
On June 24th and 25th, 2001 the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) convention in San Diego, will open its doors to thousands of executives, lawyers, venture capitalists, and corporate scientists working to further their agenda of a patented and commodified future ...
"Both Aramian and Andrews tried to take the focus off the controversial use of genetic engineering to alter the food supply, and instead spin the conference as focused mainly on medical research and treatments for now-incurable diseases like cancer and AIDS.
"We have 110 biotech drugs and vaccines on the market that have helped over 250 million people. Our members have also produced plants that are more resistant to pests... A lot of people are alive today because of biotechnology and biomedical research.
"One of the focuses of the Health Fest is education," Andrews explained. "The San Diego community wanted to put together a public event on all the good things biotechnology has done. The Health Fest will give people an opportunity to talk to representatives of these companies firsthand and let them know about the drugs that are available and how they're saving people's lives. We will have some patients on hand talking about how biotech has helped their lives. It's going to be a community event, and it's going to be a great event."
San Diego Police, City Officials, Downtown Business Owners Meet June 7 to Discuss BIO 2001 Protests