Extracts from THE RAM'S HORN
No. 260, November 2008
On the one hand
Italian researchers from the School of advanced studies Sant'Anna, University of Pisa, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and University of Tuscia have launched a brand new tomato.
While ripening, its peel becomes dark purple and black, thanks to its high content of anthocyanins, the same pigments which are present in some healthy fruits as black grapes and blueberry. This new tomato has been called "Sun Black". Its pulp is still of red color and it tastes just like a traditional tomato. Sun Black is not a GM product and it is very healthy, thanks to the anti-oxidant properties of anthocyanins. Sun Black is now in its second growing year and it has been obtained by a cross between two parents-tomatoes, which were showing a few quantities of anthocyanins in their leaves.
Fresh Plaza, Netherlands 25/07/08
. . . and on the other
A leading oncologist and former minister, Umberto Veronesi has provoked anger in Italy after praising the cancer-fighting potential of a genetically engineered purple tomato unveiled last week by British researchers that has been shown to extend the lives of mice susceptible to cancer. The researchers introduced anthocyanin- producing genes from snapdragon flowers, which are naturally high in the antioxidant, into the tomato. The resulting high concentration of anthocyanins turned the tomato skin and flesh a deep purple colour.
Environmental group VAS pointed to the fact that the antioxidant contained in the tomato occurs naturally in fruits such as blackberries and cranberries. "So one really has to wonder exactly who this tomato will benefit," asked VAS's biosecurity representative, Simona Capogna. "It will undoubtedly help those who hold the patent, those firms that sell it (at an inflated price) and those researchers who use it as a career move or who buy shares in biotech firms". ANSA, Italy 28/10/08
On the biotech front
Next time you hear the soothing words from the biotech pushers that they know what they are doing and everything is under control (theirs, of course) think "tranposons." They are not a new discovery. Barbara McClintock took note of them in the late 1940s, but they did not fit into the dominant male ideology of reductionist biology at the time, and they don’t fit the ideology of the biotech industry today. If what one is after control, transposons are simply facts that have to be ignored. So 58 years later we find the following in New Scientist magazine and are supposed to be surprised.
"Mobile DNA that can jump between plant and bacterial species once hopped between diverse mammalian species. These transposons, or 'jumping genes', might even have caused mass mammal extinctions about 30 million years ago.
"Transposons are common in mammals, humans included, but are mostly thought of as parasitic DNA. Though they can relocate within an individual's genome they were not thought able to switch species. However, Cedric Feschotte at the University of Texas and his team say that millions of years ago, transposons called SPIN, dubbed 'space invaders', jumped into several mammal species by piggybacking on a virus. By assimilating itself into its new hosts' sex chromosomes, SPIN got passed to future generations.
"The team found near-identical lengths of SPIN in seven of the 26 animal genomes that have been sequenced. These include species as varied as a bushbaby, a South American opossum, an African clawed frog and a tenrec, a hedgehog-like relative of elephants. SPIN's ability to jump into such diverse species is startling, say the team. 'It’s like a pandemic that can infect species that weren't genetically or geographically close. It's puzzling; scary almost,' Feschotte
"The transposon bombarded the animals' genomes with so much DNA, he says, it may have played a part in ancient mammal extinctions usually attributed to climate change." New Scientist, 25/10/08
A delightful and highly informative read can be had with Evelyn Fox Keller's biography of Barbara
McClintock, A Feeling for the Organism, fortunately still in print and available at a reasonable price. Keller also provides a thorough critique of the 'science' that has produced genetic engineering. Near the end of the book she asks, 'What enabled McClintock to see further and deeper into the mysteries of genetics than her colleagues? Her answer is simple. Over and over again, she tells us one must have the time to look, the patience to 'hear what the material has to say to you,' the openness 'to let it come to you.' Above all, one must have 'a feeling for the organism.'"
Quite a contrast to what is billed as 'sound science.'
Now take a look at The Nature Institute's new project: <natureinstitute.org/nontarget/index/php>
"The Nature Institute has announced the fruits of a project designed to set the public debate about genetic engineering upon a more accessible scientific foundation. Distilling a voluminous technical literature, we have summarized on our website both the intended and unintended consequences of transgenic experiments. The emerging picture tells a dramatic story - one that, to date, has scarcely begun to inform the public conversation about genetic engineering.
"Nontarget effects have proven both extensive and wildly unpredictable. The evidence for their occurrence, while mostly buried in the technical literature, is not disputable or even particularly controversial. It's simply not widely known. Once it is known, the frequently heard claim that genetic manipulation of organisms is a 'precise science' without dramatic risks will either be voiced no more or will be recognized as dishonest."
Nontarget Effects: Strong Stalks
How is it we never heard about this before - an interesting and, apparently, troublesome characteristic of BT maize?
BT hybrids were developed by Monsanto and others to combat the European corn borer, the cute little worm that used to emerge at the end of an ear of corn when husked for dinner. Now we hear that the genetic engineering that inserted the Bt toxin into the maize genome also strengthened the corn stalks, leading to more longer stalks in the field after harvest to harbour the little buggers over the winter.
To a certain degree, BT corn defeats its own purpose because stalks that aren't destroyed in the fall harvest provide a winter home for a variety of insects, including the borer. So now choppers are being designed, and added to the corn harvesters, to chop the BT corn residue into pieces small enough that they will rot over the winter. One such unit, the Rota-Disc, requires an additional three horsepower per row cutter - and that much more diesel fuel! Ah, progress!
Markets and Labels (or not)
The Korea Food and Drug Administration says it has drawn up a bill requiring all food companies to specify whether their products contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). Soybean sauces and cooking oils would also be required to carry GMO labelings. So far, those products have been exempt from the requirement because it is difficult to check the amount of GMO used in the finished product. In response, food companies urged the authorities to postpone the strengthened rules, arguing that such markings would "mislead" consumers to believe that GMO food items are hazardous to their health. KBS Radio, South Korea, 10/11/08
The Polish government has declared that Poland will remain free of GMOs but scientific institutions will be able to conduct research on genetically modified organisms. The cabinet has decided to allow specialized laboratories to continue work with GMOs, for instance testing new drugs or investigating genetic diseases, but the organisms must be kept separate from the natural environment and human beings. The Council of Ministers has also announced that it will support restrictions on GMOs in the European Union.
Polskie Radio, 18/11/08
In September the South African Department of Trade and Industry handed down a ruling for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods. The decision came after a clause to this effect, which had been removed from the draft Consumer Protection Bill last year, was reinstated. Parliament’s Trade and Industry committee also withdrew a clause from the original Bill that rendered GMOs exempt from liability for damage caused by them. Both the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health have opposed mandatory labelling saying it would send out a confusing signal to consumers. However, spokesperson for the Safe Food Coalition, Andrew Taynton remains concerned that the Department of Agriculture would still be responsible for determining the thresholds and technical requirements of these new regulations.