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Friday, 3 April 2009

The troubling increase in GMO use

Today:

  1. Biotech crops enjoying bumper growth: study
  2. Transgenes are escaping into the wild
  3. Less is more approach to fertiliser could boost farmers
  4. Nanoparticle toxicity doesn't get wacky at the smallest sizes
  5. Resistant wheat to tackle destructive fungus

Biotech crops enjoying bumper growth: study

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Genetically modified crops enjoyed a bumper year in 2008, with an additional 10.7 million hectares (26.4 million acres) planted globally and growth prospects set to expand rapidly, a biotech group said Wednesday.

Some 13.3 million farmers in a record 25 countries planted 125 million hectares (309 million acres) of biotech crops last year, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) said in its annual report.

It reflected a 9.4 percent increase in area covered from 114.3 million hectares (282 million acres) in 2007, the group said. An additional 1.3 million farmers adopted the genetically modified technology last year.

"Future growth prospects are encouraging," ISAAA chairman Clive James and author of the study told reporters.

Citing both rich and emerging nations, he said political leaders were increasingly viewing biotech enhanced crops as "a key part of the solution to critical social issues of food security and sustainability."

But biotech opponents claim these crops benefited biotech food giants instead of small farmers and the world's hungry population. They also say that such crops have led to a jump in chemical use and failed to increase yields.

"GM crops are all about feeding biotech giants, not the world's poor," said Nnimmo Bassey, head of Friends of the Earth International, a global environment watchdog, said in a report this week that traditionally precedes the ISAAA report.

"GM seeds and the pesticides used with them are much too expensive for Africa's small farmers," he said in a statement. GM seeds cost two to over four times as much conventional, non-biotech seeds, he said.

The rising grain prices behind the world food crisis have allowed biotech giants such as Monsanto to dramatically increase the price of GM seeds and chemicals they sell to farmers, Friends of the Earth charged.

Monsanto is the world's largest seed firm and also markets Roundup, the biggest selling herbicide.

Soybean continued to be the principal biotech crop in 2008, occupying 53 percent of global biotech area, followed by maize (30 percent), cotton (12 percent) and canola (five percent), said the ISAAA, which has been tracking global biotech crop adoption trends since the technology's inception in 1996.

It said that Egypt, Burkina Faso, Bolivia, Brazil and Australia had introduced for the first time biotech crops already commercialized in other countries.

The United States produces more than half of the world's GM crops.

The largest increase in the number of biotech farmers in 2008 was in India.

In Europe, while France did not plant biotech crops in 2008, seven other EU countries increased their planting 21 percent to again total more than 100,000 hectares, "a milestone reached for the first time in 2007," the ISAAA said.

But Friends of the Earth argued that "despite more than a decade of hype, the biotechnology industry has not introduced a single GM crop with increased yield, enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance or salt-tolerance. source

My comment: Very grim news for me. Grim not so much because I hate the technology, but because all those increases in the profits of Monsanto, don't correlate with the price of food or with the number of starving people. They claim they can feed the poor, but in the end, they are feeding us, not them and earning a lot. That's the real tragedy!

Transgenes are escaping into the wild

  • 18 February 2009

NOW it's official: genes from genetically modified corn have escaped into wild varieties in rural Mexico. A new study resolves a long-running controversy over the spread of GM genes and suggests that detecting such escapes may be tougher than previously thought.

In 2001, when biologists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela reported finding transgenes from GM corn in traditional varieties in Oaxaca, Mexico, they faced a barrage of criticism over their techniques.

But now, Elena Alvarez-Buylla of the National Autonomous University in Mexico City and her team have backed Quist and Chapela's claim. They found transgenes in about 1 per cent of nearly 2000 samples they took from the region (Molecular Ecology, vol 18, p 750).

"They are out there, but it's hit-and-miss," says Paul Gepts of the University of California, Davis, a co-author of the new study. The escaped transgenes are common in a few fields and absent in others, he says, so gene-monitoring efforts must sample as broadly as possible.

What's more, not every detection method - or laboratory - identified every sample containing transgenes. Monitors should use many methods to avoid false negatives, says Gepts. source

My comment: Yes, GMO are completely safe for the environment. If you don't mind them killing off you national biological variety and making you prone to a disaster. Variety is there for a reason-to protect the specie from disasters-and the claim that we're big enough to manufacture whatever variety we might need to overcome a problem is first naive, second wrong and third-very profitable for the manufacturing company.

Less is more approach to fertiliser could boost farmers

Chinese farmers could cut their synthetic fertiliser use – and their bills – by up to 60% without harming their yields and profits, research shows.

Using less fertiliser would also improve drinking water, soil and ocean pollution, and human health. Although nitrogen fertilisers often bring improved yields of crops, they can leach into drinking water, evaporate into the air, and trigger damaging blooms of problematic algae or phytoplankton in rivers, lakes and seas. On top of all that, nitrogen oxides are powerful greenhouse gases.

Xiao-Tang Ju of the China Agricultural University in Beijing and colleagues calculated the "ideal" amount of fertiliser for a variety of real wheat, rice and maize fields in the north and east of the country.

Using years of agricultural data, the researchers calculated the point of diminishing returns, beyond which adding more fertiliser has little significant effect on yields and instead simply eats into profits.

They then put their theory into practice. The team applied its "optimal" amounts of fertiliser to some plots, and the average amount used by local farmers on identical ones. They also introduced fertiliser that had been tagged with a radioactive label in order to determine exactly how much was used by the plants, and to trace the fate of the surplus.

In all cases, the calculated optimal amount was 30% to 60% less than the amount used by farmers, yet yields were the same, or only marginally lower. Overzealous farmers' fields also lost between 70% and 180% more fertiliser than the researchers' control plots.

Ju's research shows that more is not necessarily better, and that farmers would stand to gain financially if they cut the amount of fertiliser they use. Then, say the researchers, the soil would be less saturated with fertiliser, the plants would use up more of the residue left from the previous growing season, and nitrate pollution would decrease. source

My comment: Finally some brain being used. People simply don't understand how devastating the soil damaging can be. For example in Bulgaria, it would take up to 30 years for the soil to get better and give normal yield. And that's serious and it's due to too much fertilisers that we used back in time. It's real! And what I like about this research is that it's honest try to educate people and help the Earth considering the best interest of people too.

Nanoparticle toxicity doesn't get wacky at the smallest sizes

February 16th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The smallest nano-sized silica particles used in biomedicine and engineering likely won't cause unexpected biological responses due to their size, according to work presented today. The result should allay fears that cells and tissues will react unpredictably when exposed to the finest silica nanomaterials in industrial or commercial applications.

Nanotoxicologist Brian Thrall and colleagues found that, mostly, size doesn't matter, by using total surface area as a measure of dose, rather than particle mass or number of particles, and observing how cultured cells responded biologically.

"If you consider surface area as the dose metric, then you get similar types of responses independent of the size of the particle," said Thrall, a scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. "That suggests the chemistry that drives the biological responses doesn't change when you get down to the smallest nanoparticle."

Nanoparticles are being used in tires, biomedical research, and cosmetics. Researchers are exploring these tiny spheres because their physical and chemical properties at that size offer advantages that standard materials don't, such as being able to float through blood vessels to deliver drugs.

But whether these materials are safe for human consumption is not yet clear. Previous work suggested, in some cases, nanoparticles become more toxic to cells the smaller the particles get.

Thrall and colleagues found that the best way to pinpoint how toxic the particles are to cells was to calculate the dose based on the total surface area of the nanomaterial. Only when they considered the surface area of the dose could they predict the biological response.

And the biological response, they found, was very similar regardless of the size of the nanoparticles. Inside cells, some genes responded to nanoparticles by ramping up or down. More than 76 percent of these genes behaved the same for all nanoparticle sizes tested. This indicated to the researchers that, for these genes, the nanoparticles didn't pick up weird chemical properties as they shrunk in size.

However, the team found some genes for which size did matter. A handful of genes, these fell into two categories: smaller particles appeared to affect genes that might be involved in inflammation. The larger particles appeared to affect genes that transport positively charged atoms into cells. This latter result could be due to metals contaminating the preparation of the larger particles, Thrall suggested.source

My comment: I must say that 76% isn't enough to say it's safe-after all, the difference between the genome of human and the chimp is 2%. So those 34% that are affected are actually quite a big number! And what's more, even if we accept it's not so ugly, the fact that nanoparticles seems to affect inflammation-related genes is scary enough. Inflammation sometimes may lead to cancer, so really, it's not that harmless at all! I think nanoparticles should be VERY carefully considered on case-by-case basis.

Resistant wheat to tackle destructive fungus

AMID the global food crisis, there is finally some good news. Scientists meeting in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico, this week say they have developed new varieties of wheat resistant to the Ug99 strain of stem rust fungus that is threatening the world's food supplies. The race is now on to get the wheat into the world's breadbaskets before Ug99 spreads further.

Stem rust, one of the deadliest wheat diseases, has not been a global problem since the 1960s, when three genes for rust resistance were bred into high-yielding wheat varieties by scientists at CIMMYT, a laboratory of the green revolution in Mexico that now belongs to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research. Virtually all of the world's wheat, which supplies some 20 per cent of humanity's calories, now depends on these genes.

The genes kill the fungus, so if just one mutant spore becomes immune to them it will thrive while competing spores die, says Hans-Joachim Braun, head of wheat breeding at CIMMYT. That happened in Uganda in 1999. The fungus, Ug99, broke out of East Africa in 2007, has reached Iran and now threatens south Asia.

An emergency programme to breed Ug99-resistant wheat was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in April 2008 and now Ravi Singh, head scientist at CIMMYT, says they have found a complex of genes that should be harder for the fungus to evade.

In a year of frenzied international breeding programmes, CIMMYT and national labs cross-bred a wheat variety called Kingbird - which carries the new gene complex - with high-yielding varieties of wheat adapted for different regions, and tested the results against Ug99 in infected regions of Africa. Besides resisting Ug99, says Singh, the new breeds yield more grain than the varieties that farmers now grow.

It will still take two to three years to generate enough seed for countries at risk, says Braun, so it is now a race against time, wind and spores. source

My comment: So, they screwed up the wheat once, now they are doing it again. Nice. Note-this is a good example of what could happen if we have only one variety of wheat, corn or whatever. The bugs evolve and we blow it. Variety is essential for survival! Think about it.

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