catching up on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms

Mainly courtesy of Colin Todhunter (UK) on Twitter.

‘Scientists Call for Do-Over for Rules on Creating “CRISPR Babies”;
On Tuesday, an international commission will meet to develop less ambiguous guidelines for embryo editing, Sharon Begley,, August 12, 2019

“A group of 18 prominent scientists—including some who helped develop CRISPR–Cas9, the current leading tool for gene editing—issued a call Wednesday for an international moratorium on gene edits to eggs, sperm or embryos, and for establishing a process to discuss how and whether it should ever occur again.
The move follows Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s announcement late last year that he had edited the genes of twin newborn girls, in attempt to make them genetically resistant to HIV. This was CRISPR’s first known use in human embryos destined for life. There had been a general global consensus to hold off on editing human eggs, sperm or embryos until gene-editing technology (and the implications of the edits) are better understood. But He’s  his decision to proceed—and some scientists’ focus on gaining regulatory approval rather than achieving societal consensus—showed clearer lines have to be drawn, says commentary co-author Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a genetics research institute.

Lander says the group is calling for a temporary moratorium as a first step. What the scientists ultimately want to see is a global mechanism for discussing whether, and under what circumstances, people should be allowed to make gene edits that will be transmitted across generations.” [large snip]

“But there is far less agreement on whether altering humanity’s genetic inheritance should be allowed. Some worry such genetic enhancement would lead to attempts at designer babies—“remaking the human species based on your idea of what’s the best way to make a human being,” as Lander puts it. “I’m deeply skeptical about these enhancement applications,” he says. “I think at the moment it would be hubris—because we know so little—to consider such things. And even if we learn more, it might be deeply problematic.” But Lander says he can see an argument for allowing germ-line gene edits in the case of parents who want biological children but would otherwise unavoidably pass on an inherited disease.”

Again, the rest is here.

Scientific cautionary principle, anyone?  Remember this from July 17, 2018: Genetically modified babies given go ahead by UK ethics body; The Nuffield Council on Bioethics says changing the DNA of a human embryo could be ‘morally permissible’ if it is in the child’s best interests’, ,

“The report does not call for a change in UK law to permit genetically altered babies, but instead urges research into the safety and effectiveness of the approach, its societal impact, and a widespread debate of its implications.

“It is our view that genome editing is not morally unacceptable in itself,” said Karen Yeung, chair of the Nuffield working group and professor of law, ethics and informatics at the University of Birmingham. “There is no reason to rule it out in principle.” [snip]

“While laws in the UK and some other countries currently ban the creation of genetically altered babies, a handful of experiments around the world have shown that DNA editing could, in principle, prevent children from inheriting serious diseases caused by faulty genes.

The prospect of modifying genes in human embryos has long been controversial though. For a start, the procedure has yet to be proven safe. In a study published in Nature Biotechnology on Monday, British researchers found that the most popular tool for genome editing, Crispr-Cas9, caused more damage to DNA than previously thought. If the scientists are right, gene editing could disrupt healthy genes when it is meant only to fix faulty ones.

DNA editing also raises the possibility of “designer babies”, where the genetic code of embryos created through standard IVF is rewritten so that children have traits the parents find desirable. The Nuffield report does not rule out any specific uses of genome editing, but says that to be ethical, any applications must follow the principles of being in the child’s interests, and have no ill-effects for society.

‘The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human’, by Stuart A. Newman, August 16, 2019,

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

“Fabricating part-human-part-nonhuman animals, with features of both, seemed like something out of Greek mythology until the late 20th century. New research then on “geeps,” fully developed, viable mixtures of goats and sheep, showed that constructing such “chimeras” was a real possibility. Still, the warning by H.G. Wells, a century before, in his novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” that scientific experiments like this could go terribly awry, seemed fantastical. But this will soon change.

At the end of July, it was reported that the biologist Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, director of a laboratory at the Salk Institute in California, produced fetal human-monkey chimeras. He did this in collaboration with researchers in China. And this month the Japanese government is expected to give the go-ahead to scientist Hiromitsu Nakauchi, leader of teams at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University in California, to conduct similar experiments with the goal of bringing human-pig chimeras to full term. These novel forms of life will soon be among us.

Dr. Nakauchi acknowledges that the concerns of Wells and later writers like Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World” (1932), which similarly envisioned technologically calibrating degrees of humanness, are not farfetched. The art of getting the human cells to the right places in the composite animals is worse than imperfect, as are most manipulations of embryos. Developmental biology is simply not the kind of science that can guide an engineering program. Will the resulting mice and pigs have human consciousness? How this will be ascertained is not clear, but if they do Dr. Nakauchi assures us he will destroy them and stop the experiments.” [snip]

“An egregious example was one motivated by the understandable desire to avoid propagation of mitochondrial disease. It involved the renaming of the methods for transferring one woman’s egg cell nucleus (containing about 20,000 genes) into a second woman’s egg, leading to embryos constructed from cells of three persons. What was, essentially, a type of cloning was rebranded as “replacement of mitochondria” (involving only 23 genes). This procedure was sold on these deceptive terms to the people of the U.K., where it was approved and is now under way.

The “CRISPR” gene modification of embryos is the latest development being dealt with by expert panels. They will be the arbiters of when the technologically inevitable will occur.  But any dispassionate consideration of the extreme nature of what these methodologies can produce should shake us into a realization that the public needs to be made aware of what is underway and have their voices heard on what will surely change our concept of human identity.”

Stuart A. Newman, Ph.D. is a professor of cell biology and anatomy at New York Medical College.

‘Philanthropic colonialism: embedding agribusiness and GMOs into African agriculture, Colin Todhunter (UK), 8th April 2016, (a few excerpts)

“The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has just released the report For your own good!, which outlines the GMO industry’s expansion across Africa.

The report focusses on non-commercial traditional crops, such as cassava, sorghum, sweet potato, pigeon pea, cowpea, banana and rice, which corporations are attempting to genetically modify and roll out under the guise of philanthropy.

The report reveals that a great deal of research and development is currently underway into the genetic modification (GM) of these crops.”
“The genesis of GM research into these crops can be found in royalty-free donations of various patented GM traits by several transnational companies to experimental programmes undertaken by African scientists employed by government ministries. These companies include Monsanto, Dupont and Pioneer Hi-bred.

“The GM industry, under the veil of technology donations and public financing, is effectively managing to make further inroads into imposing GM on the African continent”, says Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.

“By focusing the research on traits meant to ‘benefit’ farmers and malnourished populations, through inter alia, biofortification, the industry is intent on giving a humanitarian face to the real involvement, vested interests and expanding influence of these MNCs in African agriculture.”

The big money behind the GMO push

The main players involved include the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), which is on the receiving end of many of the technological property rights donations, the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP) and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and USAID fund the latter organisations.” [snip]

“Bill and Melinda’s ‘philanthropic colonialism’

The report by ACB follows a Global Justice Now report that outlines the role of BMFG in spearheading a drive into Africa on behalf of ‘corporate America’ to facilitate a GMO / green revolution.

With assets of $43.5 billion, BMGF is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. Its strategy is intended to deepen the role of multinational companies, even though these corporations are responsible for much of the poverty and injustice that already plagues the Global South.

The foundation’s programmes have a specific ideological strategy that promotes neo-liberal economic policies, corporate globalisation, GMOs and an outdated (colonialist) view of role of aid in ‘helping’ the poor.”

‘Has the Green Revolution Really Succeeded?’,, July 16, 2015

“No, say researchers in a new paper. Quantity does not equal quality. The researchers, from Columbia University’s Earth Institute, point out that the plentiful cereals now grown are generally lower in nutrients per unit weight than old-fashioned crops. Farms are producing more bulk for more people; but many are still not getting enough macronutrients such as protein, nor micronutrients such as iron, needed for good health. The paper, which appears today in the leading journal Science, calls for more realistic metrics to measure and regulate global food supply.”

The world’s cereal supply has grown by some 220 percent since around 1965, well outpacing a concurrent 130 percent population increase. This is due largely to intensified cultivation of just three crops:  rice, wheat and maize. In this time, the area planted in the big three increased from about two-thirds of cereal acreage to nearly 80 percent; yields per acre rose sharply as well. The switch came at the expense of other crops, such as barley, oats, rye, millet and sorghum; these collectively declined from a third of planted area to less than 20 percent.

The problem: many of the older crops carried dramatically higher counts of nutrients per calorie. Thus, the amount of cereal each person must consume to fulfill daily dietary requirements has gone up. For instance, the iron content of millet is four times that of rice. Oats carry four times more zinc than does wheat. And so on. As a result, between 1961 and 2011, the protein, zinc and iron contents of the world’s directly consumed cereals declined by 4 percent, 5 percent and 19 percent, respectively.”

‘Gates Foundation Hired PR Firm to Manipulate UN Over Gene Drives’, December 4, 2017,, Jonathan Latham, Ph.D

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this year paid a PR firm called Emerging Ag $1.6 million to recruit a covert coalition of academics to manipulate a UN decision-making process over gene drives, according to emails obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

Gene drives are a highly controversial new genetic extinction technology. They have been proposed as potentially able to eradicate malarial mosquitoes, agricultural pests, invasive species, as well as having potential military uses.

Emerging Ag calls itself “a boutique international consulting firm providing communications and public affairs services.” Its president and founder is Robynne Anderson, a former international communications director of CropLife, the global lobby group for the biotechnology, seed, and pesticide industries.

The FOIA emails reveal that the project coordinated by Emerging Ag was dubbed the “Gene Drive Research Sponsors and Supporters coalition”. It consisted of three members of a UN committee called the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Synthetic Biology (AHTEG) plus a larger group of 65 covertly recruited, but seemingly independent, scientists and officials, all coordinated by a still larger number of government officials (mainly from English-speaking countries), PR advisors, academics, and members of various Gates-funded projects.”

And just in case you’re  thinking ‘Geez what a paltry few million can buy science!’:

‘Gates Foundation Grants Additional $6.4 million to Cornell’s Controversial Alliance for Science’, Nov. 1, 2017

Ha ha ha!  Can’t wait, BillyBoy!  Gonna leave your brain to science?

(cross-posted at

One response to “catching up on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms

  1. a bonus re-Tweet from colin todhunter:

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