Awesome is genetically modified

I’ve long promised friends to write up my views on genetic engineering. This is the CliffsNotes version. I’ll write something more detailed over summer.

I support the shit out of genetic engineering, and the consumption of genetically modified foods. I dabble in it and I love it where it’s going. I love that today, genetic engineering techniques are orders of magnitude more precise than accepted plant breeding and various mutagenesis techniques.

It’s obviously quite safe. Most food isn’t tested in clinical trials, but genetically modified organisms are tested extensively before being released into the market. Even industry testing is a huge leap from no testing at all. According to various respected independent scientific organisations: in 20 years of testing, by over 500 independent groups, not fucking once in well designed studies has genetically modified food currently on the market been associated with human illness.

I don’t love Monsanto. I don’t love the regulatory environment that ensures that only rich multinationals like Monsanto get to dominate the biotechnology sector. The draconian bureaucracy that chokes biotechnology, largely influenced by manufactured public opposition courtesy of scientifically illiterate moonbat cults like Greenpeace, sets a financially insurmountable hurdle that prevents small, low budget startups (like what I’d love to do to fund my neuroscience education), humanitarian efforts and open source-friendly independent researchers from competing with Big Biotech.

Another obvious problem is the broken patent system. I’m in two minds about it: first, there clearly needs to be restrictions on patenting open source genomes minimally altered with open access sequences available from websites like the Standard Registry of Biological Parts (henceforth just “Parts Registry”); and second, in the case of novel or sophisticated genomes, patenting is probably OK. But patenting should not restrict independent testing. Perhaps firms should be required to donate batches of seeds to registered labs for analysis.

That said, I’m not sure if I believe in compulsory large-scale testing. Very few “synthetic” foods not derived from GMOs are tested at all if they contain no known toxic or illegal compounds. I don’t see much difference between worrying about any unknown chemical reactions between various compounds and those of various sequences of genes. The mere existence of Parts Registry speaks to the precision offered by genetic engineering.

Even the gene gun, criticised for its relative inaccuracy, has been consigned to near-obsolescence due to various high-precision competing technologies (at least, in agricultural biotechnology, it’s still used in human gene therapy with great success).

Such precision for inserting sequences isn’t always necessary to achieve predictable outcomes: recombinant methods offered by viral vectors for gene therapy and even “cruder” methods such as electroporation get the job done.

What people often fail to realise when they go after Monsanto by parroting made up bullshit about genetically modified organisms is that a more open market (though, not totally “free”) conducive to open source and small companies is profoundly anti-corporate. Forget Monsanto, DIY biohacking even has the power to take on Big Pharma, and, by extension, Big Quacka.

It’s taken for granted that conventional agriculture isn’t going to feed 9 billion people. The organic vs. GMO debate, perpetuated by Big Quacka, is fucking stupid. Organic food, generally, offers lower yields for obscene land use. Economical land use is very important, because any land used by humans encroaches on fragile ecosystems. This is why it makes no sense to inadvertently expand farming and explicitly decry cities as taking us away from nature. We need to take up less space if we want to allow ecosystems to thrive.

Organic food may very well play a role in feeding the world, but the ever-advancing field of genetic engineering offers a much better shot. Crops can be tailored for climates, even to withstand levels of city pollution (though I expect that to drop dramatically, if we survive) and to thrive and usher in a revolution of indoor vertical farming. This will combat projected rising food prices (due to global warming and other factors) and make it possible to grow crops where it’s not feasible to do so using other methods. Such efforts are being spearheaded by not-for-profit organisations such as the Mexican International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.

I hope it’s clear why I frequently call out so-called environmentalists who oppose genetic engineering. Not only do they slow progress in a field that offers novel, powerful solutions to climate change, land use, and so on, but they also work against humanitarian efforts aimed at ameliorating poverty. The most stark, recent example of this is the backlash against golden rice, a theoretically sound and repeatedly proven solution to rampant vitamin A deficiency in third world and developing countries. One can’t help but wonder how many children have died from malnutrition while golden rice, nutrient-enriched cassava and other publicly developed crops remain under lock and key, thanks again to elitist middle class Westerners who really have no excuse for such scientific illiteracy.

Those who have been taken in by denialist literature such as the non-peer-reviewed report/Gish Gallop by EarthOpenSource (Google it, you’ll find it) are invited to read this better document by the European Commission. People concerned with data from long-term animal feeding studies should read this paper (without shooting the messenger, which is too often a convenient excuse for intellectual laziness). And people who thought that Gilles-Eric Séralini found evidence that GMOs cause enormous tumours in rats should look at this (heavy lifting) and/or this. Spoiler alert: his study looks an awful lot like scientific fraud.

(Originally posted as “On genetically engineered food” on my tumblr blog Just Defiance.)

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12 thoughts on “Awesome is genetically modified

  1. ah you have invested in this future – good luck with it –

    sustainability – “lower yields for obscene land use” -> has more ecological benefits than higher yields for obscene land use for example.

    there are enough allergies to non-GMO foods- interesting
    ones are being added to the list. (note the rise in medical issues even
    using refined food products let alone GMO foods)

    rather than wasting time on GMO the hard way why not just invent quick
    sustenance in vats – design the technological manna and make sure
    it is the only food source available – some are close now.

    genetic engineering is an interesting concept but judging by how “careful”
    humans are even using non-tech solutions – rabbits & australia for example –
    shows the likely hood of vested interests taking control of “public” interest.
    (we know more now so can really mess things up)

    your idea of long term is laughable. 2 years isn’t longterm – its taken almost 100 years to begin to admit that refined carbohydrates create health issues and rather than correct the issue you wish to add to it.
    there are endless medications proven safe in studies that suddenly are pulled as they collide with the real world.

    even non-gmo food plants/animals/vats should be studied for generations not years before being released to the wild.

    i have no argument with enclosed gmo in controlled segregated biospheres – safest place would be off planet

    feeding the worlds population is an admirable goal, but our population will expand to overconsume any available food supply regardless of how intelligent or otherwise we are. poisoning ourselves and the planet for the sake of monetary gain (it is still a supposedly supply and demand world) is a sad commitment we choose to make, and is done repeatedly by our species.

    its nice to know the building blocks but you do have to be careful rearranging them because you never know which block may rearrange a structure catastrophically. something that is stable in a closed environment when mutate spontaneously (and has) when subjected to real world environments.

    citing peer reviews anymore is like citing facebook friends and means
    about as much. “like” does not mean “fact” as all facts are theories based on their popularity at a given time, & not to decry research as it mostly hangs together but sometimes the conclusions reached are those that the funding was looking to prove.

    remember it is always financially better to create a recurring purchased treatment protocol than one that does not and especially not a cure.

    remember it is better to control your food supply than to rely on a “friends”.
    india and the u.s.a for example might like each other but they are not working for the same goals as a country or for their citizens.
    multi-national corporations have taken this “friends” idea
    a step further and have no loyalty to their customers just a loyalty to the
    bottom line. golden rice is a momentary financial bonanza, not a permanent solution. and besides
    re golden rice:
    In response to the research, a group of 20 scientists suggested in an open letter that there might be deficiencies in clinical trials: “There is now a large body of evidence that shows that GM crop/food production is highly prone to inadvertent and unpredictable pleiotropic effects, which can result in health damaging effects when GM food products are fed to animals (for reviews see Pusztai and Bardocz , 2006; Schubert, 2008; Dona and Arvanitoyannis, 2009). More specifically, our greatest concern is that this rice, which is engineered to overproduce beta carotene, has never been tested in animals, and there is an extensive medical literature showing that retinoids that can be derived from beta carotene are both toxic and cause birth defects.
    did you know women eating carrot and or wild carrot seeds is a method of birth control. has some other neat effects too.
    i sense a rather disturbing real motive here.

    i embrace technology, i suspect the motives for its use.

    Reply
    • “ah you have invested in this future – good luck with it -“

      Thank you. I’m aiming to go into neuroengineering, but I do enjoy hacking biology, at least digitally.

      “there are enough allergies to non-GMO foods- interesting
      ones are being added to the list. (note the rise in medical issues even
      using refined food products let alone GMO foods)”

      Correlation is not causation. It’s largely unknown what causes allergies. You could just as easily say that the internationalisation of various cuisines has driven a rise in allergies.

      “i have no argument with enclosed gmo in controlled segregated biospheres – safest place would be off planet”

      Then you have no argument with GMOs, unless you really insist on putting another overpriced tin can in space like the ISS.

      “In response to the research, a group of 20 scientists suggested in an open letter that there might be deficiencies in clinical trials…”

      Google will find you petitions of literally thousands of scientists who deny, among other scientifically established things, evolution and anthropogenic global warming. I linked to peer reviewed papers and well-reasoned critiques because I believe in checking and critiquing the data rather than accepting tepid arguments from authority.

      Reply
      • “Correlation is not causation. It’s largely unknown what causes allergies. You could just as easily say that the internationalisation of various cuisines has driven a rise in allergies.”

        ah keep touching burning wood then

        “Then you have no argument with GMOs, unless you really insist on putting another overpriced tin can in space like the ISS.”

        you didn’t read – i have all sorts of concerns mostly of the rabbit in Australia variety though – i mean a really controlled separate environment – ISS is way too close lol (think bigger and maybe we could actual start colonizing some
        of the rocks out there)

        “Google will find you petitions of literally thousands of scientists who deny, among other scientifically established things, evolution and anthropogenic global warming. I linked to peer reviewed papers and well-reasoned critiques because I believe in checking and critiquing the data rather than accepting tepid arguments from authority.”

        i am/is/was an xfiles fan especially of “trust no one” lol
        science is not factual, it is theory and only theory, flavour of the month as you will. scientific methodology has failed time and time again especially with
        peer reviewed papers. scientifically established is in a given time frame and
        theoretical structure set, the Phlogiston theory worked well in its day lol.
        it is the compendium of observations over time that give weight to a theory,
        for example global warming – we have accurate measurements for lets say 150
        years (which we both know is not true), but it is not technology necessarily
        too blame (if blame is required) but methane producers to which we as
        a species contribute greatly. besides 7 billion produce a lot of co2.
        the bigger problem will be the ice age to follow. we don’t live long
        enough to really know anything yet and our record keeping is abysmal.

        not to belay or belittle a point but another interesting thought beyond gmo etc is the use of beta-carotene.
        there are no limits on its use on manufactured food production and an interesting correlation is the lower population rate in developed countries.
        i doubt there will be any papers on that anytime soon.

        i keep an open mind and it appears you do to (to some degree)
        being able to “learn” a theory is not the same as being able to interact in the real world with it in a meaningful way. most of our lives are spent not
        because we know something works but because experience tells us it does.
        besides i miss pluto as a planet – all those scifi/sci works with 9 planets
        that need to be republished – wow book publisher bonanza?

        thanks for letting me ramble.

      • you didn’t read – i have all sorts of concerns mostly of the rabbit in Australia variety though – i mean a really controlled separate environment – ISS is way too close lol (think bigger and maybe we could actual start colonizing some
        of the rocks out there)

        Rabbits were introduced to Australia in the 18th century via the First Fleet. Now they’re quite abundant. I have first hand experience with this because I used hunt rabbits with my bow whenever I visited a family farm in NSW while I was growing up. The thing is that it’s now 2012, and centuries of science has enabled us to make far better predictions about these things.

        science is not factual, it is theory and only theory, flavour of the month as you will. scientific methodology has failed time and time again especially with
        peer reviewed papers.

        Look up what the word “theory” means in science. You don’t seem to understand philosophy of science, epistemology, ontology or how science works.

        it is the compendium of observations over time that give weight to a theory,
        for example global warming – we have accurate measurements for lets say 150
        years (which we both know is not true), but it is not technology necessarily
        too blame (if blame is required) but methane producers to which we as
        a species contribute greatly. besides 7 billion produce a lot of co2.
        the bigger problem will be the ice age to follow. we don’t live long
        enough to really know anything yet and our record keeping is abysmal.

        You probably should learn something about anthropogenic global warming before commenting on it.

        One should be open minded, but not so open minded that one’s brains fall out.

      • “Rabbits were introduced to Australia in the 18th century via the First Fleet. Now they’re quite abundant. I have first hand experience with this because I used hunt rabbits with my bow whenever I visited a family farm in NSW while I was growing up. The thing is that it’s now 2012, and centuries of science has enabled us to make far better predictions about these things.”

        so?
        can you explain the introduction of other species for control purposes
        around the world if we knew this back in the 18th century
        (they always go wrong)

        pre·dic·tion (pr-dkshn)
        n.
        1. The act of predicting.
        2. Something foretold or predicted; a prophecy.

        ah fortune tellers
        explains a lot

        “Look up what the word “theory” means in science. You don’t seem to understand philosophy of science, epistemology, ontology or how science works.”

        note:
        you do have a dictionary don’t you. if not i referenced
        http://www.thefreedictionary.com

        the·o·ry (th-r, thîr)
        n. pl. the·o·ries
        1. A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
        2. The branch of a science or art consisting of its explanatory statements, accepted principles, and methods of analysis, as opposed to practice: a fine musician who had never studied theory.
        3. A set of theorems that constitute a systematic view of a branch of mathematics.
        4. Abstract reasoning; speculation: a decision based on experience rather than theory.
        5. A belief or principle that guides action or assists comprehension or judgment: staked out the house on the theory that criminals usually return to the scene of the crime.
        6. An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.

        “widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena” pretty much sums it up lol
        back to fortune tellers i guess

        phi·los·o·phy (f-ls-f)
        n. pl. phi·los·o·phies
        1. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
        2. Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
        3. A system of thought based on or involving such inquiry: the philosophy of Hume.
        4. The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs.
        5. The disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology.
        6. The discipline comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
        7. A set of ideas or beliefs relating to a particular field or activity; an underlying theory: an original philosophy of advertising.
        8. A system of values by which one lives: has an unusual philosophy of life.
        [Middle English philosophie, from Old French, from Latin philosophia, from Greek philosophi, from philosophos, lover of wisdom, philosopher; see philosopher.]

        subjective too – love and pursuit of wisdom …
        i love the moral self-discipline part

        wis·dom (wzdm)
        n.
        1. The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.
        2. Common sense; good judgment: “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things” (Henry David Thoreau).
        3.
        a. The sum of learning through the ages; knowledge: “In those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations” (Maya Angelou).
        b. Wise teachings of the ancient sages.
        4. A wise outlook, plan, or course of action.
        5. Wisdom Bible Wisdom of Solomon.

        and peer review is the judging for science i suppose lol
        (lots of moral self-discipline there)

        sci·ence (sns)
        n.
        1.
        a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
        b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena.
        c. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.
        2. Methodological activity, discipline, or study: I’ve got packing a suitcase down to a science.
        3. An activity that appears to require study and method: the science of purchasing.
        4. Knowledge, especially that gained through experience.
        5. Science Christian Science.

        oh oh theoretical explanation

        “You probably should learn something about anthropogenic global warming before commenting on it.”

        so should you rotfl

        climate change is inevitable regardless – solar flares, volcanoes,
        human activity none of them will stop anytime soon.
        (well unless the Mayan prediction is correct – and then getting the
        correct interpretation on calendar dates but i digress)

        besides think of all that real estate that will eventually open up in
        Antarctica if it keeps up

        “One should be open minded, but not so open minded that one’s brains fall out.”

        wow touched a nerve eh

        just remember its mostly the formerly impossible ideas that are responsible
        for the state we are in now – not that i’m complaining lol

        get some perspective – the world is stranger than you imagine,
        let alone know.

  2. ugh, that commenter reads like a religious nut. “Let’s trust to faith instead of actually attempting to solve our problems,” and “let’s stifle any actual chance of overcoming our issues because we’re afraid.”

    Look at where we’d be with that outlook. Medicine, technology, human rights, environmental awareness. You’d have us still believing tomatoes were poisonous with that mentality

    The human race is apart of no real ecosystem, sentience alone dictates we will outgrow our environment simply by exercising our right to choose to go against our innate natures. So how about instead of pissing and moaning because there’s a chance things could go wrong, but look at the big picture, unless we evolve, we are doomed to entropy.

    GMO is the future

    oh and good luck terraforming without GMO..

    Reply

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