Tag Archives | Genetic Engineering

Genetically Engineered Salmon Will Not Be Labeled

Here’s some unwelcome news: not only has the US FDA approved genetically engineered salmon to be sold into the human food supply, but the producers won’t even have to label it, reports the New York Times:

Consumers wanting to avoid genetically engineered salmon, if it eventually reaches grocery stores, might have a hard time being sure. That is because the Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday that the salmon would not have to be labeled as genetically engineered.

AquaAdvantage salmon

That is consistent with the F.D.A. stance on the widely eaten foods made from genetically modified corn, soybeans and other crops. The F.D.A. on Thursday rejected two petitions from groups asking for required labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Agency officials explained on Thursday that the law required labeling of “material” aspects of food, and that use of genetic engineering per se is not material. A significant change in the nutritional content of a food would be an example of a material change, and that altered nutritional profile would have to be on the label, but not the fact that it was produced by genetic engineering.

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To Survive Climate Change, We Must Genetically Engineer Humans

The Meanwhile In The Future podcast (at Gizmodo) decides to look at ways to genetically modify humans to survive climate change:

A lot of researchers are thinking about how to genetically engineer crops and food animals to help them withstand post-climate change heat and parched conditions. But what about genetically engineering humans to slow our constant carbon contributions?

In 2012 a philosopher named Matthew Liao co-authored a paper that proposed altering human biology to combat climate change. In the paper, Liao and his colleagues propose a number of possible changes to human biology to help us combat climate change. When the paper came out, it got a lot of attention. Some people thought that Liao and his colleagues were trolling the academic community or that it was some sort of early April Fools joke. Bill McKibbon, a prominent environmental advocate Tweeted that the suggestions in the paper were the “worst climate change solutions of all time.” And, of course, climate skeptics thought it was totally insane to alter human genetics in response to a problem they do not believe in.

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DARPA Investing In Genetic Engineering

Is there anything more scary than an extremely well-funded government agency investing in projects to mess with DNA? The Broad Institute has announced DARPA’s investment in The Foundry:

A facility at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and MIT that aims to achieve the full potential of engineering biology has received a five-year, $32 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The Foundry, started by MIT biological engineering professor Christopher Voigt and Broad Technology Labs (BTL) director Robert Nicol, is the result of a partnership between BTL and the Synthetic Biology Center of MIT, of which Voigt is co-director. The Foundry enables the rapid design, testing, and fabrication of large sequences of genetic information so they can be assembled like building blocks for myriad medical, industrial, and agricultural applications.

“Society relies on many products from the natural world that have intricate material and chemical structures, from chemicals such as antibiotics to materials like wood,” says Voigt.

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Yeast Genetically Engineered to Produce THC


Scientists have been able to genetically engineer yeast to produce THC. This could help make THC cheaper and more readily available for those who use the chemical to treat nausea from HIV or chemo.

Roxanne Khamsi via The New York Times:

In August, researchers announced they had genetically engineered yeast to produce the powerful painkiller hydrocodone. Now comes the perhaps inevitable sequel: Scientists have created yeasts that can make important constituents of marijuana, including the main psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Synthetic versions of THC are available in pill form under brand names like Marinol and Cesamet; they are generally used to treat nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite caused by H.I.V. infection or cancer chemotherapy. Genetically modified yeast could make THC in a cheaper and more streamlined way than traditional chemical synthesis.

Using yeast could also shed light on the clinical usefulness of cannabis-derived compounds. Marijuana is increasingly embraced as medicine, yet there is limited evidence that it is effective against many of the conditions for which it is prescribed.

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Rebranding Genetic Modification of Plants as ‘Rewilding’

Genetically Modified Grain Rice.jpg

Genetically Modified Grain Rice

Do you remember George Lakoff’s book Don’t Think of an Elephant!? He was the guy dubbed “the father of framing,” meaning that he taught us how describing an issue in words of our choosing (rather than an opponent’s) defines the debate around it. Scientists who want to genetically modify plants may have been listening to Lakoff as they plan to rebrand their activities as “rewilding,” per the New York Times:

What’s in a name?

A lot, if the name is genetically modified organism, or G.M.O., which many people are dead set against. But what if scientists used the precise techniques of today’s molecular biology to give back to plants genes that had long ago been bred out of them? And what if that process were called “rewilding?”

That is the idea being floated by a group at the University of Copenhagen, which is proposing the name for the process that would result if scientists took a gene or two from an ancient plant variety and melded it with more modern species to promote greater resistant to drought, for example.

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Germ Line Engineering the Perfect Baby

Scientists are developing ways to edit the DNA of tomorrow’s children. Should they stop before it’s too late? asks Antonio Regalado for MIT Technology Review:

If anyone had devised a way to create a genetically engineered baby, I figured George Church would know about it.

A smiling baby.jpg

Photo: Kenny Louie (CC)


At his labyrinthine laboratory on the Harvard Medical School campus, you can find researchers giving E. Coli a novel genetic code never seen in nature. Around another bend, others are carrying out a plan to use DNA engineering to resurrect the woolly mammoth. His lab, Church likes to say, is the center of a new technological genesis—one in which man rebuilds creation to suit himself.

When I visited the lab last June, Church proposed that I speak to a young postdoctoral scientist named Luhan Yang, a Harvard recruit from Beijing who’d been a key player in developing a new, powerful technology for editing DNA called CRISPR-Cas9.

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Genetic Engineering Cannabis (Marijuana) DNA

There may be no hotter investment theme today than so-called pot stocks – companies that are involved in the burgeoning legal marijuana business. There’s green gold growing on hills all across America and there are plenty of entrepreneurs who want to make sure their product is the best. One approach is to mess with the cannabis plant’s DNA (yes, you know, genetically engineer better strains – sound familiar?).

Daniela Hernandez reports how genetics is reshaping the marijuana industry for Fusion:

Every morning, Josh Chase makes his way from Goetz House, a yellow-and-white cottage in the middle of nowhere Washington, past a makeshift 8-foot “security fence” built from square-cut pieces of lumber and black plastic tarp, down to the greenhouses. A sign hangs on the fence: “PERSONS UNDER 21 NOT ALLOWED ON THESE PREMISES.”

He’s on his way to tend his buds. At 25, Chase is the second oldest of four recent college grads who co-founded Amerifarms, a marijuana startup headquartered in Washington’s “Kush Valley.”

Cannabis sativa Koehler drawing.jpg

Cannabis sativa Koehler drawing by W.

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Why GM Is The Natural Solution For Future Farming

Disinformation has run many stories about the perils of genetic engineering, especially with respect to agricultural crops. It’s important to understand what promoters of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are saying, however, so without endorsing it, we’re presenting Adam Rutherford’s essay in the Guardian:

Farming, by definition, is the opposite of natural. Nothing we eat could be described as “natural”, regardless of the marketing or labelling, whether it’s organic, or from Waitrose, Aldi or Abel & Cole. Breeding any organism for food, fuel, sport or for pets is effectively genetic modification – and we have been doing that for thousands of years. For example, a Granny Smith is a genetic hybrid of two other apples and even a blackberry plucked from a bramble is the product of a deeply ancient, seemingly natural but actually very human design – the hedgerow.

Granny Smith Apple.JPG

Granny Smith Apple by Nicole-Koehler (CC)


The crunchy flesh of an apple, or the grotesquely swollen udders – and even the black and white hide – of Holstein-Friesian cows are the result of carefully selecting genes and forcing them into subsequent generations.

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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes May Be Set Loose In Florida

As if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wasn’t upsetting non-GMO activists enough already with its approvals of GM crops, it may now approve genetically modified mosquitoes from British biotech firm Oxitec. The goal is to combat the spread of the alarmingly painful and incurable chikungunya virus and dengue fever (a/k/a “break-bone fever”).

Aedes aegypti biting human.jpg

Aedes aegypti mosquito biting human skin.


“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which is waiting to hear if the Food and Drug Administration will allow the experiment, ” reports AP.

However, as Smithsonian Magazine describes it, even putting aside the risk of the genetic modification, this is hardly a perfect solution:

…Oxitec has focused their efforts on dengue and had some success in small-scale fieldwork in Brazil and the Cayman Islands. And in April 2014, an Oxitec trial led by the Gorgas Institute in Panama released 60,000 genetically modified A.

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