Tag Archives | Genetic Engineering

Humanity 3.0: How Will We Evolve Next?

1561781181_be42e3aaacWriting in SEED Magazine, Mark Changizi expounds on his vision of human advancement in the centuries to come. He argues that the greatest progress will not come through changing our brains and bodies via genetic engineering or cyborg-like enhancement, but by developing technology that better accommodates the magnificently-designed brains and bodies that evolution has already given us:

Where are we humans going, as a species? If science fiction is any guide, we will genetically evolve like in X-Men, become genetically engineered as in Gattaca, or become cybernetically enhanced like General Grievous in Star Wars. All of these may well be part of the story of our future, but I’m not holding my breath.

There is, however, another avenue for human evolution, one mostly unappreciated in both science and fiction. It is this unheralded mechanism that will usher in the next stage of human, giving future people exquisite powers we do not currently possess, powers worthy of natural selection itself.

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You Can’t Avoid Genetically Engineered Foods

No matter how hard you try to avoid “food” that nature never intended, the U.S. government has made it almost impossible for its citizens to stay GM-free. Three more genetically engineered crops were approved in the last month alone. AP/USA Today tells the sorry story:

You may not want to eat genetically engineered foods. Chances are, you are eating them anyway.

Genetically modified plants grown from seeds engineered in labs now provide much of the food we eat. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States have been genetically modified to resist pesticides or insects, and corn and soy are common food ingredients.

USA. Genetically engineered crops timeline

The Agriculture Department has approved three more genetically engineered crops in the past month, and the Food and Drug Administration could approve fast-growing genetically modified salmon for human consumption this year.

Agribusiness and the seed companies say their products help boost crop production, lower prices at the grocery store and feed the world, particularly in developing countries.

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Growing Your Own Security: Professor Breeding Bomb-Detecting Plants (Video)

Bomb Detecting PlantSpencer Ackerman writes on WIRED's Danger Room:
The next hydrangea you grow could literally save your life. With the help of the Department of Defense, a biologist at Colorado State University has taught plant proteins how to detect explosives. Never let it be said that horticulture can’t fight terrorism. Picture this at an airport, perhaps in as soon as four years: A terrorist rolls through the sliding doors of a terminal with a bomb packed into his luggage (or his underwear). All of a sudden, the leafy, verdant gardenscape ringing the gates goes white as a sheet. That’s the proteins inside the plants telling authorities that they’ve picked up the chemical trace of the guy’s arsenal.
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Legal War Starts Against GM Alfalfa Seeds

Roundup_herbicide_logoI’m sure I’m not the only one who feels utterly betrayed by the Obama Administration’s capitulation to corporate interests — Monsanto and the agribusiness giants in this case — in approving the use of genetically-modified “Roundup Ready” alfalfa seeds without any meaningful protections for organic and non-GM farming. Fortunately there is a very strong litigation culture in the United States. I encourage everyone to join the battle to reverse the U.S. Government’s decision. UPI reports on the first legal salvo:

Washington is endangering consumer and farmer rights and hurting the environment by green-lighting genetically modified alfalfa, a public-health group said.

Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell of the non-profit Center for Food Safety vowed to seek a court order immediately reversing and voiding the U.S. Agriculture Department’s approval of “Roundup Ready” alfalfa — the fourth Roundup Ready crop approved for U.S. commercial-farming use, after soybeans, corn and cotton.

“We will be back in court representing the interest of farmers, preservation of the environment and consumer choice,” Kimbrell said.

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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Released

Photo: Alvesgaspar (CC)

Photo: Alvesgaspar (CC)

I have a bad feeling about this — how long before the scientists say “Sorry, we didn’t think that was possible” when the mosquitoes mutate into something deadly to humans…? From the happily hyperbolic Daily Mail:

Malaysia has released 6,000 genetically modified mosquitoes into a forest in the first experiment of its kind in Asia aimed at curbing dengue fever.

The field test is meant to pave the way for the official use of genetically engineered Aedes aegypti male mosquitoes to mate with females and produce offspring with shorter lives, thus curtailing the population.

Only female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread dengue fever, which killed 134 people in Malaysia last year.

However, the plan has sparked criticism by some Malaysian environmentalists, who fear it might have unforeseen consequences, such as the inadvertent creation of uncontrollable mutated mosquitoes.

Critics also say such plans could leave a vacuum in the ecosystem that is then filled by another insect species, potentially introducing new diseases.

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Genetically Modified Chicken Immune From Bird Flu

Photo: Andrei Niemimäki (CC)

Photo: Andrei Niemimäki (CC)

I pose for you the question: if avian flu was created in a laboratory, as many think it was, is the right course of action to modify the genes of chickens to reduce their susceptibility? One ponders the law of unintended consequences, but there are certainly some scientists who think it is a good idea, as reported in the Daily Mail:

A genetically modified ‘superchicken’ that doesn’t spread deadly bird flu has been developed by scientists.

The bird is intended to prevent the outbreaks of avian influenza which lead to millions of birds being culled.

It could also stop new strains of flu mutating in domestic fowl and spreading to people, leading to killer worldwide pandemics.

The British team behind the GM chicken say it is ‘inconceivable’ that its meat or eggs could be harmful. However, it will need rigorous safety checks before it could go into the food chain, they said.

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Researchers Find a ‘Liberal Gene’

Chemical structures of representative D4-preferring ligands.

Chemical structures of representative D4-preferring ligands.

From ScienceDaily:

Appearing in the latest edition of The Journal of Politics published by Cambridge University Press, the research focused on 2,000 subjects from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. By matching genetic information with maps of the subjects’ social networks, the researchers were able to show that people with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults, but only if they had an active social life in adolescence.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter affecting brain processes that control movement, emotional response, and ability to experience pleasure and pain. Previous research has identified a connection between a variant of this gene and novelty-seeking behavior, and this behavior has previously been associated with personality traits related to political liberalism.

Lead researcher James H. Fowler of UC San Diego and his colleagues hypothesized that people with the novelty-seeking gene variant would be more interested in learning about their friends’ points of view.

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GM Crops Are Less Profitable Than Normal Crops

GMOFrom the Independent:

Previous studies into the economics of growing GM crops have concentrated on the farmers who have taken up the technology, but the latest research looked at a wider area, including non-GM fields that may have benefited from being near fields planted with GM varieties.GM maize, which is called corn in the US, has a bacterial gene called “Bt” added to it so that the plant excretes a protein which has a toxic effect on the European corn borer, a serious insect pest introduced accidentally into America in 1917.

Nearly two-thirds of the US corn belt is now cultivated with Bt maize, and it has had a dramatic impact on the decline of the corn borer moth, which cannot distinguish between the GM and conventional varieties. When female moths lay their eggs on Bt corn, the larvae die within two days of hatching.

Paul Mitchell, an agricultural economist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where the work was carried out, said the main corn-growing states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska experienced a total economic benefit of $6.9bn (£4.6bn) over the period from 1996 to 2009 as a result of less maize being lost to the corn-borer pest.

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Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Hermann Schaaffhausen (1888).

Reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Hermann Schaaffhausen (1888).

From the recent March/April issue of Archaeology. Zach Zorich writes:

If Neanderthals ever walk the earth again, the primordial ooze from which they will rise is an emulsion of oil, water, and DNA capture beads engineered in the laboratory of 454 Life Sciences in Branford, Connecticut. Over the past 4 years those beads have been gathering tiny fragments of DNA from samples of dissolved organic materials, including pieces of Neanderthal bone. Genetic sequences have given paleoanthropologists a new line of evidence for testing ideas about the biology of our closest extinct relative.

The first studies of Neanderthal DNA focused on the genetic sequences of mitochondria, the microscopic organelles that convert food to energy within cells. In 2005, however, 454 began a collaborative project with the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, to sequence the full genetic code of a Neanderthal woman who died in Croatia’s Vindija cave 30,000 years ago.

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Who Owns You? 20% of the Genes in Your Body are Patented (Video)

Who Owns You?Drew Halley writes on Singularity Hub:
Here’s a disconcerting thought: for the past thirty years, genes have been patentable. And we’re not just talking genetically modified corn — your genes, pretty much as they exist in your body, can and have been patented. The US government reports over three million gene patent applications have been filed so far; over 40,000 patents are held on sections of the human genome, covering roughly 20% of our genes. Upset? You’re not alone. Critics argue that the patents stifle potential research into disease, keep new treatments off the market, and bring in serious money to Big Pharma — all by exercising property claims that shouldn’t exist. After all, genes aren’t inventions, which are patentable — they’re discoveries, which aren’t. Singularity Hub recently interviewed Dr. David Koepsell ... His book Who Owns You? is currently being adapted into a documentary film, including interviews with experts like James Watson and Tim Hubbard. Check out the preview:
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