Barbara H. Peterson on July 3rd, 2019

Honey bees – nature conservation with genetic engineering?

Gene scissor CRISPR being used to produce pesticide-resistant honey bees.

Christoph Then

Test Biotech

3 July 2019 / In February 2019, the first paper on using CRISPR technology to produce pesticide-resistant honeybees was published in South Korea. Ostensibly, this is intended to ‘protect’ the bees from insecticides. This is further not just a one-off case: more and more stakeholders are interested in promoting genetically engineered organisms to ‘protect’ endangered species. Ultimately, it means that wild populations might be replaced by genetically ‘optimized’ organisms.

One goal of the Korean research, written as an MSc thesis, was to make honey bees resistant to the insecticide spinosad. It cannot be concluded from the thesis whether this was successfully accomplished or not. Another paper published by US scientists in 2019, shows how the CRISPR/Cas nuclease can be used to investigate and manipulate the development of honey bee queens. This paper also discusses the possibilities of producing pesticide-resistant honey bee colonies.

“The problems in the conservation of species cannot be solved by replacing them with genetically engineered organisms. If we want to protect honey bees, we have to encourage the protection of wild populations and their ecosystems,” says Christoph Then for Testbiotech. “Given the complex biology of bee colonies and their manifold interactions with the environment, such interventions on the level of the genome cannot be justified. We have to set effective limits to genetic engineering applications.”

Most recently, the number of projects aiming to intervene in ecosystems via genetic engineering has increased strongly. For example, the release of chestnut trees with blight resistance is being discussed in the US. Furthermore, there are plans to manipulate insects and rodents via gene drives in a way that whole populations could become extinct. In the near future, mosquitoes could be infected with a transgenic fungus that produces an insecticidal toxin to prevent malaria. The use of insects to broadly spread genetically engineered viruses in the environment is also under discussion. Some of these applications are also discussed in a recent report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), also commented by Testbiotech.

There is a general problem with these applications: if genetically engineered organisms persist and propagate in the environment, the biological characteristics of their offspring can be quite different from those originally intended. In addition, their reaction to environmental impact cannot be predicted. Christoph Then adds: “In regard to the precautionary principle, it is important that releases cannot be allowed if there are no effective methods available to prevent the uncontrolled spread of the genetically engineered organisms. We have to make such standards mandatory by including them in regulation.”

Further information:

Factsheet – genetic engineering and honey bees: www.testbiotech.org/node/2383

Testbiotech comment on the IUCN report:  www.testbiotech.org/content/testbiotech-comment-iucn-report-conservation-synthetic-biology

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Barbara H. Peterson on March 30th, 2019


The site is undergoing badly needed updates after a long hiatus. Thanks for your patience!

Barb

Barbara H. Peterson on March 29th, 2019

By Bridget Doherty

Glyphosate: Where it is Banned, Where it is Found, and the Dangers it Poses to Us All

As the temperatures rise and the days grow longer, people are spending more time outside. Whether they are gardening, taking their dogs for a walk or playing with their children in the yard, people are much more likely to come into contact with chemical lawn products and weed killers. Roundup weed killer is used in more than 160 countries worldwide, and countless individuals who frequently use the herbicide are at risk of being harmed by its active ingredient, glyphosate.

Glyphosate is extremely effective at eliminating unwanted weeds from lawns, gardens, and farmland, but it may also cause adverse effects to humans. Repeated contact with the chemical has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Leukemia. In fact, the manufacturer Bayer was famously ordered to pay $289 million to the family of a groundskeeper whose lymphoma was caused by frequent Roundup use. The settlement was later reduced, but news of this huge court decision made waves among affected communities, which include landscapers, groundskeepers, agricultural workers and recreational gardeners

Despite the ever-growing number of Roundup lawsuits, Agricultural conglomerate Monsanto was acquired by Bayer AG in 2018. The German company was hoping this merger would expand its reach beyond household cleaners, animal products, and prescription, as well as over-the-counter drugs. However, scientific studies have continued to publicize the dangers that glyphosate poses to humans, the agriculture industry, animals and the environment. While the link between glyphosate and cancer in humans has been written about in the news for years, more recent articles have exposed the presence of glyphosate in many popular foods and even in some brands of beer and wine.

Many consumers are rightfully concerned as more alarming news about glyphosate comes to light. The chemical was initially patented as an antibiotic, and a study published in October 2018 linked the herbicide to the growing epidemic of antibiotic resistance. Many countries are starting to take action to protect their citizens from the dangers of glyphosate. Europen countries such as Germany and Belgium have banned it, and Ireland and France are working to stop all glyphosate use within the next few years.

Legal Woes

In the United States, Roundup is still legal and widely used, but Moms Across America members from all 50 states have asked their governors to outlaw the product. In addition, California has issued a statewide warning against the use of Roundup. Countless users nationwide have been harmed by the product, and more than 11,200 of the affected herbicide users have sued Monsanto and its new owner Bayer for damages.

As the use of Roundup continues around the world, the scrutiny of the product continues to grow. Most recently, Monsanto was found liable for a man’s Roundup-caused cancer and was ordered to pay $80 million to the man and his family. In addition, all glyphosate use in France will be stopped by 2020, and no new glyphosate-containing products can be introduced to the Australian market. Until all use of glyphosate is stopped, consumers can protect themselves and their families from this life-threatening chemical by eliminating the use of the chemical on their own property.

©2019 Bridget Doherty

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Barbara H. Peterson on March 16th, 2019