Concept: James D. Watson
Despite the extensive cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) maize and considerable number of scientific reports on its agro-environmental impact, the risks and benefits of GE maize are still being debated and concerns about safety remain. This meta-analysis aimed at increasing knowledge on agronomic, environmental and toxicological traits of GE maize by analyzing the peer-reviewed literature (from 1996 to 2016) on yield, grain quality, non-target organisms (NTOs), target organisms (TOs) and soil biomass decomposition. Results provided strong evidence that GE maize performed better than its near isogenic line: grain yield was 5.6 to 24.5% higher with lower concentrations of mycotoxins (-28.8%), fumonisin (-30.6%) and thricotecens (-36.5%). The NTOs analyzed were not affected by GE maize, except for Braconidae, represented by a parasitoid of European corn borer, the target of Lepidoptera active Bt maize. Biogeochemical cycle parameters such as lignin content in stalks and leaves did not vary, whereas biomass decomposition was higher in GE maize. The results support the cultivation of GE maize, mainly due to enhanced grain quality and reduction of human exposure to mycotoxins. Furthermore, the reduction of the parasitoid of the target and the lack of consistent effects on other NTOs are confirmed.
This year marks 60 years since James Watson and Francis Crick described the structure of DNA and 10 years since the complete sequencing of the human genome. Fittingly, today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted marketing authorization for the first high-throughput (next-generation) genomic sequencer, Illumina’s MiSeqDx, which will allow the development and use of innumerable new genome-based tests. When a global team of researchers sequenced that first human genome, it took more than a decade and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, because of federal and private investment, sequencing technologies have advanced dramatically, and a human genome . . .
Fully drought-resistant crop plants would be beneficial, but selection breeding has not produced them. Genetic modification of species by introduction of very many genes is claimed, predominantly, to have given drought resistance. This review analyses the physiological responses of genetically modified (GM) plants to water deficits, the mechanisms, and the consequences. The GM literature neglects physiology and is unspecific in definitions, which are considered here, together with methods of assessment and the type of drought resistance resulting. Experiments in soil with cessation of watering demonstrate drought resistance in GM plants as later stress development than in wild-type (WT) plants. This is caused by slower total water loss from the GM plants which have (or may have-morphology is often poorly defined) smaller total leaf area (LA) and/or decreased stomatal conductance (g(s)), associated with thicker laminae (denser mesophyll and smaller cells). Non-linear soil water characteristics result in extreme stress symptoms in WT before GM plants. Then, WT and GM plants are rewatered: faster and better recovery of GM plants is taken to show their greater drought resistance. Mechanisms targeted in genetic modification are then, incorrectly, considered responsible for the drought resistance. However, this is not valid as the initial conditions in WT and GM plants are not comparable. GM plants exhibit a form of ‘drought resistance’ for which the term ‘delayed stress onset’ is introduced. Claims that specific alterations to metabolism give drought resistance [for which the term ‘constitutive metabolic dehydration tolerance’ (CMDT) is suggested] are not critically demonstrated, and experimental tests are suggested. Small LA and g(s) may not decrease productivity in well-watered plants under laboratory conditions but may in the field. Optimization of GM traits to environment has not been analysed critically and is required in field trials, for example of recently released oilseed rape and maize which show ‘drought resistance’, probably due to delayed stress onset. Current evidence is that GM plants may not be better able to cope with drought than selection-bred cultivars.
Craniosynostosis, the premature fusion of one or more cranial sutures, occurs in ∼1 in 2250 births, either in isolation or as part of a syndrome. Mutations in at least 57 genes have been associated with craniosynostosis, but only a minority of these are included in routine laboratory genetic testing.
Technologies for controlling mosquito vectors based on genetic manipulation and the release of genetically modified mosquitoes (GMMs) are gaining ground. However, concrete epidemiological evidence of their effectiveness, sustainability, and impact on the environment and nontarget species is lacking; no reliable ecological evidence on the potential interactions among GMMs, target populations, and other mosquito species populations exists; and no GMM technology has yet been approved by the WHO Vector Control Advisory Group. Our opinion is that, although GMMs may be considered a promising control tool, more studies are needed to assess their true effectiveness, risks, and benefits. Overall, several lines of evidence must be provided before GMM-based control strategies can be used under the integrated vector management framework.
Biotech news coverage in English-language Russian media fits the profile of the Russian information warfare strategy described in recent military reports. This raises the question of whether Russia views the dissemination of anti-GMO information as just one of many divisive issues it can exploit as part of its information war, or if GMOs serve more expansive disruptive purposes. Distinctive patterns in Russian news provide evidence of a coordinated information campaign that could turn public opinion against genetic engineering. The recent branding of Russian agriculture as the ecologically clean alternative to genetically engineered foods is suggestive of an economic motive behind the information campaign against western biotechnologies.
Genetic engineering with just a few genes has changed agriculture in the last 20 years. The most frequently used transgenes are the herbicide resistance genes for efficient weed control and the Bt toxin genes for insect resistance. The adoption of the first-generation genetically engineered crops has been very successful in improving farming practices, reducing the application of pesticides that are harmful to both human health and the environment, and producing more profit for farmers. However, there is more potential for genetic engineering to be realized by technical advances. The recent development of plant artificial chromosome technology provides a super vector platform, which allows the management of a large number of genes for the next generation of genetic engineering. With the development of other tools such as gene assembly, genome editing, gene targeting and chromosome delivery systems, it should become possible to engineer crops with multiple genes to produce more agricultural products with less input of natural resources to meet future demands.
Data on neuropsychiatric and behavioral genetics have attracted legal interest, as attorneys explore their use in criminal and civil cases. These developments may assist judges and juries in making difficult judgments-but they bring substantial risk of misinterpretation and misuse.
Sixty years after Watson and Crick published the double helix model of DNA’s structure, thirteen members of Genome Biology’s Editorial Board select key advances in the field of genome biology subsequent to that discovery.
In January 2014, an international meeting sponsored by the International Life Sciences Institute/Health and Environmental Sciences Institute and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency titled “Genetic Basis of Unintended Effects in Modified Plants” was held in Ottawa, Canada, bringing together over 75 scientists from academia, government, and the agro-biotech industry. The objectives of the meeting were to explore current knowledge and identify areas requiring further study on unintended effects in plants and to discuss how this information can inform and improve genetically modified (GM) crop risk assessments. The meeting featured presentations on the molecular basis of plant genome variability in general, unintended changes at the molecular and phenotypic levels, and the development and use of hypothesis-driven evaluations of unintended effects in assessing conventional and GM crops. The development and role of emerging “omics” technologies in the assessment of unintended effects was also discussed. Several themes recurred in a number of talks; for example, a common observation was that no system for genetic modification, including conventional methods of plant breeding, is without unintended effects. Another common observation was that “unintended” does not necessarily mean “harmful”. This paper summarizes key points from the information presented at the meeting to provide readers with current viewpoints on these topics.