Category Archives: Synthetic Biology

Brazil warned world’s first commercial release of GM mosquitoes requires full public consultation

April 10, 2014. Source: GeneWatch UK

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Environmental and civil society groups today warned the Brazilian regulator of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), CTNBio, not to approve commercial releases of GM mosquitoes in Brazil without full public consultation, access to conclusive field trials data and a post release monitoring plan. The groups cautioned that the consequences for human health and the environment are poorly understood and need to be further studied.

The GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are produced by UK company Oxitec and the decision follows extensive lobbying by the UK Government to try to create an export market for its products (1). The company, which has close links to the multinational agribusiness Syngenta, also has GM agricultural pests, such as GM fruit flies, at an experimental stage and approval for field trials are pending in Brazil.

“There are no data showing that this GM mosquito actually reduces dengue incidence. In the case it is approved for commercial use, the decision will have been based much more on propaganda than on concrete data from field studies”, said Gabriel Fernandes, advisor with the Brazilian organization AS-PTA.

“Oxitec’s ineffective and risky GM insects are a poor showcase for British exports to Brazil. A desperate desire to prop up British biotech and reward venture capital investors should not blind the UK and Brazilian governments to the risks of this technology”, said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK.
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Filed under Biodiversity, Genetic Engineering, Latin America-Caribbean, Synthetic Biology

That was the year – Unlucky 13

January 7, 2014. Source: ETC Group

etc_groupUnlucky 13: Our 2012 year-end review, “193 Shades of Gray,” stumbled into the surreal, post-Rio+20 “Hunger Games” as FAO admitted that it has been underestimating the number of hungry people and overestimating future food requirements and, in a cowardly act of conspicuous consumption, the UN Committee on World Food Security failed to condemn biofuels; Warsaw withered the way of every climate conference since Kyoto; the USA, UK, China and Russia significantly underestimated GHG emissions while the UK, Japan, New Zealand and Australia concluded that they just don’t give a damn. UNEP first endorsed – and then disclaimed – methyl hydrates as a green, clean energy source. Haiyan/Yolanda, the most powerful typhoon ever recorded, struck the Philippines leaving four million people homeless, and a million Syrians bore the hurricane of refugee flight amidst the tsunami of winter snows.

Lucky 13: In October, a pro-Terminator bill came up for vote in Brazil’s Judicial Commission but was withdrawn; came back again at the end of December and was withdrawn again; massive GM maize plantings in Mexico about-to-be approved most of 2013 were halted by national and international mobilizations leading to a lucky legal ploy in September; that was overturned in December, but restored the same week; lucky us, Edward Snowden courageously told us more than we feared to suspect; Benedict XVI quit; replaced by the happy surprise of the year, Pope Francis. We had Nelson Mandela for 95 years.

2013’s Over-the-Top Understatements: Two demonic pearls from prominent Canadians: Toronto’s hallucinogenic Mayor, Rob Ford, admitted to the Today show, “I’m not perfect,” and Harvard’s hubristic professor, David Keith, confessed to news satirist Stephen Colbert that spraying sulfuric acid in the stratosphere (geoengineering) was a “totally imperfect technological fix.”

2013’s Idiotic Idioms:

·      “Unconventional energy,” or “unconventionals,” for short – including fracking, methane hydrate extraction;

·      “Oilsands” (a.k.a. “tar”) – the capitalist’s alternative to “alternative energy;”

·      “Distorporation” – The Economist magazine’s description of MLPs (Master Limited Partnerships) for the massive secrecy move by extractivist investors;
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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Genetic Engineering, Humor, Land Grabs, Rio+20, Synthetic Biology, The Greed Economy and the Future of Forests, Warsaw/COP-19, World Bank

Genetically engineered trees and glowing synthetic plants? No thanks

Note: It’s only the second day of the conference, and the GE tree industry has already been met by two demonstrators, who were arrested yesterday after disrupting a talk on GE trees and biofuels.  A major march is planned for today.  For more on this, go to treebiotech2013.org.  And stay tuned to Climate Connections for updates throughout the week.

Many thanks to Dr. Rachel Smolker, co-director of BiofuelWatch and longtime friend and colleague of Global Justice Ecology Project.

-The GJEP Team

By Dr. Rachel Smolker, May 24, 2013. Source: Huffington Post

Demonstrators hold banners in Asheville, NC to welcome attendees of the Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference

Demonstrators hold banners in Asheville, NC to welcome attendees of the Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference. Photo: REAL Cooperative

This week in Asheville, N.C., the IUFRO “Tree Biotechnology” conference will meet. And the attendees will be met: by protests. Public opinion is unequivocally opposed to genetically engineered trees. When the South Carolina-based tree engineering company, ArborGen recently applied for deregulation of their freeze tolerant eucalyptus, APHIS responded by filing a “notice of intent” to conduct an environmental impact statement, and opened up for public comments on ArborGen’s petition. The comments the received were overwhelmingly negative by a vast majority.

Similarly, when ArborGen filed for permission to field test their frankeneucalyptus back in 2010, more than 17,500 comments opposing the tests were submitted, while only 39 were favorable. In spite of the abysmal approval ratings, USDA granted permission to field test the trees and then again granted permission to allow some plots to go to flower. A lawsuit was filed against USDA by a coalition of groups (Global Justice Ecology Project, Dogwood Alliance, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity). In an article published in Biomass Magazine, spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization credited the suit as “… a hindrance to biomass development, as they discourage investment… It is creating a huge barrier.”

The International “Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees”, which has called for an international ban on commercial release of GE trees cheered their effectiveness as a “barrier.”
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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Synthetic Biology, Tree Biotech 2013

A dream of trees aglow at night

Note: If successful, this would be the world’s first environmental release of a Synthetic Biology (also known as “extreme Genetic Engineering”) organism, setting a disastrous precedent for industry without any regulatory oversight whatsoever.

ETC Group and others have launched a “Kickstopper” project to put the brakes on this dangerous development.  Relatedly, later this month, Global Justice Ecology Project, Earth First!, and the Campaign to STOP GE Trees will be coordinating a major week of protest at the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference in Asheville, NC — click here to join us!

-The GJEP Team

By Andrew Pollack, May 7 2013. Source: The New York Times

Antony Evans, left, and Kyle Taylor show E. coli with jellyfish genes.  Photo: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Antony Evans, left, and Kyle Taylor show E. coli with jellyfish genes. Photo: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Hoping to give new meaning to the term “natural light,” a small group of biotechnology hobbyists and entrepreneurs has started a project to develop plants that glow, potentially leading the way for trees that can replace electric streetlamps and potted flowers luminous enough to read by.

The project, which will use a sophisticated form of genetic engineering called synthetic biology, is attracting attention not only for its audacious goal, but for how it is being carried out.

Rather than being the work of a corporation or an academic laboratory, it will be done by a small group of hobbyist scientists in one of the growing number of communal laboratories springing up around the nation as biotechnology becomes cheap enough to give rise to a do-it-yourself movement.

The project is also being financed in a D.I.Y. sort of way: It has attracted more than $250,000 in pledges from about 4,500 donors in about two weeks on the Web site Kickstarter. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Commodification of Life, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Synthetic Biology

Making living matter programmable

Note: To learn about the economic, social and environmental dangers of synthetic biology, check out Synbiowatch

-The GJEP Team

By Robert Sanders, March 26 2013. Source: UC Berkeley News Center

Jay Keasling (left), director of SynBERC, and moderator Corey Powell of Discover listen as Monsanto scientist Virginia Ursin explains the company’s interest in synthetic biology.  Photo: Christine Fu

Jay Keasling (left), director of SynBERC, and moderator Corey Powell of Discover listen as Monsanto scientist Virginia Ursin explains the company’s interest in synthetic biology. Photo: Christine Fu

BERKELEY —Thirty years ago, the future lay in programming computers. Today, it’s programming cells.

That was the message of panelists at an afternoon session yesterday (March 25) in Stanley Hall auditorium titled “Programming Life: the revolutionary potential of synthetic biology.” Co-presented by UC Berkeley’s Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) and Discover magazine, the panels brought together a dozen of synthetic biology’s pioneers from academia and industry, in addition to ethicists focused on the societal impact of the technology.

Keynote speaker Juan Enriquez, a self-described “curiosity expert” and co-founder of the company Synthetic Genomics, compared the digital revolution spawned by thinking of information as a string of ones and zeros to the coming synthetic biology revolution, premised on thinking about life as a mix of interchangeable parts – genes and gene networks – that can be learned and manipulated like any language.

At the moment, this genetic manipulation, a natural outgrowth of genetic engineering, focuses on altering bacteria and yeast to produce products they wouldn’t normally make, such as fuels or drugs. “To do with biology what you would do if you were designing a piece of software,” according to moderator Corey Powell, editor at large of Discover, which plans to publish a story about the conference and post the video online. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Genetic Engineering, Synthetic Biology

University of California joins Monsanto in fight against farmer

Note: The precedent set by this case could have profound implications for GE trees, should they escape onto private lands or public parks.

-The GJEP Team

By Jeff Conant, February 28, 2013.  Source: Synbiowatch

Last week, the Supreme Court heard testimonies in the Bowman vs. Monsanto case, wherein the agribusiness giant is fighting an appeal by farmer Vernon Bowman, who the company claims infringed its patent rights by replanting seeds he purchased beyond the bounds of the company’s licensing agreement. The farmer’s claim is that seeds are seeds, designed by nature to reproduce, and that therefore farmers have the right to plant them as they always have; the company’s claim is that its patent on a particular technology embedded in the seed extends to future generations of that seed’s stock.

As the NY Times reports, “The question in the case, Bowman v. Monsanto Company, No. 11-796, was whether patent rights to seeds and other things that can replicate themselves extend beyond the first generation. The justices appeared alert to the consequences of their eventual ruling not only for Monsanto’s very lucrative soybean patents but also for modern agriculture generally and for areas as varied as vaccines, cell lines and software.”

Back in 2007, a federal judge in Indiana ordered Mr. Bowman to pay Monsanto more than $84,000. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which specializes in patent cases, upheld that decision, saying that by planting the seeds Mr. Bowman had infringed Monsanto’s patents.

The rationale for infinite generational patent protection was given by Chief Justice Roberts in his opening question to Bowman’s lawyer: ”Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”
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Filed under Commodification of Life, Commons, Corporate Globalization, Food Sovereignty, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Industrial agriculture, Posts from Jeff Conant, Synthetic Biology

Everglades Earth First! brings anti-biotech fight to Kolter Group

February 26, 2013. Source: Earth First! Newswire

Land deal could signify move forward for Scripps’ biotech city on Briger forest

Today in West Palm Beach, Florida, Everglades Earth First! (EEF!) announced their official opposition to the Kolter Group’s purchase of the Briger Forest. The EEF! collective, which maintained a 6-week treesit on the site in 2011, visited the corporate office of the venture capitalist vultures at Kolter with this message: “If you buy Briger you’re buying the community resistance to the Scripps Florida Phase II project.” The project has been contested for years, with multiple legal challenges citing impacts to protected species, including hand fern and gopher tortoise.

While his underlings call him Bobby, after watching this video, you may want to call him Blinky. …Has Scripps gone into genetically engineering robot CEO’s?!

While his underlings call him Bobby, after watching this video, you may want to call him Blinky. …Has Scripps gone into genetically engineering robot CEO’s?!

In case you want to pay a visit (or send a letter) to Kolter Group Co yourself, their address is 701 S. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. And you can call them at (561) 682-9500, or fax (561) 682-1050. The CEO’s name is Robert Julien, but his underlings seem to call him Bobby. His extension is 221.

Although the Kolter Group claims to be committed to “creating better communities” they seem to have little issue with building homes and businesses within close proximity of the proposed biotech facility. These facilities are known to transport undisclosed hazardous materials. EEF! says they have little faith in Scripps’ ability or intent to keep these materials out of the Intracoastal Waterway and Palm Beach County’s drinking supply. “We are appalled by the apparent negligence of this decision and Kolter’s compliance and culpability in this debacle.”
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Report: Land grabbing for biofuels must stop

February 21 2013. Source: GRAIN

Aerial photo of the lands taken by Addax Bioenergy for its sugar cane plantation in Sierra Leone.  Photo: Le Temps

Aerial photo of the lands taken by Addax Bioenergy for its sugar cane plantation in Sierra Leone. Photo: Le Temps

Zainab Kamara is one of several thousand farmers in Sierra Leone whose lands have been taken over by the Swiss company Addax Bioenergy for a 10,000 hectare sugar cane plantation to produce ethanol for export to Europe.”Now I don’t have a farm. Starvation is killing people. We have to buy rice to survive because we don’t grow our own now,” she says.

In neighbouring Guinea, peasants are trying to understand how their government could have possibly signed off 700,000 ha of their lands to an Italian company to grow jatropha for biodiesel.

On another continent, Guarani communities in Brazil are locked in battles of survival against companies that want their lands to produce ethanol from sugar cane.

It’s a similar story in Indonesia where the Malind and other indigenous peoples of West Papua are desperately fighting a massive project to convert their lands into sugar cane and oil palm plantations, and in Colombia, where Afro-Colombian communities are being pressured by paramilitaries to leave their lands to make way for oil palm plantations.

To read the full report, click here.

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Filed under Africa, Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Industrial agriculture, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean, Synthetic Biology, The Greed Economy and the Future of Forests, Water

Nanoparticles in food raise concerns

By Stephanie Strom, February 5, 2013

Nanomaterials, substances broken down by technology into molecule-size particles, are starting to enter the food chain through well-known food products and their packaging, but there is little acknowledgment by the companies using them, according to a new report from a nonprofit group that works to enhance corporate accountability.

Some companies may not even know whether nanomaterials are present in their products, the corporate accountability group As You Sow said.

Only 26 out of 2,500 companies, including PepsiCo, Whole Foods and the corporate parent of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, responded to a survey from As You Sow about their use of nanomaterials.

“Only 14 said they don’t use nanomaterials, and of those only two had any policies on the use of nanomaterials,” said Andy Behar, chief executive of As You Sow. Various food companies have said they are interested in nanotechnology, which can help make products creamier without additional fat, intensify and improve flavors and brighten colors.

Their small size allows nanoparticles to go places in the body where larger particles cannot and enter cells. They have been found in the blood stream after ingestion and inhalation, and while research on their health effects is limited, studies have shown them to have deleterious effects on mice and cells.

“We’re not taking a no nano position,” Mr. Behar said. “We’re saying just show it’s safe before you put these things into food or food packaging.”

He noted that the European Union requires labeling of foods containing nanomaterials and that the European Food Safety Authority has published guidance for assessing nanomaterials in food and animal feed.

Last April, the Food and Drug Administration issued an unusually emphatic statement on nanomaterials, saying it did not have enough data to determine the safety of nanomaterials in food.

The Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating various nanoparticles used in consumer products, like sunscreens.

As You Sow tested 10 varieties of powdered doughnuts for the presence of nanoparticles. With the help of an independent lab, it found that Hostess Donettes and Dunkin’ Donuts Powdered Cake Donuts tested positive for the presence of titanium dioxide materials of less than 10 nanometers. Titanium dioxide is used to brighten white substances. The nano variety is under investigation by the E.P.A.

Michelle King, a spokeswoman for Dunkin’ Donuts, said the company was working with its supplier to validate As You Sow’s findings. Hostess Brands went out of business during the test and closed its factories.

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San Diego to host Pacific Rim summit on biotech and bioenergy

Note: From our friends at Synbiowatch:

“Twelve years ago, a biotech conference in San Diego drew thousands of protesters, during a peak of activity challenging corporate patents on life and the cynical smokescreen of pro-poor policies and ‘feeding the world.’ Now, as global trade regimes have further concentrated and biotech has consolidated its role as a keystone industry not just in the food and big pharma sectors, but also in the energy sector, another biotech conference in the same city should invite even greater critique and resistance. The false promise of these technologies is simply taking too large a share of the dwindling economic pie to let it go unchallenged.” 

–The GJEP Team

Cross-posted from the San Diego Business Journal

San Diego will host the 2013 Pacific Rim Summit on Biotechnology and Bioenergy this December. The conference will focus on the growth of the industrial biotech and bioenergy sectors in North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

The Washington, D.C.-based Biotechnology Industry Organization, the world’s largest biotech trade organization, has teamed up with San Diego’s BIOCOM to put on the four-day conference, which will be held December 8-11 at the Westin Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Greenwashing, Land Grabs, Synthetic Biology, The Greed Economy and the Future of Forests, Water