Category Archives: Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology vs. Genetic Engineering

vetiver

The vetiver plant. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0 via this IPS story linked below.

Genetic engineering is all the rage with proponents of false solutions to climate change, especially in regard to the production of wood burning biomass, which many studies show can be even more harmful than burning coal. However, a new and even more dangerous form of manipulating nature is lurking around the corner — synthetic biology.

According to this Inter Press Service article by Desmond Brown, synthetic biology uses computers and other devices to generate biological parts. The current major player is Evolva, a Swiss biotech firm that produces engineered flavors and fragrances. Evolva has its eyes set on the vetiver plant, a common ingredient in perfume, grown by small-scale farmers in Haiti.

 

by Desmond Brown, IPS, 7 October 2014

Haitian vetiver is highly regarded among perfumers, and it is a key ingredient in some of the finest and most expensive perfumes in the world.

However, struggling Haitians who farm this product could be dealt another harsh blow with the introduction of a new industry – synthetic biology. Although still undefined, synthetic biology can be described as ‘extreme genetic engineering,’ and refers broadly to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems, and to redesign existing biological organisms.

“In countries like Haiti there are high-value agricultural exports that form a significant part of the economy, and those high-value low-volume goods are slated to be created by companies like Evolva and could replace the truly natural products,” Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner with the civil society group Friends of the Earth U.S., told IPS.

Read more here.

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Sewage treatment plants demonstrated to help create and circulate new mutant microbes

Last July David Cameron warned that the world could be soon cast back into the dark ages of medicine if we do not find a way to deal with newly evolving bacteria that is becoming resistant to antibiotics.

One has to make the connection between antibiotic resistant microbes and the increasing changes of life forms, including important ecosystem supporting microbes, to genetically engineered (Round-up ready, etc.) food crops and experimental GE Trees. These products are designed to boost the so called “green” economy and are untested rapidly expanding  dangers. These frankenplants are modifying ecosystems and the biosphere in ways that we have not even begun to understand. Ok, well maybe we have begun to understand.

Cameron has urged the world’s drug companies to “accelerate” the discovery of a new generation of antibiotics.

One can be sure that this will be done in the context of profitability.  Disaster capitalism knows no boundaries except profit, -not even when that conflicts with human health and sustainability. This is the same context that corporate influenced governments are using to rush to develop so called “green” strategies to climate change. Profit is the first principle–and unfortunately this is viewed through the smoked glasses of the near term quarterly reports. Complex science problems can be overwhelming even for the most talented and diligent scientists, engineers, and thinkers. We know that we don’t know enough. We know that we are moving along into a dark tunnel. We also know that many of us are organized to strongly advocate for common sense as opposed to simplistic economic growth without a thorough analysis of the consequences..

We urge a precautionary approach as a real first step in all science and in what we work for–stopping release of potential synthetic ecosystems, or radically out of control synthesized ecosystems,  without a whole lot more research. We believe our species has a responsibility to do adequate risk assessments for any developing product. We demand these concepts  be first. We do not endorse nor wish to endure watching humanity follow the money like a moth drawn to a candle. We hope that Cameron can help us find our way through the dire delima that is described below, but we have our doubts.  We know, as you do, that these issues are barging into where you live and have proven to treat humans unkindly. The dark ages of medicine is just one way to characterize our future. Shouldn’t we be demanding system change? should’t we at least demand a ban on all GE Trees? The answer to both is yes.

The article below is from July of 2014,  and helps to contextualize the out of control mutations issues that we face with the release of GE crops.

Discovery in the UK reveals role of sewer plants in creating mutated microbes that are resistant to antibiotics

UK discovery reveals role of sewer plants in antibiotic-resistant microbes (Keith Williams, Creative Commons via The Independent)

 

Drug-resistant bacteria: Sewage-treatment plants described as giant ‘mixing vessels’ after scientists discover mutated microbes in British river

Steve Connor  The Independent

Superbugs resistant to some of the most powerful antibiotics in the medical arsenal have been found for the first time in a British river – with scientists pinpointing a local sewage-treatment plant as the most likely source.

Scientists discovered the drug-resistant bacteria in sediment samples taken downstream of the sewerage plant on the River Sowe near Coventry. The microbes contained mutated genes that confer resistance to the latest generation of antibiotics.

The researchers believe the discovery shows how antibiotic resistance has become widespread in the environment, with sewage-treatment plants now acting as giant “mixing vessels” where antibiotic resistance can spread between different microbes.

A study found that a wide range of microbes living in the river had acquired a genetic mutation that is known to provide resistance to third-generation cephalosporins, a class of antibiotics used widely to treat meningitis, blood infections and other hospital-acquired infections.

Read the whole piece here 

 

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Commodification of Life, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, GMOs, Greenwashing, Human made disasters, Synthetic Biology, Water

Hearst Newspapers uncover GMO apple tree plots in Washington State

How do you like them GMO apple trees? Obviously, we don’t.

Hearst uncovered information showing that heavy rains washed out or otherwise damaged test plots, raising the specter of unwanted dispersal of genetically engineered trees and crops.

Hearst uncovered information showing that heavy rains washed out or otherwise damaged test plots, raising the specter of unwanted dispersal of genetically engineered trees and crops.

Using the Freedom of Information law, Hearst Newspapers recently uncovered hindreds of infractions with genetically engineered crops and trees, including the location of an experimental apple tree plot run by Gebbers Farms in Brewster, Wash. According to an article in the Seattle Pi, the little-known U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service halfheartedly issued the farm with a few superficial citations for planting genetically engineered apple trees too close to natural one, thereby risking contamination.

Bill Lambrecht’s article “Gene-altered apple tested in Washington state” lists the Gebbers cover-up along with other startling GMO-related infractions that were poorly penalized, including issues with field trials, noncompliance from Monsanto, permits issued to plant GMO crops in environmentally-sensitive areas and animals that stumbled upon, and subsequently ingested, GE test plots.

These findings unearth more instances of the U.S. government concealing layer after layer of misinformation about genetically engineered crops and trees. This all comes at a time when public opinion and government propaganda about genetically modified foods are clearly at a stand off. Why is it so hard for the U.S. and other governments to back off from GMOs and GE trees when the majority of the population, their constituents, are clearly against it? By letting these pro-GMO companies off lightly, the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service continues to serve as another reminder of the wasteful spending in U.S. government and the unacceptable corporate greenwashing that influences public policy.

Gene-altered apple tested in Washington state

by Bill Lambrecht, Seattle Pi, Sept. 5, 2014

An inspection of an orchard of experimental, genetically modified apples in central Washington last year turned up a troubling finding – gene-altered trees flowering less than 100 feet from conventional apple trees.

The grower, Gebbers Farms of Brewster, Wash., previously had been cited for conducting a field trial too near conventional apples, failing to keep good records and making no effort to keep animals away from the plot.

[...]

Among the findings of Hearst’s investigation:

  • Minimal penalties: The Agriculture Department issued just two civil penalties for field trials infractions since 2010 despite sending out nearly 200 notices of non-compliance – incidents from minor paperwork violations to lost seeds to modified plants sprouting where they shouldn’t.
  • Monsanto mistakes. The Missouri-based biotechnology pioneer, which has conducted about a quarter of all the field trials in the United States, received at least 35 notices of non-compliance from 2010 through 2013, more than any other company. In 2010, the company paid a civil penalty after accidentally ginning experimental cotton two years earlier in Texas, an error that led to unapproved cottonseed meal and hulls consumed by livestock and exported to Mexico for animal feed.
  • California “pharming”: APHIS is approving permits for pharmaceutical corn in an environmentally sensitive area along the Central Coast even though the head of the company founded another company that contaminated Midwestern crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs.)

Read the full article here.

 

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Filed under Biofuelwatch, Campaign to STOP GE Trees, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, GMOs, Synthetic Biology, Tree Plantations

Synthetic biology products found in “green” laundry detergent

Note: You can check out this letter from our friends with ETC Group asking Ecover to reconsider their use of synbio and genetic engineering in their “green” products.

-The GJEP Team

By Stephanie Strom, May 30, 2014. Source: NY Times

Photo: Jim Wilson/New York Times

Photo: Jim Wilson/New York Times

Consumer products containing ingredients made using an advanced form of engineering known as synthetic biology are beginning to show up more often on grocery and department store shelves.

A liquid laundry detergent made by Ecover, a Belgian company that makes “green” household products including the Method line, contains an oil produced by algae whose genetic code was altered using synthetic biology. The algae’s DNA sequence was changed in a lab, according to Tom Domen, the company’s manager for long-term innovation.

Ecover calls the algae-produced oil a “natural” replacement for palm kernel oil, which is in such high demand that environmentalists are concerned that tropical rain forests are being felled to grow palm trees, disturbing ecosystems and threatening endangered animals.

“Finding a sustainable source of palm oil is, of course, difficult,” Mr. Domen said. “This new oil is a more sustainable alternative from a new technology.”

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering, Synthetic Biology

Scientists create bionic particles ‘inspired by Terminator’

Note: As if biofuels from genetically engineered trees and other crops weren’t bad enough…

-The GJEP Team

May 23, 2014. Source: The Guardian

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – a vision surely now only decades away. Photo: Observer

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – a vision surely now only decades away. Photo: Observer

In what might come to be seen as a moment of apocalyptic hubris, scientists at universities in Michigan and Pittsburgh in the US have pioneered bionic particles – a blend of organic matter with semiconductors – that they describe as being “inspired by fictional cyborgs like Terminator”.

The particles, currently microscopic but perhaps with the potential to scale up to nightmarish Austrian-accented machines, are a blend of cadmium telluride, which is used in solar panels to absorb sunlight, and cytochrome C, a plant protein that helps transports electrons during photosynthesis. Blended together, the new particles “recreate the heart of the process that allows plants to turn sunlight into fuel”.

The hope is that the particles will aid a more efficient conversion of sunlight into biofuels, rather than setting off a chain of events that leads to Skynet being switched on. “We merged biological and inorganic in a way that leverages the attributes of both to get something better than either alone,” said Sharon Glotzer, who headed up the research, alluding to the lethal blend of malleability and strength inherent to the T-1000 model of Terminator.

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

April 10, 2014. Source: GeneWatch UK

mosquito6a

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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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