Genetically-Engineered Bacteria Can Keep Mice From Getting Fat

Genetically engineered bacteria can prevent mice offered a high-fat diet from overeating. The beneficial effects of the bacteria last for about four to six weeks, suggesting that they temporarily take up residence in the gut.

Researchers developed the anti-obesity therapy to test a new way of treating chronic diseases. Sean Davies, a pharmacologist at Vanderbilt University, is modifying bacteria that live in and on the body—known collectively as a person’s microbiome. The hope is that engineered microbes could secrete drugs to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, or other conditions over the long term, eliminating the need to remember to take a pill. Another benefit is that many drugs—including the one tested by the Vanderbilt group—cannot be administered orally because they wouldn’t survive digestion. Bacteria could make it easier to administer such drugs.

Source: Microbes Engineered to Prevent Obesity

The concept is interesting, but this is the first mice trial – meaning, nowhere near prime time.

While most know E. coli from the scares in the recent years, we have E. coli in our intestines.

Not All GMO Plants Are Created Equal

Many people have strong opinions about genetically modified plants, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. But sometimes there’s confusion around what it means to be a GMO. It also may be much more sensible to judge a plant by its specific traits rather than the way it was produced – GMO or not.

Source: Not all GMO plants are created equally: it’s the trait, not the method, that’s important

Livestock Fed GMOs Showed No Evidence of Negative Effects, After 19 Years

Globally, food-producing animals consume 70 to 90% of genetically engineered (GE) crop biomass. This review briefly summarizes the scientific literature on performance and health of animals consuming feed containing GE ingredients and composition of products derived from them. It also discusses the field experience of feeding GE feed sources to commercial livestock populations and summarizes the suppliers of GE and non-GE animal feed in global trade. Numerous experimental studies have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals are comparable with those fed isogenic non-GE crop lines. United States animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. Data on livestock productivity and health were collated from publicly available sources from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed.

Source: Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations

The data mostly consists of livestock production values, not toxicology or histopathology, and very poor model organisms (broiler chickens) were used for the vast majority of the data. Finally, it is deceptive to promote this study as a “long-term analysis of safety”, considering the shortened lifespans of the animals in question and the lack of any medically useful data.

Everyone was worried about pesticides, so we created GMO crops that allowed for less/no pesticides. Out of this movement grew fear over GMO crops, and a push to go back to organic and non-GMO foods, which require the same pesticides we wanted to get rid of to be put back into use.

With respect to Bt-crops, this is true.  By inserting the Bt cry genes into a crop, the plant can now produce its own insect-specific pesticides and no longer need to be sprayed with other agents. This has obviously led to outcry from people, who believe that ingesting Bt toxins may be harmful to humans (though there is no evidence of this). However, one needs to realize that there are over 40 “organic” pesticides that are approved for organic farming that use Bt toxins as the main ingredient.

The main relevant mechanism for harm discussed about Bt is not about its ability to cause direct harm to humans like it does insects, but that it has an adjuvant effect similar to cholera toxin. When tested in the presence of digestive helminths, cholera toxin and Bt can both still register an allergic response to a previously unknown allergen. This wouldn’t be a major concern for most of the human population, since the adjuvant effect is decreased if you’ve already been exposed to a certain allergen, but it does create some concern about an increase in food allergies in children, who may be exposed to the adjuvant in formulas or even in breast milk from a mother who has ingested a GE product. This hasn’t been extensively tested, but relevant research backs it up and it’s really the only mechanism for “harm” imaginable.

People who want organically grown food many times do not want any pesticides used on them. The tradeoff here is a lower yield and less “perfect” crops. People willing to accept a higher price and using crops that may look a little weird in one way or another (not the “perfect” shape, color, etc.) can get all of these things without using pesticides.

The truth about GMOs is that nothing is universally true about all GMOs. If you’re concerned about safety to your health or the environment, you need to address each GMO strain individually since they each have their own positives and negatives. Lumping them all into one category and labeling it “good” or “bad” is a huge logical misstep and entirely misses the point of why it might be helpful to regulate and/or label these things.  Really, that sane logic applies to anything.

The U.S. Just Approved Its First GMO Apple, Which Doesn’t Turn Brown

The Agriculture Department on Friday approved the first genetically modified apple for sale in the U.S., reigniting debate over the safety of modified foods and whether the products should carry mandatory labels.

Source: First Genetically Modified Apple Approved for Sale in U.S.

If it doesn’t brown, then what indicator do we have for how long it’s been exposed to air?  Browning is rather innocuous – I’d have rather seen a GMO approval for something that demonstrated value, rather than a proof of concept.

Could Genetically Engineered Bacteria in Your Colon Replace Vitamins?

Some bacteria produce beta-carotene, the pigment that gives carrots their orange colour. It is also a precursor chemical that our bodies use to make vitamin A. Quadro and her colleagues took the bacterial DNA that codes for this chemical and inserted it into a different strain – one that colonises mouse intestines.

After two weeks living in the guts of lab mice, the bacteria had made themselves at home and were making beta-carotene that could be detected in the gut, bloodstream and liver.

Source: Gut bugs serve up vitamin A the carrot-free way

Each year, up to 500,000 children in the developing world go blind from lack of vitamin A, half of whom will then die within 12 months. The molecule that could save their lives is so well-studied and abundant, yet we haven’t figured out how to get it to them.

Genetically engineered bacteria are routinely used in the biomedical industry to make insulin, blood-clotting factors, and hormone that save lives. There’s a disconnect between the spook factor of the term “GMO” when it comes to food, and our relatively silent acceptance of it in medicine.

FYI: The majority of our vitamin K, which is essentially for blood to clot, comes not from food but from gut bacteria. That’s why antibiotics can cause a vitamin K deficiency.

GMO-Free Crop “refuges” Limit Bugs’ Ability to Develop Resistance

One of the most successful forms of genetically modified crops are the species that have been engineered to express bacterial proteins that are lethal to insects that ingest them. These crops have picked up the name “Bt,” for Bacillus thuringiensis, the bacteria that originally made the toxins. There are Bt versions of food crops such as corn and soy beans, as well as the commercial crop cotton.

The danger with these crops is that they’ll do what every other insecticide has done throughout history: select for the evolution of resistance. In the US, government regulations require that Bt crops be planted along with some fields sown with their non-Bt versions, called refuges. This ensures that any rare resistant individuals will likely mate with non-resistant animals that fed on the insecticide free crops, diluting out the resistance genes.

Source: GMO-free crop “refuges” limit bugs’ ability to develop resistance

Interesting read on the arms race between insect resistant crops and insects who evolve to tolerate what was engineered to be toxic to them.  And because of the short lifespan of insects, we can see the evolution unfold before us.

The Congressional Debate Over What Makes Food “Natural”

A controversial bill that seeks to block mandatory GMO food labeling by individual U.S. states was the subject of a hearing held yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. Amid the testimonies, one key question emerged time and again: Are genetically modified foods “natural”?

Source: The Congressional Debate Over What Makes Food “Natural”

I’m not as concerned about labeling as I am about health impacts.  Lest we forget thalidomide

There is a very good reason we test and test, and test some more.  There’s no such thing as a generalization in medication – there are corner cases and allergies.  Some can take decades to appear…

The Future of Sustainable Food: Q&A with Wendell Berry

Farmer and environmentalist Wendell Berry is known to many as the father of the sustainable food movement. He is an outspoken advocate for an agrarian revolution to end industrialized practices that he says are poisoning the land and destroying rural communities. In recent years Berry has promoted a 50-Year Farm Bill, which presents a long-term plan to reduce soil erosion and land pollution by replacing annual crops with perennials. His latest book, Distant Neighbors, chronicles his 40-year correspondence with poet Gary Snyder, and discusses everything from faith and family to the destruction of the environment. Berry stopped by KQED and I had a chance to speak with him about agricultural policy and current trends in the sustainable food movement.

Source: The Future of Sustainable Food: Q&A with Wendell Berry

It’s rather brief.  He’s somewhat anti-corporation/business, but without profit there’s no motivation or market.  He wants/prefers local, organic markets – but eventually someone wants/needs to sell more which leads to distribution deals and quotas…  Without such distribution, depending on the area we wouldn’t have non-indigenous foods like bananas, citrus, etc.

GMO Cows Can Make Human Antibodies

Cows are big hulking creatures—not so great for tipping over while drunk, but great for turning into living factories that make massive quantities of antibodies. Scientists have inserted a modified human chromosome to cows that can now make human antibodies for hantavirus. Other deadly disease like Ebola and MERS could come next.

…These antibodies from these genetically modified cows, however, would be basically indistinguishable from those made in a human body after purification. Cows are much bigger and more efficient than mice, too; a single cow could make up to 1,000 doses a month. Someday, cow-men could save your life.

Source: Cows With Human Chromosomes Can Now Make Human Antibodies

I wonder about the volume that could be produced taken into consideration with the resource footprint.   Cows need more food and space.  More importantly, what if they become self-aware:


GMO Trees: Save American Chestnut from Fungus?

The relationship between the US public and genetically modified organisms (GMO) is a bit ambiguous. Efforts to label GMO foods were defeated in California, while some Hawaiian islands have banned the planting of GMO crops. But for most Americans, these issues remain pretty abstract.

That may change thanks to work taking place in upstate New York. There, scientists are planning the return of an American icon in a genetically modified form. And if all goes according to plan, ten thousand GMO chestnut trees could be ready to plant in as little as five years. People could find them in parks and playgrounds and even in their neighbors’ yards.

Source: GMO trees could rescue American chestnut from invasive fungus