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Biotech and the Environment

michael posted more than 12 years ago | from the sharks-with-lasers-on-their-heads dept.

Science 296

John Holkeboer writes: "Is biotech all that bad? The scourge celebre of environmentalists is gaining supporters right and left for nothing less than its environmental soundness. Genetically engineered corn requires less pesticide spray and is a renewable resource that could replace petroleum. For example, Dupont is developing "Sonora"- a stretch resistant fiber that can compete with polyester but isn't 100% petroleum-based. As one industry chemist points out, "Clearly, for the chemical industry, sustainable development is the future."" The Village Voice also has a good biotech article this week, talking about the genetically engineered bollworms that we mentioned a few months ago.

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Re:Just use hemp? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#124146)

I don't agree that commercial use is fine. There is also a concern of crossing of the engineered plants with natural plants. The problem is that once the new DNA is out in the environment it is very hard if not impossible to get it back. Thus crops grown for purely commercial purposes may have consequences on other plants that are not.

GM leads to more *icide - Roundup (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#124147)

Roundup-ready soybeans, from those earth friendly softies at Dupont, leads to INCREASED usage of stuff. The genemod is intended to produce a plant that can survive a deluge of roundup, which is an herbicide. That's one of the major GM crops. Generally, GM has been a resounding dud for farmers. Lower yields, more expense, more inputs. Also more hype. THEN we have to worry about the relative scientific rigor of those with a vested interest in the use of a product.

Issues vs. "Real" Issues (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#124148)

My worst gripe these days, is that the contemporary environmental movement is getting padded with the ignorant masses of crystal-huggers and new-age granola witch-wannabes that while being nice folk, have probably never cracked open a goddamn textbook, much less one covering genetics in any detail.

My friends and I, staunch environmentalists all, have watched in terror as the movement has been inherited seemingly by the mentally deficient fear mongerers and general luddites.

There are real, significant, serious issues relating to biotech - chiefly issues of implementation and politics (re:corporate greed), *not* of theory/principles.

Real issues -
  • Patented sterile seeds for food crops - Monsanto et al trying to turn farmers into literal serfs, dependent on them for thier yearly dole of seeds, breaking a cycle of replanting from the previous years crops that is a cornerstone of your basic selective breeding of crops...taking the best seeds from each year and planting the new crop. Monsanto et. al. want to take away this facet of sustainable farming, and make the farmers dependent on the company. BAD!!
  • Engineering pesticides into plants is ok. Engineering pesticides into plants being consumed and moved into the foodchain is BAD !! The butterfly issue mentioned in another post is a good example. Fine, testing shows humans have no problem eating corn (or whatever) that produces it's own pesticide. Great!! But then you find out that butterflies or whatever, are eating the plants, or eating bugs that eat the plants, or that there is simply some mechanism moving the plant mass into the non-human food chain, where the pesitcides accumulate in higher predators in the chain...DOH!

It's not the principle of altering the plant - it's the implementation without careful review of all consequences

Transfer of DNA between species, or even between plant and animals! Not a real issue! Flakes are screaming about mutant this and half-animal that, but so what?? It's frigging CODE, in the SAME language (DNA / GTCA). Animals and plant kingdoms are human labels - like 'races', they have little to do with reality, other than being a convenient way to classify organisms by their structure. They still share huge portions of thier DNA, though, since all life on Earth pretty much evolved from the same source code - heh heh but with lots of code forks....

Boy, what a rant...I think i even became semi-coherent for a bit...I just get worked up...sound environmental concerns are being drowned out by these damned idiots...if I hear one more ignorant granola-unit who hasn't bathed in a week say "frankenfood" I'm going to be very put out.

The worst moment I recall was trying to be patient and explain to some of these techno-phobes that science isn't bad or a 'tool of the oppressor'...as if corporations owned science. These twits had no ability to distinguish between concept/idea and implementation/practice. Yeah - corporations have implemented some scary shit. That doesn't mean the science is "evil", it means "evil" jerks are using the science to the ends that "evil" jerks will use anything...

aaaggghhhh why do i bother - i know i'm preaching to the choir here...

Re:Genengineering Ecological Benefits (1)

nitsuj (966) | more than 12 years ago | (#124150)

A little while back, the environmental activist industry was really up in arms about "BT" corn...

Regardless of whether the constitutive expression of Bt by bioengineered corn has had short-term effects (positive or negative) on any organism, it still stands as the most appalling idiotic, short-sighted, and forebodingly wrong decision ever made in the field of agriculture.

Bt is an excellent insecticide. It prevents the construction of chitin, which is used in insects' exoskeleton, including the digestive system. This causes the insects to die. Humans and mammals do not make chitin, and so Bt does not affect us. Since Bt application is perfectly safe, it is an important tool used by organic farmers to deal with insect infestations. Modern agriculture business isn't dominated by organic farming, though. It's a big corporation thing, with tight margins, too many acres, and not enough people to wander around and apply Bt just where the insects are. So instead, they decided to just have plants make Bt themselves, all the time. Sounds like a nice solution. No need for bad pesticides to be sprayed everywhere, but still no insects ruining the crop. Everything should be fine (and basically is, right now).

Except, we have plants cranking out Bt all the time now. And as it diffuses about, we get various Bt concentration gradients. Right in the middle of the crop field, there's a lot of Bt, and all the insects die. But get further away from the Bt spewing corn and you still find Bt, but in low concentrations. Here, most insects die, but some of them have screwy little mutations in some protein somewhere that helps fight off Bt. Perhaps it chews up Bt a bit, so it doesn't work quite as well. Maybe it results in a slightly different chitin anabolic pathway. Could be any number of little things that give that insect just a little bit of resistance. So the low concentrations hurt it, but don't kill it-- oh, and it gives them a huge advantage over all of its neighboring insects. So these little mutants increase in number, and new little mutations occur which make them even more resistant. Before you know it, Bt is nothing to them. They make chitin in a whole new way, and/or digest Bt to pieces before it can do anything.

Ok, so the insects were going to become Bt resistant in time, but anyone want to hazard a guess at one of the best things you can do to speed up the evolution of resistance? Try concentration gradients. It's like progressively harder video game levels. You suck on mission one, but it's easy, and you learn. By the time you're at mission twenty, you're a badass. If this Bt corn becomes widespread, Bt as an insecticide has only a few years of useful life. That seems like an awful waste of a wonderful tool. If only we were a tad more foresighted, we'd wait to deploy Bt genes in crops until we had a good expression trigger. For instance, if we spend a bit of time trying to find a nice chemical that announces the arrival of an insect infestation, and we tie Bt expression to that, then the plants does exactly what good organic farmers do now: use it only when needed. Doing that will stave off widespread resistant mutants for a long time (likely many decades or more). And it's within our reach within five or ten years. Instead, we opt for the quick buck, knowing that in five to ten years, we're going to be screwed again. Maybe, if we're lucky, we can design or discover a new compound that's as nice as Bt, but it will be much, much, much harder than rigging up a triggered expression system for Bt.

Re:Hemp as food? (1)

MTO (2039) | more than 12 years ago | (#124152)

One attempt is not a statistically valid sample set!!!

I've had hemp beer (passable). Cookies made from Hemp Flour (Excellent, although they could have used a better grinder). Hemp seeds as cereal (mmm.). Hemp oil for cooking (pretty good. Higher smoke point than olive oil, IIRC). I've heard that it makes a good salad too, but you then have to be careful you're dealing with a strain that produces little-to-no THC.

For the un-initiated: NOT ALL HEMP IS A DRUG. The active ingredient in pot is THC, and it is only produced in the flowers, and tends to collect on the surface of the flower and leaves. Seeds can be washed, and then have a zero-THC content. Hemp is easier to grow than soy, and has comparable fat and protien content, making it among the best food sources known to man! There are also strains bred for industrial applications that are good for cloth and rope, but would at best give you a head-ache if you smoke it!

Re:Hemp as food? (1)

MTO (2039) | more than 12 years ago | (#124153)

I read somewhere of a study that showed that pot-heads were less-likely to get into car accidents than clean-and-sober people. I don't know how that works, and I wish I could refer people to the study, but I cannot.

Re:Caveat Lector (1)

zigzag (2071) | more than 12 years ago | (#124154)

This original poster is right and you're making the same mistake as other advocates for DNA manipulation. You're looking at a single part of the system in isolation. The corn field you speak of isn't floating in space on an asteroid. It's part of and interacts with everything around it. This kind of tunnel vision is apparent when people landscape with plants or place fish in an aquarium without regard on the environment that produced the particular species or how the species will interact. I guess humans are so adaptable we don't really consider context as all that important.

The original poster was also right when he says it's too late. The genie is out of the bottle. There will probably be many stories of wonderful successes with biotech and then one day we'll hear "Oops! We didn't think about that." and unfortunately all of humanity will pay the price for a few people's short term greed.

My analogy is that we're like curious children twiddling the knobs on a hifi audio system that we don't understand. And we're about to blow the speakers and give ourselves permanent hearing loss.

Well.... (1)

nullhero (2983) | more than 12 years ago | (#124155)

Well, I don't believe that biotech is all that bad but I don't believe that biotech will be all that it's cracked up to be. The question that no biotech scientist has ever truly answered about the products is the long term effects on somethings. Take a look at the corn that needs less pesticide to grow. What happens when nothing can kill the corn and it continues to grow and grow and take over all because it went from the lab to the enviroment and Mother Nature retweaked this little genetic gem into a weed like plant that can't be killed all because there isn't one scientist who can say that he/she knows exactly the outcome of certain changes.

Things my look great in the Lab (DDT) but sometimes it turns out differently in the enviroment (Cancer). BTW: I went the biotech conference here in San Diego and that was brought up. At least one panelist responded that biotech is 80% sure they know what will happen outside of the lab. That to me is a large enough gap to create the ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES!!!!!!

Plants producing pesticides (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 12 years ago | (#124162)

Some of the genetically engineered plants that require less pesticide spray simply produce pesticides themselves. While that is no doubt very good for the workers who will not have to produce pesticides, the advantage for the environment seems much more dubious.

Also, plants are generally not sprayed with pesticide for some weeks before they are harvested, thereby ensuring that there will be little of it left when the plant reaches the consumer. If the plants produce the pesticide themselves, it is hard to make them stop at the appropriate time.

Re:What if you had a protest and nobody came...? (1)

ananke (8417) | more than 12 years ago | (#124164)

i live in san diego too, and my old boss came down for the convention [he works for va bio tech institute]. i was really hoping to see more protestants [=cheap action]. i think they were expecting a couple thousands protestors, instead, the number of cops was almost exceeding the number of demonstrators. i feel jipped :)

Genetically Engineered Grits? (1)

jawad (15611) | more than 12 years ago | (#124167)

It pains me (no, really) that no biotech firm has yet genetically engineered grits. I'd love to be able to pour hot grits down my pants without the fear of burning my genitals.

Thank you.

Oh good. (1)

schon (31600) | more than 12 years ago | (#124180)

Dupont is developing "Sonora"- a stretch resistant fiber that can compete with polyester but isn't 100% petroleum-based.

Oh good. That's JUST what the world needs - a way to make environmentally-friendly leisure suits.

Truly Scary (1)

dmachleid (36489) | more than 12 years ago | (#124182)

I've read studies of a GM food test that showed them to be perfectly harmless...for adults. The test in question studied modifying potatoes to produce a natural fungicide: one produced by some weed or other. The same studies on pregnant females or developing organisms (the studies in question were all done on rats, thank god) revealed that the organisms fed on the GM food (potatoes, in this study) had a readically reduced development of brain and liver, compared to the test groups. Both test groups were fed potatoes from the same parent stock as the GM potatoes, one group unaltered and one group was fed potatoes that had been HEAVILY doped (by hand) with the fungicide that the GM potatoes had been engineered to produce in minute quantities.

The upshot: Something else completely unforseen, and still not completely understood utterly destroyed the food value of this crop. And most of the industry analysis missed it. We just have a bunch more to learn about the synergies at work here. DNA seems to be (to use a hack term) a "fractal-compression" representation of the organism. Changing one little bit changes other bits in ways we can't necessarily forsee.

I can't remember the name of the scientist who did the study I reference. I got it from the book "Trust Us, We're Experts", from the same fellows who brought you "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You." Unfortunately, my only copy is at home. If you want the ref, email me.

My name is dan, and I'm reachable at the machleid.com domain.

GE isn't to blame. (1)

forii (49445) | more than 12 years ago | (#124184)

For example, there is a GE form of sea grass that was made more robust for use in fish tanks. People change their tanks and flush the water. The sea grass flows out to sea.

This grass is now taking over huge areas of underwater shorescapes and pushing out all natural life in certian areas. They are trying to contain it, but don't have much of a chance.

You're talking about Caulerpa taxifolia.

I used to live down in San Diego county, where this grass (actually an algae) is becoming a problem. You're right that it is an aquarium grass. You're right that people are flushing into the water system and that it's taking over the wetlands, doing huge amounts of ecological damage.

However, it's not a GE grass. It first started invading the Mediterranian in 1984, way before GE was possible. It IS a mutant (or hybrid, depending on how you look at it) strain. The natural variety only lives in tropical climes, but this mutant strain just grows and grows everywhere, annihilating everything around it.

Of course, there are no predators where it is spreading. As one article [fishingnj.org] points out, sea urchins would prefer eating their own excement and pieces of plastic before eating Taxifolia. It's nasty stuff, but not every biological disaster has New Technology to blame. Just ask the australians. :)

Re:Sure it seems like a good idea now...... (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 12 years ago | (#124185)

I don't know about that. According to Snapple commercials, those fruits seem to be a decent crowd. They have all of the same feelings and experiences as humans. And, they even undergo routine drug screenings!

John Holkeboer writes: "Is biotech all that bad? (1)

phunhippy (86447) | more than 12 years ago | (#124197)

I hope this guy gets a clue...

For some dumb reason the US government lets anyone genetically modify a plant and patent the change. They now own the patent and rights to that crop. As was recently proven in canada with the roundup corn, Even if seed from another field blows onto your field and you cultivate, you can now own that company license fees. I personally have no desire to have my food owned before its planted by a large bio-tech firm.. Its really frightening..


Re:This is an empty debate / this is post #32 bud (1)

phunhippy (86447) | more than 12 years ago | (#124198)

And your Post #32... wait an hour and maybe some people here will have somthing interesting to say :)

Fear Nothing (1)

Wargames (91725) | more than 12 years ago | (#124201)

I just finished reading this book. Here's my take: Share some genes (don't let species get in the way) and be one big happy family; it's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Recommended bedtime reading.

An excerpt and review can be found at: Bookbrowse.com : Fear Nothing: Review [bookbrowse.com].

Re:GM Foods (1)

bill_kress (99356) | more than 12 years ago | (#124207)

If all DNA is the same, how did Mad Cow desease start? I thought it was a mutation caused by feeding beef to beef for a few generations.

engineered crops.. (1)

nido (102070) | more than 12 years ago | (#124209)

from the article:

Increasingly, researchers can engineer crops so they carry the pesticide, dramatically reducing or even eliminating the need for spraying. Less spraying means less unintended destruction of noninvasive insects - a net plus for the environment, researchers say.

Data sez: yummy, life-form killing plants. Good thing my internals are made of metal & silicon, don't have to worry about pesty things like injesting pesticides.

but wait a sec, what am I, an inorganic android, eating plants for?

Genetically engineered corn requires less pesticide spray ...

thanks, but I'll pass on your pesticide tomatos & corn, and stick with my Organically engineered, pesticide free food products, thankyouverymuch. rah-rah, biotech for industry, just keep it off my plate!


war on drugs (1)

whovian (107062) | more than 12 years ago | (#124212)

Until the government no longer has a vested interest in maintaining the appearance that it is fighting a "war" on drugs, hemp will remain illegal.

Re:Just use hemp? (1)

Barahir (109349) | more than 12 years ago | (#124213)

Genetic engineering is no different than the random mutations we're seing here, except for one thing - *its controlled!*. We actually have a clue about what's going to happen, instead of just a random fluctuation.

I think it's more complicated than that. The random mutations are also much less likely to have an effect on anything: maybe an unused gene got modified. Maybe it's just a really small change. At any rate, the random mutation in any one organism has nothing to do with the mutation in any other organism.

Genetic enginering on the other hand is about big (or bigger at any rate) changes on lots of organisms all in the same way.

As far as the dangers are concerned, natrual mutation is like taking baby-steps near a cliff in the middle of the night. Artificial mutations are like jumping around near the same cliff but with only a little light to see by(at least for now).

Of course, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be doing this. We should. But we need to be very careful.

The facts (1)

loosenut (116184) | more than 12 years ago | (#124215)

The Campaign [thecampaign.org] to Label Genetically Engineered Foods has an extensive tutorial on GMOs.

Included in the discussion are such dangers as the spreading of GMO seeds through the wild, untested or barely-tested GMOs, and pesticide-ridden food. An excerpt:

"Scientists say that plans for "terminator" trees --engineered never to flower--could create a "silent spring" in the forests. While these trees would grow faster than traditional trees, they would be lifeless in comparison. Gone would be the bees, butterflies, moths, birds and squirrels that depend on pollen, seed and nectar of normally reproducing trees."
One of the things we have to ask ourselves when we try to determine who is telling the truth, the biotech industry or the environmentalists, is: who has the most to gain by lying?

Some people just don't get it (1)

Acheon (122246) | more than 12 years ago | (#124219)

The 'debate' I'm talking about is just lasting for a few decades... wake up. BTW, regarding the one on slashdot, it is going to be an empty debate anyway (I've read down to pose #89 and disappointing is an euphemism).

Bug free foods? I think not (1)

Naerbnic (123002) | more than 12 years ago | (#124221)

Every food I've ever seen has at least some group of people who are "incompatable" (i.e. allergic) to it. Sugar, Chocolate, Nuts (my personal curse), all can make people quite ill in the right situations.

Not to say that Humans have done any better. Look at that whole Olestra spectacle, and try to say we're good at this :-)

Save a life. Eat more cheese

Re:GM Foods (1)

rgmoore (133276) | more than 12 years ago | (#124224)

The currently accepted theory about mad cow disease (and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies like scrapie in sheep and kuru in humans) is that they don't involve DNA at all. They're transmitted by things called prions, which are a variant form of a naturally existing protein. The prion form of the protein causes the normal form to re-fold into the prion form, which keeps it from woring right and causes the condition to spread further. That means that the prion can be transmitted by eating the tissue from an infected organism. The prions are apparently somewhat resistant to transmission across species but much less so within a species. That's why the most famous form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in humans (kuru) was found in cannibals.

All good and fine, but (1)

theirpuppet (133526) | more than 12 years ago | (#124225)

This is nice that some corporations are trying to help the environment by genetically engineering more easily renewable resources. But, most genetically engineered crops are not sufficiently tested for their effects on animal and plant life.

Testing these effects is left up to the public. So they can sell them, cause everyone to get cancer, and then have the public pay for this. Yet, they never asked us if we wanted it in the first place. Try buying Free Range Chickens, or non-hormone beef in the US (or many other countries now).

Ok, it's cheaper for larger farmers in the long run, to use these kinds of products. But, because of the initial expense, smaller farmers don't have a chance. This leads to what is known as the "Green Revolution", which inevitably forces out the smaller farmers (causing them and their families to then become a part of Free Trade, er umm, slave labor).

GM Foods (1)

ShaggusMacHaggis (178339) | more than 12 years ago | (#124234)

well, if I remember correctly, the FDA's stance is that all DNA is the same...therefore, genitically modified food is not going to hurt you. The main problems are what if the GM food overtakes the natural food in the wild, and if people develop allergies to some of the GM food. It's not going to cause people to start growing 4 arms or anything...

Gives me the willies... (1)

antidigerati (195379) | more than 12 years ago | (#124235)

I think of genetic engineering... or Biotech.. as people attempting to change some binary code in a 600 MB file using a VAIO keyboard, their elbows... and no monitor.

When we are capable of programming something even as 'simple' as an Operating System and can be sure that it is relatively bug free... (to the point that one would be willing to eat it ;).. then MAYBE we are ready to start messing with vegetables.

Mind you... we are going to poke and prod and come up with new chemical reactions and genetic variants... Nothing as simple as logic, or a few lives, has stopped people in the past.


Re:My biggest problem with engineered crops.... (1)

Prof. Pi (199260) | more than 12 years ago | (#124237)

Usually the resulting plants are steril.

And if they weren't, people would be complaining, "once they're released into the environment, they'll keep on breeding and then there's no way to stop them!"

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

BTW, this [segfault.org] might have been on /. before, but it's still funny.

industry lies (1)

GreenCow (201973) | more than 12 years ago | (#124240)

i think that bioengineered stuffs is any company's perogative but if it's going into food supplies of ourselves or our animals then there may be a problem. there may not be also i can imagine that it may be possible to make foods healthier than what has managed to come out of nature alone, but i think that the industry may be more interested in foodstuffs that cost less through reduced pesticides and patents so every seed is licensed. an important point is that for testing of a food the biotech industry had some 30 rats eating their bioengineered stuff for 90 days (this is supposed to adequately guage if humans can live off of it) and they said that the rats came out fine so it was safe for humans. besides the inadequate test they also straight lied about the results as many of the male rats developed cancerous cysts. sorry i can't provide some more definite coverage but what should be obvious is that the FDA is not entirely in control of regulation of food..the biotech has lots of money and power and they've used it to prevent labeling to allow us to decide so they can use it to work the testing and approval how they want (as the meat industry has) and look at how they're putting these farms next to family farms that don't license their seeds and there is some seed spread from wind or whatever and they sue the family farmer for growing unlicensed seed..they've sued hundreds of farmers in the past 2 years and it's obvious that they want complete control of seeds..like no more non-genetically modified licensed seeds. that's just evil! and it's like the polluters getting paid for polluting. oi i wouldn't mind gm if it was really tested and safe and there was always a non-gm alternative everything clearly labeled.

Why you can't trust Monsanto (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 12 years ago | (#124257)

Unless a company deliberately inserts genes for known toxins, genetically modified corn is perfectly safe to eat! Most anti-GM sentiment amounts to simple hysterics over eating GM products, and that's a shame, because it's a side-issue. It's a distraction from the real problems with GM crops that not as many people are talking about.
First of all, you just can't trust these guys. Monsanto created corn with the "terminator" gene- so the corn grows and produces sterile seeds. The idea is to flood Third World markets with cheap seed for "terminator" corn. For a year or two. Then, when all the farmers have none of their own viable seeds left, because they've been planting Monsanto corn, UP GOES THE PRICE! HAHAHA! Welcome to the subscription business model, suckers! That stuff you're eating has our intellectual property in it!
They almost got away with that one but the public fury became too much for them and they withdrew from the terminator project. (It's a tactic that's similar to the stunt Nestle pulled- Nestle provided free baby formula to new mothers in the Third World. Except that the baby formula was free only for the first month! Once the mothers stopped lactating, the formula stopped being free, surprise surprise!)
The problem with GM pesticide is that they screw the organic farmers who use the same pesticides themselves. GM corn with pesticide genes represents an abuse of pesticide that would never be tolerated with normal corn. It breeds insects resistant to the pesticide. When they're all immune to it, Monsanto inserts some other pesticide into the corn and keeps chugging along. Meanwhile everyone else is screwed.

There are benefits....but also risks... (1)

iluvpr0n (306594) | more than 12 years ago | (#124267)

I can see the benefits to things like this. As someone else said, if they were able to guarantee that it wouldn't cross into the food that we eat (in the case of engineered food for industrial purposes) then it would be all good. But even when "safeguards" are taken, accidents happen.

Take a look at this article [corpwatch.org] to see how easily modified corn (in this case, meant only for animal consumption) can contaminate the neighboring "human corn". I think they need to be more careful with this stuff and do more testing before deploying it into the wild.


Re:Sure it seems like a good idea now...... (1)

Kujako (313468) | more than 12 years ago | (#124273)

Sure, they'd like you to think that. Lets not forget about Odwala and E.coli.....

Re:Hemp as food? (1)

Kujako (313468) | more than 12 years ago | (#124274)

"be careful you're dealing with a strain that produces little-to-no THC" so thats what I did wrong. All in all I agree with you. Hell, in my opinion the THC producing strains are better then vodka as far as detrimental effects go. Its nothing I use myself (I also dont drink, smoke or eat pork rinds) but it seems to be rather harmless on the grand scale of things.

Scorpion Genes? (1)

CargoCult (313610) | more than 12 years ago | (#124276)

I think this is scary stuff - kind of a "Do you feel lucky punk? Do you?" with nature. I read that one bright team had put the venom producing genes from scorpions into a plant....

What worries me is that there is no accountability to anyone here, no labelling of food (here in the good ole US of A) so you can't choose to avoid eating frankenfood.

The laboratory for this is typically a field so its going to be pretty hard bottling up a mistake.

And finally I understand that actually more pesticide is used, rather than less, as the cash crop is "resistant" so they can nuke weeds with a higher dose, more frequently and for longer in the growth cycle.

This has nothing to do with farming and everything to do with big agribusiness chemical companies.

Biotech is being forced upon us...at least Microsoft label their damn boxes....

Re:John Holkeboer writes: "Is biotech all that bad (1)

Angry Toad (314562) | more than 12 years ago | (#124277)

No personal offence meant, but this argument is typical of the misinformation that surrounds this issue. Said farmer in Canada almost certainly knew perfectly damn well what was growing in his fields and chose to ignore a free and easily available option to have the company come and clean up the contaminated crops. He was trying to get something for nothing and got caught.

Re:Just use hemp? (1)

Marcus Brody (320463) | more than 12 years ago | (#124279)

I still don't understand why there's so much cash spent on bio-engineering new strains of plants

The biotech/pharming companies are rich for a reason. I reckon they're pretty sure that there investment will reap rewards. (although i do agree... hemp is a great solution - for certain occasions!)

we DO NOT have any long-term data as to their effects on humans.

Genetic engineering has been going on since the early 70s. Although most of the research has been conducted on bacteria/viruses/yeast (and has therefore not entered the "food-chain"... at least purposefully) - you may expect that any inherant "nasty suprises" with genetic modification would have already occured with such potential pathogens.

Furthermore, human civilisation was founded in the middle-east around 10,000 yrs ago - when we began farming - i.e. modifying the environment to suit ourselves. None of the crops or animals we currently produce & consume are strictly "natural".

Personally, my concern is the control of crop production by multinational pharming companies. Their concern will allways be profits and share holders, rather than health concerns etc. Furthermore, the use of technology such as "terminator seeds" makes sure farmers have to buy new seed every generation, rather than using the natural process of sex. This could allow biotech companies to hold 3rd world farmers to ransom where they required an engineered crop which, for example, survived in arid conditions.

Scientific progress should be for the good of the world, not the rich elite

High tech transport, it's not... (1)

srvivn21 (410280) | more than 12 years ago | (#124281)

From the artice:
On their way to the field, the moths will be transported in containers that don't exactly seem industrial grade. The official application says the bugs will be kept in "shatter-resistant capped plastic vials or sealed cardboard cup-type containers. The lids on each of these containers will be further secured with tape. Additionally, the containers will be transported in a cardboard box lined with Styrofoam and sealed with a nylon strap."
This just makes me picture the scene in Apollo 13 where the engineers are bringing the "square peg in a round hole" air purifyer to the table. You know, the one that kept falling apart.

Then again, that solution did work.

Bio! (1)

McD!ck (444861) | more than 12 years ago | (#124284)

Biology is still the way of the future. What better way to store data? What faster way to copy and replicate data?

Everyone who cannot take this new biotech industry will eventually go the way of the Dinosaurs!

pardon me if I'm wrong... (1)

PYves (449297) | more than 12 years ago | (#124288)

but the plant doesnt MAKE pesticides, they just genetically alter the plant so that it becomes stronger, more resistant, immune to certain epidemics and in some cases poisonous/inedible to certain pests.

The problem that environmentalists have is that: you don't know how this will affect you when you eat it, it's not the same thing as ordinary corn, how can you tell it won't make you sterile or something?

Another, bigger one is that this will change evolutionary patterns of the insects that USED to eat that corn - they learn how to eat the new kind, and those who can't, die out, and you're left with stronger pests, so you have to increase your pesticide, and the cycle goes on, getting worse each time.

You can Genetically engineer crops to produce MORE corn, so your point seems kind of silly, especially since I have a hard time believing that the plants are "making" pesticides, instead of having "pesticides" or resistances built into their genes.

The problem is how will this affect the world?
how will it affect the ecosystem?
how will it affect me?
how will we find out? and when?

it's like using creatine, you'll get big and muscular now, but what effect will it have on you later on?


Important not to confuse biotech and GMO food (1)

kenshin-h (453971) | more than 12 years ago | (#124297)

GMO food, such as modified corn, is bad, at least until proven otherwise. We don't know what the long term effects are, but we do suspect, and we do know that it is "viral." We must treat any plant that behaves like an extremely healthy weed with suspicion.

Biotech, such as electronic muscle replacements embedded in the human body, is good. Think the blind dude from ST:TNG.

The mainstream press can't seem to get the difference straight.

Re:Just use hemp? (1)

deathcow (455995) | more than 12 years ago | (#124302)

A local politician has driven her hemp fueled van around for a few occassions. I wonder what the exhaust smells like.

Genetic Engineering: Self-Defeating? (1)

Ceph (463098) | more than 12 years ago | (#124310)

The people who object to biologically engineered foods seem to be missing the point. Bioengineered foods may or may not be unavoidably bad for you; that's just the technology, and it will eventually get better.

The problem is monocultures: a field of corn that all has the same DNA is insanely susceptible to the predations of ever-evolving parasites and pests. Monocultures caused the Great Potato Famine. And while the biotech companies can keep churning out new versions every time the bugs they're battling mutate, they're fighting a losing battle against hybrid stamina and natural selection. The farmers growing bioengineered plants and animals will have to keep upgrading to the next version to keep up with the bugs (this sounds familiar) and eventually the biotechnology companies will fall behind the parasites (which after all have nothing better to do with their time than breed new sorts of parasites) and have to declare defeat.

Genetic engineering *might* be directly dangerous, but from where I'm standing it just looks negligently stupid.

Yeah...but they're doing it wrong... (1)

pelorus (463100) | more than 12 years ago | (#124312)

They should be Gm'ing the plant to be stronger, fitter, more productive and have better shelf life. They should use other organic methods of protecting the crop from pests, fungi and weeds - they can GM a lot of bugs this way. The problems is that they currently GM corn etc to be pesticide- and herbicide-resistant so they can dose the crop with more chemicals to kill more weeds and pests. Problem is that we then end up eating the crop that is saturated literally with poison. It's bad enough for veggies but meat products concentrate it even further! But, shit, I can't do without my steak and tatties.

Re:Gives me the willies... (2)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 12 years ago | (#124321)

Of course you have no idea that "natural" plants are "bug-free" either -- which is where the analogy breaks down. There is a rather absurd meme floating around that says natural == good, and something that is "100% All-Natural" is wholesome. Makes me want to package up anthrax toxin and sell it to health food stores as "100% All Natural, Non-Genetically Modified Anthrax Extract"

Re:GM Foods (2)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 12 years ago | (#124322)

No -- Mad Cow is caused by a prion, an infectious protein, similar to the agent of kuru (a disease that many human cannibals get). The Mad Cow prion probably has existed for thousands of years, but in general cows aren't cannibalistic, so it didn't spread much.

My only beef with biotech (2)

Apuleius (6901) | more than 12 years ago | (#124324)

.. is the obvious one. Intellectual property law can turn biotech into a disaster for farmers, consumers, small time researchers, and universities. Of the other fears, I do think we should all relax. Yes, there's a risk of anaphilactic shock from GM food. But then again, we're starting to figure out what makes people hyperallergic in the first place, so the risk won't be around much longer. Frankenkudzus might spring up, but they are unlikely to be more trouble than run of the mill kudzus. The IP issues, however, are a headache and a half.

Re:Scorpion Genes? (2)

Dr.Dubious DDQ (11968) | more than 12 years ago | (#124335)

I read that one bright team had put the venom producing genes from scorpions into a plant...

Where? And why? (Antivenom production? Or perhaps the venom has some possible useful medical value?)

no accountability to anyone here, no labelling of food

We've had that since old-school biotech (i.e. artificial selection and crossbreeding). They don't label what they've sprayed on the plants. They don't label which farm grew the plants. They don't even label which varieties of plants they use most of the time. All of which I'd kind of like to know. A label showing "GMO" would tell me nothing, as the material so far seems to be nutritionally identical to "Naturally Inbred" plants. A label showing something like "MegaAgro SuperCorn Hybrid", on the other hand, would allow people to avoid buying food produced by companies they disapprove of, or to avoid varieties (GMO or not) that they don't want.

I understand that actually more pesticide is used, rather than less

Nope. You're mixing up two different popular modifications. LESS pesticide ("Pest"-killer chemicals, i.e. for insects, mites, etc.) is indiscriminately sprayed on plants engineered to produce the natural BT toxin (which is an extremely "specific" toxin, each variety of which only affects a narrow range of insects. To us mammals, it's just another nutritive protein to digest).

You're thinking of the Herbicide-resistant plants ("Roudup[tm] Ready" crops). I suspect the herbicides used are relatively harmless to animals [the herbicide acts against the "plant version" of a particular amino-acid-producing gene - "Roundup Ready" plants have a bacterial version of the gene added that isn't crippled by the herbicide. I imagine any animal with a similar gene would be similarly immune.)

This might breed "Roundup Resistant" weeds in the long run, though.

Biotech is being forced upon us...

So was potty training...

"Big Agribusiness" and monoculture farming ARE both legitimate concerns. "Biotech", in and of itself, is just another tool, and really no more of a concern than "tractors". Focussing on "Biotech" as if it were the supreme boogieman of Things Of Concern In Modern Agriculture is just taking attention AWAY from the broader concerns that, in my opinion, need to be dealt with.


Re:stanley kubrick (2)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 12 years ago | (#124342)

Hey, my first thought was "Those anti-geneticists and environmentalists each need their own planets to run the way that they want. Play well with others or get off this planet."

"All these worlds are yours..."

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

Rinikusu (28164) | more than 12 years ago | (#124344)

Nononono. Genetically engineered != selective breeding. It's cut and paste of genetic material from one organism into another.

As for affecting humans, AFAIK your stomach attempts to digest anything you throw at it, GE or not. We do not mutate from GE foods, nor do I see a way to (unless, of course, some viral properties are inadvertantly introduced into the specimen, etc etc).

The biggest concerns are replacement of native/natural foilage/plants/veggies/fruits/animals (you get the idea). If a plant is *too* successful, it can overtake and outgrow anything else. This is bad. Come on, apply the Evil Monopoly of Microsoft mentality. One Crop Bad. Mutliple Crops/breeds/variety Good.

The problem for the Greens seems to be that the companies are like Microsoft in another way: Profit. Most GE crops are also rendered sterile, you can't get viable seed from them. If you clone, distribute, or take rootstock, they sue you to kingdom come (hmm.. does an organism's genetic sequence fall under the DMCA?). You are to buy, plant, harvest, then buy again. Captive market. With normal crops, you plan right, you have seed for next year. What happens if GE plant 4, upon which your entire country has converted into production under dubious sponsership by some multinational corporation (think Nike and the like), ends up being replaced by super GE plant 4 PLUS, at a premium cost, that the country/people are not willing to pay? "Tough shit, guy, we're not selling GE plant 4 anymore." You've locked yourself into a perpetual upgrade->buy path. And because you've not been growing "natural" foods, you don't have stock to rebuild with and are at the mercy of said Multinational corporation. Not a pleasant thought.

If you're unwilling to allow one corporation to tell you what you can and can't run on your computer, why are many of you willing to allow one company to limit your choices at the supermarket? Why are you wiling to allow one company to dictate policy in another country?

Do you even know what's going on in other countries in the name of "commercialism" (not capitalism, although some may mistake it as such)? Those "loons" protesting the WTO and World Bank just might not be "loons" after all. Educate yourself, get your facts straight, then ask yourself if you feel comfortable the way things are.

As for myself, I say go for it. GE all you fucking want. But, from the consumer end, caveat emptor: sometimes you get what you pay for. At least be informed of the options.

Re:pardon me if I'm wrong... (2)

Rinikusu (28164) | more than 12 years ago | (#124345)

Your correction: They actually splice genes that cause the plant to create chemical x, found to repel insects. Think cut and paste.

Most people seem to be unaware of the distinction between selective breeding and *real* genetic modification.

I don't see anything really wrong with it.

Re:My biggest problem with engineered crops.... (2)

Rinikusu (28164) | more than 12 years ago | (#124346)

Think Open Source vs. Proprietary.

Open Source: the natural stuff. You can selectively breed it for certain traits, nurture it, store it, give it to your friends, etc.

Proprietary: "We modified the source code of the corn, you're forbidden to see the changes we made and god help you if you reverse engineer it. We own it, you buy it, shut the hell up and get back in line."

As long as Open Source is still a viable option, I don't mind Proprietary stuff.

bio tech IS going to cause problems (2)

cats-paw (34890) | more than 12 years ago | (#124347)

Nobody creating genetically modified crops is doing it to make the world a better place, they are doing it for $$$. This is _very_ important.

What does this mean :

Well, there might be less pesticide, but the field next door has a bunch of plants that allow the use of more herbicide.

As usual, the customer is scum, so the plants will be sterile so that you ALWAYS have to buy the seed from me (and patents let's me be a monopoly for 17+ years).

I'm going to do as little testing as I possibly can, because it's expensive. So you can rest assured if there is going to be a problem, you're not going to see it until I've released my GMO in large quantities.

I'm also going to come up with really neat products to end world hunger and they are going to go to the highest bidder. Naturally the people who need these products are the ones that can least afford them - tought sh*t.

If I do f$ck things up royally you're going to be left holding the bag because it's going to be loose and their is no way we're getting it back under control.

If you think about how badly we're f*cking up the planet with _simple_ things like coal and fertilizer, just wait until something goes wrong on the genetic side.

Genengineering Ecological Benefits (2)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 12 years ago | (#124356)

A little while back, the environmental activist industry was really up in arms about "BT" corn, on the grounds that it would harm Monarch butterflies that might encounter stray pollen from nearby corn that landed on their food plant, milkweed.

Anyone else notice the resounding silence from those activists now that the actual effect has been found to be beneficial to the butterflies because fewer chemical insecticides are used on those fields?

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 12 years ago | (#124357)

I suspect THC-free hemp would be either less resistant to hot weather or insect damage than the resinous kind. The gunk is probably there for a reason.

Nevertheless, it would be a great promotional feature for hemp advocates that the large amount of pollen generated into the environment would make it difficult or impossible to grow cannabis which could be used for illegal drug purposes, at least outside. In fact, this could be true of hemp developed by ordinary plant breeding techniques without using genetic engineering.

I would expect that sincere advocates of hemp for industrial purposes instead of drug use will be highly positive about this advantage...

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 12 years ago | (#124359)

I find it hard to understand how THC-free hemp would damage other plants by the transfer of DNA that would presumably simply be missing the gene for THC production.

With the obvious exception that it would dilute or eliminate the THC content of cannabis grown for illegal use. Is that what you are worried about?

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 12 years ago | (#124360)

Ah. I suspect that sterility genes would tend to be bred out of the populations of other plants. The pesticide resistance could be more of a problem, but you can grow crops with mechanical plowing-under or other removal techniques. I still think the mere deletion of a gene or two that non-THC hemp would require would be so likely to occur naturally that it isn't worth worrying about.

Well, usually - I would personally be more worried about a crop disease that preyed on a particular GM or natural plant mutation wiping out a whole season of an important crop, should the advantage of that mutation to farmers make it nearly all of what is grown (a "monoculture"). Something like this happened to the corn crop in the USA back in 1970-1971 when the popular "Texas Male Sterile" (natural mutation) corn and its hybrids turned out to be very susceptable to a new strain of corn leaf blight, and 80-100% of some fields were lost - there was about a billion 1970 dollars of damage involved. There would be a similar danger that disease could hit a lot of the industrial hemp if it became a monoculture as well.

My biggest problem with engineered crops.... (2)

jmccay (70985) | more than 12 years ago | (#124361)

Usually the resulting plants are steril. That forces Farmers to always buy their seed from the company. This means if something were to happen to the company or the secret method of creating them was lost, then we'd be out of luck. If they produced crops that were not steril so people could keep some of the better producting one for next years seed, then I wouldn't mind. As always, it comes down to $$$$.

Re:fist? (2)

rkent (73434) | more than 12 years ago | (#124362)

but another part of me thinks - and this is kinda harsh - that famine is just our planet's way of saying "we've got too many people here."

Hey! Good point! Guess that explains why famines happen mostly in sparsely populated areas! Cuz I guess the earth just "knows" that there are too many people in China and so decides to take out a few million in a less important area like East Africa.


Of course (2)

bill_kress (99356) | more than 12 years ago | (#124363)

It's a great thing, until something goes wrong. The problem is, when something goes wrong how do you handle it? Genetically Engineer a spider to catch the GE fly we swallowed?

For example, there is a GE form of sea grass that was made more robust for use in fish tanks. People change their tanks and flush the water. The sea grass flows out to sea.

This grass is now taking over huge areas of underwater shorescapes and pushing out all natural life in certian areas. They are trying to contain it, but don't have much of a chance.

(Sorry about the lack of details on that one, by the way, but it is true).

The only issue is really how do large US corporations get yet more of the worlds money. That's really "America's" only motivation to do anything any more...

GM foods are not mysterious (2)

Ichoran (106539) | more than 12 years ago | (#124366)

There's often a sense that we really don't understand what might happen if we genetically modify crops--and that really, anything might happen.

Realistically, though, it's not that hard to figure out where the problems are likely to be. We are modifying organisms by modifying their DNA; it's not like this has never happened before. There are millions of different species (all with different DNA) containing quadrillions of individuals (all with different DNA) full of mutations, chromosomal rearrangements, gene transfer, and so on. Just by looking around at the world as it is now, we can get a pretty good idea of the parameters we're dealing with.

So, basically, most of the "Who knows what will happen!!" arguments are about as cogent as the "Linux is evil"-type FUD. Most people may not know what will happen, but experts in molecular biology, ecology, evolution, and so on, probably have a very good idea.

The real problem with GM crops isn't that we might accidentally create some world-conquering monster bug/plant/etc.. Evolution's tried that already. It generally doesn't work. So what are the problems?

One set of problems involves making resistant plants so you can blast everything else to death. It's the GM technology that makes this possible, but the GMness isn't the problem: it's the strategy of destroying everything but your-favorite-monoculture-crop. Related is releasing an organism in an inappropriate place to try to control a problem. This isn't at all a new problem to GM crops.

Another set of problems involves being really, really shortsighted, like with BT corn. BT is nice because it degrades rapidly and is only toxic to certain classes of insects. So we'll produce BT in all our crop plants and (through natural mechanisms) select for resistant insects. In five or ten years, BT will be utterly useless. Now doesn't that sound like a good idea!

I think allergies are really overblown as a problem. Yes, maybe a fish gene inserted into wheat might affect someone who, fantastically unluckily, happened to be allergic to just that gene product. But those people would quickly learn that they are allergic to fish and wheat and eat accordingly. No big deal. And perhaps some really common antigens (e.g. in peanuts) can be GMed out of the crops. That could be really helpful.

Also, fears of rampant spreading of unusual genes really confuses me. The reason we've got all these big fancy labs is that genes don't spread well outside of the organisms they are in. That's why we have to modify them in the first place! So how, exactly, would they escape?

Anyway, we should of course be careful, but between good background knowledge and some common sense, GM isn't that scary.

This is an empty debate (2)

Acheon (122246) | more than 12 years ago | (#124368)

I've been following all debates regarding biotechnologies and, whether for or against, I haven't seen any argument that isn't at best a sophism -- or at worst that is proving mankind is making progress at becoming more stupid everyday. Most of times only statistics are invoked, of course contradicting each other. All studies turn out having been financed by either part and are laughable. And, an argument for the pro side that somewhat discredits the cons, no real inconvenient being caused by biotechnologies' products were found, either on human health or on the environment (I've seen many of them, all bogus, and whatever the one you have in mind I know it and I checked it out). An example of misconception from the con side (they're the easiest to demolish) is about gene manipulations, being "unnatural" because of crossings between plants and animals, or between species. These idiots shall definitively follow a genetics course ; they would learn, for instance, that "finding a fish's gene in a cat" isn't at all uncommon and besides, the statement itself doesn't make any sense because there is nothing such as a "fish's gene" (that would be like calling each structure in a program a gene and matches between executables unnatural crossing, for instance ;). As for the pro side, there is just too much money at sake even to listen to their absolute absence of arguments. The only thing that is worth paying attention on their side is, after all, the technological stuff (but don't tell me their first worry is to feed little hungry africans).

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

RevAaron (125240) | more than 12 years ago | (#124372)

That's exactly what I was going to say!

Hemp has no natural enemies, other than the DEA and the US government. It has no insect pests, and thus needs no pesticides. Not only that, hemp probably requires less resources (fertilizer and space) than corn, be it a biotech or non-biotech strain.

Let me remind/educate those that do not know: industrial hemp does not contain enough cannaboids to produce a high. So, no, people could not smoke their t-shirt.

Yet, the DEA itself as admitted that 94-97% of all Cannabis plants it has siezed since the 1960s were of wild or industrial strains that had no value as a recreational drug!

It's actually quite curious that it's DuPont coming forth with these "innovative" life forms, when they had something to do with the illegalization of industrial hemp, promoting it, to expand and support their own business.

I suggest those of you interested in truly sustainable food, fuel, building products, paper, and medicine have a look at Jack Herer's Book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. [jackherer.com] The most relevant chapter in this context is Chapter 2 [jackherer.com].

So, biotech may not be "all that bad," as far as we know now. But why bother pouring so much money into problems where we already have a completely natural, safe, agriculturally, economically, and environmentally wise solution in Hemp? So companies like DuPont can make money. At the expense of both consumers and non-consumers. It's disgusting.

Hemp already can replace petroleum. Hemp is renewable. But as long as our minds see naught but the vision of totalitarian agriculture and capitalism, we will not utilize any truly renewable resources. Think of it like open source- with biotech crop crops, they own the rights to the plants, which often produce sterile seeds. It is against the license to distribute seeds. Whereas, with Hemp, it's basically open source- you grow a plant, reuse it's seed. It renews itself, and makes sure that we don't rely on one patent holding company who decides what and when to sell us.

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

RevAaron (125240) | more than 12 years ago | (#124373)

Industrial hemp as we know it now is almost THC free (useless for it's drug value, you'd have to smoke a tollbooth sized joint, but then the smoke would most likely suffocate you), is high yield, grows fast, and is 2 to 3 times stronger than cotton.

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

RevAaron (125240) | more than 12 years ago | (#124374)

Um, well, the real issue is... you know those plants you've been eating? we DO NOT (sorry, had to repeat the capitalization for fun ; ) have any long term data on what you've been eating does to humans. Why? Because genes change almost every generation. Its through the magic of these things called "mutations". Genetic engineering is no different than the random mutations we're seing here, except for one thing - *its controlled!*. We actually have a clue about what's going to happen, instead of just a random fluctuation. Please, think about these things before you have a knee-jerk reaction.

Uhh... Why does having an organism changed by a design employing incomplete knowledge seem so safe to you? Genetic engineering is a lot different than natural mutations. If only because it is controlled. The way we implement and practice genetic engineering is in a way that encourages and enforces monoculture. Meaning, that if there is something dangerous it effects all the more people, animals, and ecosystems. And... I know you love hemp... don't we all, you can build bridges out of it, cure cancer, establish lasting peace in the middle east... but, sorry, it doesn't work for everything ;) It is a plant. Plain and simple. Yes, it has some uses that have been neglected because of paranoia. But, sorry, it doesn't do everything. There are millions of species out there with admirable traits, and hemp is just one.

Do you think it's justified to spend billions of dollars to engineer an organism to solve problems that Hemp already does? Is it worth it? Add into the mix the fact that we don't know that these GMOs aren't safe? But we think they're probably safe, so that must be good enough, right?

No. At best, it's a waste of time. At worst, it could be a dangerous waste of time.

Re:Hemp as food? (2)

RevAaron (125240) | more than 12 years ago | (#124375)


First of all, trying something once isn't definitive. Anyone who has any semblence of rational or scientific thought in their head knows that. All FUD.

Aside that, Hempseed is one of the most complete foodstuffs known to humanity. From The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Chapter 2: [jackherer.com]

"Hempseed can be pressed for its highly nutritious vegetable oil, which contains the highest amount of essential fatty acids in trhe plant kingdom. These essential oils are responsible for our immune responses and clear the arteries of cholesterol and plaque. "

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 12 years ago | (#124376)

You just repeated what the parent post said. Congratulations, you added *nothing new* to the conversation []!

In fact, you win the *grand prize* for completely skipping over the issues raised when adding *nothing new*. Tell him what he missed, Bob!

(announcer's voice):
He completely missed the fact that he's arguing against controlled fluctuations in genetics in favor of random fluctuation of genetics!

He completely missed the fact that seeds produced by different companies have competed with each other since commercialism in agriculture became common!

He completely missed the fact that there is almost no genetic variation between seeds produced commercially from an individual manufacturer already!

And, as a *Grand Prize*, he completely missed the fact that hemp *does not do everything* in the world!!!!

Congratulations, we are completely unenlightened by your post!!!!! :)

(oh, and in case you couldn't tell, I was being sarcastic ;) )

- Rei

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 12 years ago | (#124380)

As I don't know you well enough to yet determine if you're a satyrist, I'll assume that you're not, so I have a reason to post ;)

Um, well, the real issue is... you know those plants you've been eating? we DO NOT (sorry, had to repeat the capitalization for fun ; ) have any long term data on what you've been eating does to humans. Why? Because genes change almost every generation. Its through the magic of these things called "mutations". Genetic engineering is no different than the random mutations we're seing here, except for one thing - *its controlled!*. We actually have a clue about what's going to happen, instead of just a random fluctuation. Please, think about these things before you have a knee-jerk reaction.

And... I know you love hemp... don't we all, you can build bridges out of it, cure cancer, establish lasting peace in the middle east... but, sorry, it doesn't work for everything ;) It is a plant. Plain and simple. Yes, it has some uses that have been neglected because of paranoia. But, sorry, it doesn't do everything. There are millions of species out there with admirable traits, and hemp is just one.

- Rei

Re:Sure it seems like a good idea now...... (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 12 years ago | (#124382)

No, no, no... the wars that will begin are the ones started by the DARK APPLEPOLISHER, and they will be full of brightly colored bouncy balls. Haven't you ever played Koules [paru.cas.cz]?

- Rei

Re:Bug free foods? I think not (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 12 years ago | (#124383)

Hey, I *like* Olestra.

I don't react badly to it, I'm not the sort of person who gets psychosomatics (the majority of Olestra sickness), and, hey, I like to be thin ;) Besides, it makes those Wow!(tm) chips taste just like normal chips (now, if only they had more selections...

- Rei

Re:GM Foods (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 12 years ago | (#124384)

Mad Cow Disease has nothing to do with DNA. It is a prion [sciam.com] which induces the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy [mad-cow.org]. Basicly, it is a self-replicating protien - very well the same sort of thing which may have started life in the first place. In evolutionary terms, it is a transient - it cannot adapt or even defend itself from other things that adapt to it - but, meanwhile, it can run rampage. It causes damage by burrowing into nervous tissue, actually leaving visible holes in the brain. "Feeding beef to beef for a few generations" doesn't create the prion - but, it enabled it to spread, as the cows that ate infected cow remains contracted it themselves. It has nothing to do with genetic engineering - however, the cure possibly could.

- Rei

Re:Of course (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 12 years ago | (#124385)

For every one that we've created, there are hundreds of biological plagues that have spread beyond their habitat through actions of people (the worst of them being the filling and emptying of ballast tanks by cargo ships). A "hearty plant" hardly compares, say, to the shapeshifting protist that's currently attacking some estuaries on our east coast (I really wish I had a link, it made the cover of Popular Science... I believe it was last year). That was a scary critter...

- Rei

Re:Sheesh (2)

ErikTheRed (162431) | more than 12 years ago | (#124388)

Heh! By GE plant, I take it you mean a Genetically Engineered Plant (of the fruit, vegetable, etc. variety) and not a General Electric Plant (of the Nuclear Power variety)...

Real dangers of Biotech (2)

ux500 (204135) | more than 12 years ago | (#124393)

Most of the discussion I've seen so far has centered on what the harnfull health effects bio-engineered crops will have on people. No one has mentioned some of the other possibilities that GM crops introduce. For exmaple, imagine a great new strain of GM corn that grows in conditions normal corn can't. The corn is introduced into poor nation and helps the plight of the poor and hungry people. But wait, there's one condition. This new corn doesn't produce seeds. In fact, you can't plant the corn unless you by it from one of the huge agri-business corporations (and some of you think Microsoft in a monopoly... you should check out the agriculture business) and pay them royalties for the patented genes. Pretty soon these parts of the world beoome dependent on the huge multinational for the only crop the can withstand the draught/blight/pests/etc of the region...

Re:When plants make pesitcides, not corn... (2)

dasmegabyte (267018) | more than 12 years ago | (#124402)

So you plant a row of supercorn, and a row of pesticide corn. Your overall yield is high as an elephant's eye. Organic farmers do this sort of thing with plants that are naturally repellent to insects already...plant a couple around your field here and there and you end up with corn that, while still bug eaten, is much less likely to be as the insect population is quickly reduced. The added benefit is that, since the pesticide plants often generate an abundance of nitrogen, you can keep a field growing a season or more longer without rotating it.

Sheesh (2)

dasmegabyte (267018) | more than 12 years ago | (#124403)

When Monk Mengel fucked with his beans and created the modern sciences of botany and genetics, nobody said anything. Mankind had finally found a tool that would allow him to grow the plants HE wanted, not the ones nature liked. After all, that's what's important...nature has its zones in a modern society, and man has his. Neither should cross over into the other. What we've got here is a new way to convince plants to do what we like, to grow crops with less effort, with a greater yield with the same resources in the same area despite increasing temperatures to global warming.

Of course, one or two strains may unbalance an ecosystem...but it's science, man, and it's not as infallible or as deadly as anybody thinks. An awry atomic generator can kill a lot of people, but the power generated through atomic systems is far greater than any petroleum fuel -- and consider the number of people badly burned yearly because of petroleum explosions, and the ecosystems ruined by petroleum spills. In that case, the atoms, for all their half lives and hot water, win the race -- they're safer because there aren't as many of them and they're handled with greater care. So, too, are GE plants safer. If a GE plant starts to take over an ecosystem, its parent -- a powerful biotech conglomerate with a massive cash reserve -- can fix it without much problem, no matter what your environmentalist friend says. Hell, they have the money to pull every plant out of the ground and jump on them until they're just so much peat. But a standard crop, when released into a new environment, is totally uncontrolled. There's no rich company to stop it -- it may have been released by an immigrant farmer, as was the moss that now clogs the Watervliet Reservoir I swam in as a kid, or plant lover who didn't understand the ramifications of moving flora. GE is inherently less dangerous than any other research into the production of hybrid plants because GE has the time, money and knowledge to find out what the problem is and correct it.

If you want to hate and fear Frankenfoods, feel free...but personaly, I think they're less strange than the Tofu Pups I had for lunch. Hot dogs made from soy and bean curd that taste just like beef dogs? Now THAT'S fucked up!

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 12 years ago | (#124405)

Okay, it seems like a no-brainer, so I looked it up, and there are 5 states (IL, KY, 3 unnamed others) legislating "research" status for industrial hemp.

On the other hand, there are a zillion "head" websites touting the stuff. The question is why? The answer must be that they think getting drugless hemp legalized will somehow get them better access to Thai Stick or something.

But it's clear the "reasearch" status is specifically designed to ensure that you can't mix weed in with IH at any level. I suspect that one of the goals will be to ensure that the smoke of one won't smell like the other.

Otherwise, it'd be a great substitute for the tobacco economy, many times over since it has way more uses than just stuffing your paraphernalia and lighting it.

So it's stronger than cotton. Is it stronger than flax or jute or nylon and as soft as cotton? Because maybe that's why it's not in demand as a fiber. As-scrungy alternatives may exist.


Re:Just use hemp? (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 12 years ago | (#124406)

> why there's so much cash spent on bio-engineering new strains of plants when hemp is a perfectly good as-is solution!

Because genetically engineered, THC-free, high-yield, extra-strong hemp would kick its ass and be Pat. Pend. Archer Daniels Midland.


Sure it seems like a good idea now...... (2)

Kujako (313468) | more than 12 years ago | (#124410)

Sure it seems like a good idea now but just wait untill the supper intelligent fruit get their own presidential candidate in the white house. Then their hidden agenda of world domination will be pushed into the foreground and the great Salad Shooter wars will begin. If we don't stop them now it will soon be too late.

Hemp as food? (2)

Kujako (313468) | more than 12 years ago | (#124411)

I've tried making Hemp bread. The results are not worth getting into. Sufice it to say that Hemp makes a poor food source.

Re:Old news (2)

Kujako (313468) | more than 12 years ago | (#124412)

Now now, those was vegetables. Granted one could have been fruit in disguise what with the governments history of "catsup is a vegetable".

Re:Hemp as food? (2)

Kujako (313468) | more than 12 years ago | (#124413)

Everyone I've known that uses pot have been disiclined to do ANYTHING. One has to get up off the couch inorder to get into a car accident. Like I said, harmless.

Re:Just use hemp? (2)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 12 years ago | (#124414)

If you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

If you only have hemp, every problem looks like an extra-large pizza with onions, green-pepper, italian sausage, black olives, oooh yeah, and Canadian bacon, and...

I think it all depends on implementation (2)

CmdrSlack555 (451965) | more than 12 years ago | (#124416)

If you place the proper regulations and controls on biotechnolgy, then I don't see the big problem with it. If there is a way to eliminate the use of non-renewable resources (petroleum, etc.) in everyday life, then it would seem to be our obligation as a society to do so. As long as biotech agents are tested to be sure that their environmental impact is minimal or nil, then it seems to be a viable solution to the problems our planet's ecosystems face. The main worry, I would imagine, is the use of bioengineered plants that may have an adverse long-term impact on the ecosystem it is introduced to, and the chance that biotech would be used for malignant purposes. While these are very real concerns, they exist for most forms of new, largely unexplored technology.

Re:fist? (2)

Denial of Cervix (456252) | more than 12 years ago | (#124419)

well, first "+1-soon-to-be-moderated-down-to-minus-1" post, anyway.

My wife is way against GM foods; I have my doubts. Part of me buys into the biotech rant that vitamin-enhanced rice could solve hunger problems for tens of thousands, but another part of me thinks - and this is kinda harsh - that famine is just our planet's way of saying "we've got too many people here." I say this, of course, full of dinner and sitting in front of a luxury that maybe a fifth of the world's people can enjoy.

Here in the US, it doesn't seem like many foods explicitly state "free of genetically modified ingredients". What's the situation in Europe and Asia?

I'm not so undecided about genetic modifications for industrial purposes, such as bioplastics. I think this stuff could be a Good Thing.

soon to be posting at less than +1...

When plants make pesitcides, not corn... (3)

vik (17857) | more than 12 years ago | (#124422)

The downside of having GE plants make their own pesitices is that they don't do it very well. The plant expends its energies on making pesticides, and not corn. So the yeild drops. So you need to plant more corn, clear more land, use more water, more agrichemicals ...

Oh, and the "natural" pesticide is still in the corn when you harvest it. Bummer.

Vik :v)

Problems with GM crops/goodies (3)

mrgoat (143500) | more than 12 years ago | (#124423)

The problems I have with GM (genetically modified) crops and other goodies is that it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle once it is out. Market and managerial pressures to get a product to consumers do not take into account that nobody really knows what kind of long term effect these modications will have.

My girlfriend has been working as a biotechnician since she graduated last year. She follows this kind of stuff with a great deal of interest, because it is a new field, and changes in regulation can play havoc with the job market. Both at her own job, and in the field of biotech in general, she has been stunned at times by the lack of foresight and sense that have gone into some projects. GM corn that was supposed to be in controlled outdoor testing has already found its way into other farmers' fields and into the general grain crop for consumption. On a more serious note, there is also a doctor in NY who has altered the DNA of human eggs to "correct a fertility problem inherited from the mothers". Yeah, and he did this in a way that those 12 children will pass those "corrected markers" onto any children they have as well - too bad we don't understand what else those markers may do, or if they were engineered correctly. (both of these from New Scientist).

For those IT geeks out there who need some perspective on this, think of all those shops you have been in where people have come up with spaghetti code, kludged barely working packages together, built and implemented poorly conceived of network designs, all at the behest of management who wants their damned bonus at all costs, that big push Push PUSH to get something (anything) into production. Think of the folks you have worked with who graduated from 4, 6 or 8 years of training, only to do the minimum to get by at their desk. Most of the folks doing GM work are absolutely no different in this regard. Difference is, there will be no "version 2.1b" in the wilds out there. You let it out, the chance for any kind of revision is small.

So, great, GM corn and babies...think of them as first generation products that you can NEVER upgrade. Even better, realize that some of those "easter eggs" that people innocently put into code today might end up very deadly later on.


What if you had a protest and nobody came...? (3)

ErikTheRed (162431) | more than 12 years ago | (#124424)

Flame away, mod down, see if I give a rat's ass!

I live out in San Diego where the Bio2001 conference is being held. Anti-BioTech protesters were promising a scene on the scale of the Seattle WTO mess. Instead, all they got were a few hundred people dressed up as carrots and such spouting quotes along the lines of "Ummm... genetimicully engineered corn is bad, m'kay?" Now they're bitching that they authorities were so intimidating that no one showed up. Right.

Hey, I'm all for being concerned about the environment, but the people we've seen here in San Diego are pretty much a bunch of luddites that are opposed to anything more modern than living in teepees and hunting with spears, and people who enjoy being concerned about something trendy. If there is a group out there with legitimate, researched, specific scientic concerns, they don't seem to be represented (but please reply if you know of any; I'd like to hear what they have to say). And don't even start with Greenpeace - their big super-surprise media event was to go into a grocery store and slap a few demeaning stickers on genetically altered foodstuffs while having their pictures taken.

You drink beer, right? (3)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 12 years ago | (#124429)

IW(as)AB(iologist) before I made the jump into BioInformatics - but still, I spent a lot of time working with plant genetics. You drink beer? There is a very good chance it is one of a few barley variants out there breed specifically for brewing. Granted, most of it was old school statistical / cross-breeding work, but the same ideas apply. Way to many hours on my knees counting individual stalks before pounding the data on a Fortran boxen. Never go back...

Anyhow, one of the real risks here is the modified plant cross-pollinates with something out in the wild. Same idea as some of the bugs you can pick up in a hospital - resistant to things that should smack them normally.

I am less worried about changing the ecosystem. Nature abhors a vacuum - a species gets wiped out, something else ALWAYS takes its place. It may not be pretty, but that is the way things work in the real world. You cover an area with toxic sludge (like wood treatment use to do), and I'll be damned if you don't find some bacteria feeding off the stuff. Its not like we have a fixed set of genetic resources - {hum along} lose an owl and xxxx number of unique genetic structures on the wall. Something will adapt to fill the empty space - always.

That is not to say we should blacktop the forests, wipe yippy poodles, or otherwise horking with things just for the sake of screwing with them. There is a balance. Guess I am just trying to say the truth is somewhere between the two extremes. The long view is we need to be careful not to add us to the extinct list.

Where did I put that beer again...

Sitting on the fence is damned uncomfortable. (3)

Spamalamadingdong (323207) | more than 12 years ago | (#124432)

On the one hand, I am one of those people who has to read food labels carefully because there's a lot of stuff that upsets my stomach. (Nothing I'm puff-up-and-die allergic to, thank goodness, but it's bad enough.) When someone talks about introducing funny genes for odd proteins into foods, I wonder: will it turn it into something I can't eat?

On the other hand, pesticides are a real problem. Whether they are hormone mimics or neurotoxins or what, they are always worrisome. Worse, the pests typically evolve defenses and move right along, creating a need for more, newer and better pesticides.

Having the plant grow its own pesticide is another dilemma. You can be sure that the stuff isn't going into the water and poisoning the fish, but you can't wash something off if it's part of the plant. Whatcha gonna do?

I suppose there are things with little or no downside. Golden rice engineered to add carotene is one of them. Unless it makes the crop more nutritionally complete for pests too (another nightmare!) I can't see how it could possibly hurt.

Old news (3)

Invisible Agent (412805) | more than 12 years ago | (#124433)

Intelligent fruit have already had their own presidential candidates. If I recall correctly, their names were "Bush" and "Gore".

Invisible Agent

Just use hemp? (4)

Pope (17780) | more than 12 years ago | (#124435)

I still don't understand why there's so much cash spent on bio-engineering new strains of plants when hemp is a perfectly good as-is solution!

(well other than anti-drug hysteria, that is :)

The main worry I and many others have is the effect of bio-engineered foodstuffs: we DO NOT have any long-term data as to their effects on humans. For industrial usage? Hey, go for it, if you can ABSOLUTLEY MAKE SURE that the products will not make it into the foodstream, of either animals or humans. Until then proceed with extreme caution.

Re:Caveat Lector (4)

rgmoore (133276) | more than 12 years ago | (#124437)

The problem with this argument is that the farm on which the plants are growing is nothing like a natural ecosystem anymore. We've already trashed the ecosystem by cutting down all of the plants and driving away most of the animals that would naturally live there and replacing them with a synthetic monoculture. Switching from a conventional strain of a plant to a GMO strain is a minor change compared to switching to a whole new species of plant. But people switch from growing, say, corn to sunflowers all the time without anyone bleating about how it's going to disrupt the fragile ecosystem.

Re:Just use hemp? (4)

SeraphtheSilver (226793) | more than 12 years ago | (#124438)

Yes, but we don't need much more than cursory testing of most genetically engineered products for the simple reason that you don't eat genes.

What happens in your stomach is that the organic material of what you eat is broken down by the acids into chunks of protein and other organic molecules, where it is then sorted and used as necessary. The actual genetic structure of what you eat doesn't matter, since you aren't absorbing genes.

Now, what _can_ make you sick are certain chemicals that those genetically engineered foods produce. For example, if we have a plant that makes petroleum distillates, then eating that will make you sick - just like drinking gasoline would. On the other hand, whether or not a particular strain of wheat lasts longer, or is more resistant to disease doesn't affect you genetically at all. And since most GMOs _don't_ do things like produce petroleum distillates or deadly poison, there's no serious risk of getting sick from them.


Re:Sitting on the fence is damned uncomfortable. (4)

dasmegabyte (267018) | more than 12 years ago | (#124439)

If it turns into something you can't eat, you'll find out the first time you eat it. Duh. Jesus, my cousin was thirty two before he discovered he was allergic to cashew nuts. You see, cashew nuts are pretty expensive and their taste isn't good enough in many people's books (not mine, mind you, i love a good handful of cashews) to include them in common foods. We go to an expensive chinese place, my cousin says "hey, let me chow on this badass 'cashew chicken'" and nearly chokes fifteen minutes later when his throat swells up.

That wasn't a genetically engineered cashew, mind you...it wasn't even a salted one! So your argument is, you might have to be wary of new foods...my reply is, you need to be wary now!

My cousin's story isn't all that uncommon...I was 21 before I discovered I was violently allergic to loperamide, an ingredient in many medicines that cure diarrhea. You see, I ate an entire box of Lucky Charms in a college dare, took an Immodium the next morning and got so dizzy and halucinigenic I had to be carried to the hospital. It'd make a cheap high if it wasn't for the chills and three days of fever afterwards.

Caveat Lector (5)

mshomphe (106567) | more than 12 years ago | (#124441)

Okay, IANAB(iologist), but neither side of the biotech debate seems to be getting things quite right. Reactionaries against GMOs use ignorant slogans like "Get your DNA out of my food". Biotech pushers use questionable logic like "Well, you've eaten it for this long, it can't be bad for you!" Here's the thing: Mutated DNA is not going to screw you up if you eat it. Short-term effects are negligable, unless you start introducting pesticide-producing capabilities, which we'll leave aside for the moment.

The problem with bio-engineering is this: The action of changing an organism in an ecosystem affects the entire ecosystem. It's the same as the analogy of the ol' butterfly flapping its wings in SoCal and causing tsunamis in Japan. Genetically modifying a plant that has natural predators will induce the predators to adapt or die. If they die, then their predators are forced to adapt or die, and so on.

In short (too late!), we must take the long view on this issue, not be afraid of the progress of science, nor over-confident in her abilities to predict the future.

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