Feds say GM discussion offers solution to GHG challenge

As reports on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to be rolled out, it was the government’s reaction to another report – the Productivity Commission’s recommendations on genetic engineering – that caught Federated Farmers’ attention.

Federation president and climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said farmers were intensely interested in further reducing their world-leading GHG emissions footprint per kilogram of food produced.

But the federation has been saying for several years that new tools are needed to do this.

“Genetic modification is one of those new technologies that offers exciting potential,” he said.

Last year, the Productivity Commission’s ‘Reaching for the Frontier’ final report said the Government should undertake a full review of the regulation of genetic modification (GM), to ensure it is fit for purpose and supports domestic innovation. Continue reading

Genetic engineering can have a positive effect on the climate


The use of genetically modified (GM) crops in agriculture remains contentious in many parts of the world – including New Zealand.   Surveys show many people fear these crops could have negative effects on human health and the environment. But a new study shows genetically modified crops could be good for the environment, and for the climate in particular.

Agriculture accounts for around 25 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. A large share of these emissions is due to livestock production and fertiliser use.

More than one-third of agriculture’s emissions is caused by land-use change, however, especially the conversion of forests and other nature reserves to agricultural land in order to satisfy the rising global demand for food and feed.

“Using better technologies to increase crop yields on the land already cultivated could reduce this land-use change and the associated emissions,” says study author Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim, Director of the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn.

Certain types of genetically modified crops — such as GM maize and soybean — are widely grown in other parts of the world, but hardly in Europe.

“The main reasons are public acceptance issues and political hurdles,” says Dr Qaim. Continue reading

Tracking genetically modified animals: new CSI-like methods for detecting artificial transgenes

McGill University researchers have discovered a new way to track genetically modified animals using the artificial transgenes they leave behind in the environment.

The discovery provides a powerful new tool to locate and manage genetically modified animals that have escaped or been released into the wild.

In a study published in PLOS ONE, the researchers show for the first time that artificial transgenes from a variety of genetically modified animals like fruit flies, mice, and tetra fish can be detected and sequenced from the DNA left behind in soil, water, and in the form of feces, urine, or saliva. These findings could be used, for example, to detect the transgenes of genetically modified mosquitoes from pools of standing water in areas where they were recently released.

Compared to traditional animal monitoring methods, environmental DNA (eDNA) has proven to be more accurate and efficient, requiring less time and lower costs.

“Until now no one had applied these environmental DNA methods to genetically modified animals, even though they are already in the wild,” says Charles Xu, a PhD student in Department of Biology at McGill University.

“Detection of animal transgenes from eDNA can be very useful because it can tell you whether genetically modified animals are there without the need to find them.”

Advances in genome-editing technologies like CRISPR have dramatically simplified the process of creating genetically modified organisms, leading to an explosion in the number and types of genetically modified animals being produced around the world.

With them come concerns about the ecological, evolutionary, and bioethical implications of these new creatures. Some genetically modified animals, like glowing aquarium fish, can be purchased by the public, while others, like mosquitos, have been released into the wild.

The creatures carry artificial transgenes, or genes that have either been altered by scientists or introduced from another species by artificial means.

“Because genetically modified animals are often indistinguishable from their natural counterparts based on appearance alone, environmental DNA or eDNA methods could be especially useful for early detection and monitoring purposes,” Charles Xu says.

“That is especially true in cases where these animals may escape from the lab or the farm, move to places they don’t belong, or crossbreed with natural animals.”

In the future, labs, companies, and governments involved in producing and managing genetically modified animals will be able to use eDNA methods to detect and track them in real-life contexts.

Journal Reference:
  1. Charles C. Y. Xu, Claire Ramsay, Mitra Cowan, Mehrnoush Dehghani, Paul Lasko, Rowan D. H. Barrett. Transgenes of genetically modified animals detected non-invasively via environmental DNAPLOS ONE, 2021; 16 (8): e0249439 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249439

Source:  ScienceDaily

Russia’s first cloned calf opens the door to gene-edited cattle

Researchers from Ernst Federal Science Center for Animal Husbandry, Skoltech, Moscow State University and their colleagues have produced the first viable cloned calf in Russia, now one year old.

In a related experiment, the team was able to knock out the genes responsible for beta-lactoglobulin, a protein causing milk allergy in humans, in the hopes of creating gene-edited cows with hypoallergenic milk.

The paper outlining the results of the experiment was recently published in the journal Doklady Biochemistry and Biophysics.

A team led by Galina Singina, of the Ernst Federal Science Center for Animal Husbandry, cloned the calf using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), with embryonic fibroblasts as donors of nuclei.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer means that a nucleus from a regular cell of a donor animal is transferred into an egg with its nucleus removed, and the resulting embryo is then implanted into the uterus of a cow and carried to term.

While genetically modified mice became a routine worldwide, although still rare in Russia, gene editing in other animal species remains a challenge, Petr Sergiev, a member of the research team, says.

Mostly this is because of high costs and difficulties in breeding and husbandry – mice are very convenient from this perspective with, for instance, a three-week pregnancy.  There is plenty of accumulated experience in dealing with mice, too, simply because so many labs around the world have been working with them for decades.

“Thus, a methodology leading to cattle with hypoallergenic milk is not only a necessity for agriculture of the future, but also a cool project,” Sergiev, who is an Associate Professor at Skoltech, notes.

“The cloned calf was born on April 10, 2020, with a birth weight of 63 kilograms. Now, as she is over a year old, she is an adult animal weighing over 410 kilograms with a regular reproductive cycle. Until she turned one, we kept her in a separate room with her mother, but since May, she has been on daily pasture with the other cows of the Institute. It required some adaptation, but that happened quickly,” Galina Singina says.

Source:  Scoop

Call for urgent widening of NZ debate and action on gene editing

New Zealand urgently needs to debate and action on gene editing, with the aim of boosting New Zealand’s bioeconomy, a BioTechNZ survey report says.

There is global interest in biotechnology as a means of altering biological processes to improve human health, food production and environmental sustainability the new report says.

Increasing demand for food, shortages of natural resources and water and environmental concerns have been driving the growth of biotech in agriculture.

The report says:

“Any new technology must be trialled and understood by the public, before providing mainstream benefit. To avoid polarisation of perspectives in New Zealand, open public debate is recommended, with the government ensuring the public have access to the facts.

“Our research has identified a number of barriers that need to be overcome to enable the growth of the New Zealand biotechnology market.

“These constraints include access to capital and access to skills and talent. The current regulatory framework governing genetic modified organisms (GMO) is also a major barrier to growth for the New Zealand biotechnology sector.”

The global biotech market is forecast to be worth $US729 billion by 2025. New Zealand is positioned well: ranked fourth in the world for innovation potential in biotech. Continue reading

Two perspectives on GE developments – and an appeal for ALL political parties to get up to date with their policies

GE-Free NZ, in its latest press release this week, asks: Do GE developers really know what they are doing?

The release complains that New Zealand consumers will be left in the dark about Australian-grown foods created by using gene editing techniques.

It was triggered by an Australian Senator putting up a motion to disallow, or overturn, the recently passed Gene Technology Amendment Regulations 2019.  These allow the gene editing of animals, plants and microorganisms without them needing to go through the regulatory process.  The motion was defeated.

Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ, says the decision ushers in a wild west of gene editing that puts at risk the environment, people’s health and consumer trust in Australian food.

Gene editing of SDN1 foods can be commercialised in Australia without any Government oversight, he said.  Moreover, they will escape any safety studies.

These manipulations have not undergone any testing for safety when eaten.

“This comes when scientists are warning about the dangers posed by gene edited organisms,” Mr Carapiet said.

“There are serious mutations and off-target effects that have been labelled as ‘clumsy’.   

“As GE plants are able to produce pollen and pass on their engineered traits these clumsy and off target effects may pose serious dangers to the plant, environment and those who eat them.” Continue reading

Young scientists’ letter to a divided Green Party calls for a review of our GM law to help tackle climate crisis

A group of 155 New Zealanders under 30 who specialise in biological or environmental science have challenged the Green Party to revisit its position on genetic modification.

They have signed an open letter which urges Green Party members and MPs to take a lead in overhauling strict legislation, enacted 16 years ago, that regulates GM research. The climate crisis makes a review of the law a matter of urgency, they argue.

  “Climate change is one of the greatest crisis in human history, and our current law severely restricts the development of technologies that could make a vital difference,”  the letter says.

Continue reading

James Shaw and GM technologies – the debate is about trade (he said), not about science

Climate Change Minister James Shaw told Parliament this week he supports the use of all scientific technologies to tackle climate change “that do not themselves also cause harm in other ways”.

He was being questioned by National’s science spokeswoman, Dr Parmjeet Parmar, who was aiming to tease out his position on genetic modification.

Just because something is scientifically possible doesn’t always make it a good idea, he said.

There could be economic or brand risks or ethical risks.

He referenced dicyandiamide (DCD), which was added to milk, then had huge consequences in important export markets. Continue reading

AgResearch scientists report HME ryegrass is making steady progress

AgResearch’s development of a new generation grass is making steady progress, AgResearch reports.

Its principal scientist, Dr Greg Bryan, has returned from the United States where the Crown Research Institute is conducting field trials of the genetically modified High Metabolisable Energy (HME) ryegrass.

New Zealand forage scientists have been conducting experiments to find if this new potentially environmentally sustainable grass – one that strikes a balance between reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, greater tolerance to drought and farm productivity – will perform in the field in a similar way to how it performs in controlled environment studies.
Continue reading

Government responds (cautiously) to report on gene editing but National calls for urgency

The Government’s response to the recently released papers on gene editing from the Royal Society Te Apārangi was issued by Environment Minister David Parker, not Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

We may suppose this is a consequence of New Zealand’s legislation on genetic modification being administered by the Environmental Protection Authority.

The society’s papers note “there are considerable benefits that gene editing can bring to our lives, particularly in health,” Mr Parker acknowledged.

The provisions governing gene editing, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), were amended in 2003 in line with the Government’s overall policy of proceeding with caution while preserving opportunities. Continue reading