Food Matters and genetic modification

Dr Grant Jacobs, a senior computational biologist, has posted at Sciblogs some thoughts provoked by the Food Matters Aotearoa event at Te Papa.

He notes the organisers’ selected keynote speakers from several groups opposed to genetic modification (GM) with “views that sit on the fringe of the science of the subject”.

Green Party GE spokesperson, Steffan Browning, hosted several of them at an event in Parliament.

Jacobs makes plain his contrary position:

GM is important to all New Zealanders, whether they’ve taken time to understand it or not. It’s more than ‘just’ plants, too.

There is work developing bacteria (or yeast) that can produce biofuels. So-called ‘gene therapy’ has been successfully applied to treat a number of rare illnesses, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia and beta-thalassemia. Important biological products can be mass produced: insulin for diabetics, for example, is made using genetically-engineered bacteria gown in large stainless steel fermentation vats. This list goes on.

For plants, GM creates small variants of existing plants; it is unable to do the wholesale genetic changes that some older breeding techniques can. Its changes are few and targeted. It can create drought-resistant crops important for coping with climate change. We could develop pines that don’t pollute our landscape and native forests with wilding trees, an accursed nuisance in this country. Crops supplementing dietary deficiencies have been developed and grown, as have crops resistant to disease.


Our legislation regulating GMOs badly needs revision, as last year’s odd blocking of a technique considered exempt showed,[2] but fringe speakers are not a sound guide for new policy. Bleakley and Browning’s cast do not reflect the science on the subject, but advocate opinions at odds with it.

Steffan Browning issued a press release on the Food Matters conference, saying it would be discussing the negative impacts of genetic engineering.


First documented cases of cat-to-human transmission of TB

Siouxsie Wiles has alerted Sciblogs readers to the first documented cases of cat-to-human transmission of TB.

She refers to a paper just published in the Veterinary Journal which documents the first cases of transmission of Mycobacterium bovis (the bacterium responsible for TB in cattle and many other species) to humans.

She also advises:

Before anyone get’s into a panic, it was a year ago.

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Elsevier retracts controversial Seralini paper on GM maize and rat tumours

A controversial article on the long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, by Gilles Eric Séralini et al. has been retracted by the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.

Elsevier, the journal’s publisher, has issued the following retraction statement:

The journal Food and Chemical Toxicology retracts the article “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” which was published in this journal in November 2012.

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Tertiary education rankings raise a ruckus about public funding evaluation system

A ruckus in academia has been raised by the publication of the interim report (here) on the 2012 evaluation of research excellence in tertiary education organisations (TEOs).

This is the third Quality Evaluation and the second full round since 2003 in an exercise that will affect funding for the TEOs from the Performance Based Research Fund.

The NZ Herald (here) noted that the University of Auckland had been knocked off its perch by Wellington’s Victoria University in the resultant ranking of universities.

Vice-chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon said the second-place ranking for his institution was “apparently counter-intuitive”. But he took comfort that the PBRF had confirmed the university as the country’s leading research institution.

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