Saturday, November 25, 2017

Talking Biotech #110 - Gene Therapies in Pets

In this week's podcast MIT Technology Review's Emily Mullin talks about gene therapies for pets. 

While technologies to treat genetic diseases have been slow to reach humans, they have been deployed in animals to demonstrate their efficacy.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Everyday I feel so grateful for being able to serve the students and faculty at my university, the farmers of our state and nation, and the public that wants to learn more about food and farming.
Still every day we must endure challenges posed by those that want to stop progress, and want to stop our mission. But things are slowly changing. It is because of the huge number of people that are stepping into engage others with evidence-based arguments. And special thanks to everyone that defends the scientists and farmers that passionately share what they do, and why it is important.
For all of these things, I am grateful. Peace, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Huber's Letter to My Superiors

Four years ago this week I attended a talk by anti-GMO darling Dr. Don M. Huber, Emeritus Professor affiliated with Purdue University. In his presentation, Huber made reference to his Molecular Bigfoot, a mysterious new organism that only he has seen, that is harbored on Roundup Ready crops. And it kills you and gives your kids autism. 

The magical organism is a central part of his campaign to spread fear around modern agriculture, and he travels the globe misleading audiences and invoking fear from authoritative credentials. As I've always said, he has a solid record and history. That's what makes his fear campaign more deplorable. 

Here are some things you don't know about the story, mostly because I decided not to make a big deal of it.  I will now. He's still out peddling his nonsense, so it is appropriate to show more about who he really is. 

The Slide at PAG

The Plant-Animal Genome Conference brings many people together in my discipline. It is the place where me and my colleagues and collaborators get together to see new science and plan future work. 

In 2016 the conference had a session, a crazy session, where Huber was on the agenda!  He told his story of GE crop doom to a room of scientists that politely sat through it.  In his slide deck, he took the opportunity to throw me under the bus. 

This is the title slide from his talk.  I can't make this stuff up. 

This is also a slide from his deck.  I can't make this stuff up.  It shows his utter contempt for other scientists and the scientific literature.  Plus, to include this in the slide deck at a national conference is a low-class move.

Letter to University Administration
I was talking to my boss one day and on the way out he handed me a letter.  He said, "I think you need to know who is out there, don't do anything with this."

It is four years later and I think it is important to understand what Huber is all about.

The letter was from Don M. Huber to my university administration. I'm not going to post the whole thing, it is rambling and boring, but am happy to send it to you.  We can avoid the whole FOIA request thing. 

Huber impugns my professionalism. This coming from a guy that travels the world scaring people with a fictitious organism, lumpy rat photos and Seneff correlation charts.

They were worried about "intimidation" because I sent a letter to the people hosting him, warning them about his message of fake organisms and glyphosate causing autism (and everything else).

He says that I "did not allow an opportunity for fair and informative discussion (and was) disruptive and disparaging." I recorded the whole thing.  I didn't make a peep during his talk and sat patiently, and until the Q&A when I constructively requested a sample of his "organism" so we could sequence the genome.  I just made an offer to help him.  To date, there is no evidence of his organism.

The guy that sends a letter to the US Ag Secretary claiming evidence of a scary organism in GE crops, based on zero evidence, hopes for me to get ethics counseling.

There's a ton more, but no need to go there.  He was so mad that I didn't just buy his story and instead asked for evidence. That's my job.  

It says a lot about him that he'd write to my bosses, stating that I was "disruptive and disparaging", when I quietly sat and watched his presentation.  

The good news is that the recording I made that night confirms my position.  Glad I did that. 

I also showed this letter to other professors and organic growers that were in attendance that night.  They were truly disappointed that Huber would manufacture a false story with the intent of harming my standing within the university, a place where I am in a leadership position that requires a great relationship with my superiors. 

He produced disparaging slides about another scientist for a national conference.  He reported false claims to harm my standing with my administration, simply because I offered assistance in solving a crisis that he claims is real.  He was held accountable for his wild claims.  He doesn't like that. 

He still continues to tour the planet, telling his tall tales to farmers and lay audiences.  It is a sad mission, and a pathetic end to a good career in public service. 

Time will not be kind to Dr. Huber. 

If he apologized and came clean now he'd be a hero. All would be forgiven.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Four Years Later, Is the Unknown Pathogen a Fake?

Four years ago this week I went to see Dr. Don Huber present his sideshow at an event in my town. The grandfatherly man ground his axe against modern biotechnology, especially genetically engineered plants and the products used on them. 

One of the highlights of the night was when he scared and disgusted the concerned audience. He showed them pictures of aborted livestock and images of human disease. He claimed it to be caused from a "virus-like microfungus", an organism unknown to modern science, propagated in genetically-engineered crops and fostered by glyphosate treatment. 

Six years ago Purdue Professor Emeritus Don M. Huber wrote a letter to the USDA Secretary claiming to have cultured a new type of organism that thrived in Roundup Ready soybeans and corn, and caused harm to humans and livestock.  He never has produced any evidence building on this claim, despite vigorously defending it, claiming that it was being worked on.  Isn't it time he came clean? 

The crowd was literally gasping with his images. A man of noted accomplishment and credibility was showing them the root of all human disease and dysfunction. Damn Monsanto.

He claimed that the mystery critter obeyed Koch's postulates, meaning that you could spread the infection from one organism to another. He claimed he could culture it. 

So during the Q&A time I offered to sequence its genome, I'd just need a little culture. The whole story is here.

Of course, he declined my offer.  He had that he had crack teams of experts in Australia and China working on it.  Aside from the fact that he claims to have shared a deadly organism with China, we sit now four years later, and no further characterization. 

Purdue (his stated affiliation as Emeritus faculty), the USDA, and the CDC know nothing about the mysterious pathogen he claims to have, even though he did send a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack about it.  

Here we sit, four years later, and the DNA sequence is still not available.  I could have had it done in a few weeks, at my personal expense. 

Could it be that there is no secret microorganism and that Dr. Huber was lying to the audience and sending fraudulent emails to Secretary Vilsack? 

He's still out on the tour, misinforming about science and creating confusion.  If you ask him about it, I'm sure he'll never come clean that he made the whole thing up. 

More on tomorrow's blog. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

In Support of Dr. Peter Gallogly

I saw the video, I've heard the comments, and read the police reports.  You should too.  I can also add some points you have not read anywhere else.  

I've been seen by Dr. Peter Gallogly and Dr. Tom Raulerson at the Gainesville After Hours Care, mostly in its old location on 2nd Avenue.  I appreciated the care I received so much that I considered them my primary physicians, even though the facility was frequently jammed and it was hard to get an appointment. 

They also are the only game in town in the evenings and weekends outside of the emergency room, which means they see a lot of urgent cases. 

There's my review from Google, probably at least ten years old now. 

I'm a state employee, I have great insurance, and I can go anywhere.  I chose GAHC because of the professionalism, the compassion, their social mission, their service to the community, and an appreciation for the good physicians and staff that work there. 

Both of these physicians always took the time to listen, they were careful and thorough, and served a clientele that typically was uninsured and on tight budgets.  I sat in their waiting room and listened to the stories, heard the excuses, and met many people that were a medical mess but looked to GAHC for excellent care.

I even talked to Dr. Raulerson about it.  He said that it was a mission, the best kind of care to provide. 

From just sitting in the waiting room a dozen times I can tell you that his staff endured frequent abuse from many more people than Jessica Stipe.  

Once I listened to two people complain about Dr. Raulerson taking too much time before they could be seen.  He was obviously running late, or something else was taking his time. 

One of them went outside and came in and reported, "His truck is in the parking lot, so I know he's here..."

I thought this was strange. These frequent patients know what the physician drives and then actively stalk him to determine if he's even on site? 

I've seen people bang on the sliding window making demands, I've seen people loudly complain about payments, I heard people talk in the waiting room about the staff and physicians in unbecoming ways. 

I understand.  It is inconvenient, and it is awful to have to wait for care when you're ill. The magazines are from 2014 and the carpets are old, but this is a place where physicians are doing their best to serve a challenging, predominantly underinsured clientele. 

I thought Dr. Gallogly's response and apology were first rate, and show his professionalism and class. 

I also think that his over-reaction was even a bit reserved.  I would have removed them myself after they threatened my staff with physical violence. Sorry, I'm not going to blame the guy for being angry.

And he should have taken her phone.  It is not a public space, Florida law requires all parties to consent to recording on private property, and I hope he follows up with action against Stipe.  He probably won't.  He's classier than I am. 

Bottom line- I was compelled to write this because I know what it is like to be massacred in the Court of Public Opinion and how lonely it can be to see your solid career trashed in social media.  I want a good report to pop up when people search his name. 

One frustrated moment dealing with a horrible patient and the internet wants to end your career. 

Thanks to Dr. Gallogly and everyone at GAHC.  You do a great service for our community, and I'm sorry you have to endure this episode. 

And if you ever decide to hire a bouncer for your waiting room let me know.  I'd love to correct some of the bad behavior I've seen happen there. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fake News II - You Can Have it Both Ways

In yesterday's blog I described how a former scientist was provided a high visibility forum by the taxpayer funded Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC)-- to make up fake news.  

I hate that term.  But it is a news website, and the information is fake. Fake news

It is so false, so maliciously untruthful, that neither Thierry Vrain or the CBC reporter noticed the inherent contradiction. The lies are so bad that they don't align. It is about creating fear, uncertainty and doubt, even if the claims are internally contradictory. 

But in the world of false information, you can have it both ways, and nobody cares, so long as the nonsense you spout fits their bias. 

Let's look at three lines from this article. 

This statement implies that rigorous dose-response tests have been performed and have concluded that low-doses lead to disease.  No such evidence exists. 

There is no evidence that it accumulates in all of our organs.

And "no research has been done on humans" but somehow he knows that it "accumulates in all our organs".

Let me get this straight.  No research has been done on humans, but somehow a scientist is making certain statements about a water soluble ag chemical accumulating in all of our organs.  All of them. As determined by no research.  Which means he's making it up. 

I pride myself on soft-spoken restraint, high roads and classy retorts.  However, this requires a pointy response.  Vrain is lying so deliberately with completely made-up bullshit, that he can't even keep it straight.  

And the CBC prints it like it is news.  But we already knew that the anti-farming movement doesn't critically evaluate the information they accept and willfully promote, and amplify on taxpayer dollars.   

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fake News On CBC? Who Funds This Nonsense?

When a government news agency promotes false information to subvert a government scientific safety decision, it is time to re-evaluate their role and if they should even receive government support.  Their November 6th 2017 interview is a shameful distortion of facts, evidence, and directly opposes the science-based decision that government regulators made. 

As usual, the object in question is glyphosate, the low-toxicity herbicide that has been used for about four decades.  It has been recognized for its low toxicity by 100 world governments, most that did their own independent evaluation. It has a reasonable half life in the environment, low environmental impact, and efficacy against a wide variety of weeds. 

But there is a movement afoot to take this safe and useful chemical away from farmers, municipalities and homeowners.  It has been a carefully orchestrated misinformation campaign driven from many angles. 

The article on CBCNews states clearly that a safe, well studied herbicide "causes disease in animal organs."  There is no sound, reproducible evidence to support this, especially at concentrations used. The claims are made by Theirry Vrain, a former scientist now exploiting his past credibility to sow doubt and push shameful misinformation. 

The  opening sentence is just false.  "Glyphosate accumulates in all our organs " says Theirry Vrain.   Someone should revoke his scientific credentials.  There is no evidence to support this position, he is making up information with the intent to scare.  He's using his position as a former government scientist and doctorate holder to spread false information. 

It is nothing new. I've reported several times about his boring and outdated campaigns that make claims based on his 1980's understanding of the technology, a cursory understanding of science, and the stuff he just makes up. 

Once again, CBC lends their microphone and credibility to a non-substantiated viewpoint by someone that has always had damning information about biotechnology, and someone that has almost always been dead wrong. 

Glyphosate does not "accumulate in all organs".  To the contrary, it is water soluble and passes rapidly through the body in stools and urine, with a small amount broken down in the liver by cytochrome p450 enzymes that do that do that sort of thing.  It's pharmacology is well established, and kinetics well documented.  In fact, recent papers have shown that you can accurately estimate occupational exposure by interpreting urine levels. 

On top of that, there is almost zero exposure. It is detected on raw, harvested commodities in low parts per million, that's tens of thousands of times below physiological thresholds. 

He says that there have been no trials in humans, which shows his contempt for the rules that govern tests on human beings.  When there is no plausible mechanism of harm, and no reliable evidence from animals, and no evidence of harm in humans from epidemiological assessments, why even go down that road?

Because it is about scare tactics. Period. 
Vrain then says that glyphosate causes cancer, kidney disease, liver disease and obesity, all based on rather flimsy studies that were never repeated, and all performed by the usual suspects (the people that always find problems and never follow up with any further study).  Nobody else follows their work either. 

Because it is not real. 

The article says that the herbicide is "registered in 100 countries" and fails to recognize that each country does its own evaluations, and none of them have concluded that this compound is harmful. 

The article says that the "water and cancer" agency of the WHO say it is a probable carcinogen.  That is a highly disputed conclusion made by the IARC, an agency that made this controversial conclusion after ignoring a tremendous body of data that did not support the conclusion, and basing the conclusion on a few data points, some from well debunked papers. 

The CBC gave its power to someone willfully distorting evidence.  

The Canadian government does not agree with activists and the IARC and in its independent assessment re-registered the product for continued use.   They are funded by the Canadian government. 

Now the news outlet funded by the Canadian government purposefully and maliciously claims that the decision by the Canadian government is wrong, and that they by proxy are content with poisoning  people. 

Canadians should look carefully at this.  Someone is lying to you-- either the regulatory agencies or the news service that interviews and extols the rants of an known activist that makes empty claims about well established science. 

Talk about fake news.