Saturday, September 28, 2019

TB206 - The Ugly Politics of Glyphosate Litigation


 A relatively safe agricultural chemical is demonized as a carcinogen, lobbyists pose as journalists and stoke fear, NGOs defy science to advance agenda, lawyers make a fortune, science suffers and farmers lose options.  A population lives in fear of its food.  This is the fallout of the IARC decision. 

In today's podcast I speak with Dr. David Zaruk, a professor that understands risk and has examined the IARC decisions and the internal politics and gyrations of vilifying an agricultural compound, straight from the tort law playbook.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

TB205 - The Oxitec GE Mosquito Situation

Sterile insect technique is the process of treating insects with radiation to damage their DNA to render them unable to reproduce, and then releasing them into populations of the same species. Within a generation the numbers plummet.  This is a great approach for A. egyptii mosquitoes, as a genetic solution can slow spread of Yellow Fever, Dengue, Malaria, Zika, West Nile and a host of other diseases. It is better to control insects with genetics rather than insecticides.

Oxitech takes this one further and produces sterile insects using a larval-lethal gene that they can turn off in the lab.  Lab grown mosquitoes grow just fine, adults are sorted into males and females, and males are released to mate and pass on the lethal gene to populations that spread disease. The next generation, well, isn't. 

But control is not complete and by definition, the engineered mosquitoes must mate with local populations. It is important to note that the local populations of A. egyptii are invasive and not native. 

A recent report monitored populations and described that the introduced GE mosquitoes were mating with local ones, and that the Oxitech genetic background decreased with time. As it should. 

But that didn't stop a few speculative statements from the paper to be blown out of proportion. 




GM Watch, always looking for a way to trash technology, notes that the GE mosquitoes are "out of control" and that "GM mosquitoes are spreading in Brazil."  Neither statement is true. 

The transgene was not detected, just some of the native genetics from the introduced population. The transgene is lethal.  Not all mosquitoes pass on the transgene, but do mate, so an invasive non-native strain was mating with another invasive non-native strain. As predicted. 

The numbers also crashed, as predicted.  And in several generations the introduced genetics decreased in abundance and as of today are not detected.  Things are not running amok.  They are not even walking amok. 


This week's Talking Biotech Podcast covers the story in detail.  Please listen and understand this important topic, as this technique may save millions of lives if fully implemented. 




Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Talking Biotech 204 - Image Manipulation, Plagiarism, and Misconduct

Dr. Elisabeth Bik is amazing, with an eagle eye on publication misconduct. She voluntarily scans the scientific literature, looking carefully at images of cells and gels. Sometimes she finds that data have been fabricated. She reports this to journal editors, and hopes that the journals take appropriate action. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't.  Sometimes there is fallout.  She is taking a huge risk to ensure the integrity of the literature, as careers can hang in the balance, and she sets herself up for professional and personal peril.  We owe her a great debt and need to know her story and stand behind her. Please listen to her story. 

This week's podcast. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Guest on CanSurvivor

I had a most wonderful conversation with Kelsey Smith at CanSurvivor.  We discussed issues in health and nutrition, genetics and technology, along with some hints on the next-generation of new cancer therapies that are on the scientific horizon.  She was so much fun to talk to, and we share a forward-thinking and optimistic look at technology and the promises it holds for food and medicine. 



Saturday, September 7, 2019

Talking Biotech 203 - An HIV Preventative from Rice





Could a prophylactic powder from GMO rice stop HIV transmission in the Developing World? Dr. Evangelia Vamaka and her team have developed the technology, and it works well so far... This week's podcast with Lethbridge Alberta Canada high school student Michelle Wu.

Listen to the podcast here. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Blocked from the USRTK Facebook Page

I liked visiting the US-RTK Facebook page a lot like I liked visiting the dentist.  Yes, it is uncomfortable at times, but I leave feeling like something was accomplished.  The difference is that in the dentist office I just leave behind spit water. On the US-RTK Facebook page I leave behind compelling information that helps link their followers to legitimate science. 

At least I used to. 

I was a "Top Fan" of the site, a designation given to those with frequent comments. 

This week I returned from Australia and spent nights up late, taking advantage of jet lag.  I was working on a couple of work projects, but would check over at US-RTK now and then. I frequently commented.  Kindly.  Lovingly.  With great respect and patience.  And it drove them crazy. 

I took a few screenshots.  I'd comment on something that they posted that was not quite true (imagine that), using science as a basis for the discussion. 

They'd return comments, calling the science "Bayer Propaganda" and then go after me for being a Monsanto lackey and the same stuff they've said for ages.  The ad hominem is alive and well at US-RTK. 


This was my appropriate comment to the posted article. The title was quite imprecise.  (Click to Embiggen)


That scientific lead-in spawned a whole lot of commentary.  The point here is, the internet is a spectator sport.  When you comment with tact and class, especially reaching out to a new community, you can change hearts and minds. 


Some of their usual suspects chime in, and I responded kindly and with respect as always. 



Bad logic and tired tropes spew from US-RTK supporters. This is a site that hates science and scientists, but look at the number of supportive "likes" my comments get in this hostile forum. 


It is amazing how they just make claims about "corporate benefactors" and "corrupted science". These folks have a religion, it is deep beliefs that insulate from outside thought. 


Even folks that are a little more reasonable like Lisa M. still fail to try to understand, and instead dig in harder with their talking points. 


Then we just be extra more nicerly.


Today I chimed in on a conversation with a guy named Steven.  He was commenting on Terminator Seeds and other familiar fiction.  I gave him good information, backed it with evidence, and he kindly agreed to look into it.  I also posted my podcast link.  Here someone opened their mind to change.  Maybe it won't happen, and that's fine.  The point is, he took a step toward understanding someone else's view.  That's all we can ask for.  If we can achieve that, good science and good evidence are evetually persuasive. 

Clearly I was creating change at the US-RTK site.  The large number of 'likes', the respectful discourse... it was changing minds in a reinforced echo chamber. 

So I was banned. 


Can't have crazy talk like this here.
That kind of respectful discourse might hurt the cause.



... and gone! 


I block people too, but only after they are abusive or cause me problems.  In this case the problems I was causing at US-RTK's site were purely based on dissemination of credible information they didn't want their followers to see.  A right to know? 

The other main point is that discussing science via the ultimate high road can change minds.  While others assert we need to be brawlers and mudslingers, love-slinging works sometimes too.  Maybe it takes all kinds, but this blog shows evidence that a light touch can be persuasive. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A Lesser Abomination

The Scientific American article about "dying broccoli" and "toxic corn" drew wide criticism for its unreferenced and outright false indictment of modern agriculture, and flimsy treatment of concepts in microbiomes.  My dissection can be seen here. 

I contacted the editors, and apparently others did too. I was shocked to find out that there was no peer review or expert consultation.  The editors kindly returned a conscientious and conciliatory email that suggested they made a mistake and the authors would revise. 

Personally, nothing short of a full retraction was a remedy.  That first article was absolutely horrible, D.O.A. horrible. Not only did it vilify farmers, it scared people about food, and misinformed them about basic biology, and it was done under the banner of Scientific American, a trusted popular scientific brand.  

Out of the frying pan...

The editors published a "corrected" version.  I learned of the revision via Twitter from Dr. Elisabeth Bik (@microbiomdigest) someone that knows a thing or two about microbiomes. 




This is the editor's note, noting that the original work failed to meet editorial standards. 


And into a fajita skillet.

"Substantial revision" might be a slight step forward, but still is an absolute mess.  Here again is a painstaking dissection with referenced rebuttals. The revised text was longer, referenced (but with select references that supported the authors' assertions, ignoring all other contradictory literature) and equally fear-based and misleading.  Here goes... (click to make bigly)








There you have it.  The editors at Scientific American clearly don't realize how scholarly writing should be done, even if it is in a popular science venue.  As it stands, the work uses misrepresentation and cherry picking to disparage agricultural producers, conjure fear of safe and reliable chemistries/genetics, and promote a vision of agriculture that is ultimately unsustainable without removing a lot of people from the planet.

Articles like this get a day in the sun on Twitter. Anti-ag interests will bask in its words and share in their online communities.  The real atrocity is how Scientific American destroys its own credibility, abrades trust in farming, and scares people away from fresh fruits and vegetables, the most important food on the plate for long term health.