Green dilemma – a GE rice that reduces greenhouse gas emissions!

August 3rd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

This will pose a dilemma for the Greens. Scientists have developed a genetically engineered rice crop that has significantly reduced methane (the most powerful greenhouse gas) emissions over normal rice.

So if the Greens truly believe their rhetoric that greenhouse gas emissions are the biggest threat to Earth today, surely this means they will drop their opposition to genetically engineered crops and welcome this GE rice?

Nature Magazine reports:

Atmospheric methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, and is responsible for about 20% of the global warming effect since pre-industrial times1, 2. Rice paddies are the largest anthropogenic methane source and produce 7–17% of atmospheric methane2, 3. Warm waterlogged soil and exuded nutrients from rice roots provide ideal conditions for methanogenesis in paddies with annual methane emissions of 25–100-million tonnes3, 4. This scenario will be exacerbated by an expansion in rice cultivation needed to meet the escalating demand for food in the coming decades4.

Here we show that the addition of a single transcription factor gene, barleySUSIBA2 (refs 7, 8), conferred a shift of carbon flux to SUSIBA2 rice, favouring the allocation of photosynthates to aboveground biomass over allocation to roots. The altered allocation resulted in an increased biomass and starch content in the seeds and stems, and suppressed methanogenesis, possibly through a reduction in root exudates. Three-year field trials in China demonstrated that the cultivation of SUSIBA2 rice was associated with a significant reduction in methane emissions and a decrease in rhizospheric methanogen levels. SUSIBA2 rice offers a sustainable means of providing increased starch content for food production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from rice cultivation. 

This is a great breakthrough. It should be welcomed. Or will green activists attack the fields it is planted it, and destroy it as unnatural?

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This is what the Greens are against

May 25th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I was listening to a ted Talk while running. It was by Pamela Ronald who is a plant geneticist. I got quite angry while listening to it, because it highlighted how the Greens and others are battling against science that is feeding millions of people.

You can view or read her talk here. The key extracts:

Now, the same month that my laboratory published our discovery on the rice immunity gene, my friend and colleague Dave Mackill stopped by my office. He said, “Seventy million rice farmers are having trouble growing rice.” That’s because their fields are flooded, and these rice farmers are living on less than two dollars a day. Although rice grows well in standing water, most rice varieties will die if they’re submerged for more than three days. Flooding is expected to be increasingly problematic as the climate changes. He told me that his graduate student Kenong Xu and himself were studying an ancient variety of rice that had an amazing property. It could withstand two weeks of complete submergence. He asked if I would be willing to help them isolate this gene. I said yes — I was very excited, because I knew if we were successful, we could potentially help millions of farmers grow rice even when their fields were flooded.

Kenong spent 10 years looking for this gene. Then one day, he said, “Come look at this experiment. You’ve got to see it.” I went to the greenhouse and I saw that the conventional variety that was flooded for 18 days had died, but the rice variety that we had genetically engineered with a new gene we had discovered, called Sub1, was alive. Kenong and I were amazed and excited that a single gene could have this dramatic effect. But this is just a greenhouse experiment. Would this work in the field?

Now, I’m going to show you a four-month time lapse video taken at the International Rice Research Institute. Breeders there developed a rice variety carrying the Sub1 gene using another genetic technique called precision breeding. On the left, you can see the Sub1 variety, and on the right is the conventional variety. Both varieties do very well at first, but then the field is flooded for 17 days. You can see the Sub1 variety does great. In fact, it produces three and a half times more grain than the conventional variety. I love this video because it shows the power of plant genetics to help farmers. Last year, with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, three and a half million farmers grew Sub1 rice.

This is what the Greens have spent 20 years opposing, and still oppose.

Now, many people don’t mind genetic modification when it comes to moving rice genes around, rice genes in rice plants, or even when it comes to mixing species together through grafting or random mutagenesis. But when it comes to taking genes from viruses and bacteria and putting them into plants,a lot of people say, “Yuck.” Why would you do that? The reason is that sometimes it’s the cheapest, safest, and most effective technology for enhancing food security and advancing sustainable agriculture.I’m going to give you three examples.

First, take a look at papaya. It’s delicious, right? But now, look at this papaya. This papaya is infected with papaya ringspot virus. In the 1950s, this virus nearly wiped out the entire production of papaya on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Many people thought that the Hawaiian papaya was doomed, but then, a local Hawaiian, a plant pathologist named Dennis Gonsalves, decided to try to fight this disease using genetic engineering. He took a snippet of viral DNA and he inserted it into the papaya genome. This is kind of like a human getting a vaccination. Now, take a look at his field trial. You can see the genetically engineered papaya in the center. It’s immune to infection. The conventional papaya around the outside is severely infected with the virus. Dennis’ pioneering work is credited with rescuing the papaya industry.Today, 20 years later, there’s still no other method to control this disease. There’s no organic method. There’s no conventional method. Eighty percent of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered.

And the Greens would say best to let the papaya industry be wiped out. They’re basically against vaccinating plants and crops!

Now, take a look at this pest feasting on an eggplant. The brown you see is frass, what comes out the back end of the insect. To control this serious pest, which can devastate the entire eggplant crop in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi farmers spray insecticides two to three times a week, sometimes twice a day, when pest pressure is high. But we know that some insecticides are very harmful to human health,especially when farmers and their families cannot afford proper protection, like these children. In less developed countries, it’s estimated that 300,000 people die every year because of insecticide misuse and exposure. Cornell and Bangladeshi scientists decided to fight this disease using a genetic technique that builds on an organic farming approach. Organic farmers like my husband Raoul spray an insecticide called B.T., which is based on a bacteria. This pesticide is very specific to caterpillar pests, and in fact, it’s nontoxic to humans, fish and birds. It’s less toxic than table salt. But this approach does not work well in Bangladesh. That’s because these insecticide sprays are difficult to find, they’re expensive, and they don’t prevent the insect from getting inside the plants. In the genetic approach, scientists cut the gene out of the bacteria and insert it directly into the eggplant genome. Will this work to reduce insecticide sprays in Bangladesh? Definitely. Last season, farmers reported they were able to reduce their insecticide use by a huge amount, almost down to zero. They’re able to harvest and replant for the next season.

Yet despite this, the Greens still fight against the science.

Now, I’ve given you a couple examples of how genetic engineering can be used to fight pests and disease and to reduce the amount of insecticides. My final example is an example where genetic engineering can be used to reduce malnutrition. In less developed countries, 500,000 children go blind every year because of lack of Vitamin A. More than half will die. For this reason, scientists supported by the Rockefeller Foundation genetically engineered a golden rice to produce beta-carotene, which is the precursor of Vitamin A. This is the same pigment that we find in carrots. Researchers estimate that just one cup of golden rice per day will save the lives of thousands of children. But golden rice is virulently opposed by activists who are against genetic modification. Just last year, activists invaded and destroyed a field trial in the Philippines. When I heard about the destruction, I wondered if they knew that they were destroying much more than a scientific research project, that they were destroying medicines that children desperately needed to save their sight and their lives.

This is the point at which I got angry. You should be angry also.

Some of my friends and family still worry: How do you know genes in the food are safe to eat? I explained the genetic engineering, the process of moving genes between species, has been used for more than 40 years in wines, in medicine, in plants, in cheeses. In all that time, there hasn’t been a single case of harm to human health or the environment. But I say, look, I’m not asking you to believe me.Science is not a belief system. My opinion doesn’t matter. Let’s look at the evidence. After 20 years of careful study and rigorous peer review by thousands of independent scientists, every major scientific organization in the world has concluded that the crops currently on the market are safe to eat and that the process of genetic engineering is no more risky than older methods of genetic modification. These are precisely the same organizations that most of us trust when it comes to other important scientific issues such as global climate change or the safety of vaccines.

The Greens argue you must trust the scientific consensus when it comes to climate change (and they’re right) but they hypocritically argue against science when it comes to genetic engineering, fracking or basically anything that doesn’t sit well their their near-religious Gaia viewpoint. They don’t believe in science. They just use it when it aligns with their beliefs.

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Court rules no harm from GM crops

May 31st, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Yahoo News reports:

Organic farmer Steve Marsh has lost a landmark Supreme Court damages case against a neighbour who grew genetically modified canola.

The case, which pitted Mr Marsh against Kojonup neighbour Mike Baxter, attracted worldwide attention and today’s judgment is expected to have major ramifications for farming in Australia.

Justice Ken Martin dismissed Mr Marsh’s claims. A decision on costs was reserved.

Mr Marsh claimed he lost certified organic status on his farm because Mr Baxter failed in his duty of care to prevent contamination from his GM crop. He sought damages of $85,000 and an indefinite ban on Mr Baxter planting and harvesting GM crops.

In his judgment summary, Justice Martin dismissed both causes of action against Mr Baxter – common law negligence involving the breach of a duty to ensure there was no escape of GM material, and the tort of private nuisance.

Evidence at trial was that Roundup Ready (RR) canola swathes were harmless to animals, people and land unless the canola seed germinated in the soil and cross-fertilised.

“There was no evidence at the trial of any genetic transference risks posed by the RR canola swathes blown into Eagle Rest at the end of 2010,” Justice Martin said.

The full court judgment is here.

I quite paragraph 326:

First, as is now established, it has not been shown from any evidence led at this trial that GM canola per se is in any way physically dangerous or injurious to persons, animals or to property.

A win for science. A loss for hysteria.

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An Ag Science blog

May 14th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Bob Edlin is blogging on Ag Science at his Ag Science Blog.

A recent blog was on new generation GM crops:

The next wave of genetically modified crops is making its way to market—and might just ease concerns over “Frankenfoods”, according to a report in Nature reproduced in Scientific American (here).

Anastasia Bodnar, a biotechnologist with Biology Fortified, is quoted as saying that when the first genetically modified (GM) organisms were being developed for the farm, they were promoted as futuristic, ultra-nutritious crops that would bring exotic produce to supermarkets and help to feed a hungry world.

But the technology so far has bestowed most of its benefits on agribusiness, largely through crops modified to withstand weed-killing chemicals or resist insect pests. This has allowed farmers to increase yields and spray less pesticide than they might have otherwise.

Yet the Greens are still against.

Some of the new generation of GM crops now making their way from laboratory to market will tackle new problems, from apples that stave off discoloration to ‘Golden Rice’ and bright-orange bananas fortified with nutrients to improve the diets of people in the poorest countries.

The fiends. Monsanto must not be allowed to make money from improving nutrition in poor countries.

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An inconvenient truth

February 12th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Sue Neales at The Australian reports:

LAST year, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates gave $US10 million to British scientists to crack a problem he hoped might help solve the looming world food crisis.

Unusually, this time the philanthropy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was met with howls of outrage from left-leaning politicians and environmental groups that previously had welcomed its efforts to eradicate malaria and alleviate global poverty and hunger.

The reason? The Gates Foundation had dared to suggest that if British scientists could transfer the genes that give some root bacteria the ability to produce nitrogen from soil and air into wheat, corn or rice plants, it might help feed the nine billion people who will inhabit the planet by 2050.

How evil. They want to feed the planet.

Success would potentially allow wheat, rice, corn and other global food staples to be grown in even the poorest soils of Africa, Asia and South America without the need for costly fertilisers, greatly expanding world food production.

The potential is enormous.

Greenpeace Australia’s sustainable agriculture adviser Richard Widows immediately called the donation misplaced. He accused the Gates Foundation of feeding not the world but the profits of its biggest biotech and chemical conglomerates.

One can have a company make a profit, and help feed the poor. But the real sin is that the use of science conflicts with the near religious devotion some people have against science such as genetics.

“It’s the precautionary principle: that where the results of a new technology are still unknown, or where there is a lack of scientific knowledge or consensus regarding its safety, it’s smarter not to use it,” Greenpeace exhorts.

If one applied the precautionary principle the way Greenpeace does, we’d still think the world was flat as no one would have sailed too far in case they go off the edge.

It was this attitude towards GM crops that prompted two Greenpeace activists in July 2011 to climb over a fence at CSIRO’s plant research centre in Canberra and whipper-snip an entire trial plot of pioneering new wheat varieties bred using genetic engineering techniques.

The destroyed wheat plants had been genetically enhanced using a naturally occurring barley gene to modify starch and fibre levels and enhance nutritional value and human bowel health.

By accident, some genetic changes had also produced a wheat variety that has since taken the agricultural world by storm, promising growth and grain production 30 per cent higher than normal yields.

This is what they are trying to stop!

But while such anti-GM rhetoric was commonplace in the 1990s when the use of novel gene technology by the scientific community exploded, there are signs its ferocity is waning. Early this month, a British environmentalist, Mark Lynas, one of the first leaders of the anti-GM movement in the mid-90s, regretfully admitted to a farming conference in England that he had been wrong.

How long will we have to wait to hear the same here? I won’t hold my breath.

Lynas, a leading author on climate change issues, said he had slowly realised it was inconsistent with his reliance on evidence-based science and scientific knowledge to argue that climate change is a reality while simultaneously leading an inherently “anti-science” movement that demonised genetic modification of crops.

A point I often make. You can’t claim to be on the side of science for climate change and demonise science when it comes to fracking and GM.

Lynas told the conference this month that GM crops such as cotton, corn, soybeans and canola growing in the Americas and Australia had resulted in less pesticide and chemical use, reduced the costs of inputs to farmers, cut water usage and boosted food production.

And with three trillion meals containing food derived from GM-bred plants in 29 countries eaten in the past 15 years without one substantiated case of harm, Lynas is now certain it is safe.

Those who still cry out about the precautionary principle are just putting religious belief ahead of science.

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