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Farm to Food Gene Editing: The Future of Agriculture

On 25, Apr 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

Curious about what gene editing is? Watch this video to learn how CRISPR is helping farmers grow better crops to feed our growing population.

Legislative Gazette: Opinion: Banning chlorpyrifos could have devastating effects on NY crops

April 23, 2019

Our family has been farming in upstate New York for generations. We take great pride in helping to feed our community, taking care of the land that we farm and protecting the natural resources that have sustained us over the years. While much of what we do daily on the farm has roots in the work of generations past, there have been huge strides in innovation and the way we work has evolved. Thanks to new technology and precision practices, we can do more with less, yet we still need a variety of tools to ensure that we can keep pests and disease managed. Farming is precise and complex, and the decisions I make each and every day reflect the importance of my family’s health and the continued viability of my farmland. This is why it’s discouraging that New York lawmakers are considering a ban on an invaluable product that is used to help protect our crops and livelihood.

Currently, lawmakers in Albany are considering proposals that would ban an important tool and pesticide that protects some of our state’s most significant and popular fruits and vegetables. The proposed ban on chlorpyrifos would have far-ranging and potentially devastating effects to crops on my farm and those across the state.

Chlorpyrifos is an integral tool in the control of the cabbage and onion maggots, two destructive pests that severely damage cabbage, brussels sprouts, radishes, onions, garlic and shallots. Farmers must protect their crops from several types of these maggots each year. Chlorpyrifos provides excellent control when properly timed before periods when the flies lay their eggs. Since the application of chlorpyrifos is precisely applied and only at specific times when the crop is susceptible, human and environmental exposure is limited. As part of our ongoing integrated pest management system, chlorpyrifos is used in rotation with other products to avoid building resistance in the pest population.

In an unpredictable and challenging farm economy, farmers are facing a myriad of issues, from climate and weather shifts, labor, unpredictable commodity costs and trade, we operate on razor thin margins and rely on regulated and science-backed tools to manage some of these challenges. We encourage policies that rely on the science and expertise of state and federal agencies, and that state decision makers continue to support New York farmers to stay competitive and viable in such challenging times.

The problem with banning any control is that we don’t know what future implications and applications could be needed, much less undermining the regulatory framework. We need to look no further than our neighboring state of Pennsylvania — where in the last few years, an infestation of the Spotted Lanternfly has devastated vineyards and orchards. Growers and researchers in Pennsylvania are racing to find a solution and have invested in research of products to manage this rapidly expanding invasive species. Initial research has indicated chlorpyrifos could potentially be a tool used to manage the eggs and larva of this insect, helping decrease the spread of this devastating insect. We will be fighting Spotted Lanternfly in New York and we may need chlorpyrifos to effectively fight this pest.

Already, New York is unique in that it goes an extra step beyond the recommendations of the federal government with additional state agency review, monitoring and regulating pesticides. This dual layer of regulation should give consumers and state lawmakers additional reassurance that the application and use of pesticides like chlorpyrifos is safe and responsibly done. Because of the work done by the state Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation, growers in New York are among the most responsible when it comes to pesticide use and application. Banning chlorpyrifos through this proposed legislation would undermine the professional, scientifically grounded process that currently serves our state.

As a farmer, I hope to see Albany work to provide funding and pass laws that help our local farmers, not remove tried and tested tools important to protecting our crops, land and viability. Just as my family farm has been passed down through generations, we need to do all we can to preserve the rights of farmers to use all the tools available to them to continue serving their community and being stewards of the lands for future generations.

Brian Reeves is a farmer in Baldwinsville and President of the NYS Vegetable Growers Association.

http://legislativegazette.com/opinion-banning-chlorpyrifos-could-have-devastating-effects-on-ny-crops/

USA Today: Earth Day for a dairy farmer: Thinking decades down the line

On 23, Apr 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

April 22, 2019

What U.S. dairy farmers of today are doing to preserve our environment

I’ve had the honor of working with dairy farmers for years, and a lot of what you think about them is true. They’re modest. They’re connected to the earth. And they work incredibly hard. Every day, they’re up before dawn, working 12 and 14-hour days, whether it’s 90 degrees out or 50 degrees below zero.
 
They choose this hard work because they believe in the importance of providing nutritious, great-tasting food, like the milk in your child’s glass or the slice of cheese on her favorite sandwich.

What you might not know is that dairy farmers are working just as hard to ensure our children inherit a healthy planet. They know it’s the right thing to do. And when 95% of dairy farms are family-owned, they do it to ensure the land is there for their children. 

But the issues facing our planet require more than just individual action, which is why the U.S. dairy community has made sustainability an industry-wide priority. Years’ worth of investments, research — and, yes, hard work — have allowed us to address critical environmental issues, like climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Dairy farmer and environmental scientist Tara Vander Dussen with her family on their farm, Rajen Dairy.

Dairy farmer and environmental scientist Tara Vander Dussen with her family on their farm, Rajen Dairy. (Photo: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy)

Ten years ago, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — created by dairy farmers to identify best practices and unite around common goals — established a voluntary yet aggressive goal for the industry. The U.S. dairy community would reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity 25% by 2020. 

Today, we are on track to meet that goal. 

In making the investments necessary to meet the goal set, U.S. dairy farmers have become global leaders in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report earlier this year from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Climate Change and the Global Dairy Cattle Sector, North American dairy farmers are the only ones who have reduced both total GHG emissions and intensity over the last decade.

Dairy farmer and nutritionist Rosemarie Burgos-Zimbelman, who has dedicated her life to dairy nutrition.

Dairy farmer and nutritionist Rosemarie Burgos-Zimbelman, who has dedicated her life to dairy nutrition. (Photo: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy)

It’s not just greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. dairy farmers work more closely with animals than just about anyone, and they know that while they are taking care of the cows, the cows are taking care of them. That’s why they created the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program, the first internationally-certified animal welfare program in the world.

The U.S. dairy community’s commitment to sustainability isn’t new. It has been going on for generations. Indeed, producing milk now uses fewer natural resources than it ever has before. Over the course of the lifetime of today’s average dairy farmer, producing a gallon of milk now requires 65% less water, 90% less land and 63% less carbon emissions. 

While progress has been made, there is still a lot to be done. That’s why the U.S. dairy community and dairy farmers are committed to identifying new solutions, technologies and partnerships that will continue to advance our commitment to sustainability.  

So why do America’s dairy farmers work so hard to farm more sustainably? Why spend countless hours looking for innovative ways to be more efficient when they’ve already put in a 14-hour day?

It’s not because anyone told them to, or because regulation forced them to. It’s because so many of them are farming land their families have been farming for generations. They know they’re just the latest people entrusted as stewards of the earth. Farmers came before them, and farmers will come after them. Sure, they have more information than any of their predecessors did, and they are now tackling challenges, from climate change to global trade, that their forefathers could scarcely dream of. But the responsibility of today’s dairy farmer — leaving the planet better than they found it — is no different. 

This Earth Day, and every day, America’s dairy farmers are living up to that responsibility. May they never tire.

Vilsack is the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the current president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sponsor-story/innovation-center-for-us-dairy/2019/04/22/earth-day-dairy-farmer-thinking-decades-down-line/3521007002/?mvt=i&mvn=400ecb525a984b48bdeecbe607c274e8&mvp=NA-GANNLOCASITEMANA-11238693&mvl=Size-2×3+%5BDigital+Front+Redesign+Tile%5D

NPR: Scientists Have ‘Hacked Photosynthesis’ In Search Of More Productive Crops

There’s a big molecule, a protein, inside the leaves of most plants. It’s called Rubisco, which is short for an actual chemical name that’s very long and hard to remember.

Amanda Cavanagh, a biologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, calls herself a big fan of Rubisco. “It’s probably the most abundant protein in the world,” she says. It’s also super-important.

Scientist Amanda Cavanagh snap freezes plant samples with liquid nitrogen to study how the metabolism differs between unmodified plants and plants engineered with alternate pathways for photorespiration.Claire Benjamin/RIPE Project

Rubisco has one job. It picks up carbon dioxide from the air, and it uses the carbon to make sugar molecules. It gets the energy to do this from the sun. This is photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to make food, a foundation of life on Earth. Yay for Rubisco!

“But it has what we like to call one fatal flaw,” Cavanagh continues. Unfortunately, Rubisco isn’t picky enough about what it grabs from the air. It also picks up oxygen. “When it does that, it makes a toxic compound, so the plant has to detoxify it.”

Plants have a whole complicated chemical assembly line to carry out this detoxification, and the process uses up a lot of energy. This means the plant has less energy for making leaves, or food for us. (There is a family of plants, including corn and sugar cane, that developed another type of workaround for Rubisco, and those plants are much more productive.)

Cavanagh and her colleagues in a research program called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), which is based at the University of Illinois, have spent the last five years trying to fix Rubisco’s problem. “We’re sort of hacking photosynthesis,” she says.

They experimented with tobacco plants, just because tobacco is easy to work with. They inserted some new genes into these plants, which shut down the existing detoxification assembly line and set up a new one that’s way more efficient. And they created super tobacco plants. “They grew faster, and they grew up to 40 percent bigger” than normal tobacco plants, Cavanagh says. These measurements were done both in greenhouses and open-air field plots.

The scientists now are trying to do the same thing with plants that people actually rely on for food, like tomatoes and soybeans. They also working with cowpeas, or black-eyed peas, “because it’s a staple food crop for a lot of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, which is where our funders are interested in making the biggest impact,” Cavanagh says.

The funders of this project include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Disclosure: The Gates Foundation also funds NPR.) The USDA has applied for a patent on plants that are engineered in this way.

Cavanagh and her colleagues published their work this week in the journal Science.Maureen Hanson, who is carrying out similar research on photosynthesis at Cornell University, was impressed.

“This is a very important finding,” she says. “It’s really the first major breakthrough showing that one can indeed engineer photosynthesis and achieve a major increase in crop productivity.”

It will be many years, though, before any farmers plant crops with this new version of photosynthesis. Researchers will have to find out whether it means that a food crop like soybeans actually produces more beans — or just more stalks and leaves.

Then they’ll need to convince government regulators and consumers that the crops are safe to grow and eat.

27

Nov
2018

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Science makes bread taste better

On 27, Nov 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

Renegade bakers and geneticists develop whole-wheat loaves you’ll want to eat

Boston Globe: 3 policies for the future

Food is going high-tech — policy needs to catch up with it

04

May
2018

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60 Minutes: CRISPR: The gene-editing tool revolutionizing biomedical research

On 04, May 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

A new tool could be the key to treating genetic diseases and may be the most consequential discovery in biomedicine this century.

It’s challenging to tell a story about something that’s invisible to the naked eye and tricky to explain. But it’s one we undertook, because rarely does a discovery come along that could revolutionize medicine.  It’s called CRISPR and it stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPR sounds more like a refrigerator compartment than a gene-editing tool, but it’s giving scientists power they could only imagine before – to easily edit DNA – allowing them to reprogram the genetic code of living things. That’s opening up the possibility of curing genetic diseases. Some researchers are even using it to try to prevent disease entirely by correcting defective genes in human embryos. We wanted to see for ourselves, so we went to meet a scientist at the center of the CRISPR craze.

“There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.”

Bill Whitaker: This is CRISPR?

Feng Zhang: This has CRISPR in it.

Bill Whitaker: So– this is what’s revolutionizing science and biomedicine?

Feng Zhang: This is what many people are using– in research — and trying to develop treatments.

Bill Whitaker: That’s wild.

Feng Zhang: Yeah.

That little vial is igniting a big revolution that is likely to change the way doctors treat disease in the future. One of the brains behind it, is baby-faced Feng Zhang.

crisprpreview.jpg

Feng Zhang speaks with correspondent Bill Whitaker

 CBS NEWS

At 36, he’s already a tenured professor at MIT and a scientific celebrity because he figured out a way to override human genetic instructions using CRISPR.

Bill Whitaker: So, the CRISPR is not the liquid, the CRISPR is in the–

Feng Zhang: It’s dissolved in the liquid. There are probably billions of molecules of CRISPR…

Bill Whitaker: Billions?

BOTH: In here.

Feng Zhang: That’s right. And the way we use it is we take the liquid and apply it to cells.

For the last seven years, Zhang has been working on CRISPR at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a research mecca brimming with some of the brightest scientific minds from Harvard and MIT on a mission to fight disease. CRISPR is making medical research faster, cheaper, easier. Zhang’s colleagues predict it will help them tackle diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.  

Bill Whitaker: How many diseases are we talking about that this could be used to treat?

Feng Zhang: There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.

Bill Whitaker: Most if not all of them?

Feng Zhang: That’s the long-term hope.

Bill Whitaker: So we’re talking diseases like Huntington’s—

Feng Zhang: Uh-huh.

Bill Whitaker: Sickle Cell.

Feng Zhang: Yup. ALS—hemophilia.

Eric Lander: I think CRISPR, it’s fair to say, is perhaps the most surprising discovery and maybe most consequential discovery in this century so far.

lander-walk-talk-2.jpg

Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute, speaks with correspondent Bill Whitaker

 CBS NEWS

To understand exactly what CRISPR is, we went to Eric Lander for a quick science lesson. He’s director of the Broad and Zhang’s mentor. He’s best known for being a leader of the Human Genome Project that mapped out all of our DNA, which is like a recurring sequence of letters.

Eric Lander: During the Human Genome Project, we could read out all the human DNA, and then, in the years afterwards, find the misspellings that caused human diseases. But we had no way to think about how to fix ’em. And then, pretty much on schedule, this mind-blowing discovery that bacteria have a way to fix those misspellings, appears.

Bill Whitaker: This comes from bacteria?

Eric Lander: This comes from bacteria.  Bacteria, you know, they have a problem. And they came up with a real clever solution. When they get infected by viruses, they keep a little bit of DNA, and they use it as a reminder. And they have this system called CRISPR that grabs those reminders and searches around and says, “If I ever see that again, I am gonna cut it.”

Zhang used that same bacterial system to edit DNA in human cells. Our DNA is made up of chemical bases abbreviated by the letters A, T, C, and G. As you can see in this animation from Zhang’s lab at MIT, a mutation that causes disease reads like a typo in those genetic instructions. If scientists can identify the typo, they can program CRISPR to find it and try to correct it.

Bill Whitaker: You program it? You say–

Feng Zhang: That’s right.

Bill Whitaker:  “I’m looking for this string of letters.”

Feng Zhang: Uh-huh.

Bill Whitaker: And the CRISPR will go in, and out of all of the billions and billions and billions of– of letters on your DNA, find the exact ones that you have programmed?

Feng Zhang: That’s right. CRISPR will allow you to– do many different things. You can cut it– to edit it.

Bill Whitaker: So you can snip out the bad part and you can add something that you want as well?

Feng Zhang: That’s right. You can give the cell a new piece of DNA that carries the sequence you want to incorporate into the genome.

Bill Whitaker: You say this so matter of factly. This is amazing.

Feng Zhang: It is pretty cool.

Bill Whitaker: How many other labs around the world are working with CRISPR like this?

Feng Zhang: Many. One of the things that we have been doing is to make the tool available to researchers. To date I think we have gotten it out over– 45,000 times, to 2,200 labs, in 61 countries.

Bill Whitaker: What are they doing with it?

Feng Zhang: They are using it to do everything.  A lot of applications of CRISPR. It’s really a Swiss army knife.

Cue the worldwide CRISPR frenzy. At the University of California, scientists used a form of CRISPR to edit mosquitos so they can’t transmit malaria. Their colleagues are modifying rice to better withstand floods and drought. In China, scientists tweaked a gene in beagles to make them more muscular.

crispr-full.jpg

A CRISPR vial from Zhang’s lab made its way to Dr. Kang Zhang. He is an ophthalmologist and a professor at the University of California, San Diego and wanted to see what all the hype was about.

Bill Whitaker: What did you think when you first heard of CRISPR?

Kang Zhang: I was a little bit skeptical.

Bill Whitaker: Why skeptical?

Kang Zhang: It worked so well. Too well to be believable.

He decided to experiment on mice with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic form of blindness. He conducted a vision test using a mouse with the disease.

Bill Whitaker: This is the blind mouse?

Kang Zhang: This is the blind mouse. And– obviously, you can see that he is ignoring the rotating stripes.

His researchers injected CRISPR into the eye of another blind mouse. The CRISPR was programmed to find the main gene associated with the disease and turn it off. It takes three months to see the results.

Kang Zhang: Now, let’s see how he’s responding to the light.

Bill Whitaker: He’s following it around.

Kang Zhang: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: Look at that. You’re sure that he is seeing these lights?

Kang Zhang: This is actually a very commonly used test for vision.

Bill Whitaker: How much of their sight do they recover?

Kang Zhang: About 30, sometimes even 50% of the sight for– for mice.

The next phase of Dr. Zhang’s research is to see how CRISPR works on one of our closer relatives. He sent us this video from his lab in China where he’s studying monkeys with retinitis pigmentosa. The blind monkey ignores the food. He says this monkey was treated with CRISPR and it’s easy to see the difference. Dr. Zhang hopes to try this on humans soon.

If CRISPR is used to treat disease or make a drug it could mean big bucks. The Broad and Feng Zhang hold a primary patent for CRISPR’s use in human cells in the United States. But no technology is developed in a vacuum. Biochemist Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley and her team made landmark CRISPR discoveries.

This week, they are challenging Zhang and the Broad in court for the rights arguing in part that Zhang’s advance was derived from her team’s breakthrough. It’s a high stakes battle. CRISPR is projected to be a multi-billion dollar market in a decade.

Bill Whitaker: Does that mean big business for you?

Feng Zhang: I think we’re– we’re still– quite a ways away from developing– CRISPR into a real therapeutic.

Bill Whitaker: I think you’re being a little bit modest. I mean this is sparking an incredible boom in biomedicine. And you’re in the center of it.

Feng Zhang: I think there is still really a lot of work that still needs to be done,  developing the systems so that they are efficient enough, making sure that they are safe enough, but these are things that– that we’re working hard to– to make possible.

“While it’s not gonna affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is gonna have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades.”

But, what if it were possible to stop disease from even occurring? That sounds like science fiction, but a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon say with CRISPR, it’s now a reality.

Bill Whitaker: You correct it at the very, very earliest stages of life.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Right.

Bill Whitaker: In the womb.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Even before the womb.

Manipulating embryos has been the focus of Shoukhrat Mitalipov’s career. He runs the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health and Science University. Mitalipov is a maverick. He regularly makes headlines with his innovative, sometimes controversial methods to prevent genetic disease.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Preventing is always more effective– so there would be no– no recurrence of new disease. Particularly when we’re talking about heritable– diseases that parents pass to children.

So Mitalipov and an international team of scientists decided to use CRISPR on human embryos to correct a single genetic mutation that causes a deadly heart disease called hypertropic cardiomyopathy.

They got healthy eggs from donors and sperm from a man who carries the disease. At the same time the eggs are fertilized, they also get an injection of CRISPR. Mitalipov enlarged the microscopic procedure over three hundred times so we could see it.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Here we have our pipette with sperm inside, which has been already exposed to CRISPR.  And this is a egg. And so what we need to do is pierce through, and then we break membrane. And now –

Bill Whitaker: Release the sperm into the egg.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yeah. And now this is the sperm coming in.

Bill Whitaker: Wow.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Now it’s inside there.

Bill Whitaker: Just like that, that egg has been CRISPRed?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: CRISPRed, fertilized.

Bill Whitaker: And you have changed the genetic destiny of that embryo.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yes, we believe so.

These embryos will never be implanted, but they are grown in an incubator for three days and then checked to see if they carry the disease mutation.

Normally, 50 percent would. Mitalipov says with CRISPR, 72 percent were free of the mutation that would cause the heart disease.

Bill Whitaker: This is a huge– advance in science and medicine.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: We hope so. I think we– we’re still kind of in the early stages. I wouldn’t say that we are ready to– to go to clinics now.

He knows his results have to be replicated by an outside lab before they’re accepted by the scientific community. But if they hold up, one day CRISPR could be used to help families that have been plagued by inherited disease for generations.

Bill Whitaker: Is that what drives you?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yes. Of course, it’s a suffering of children, but also the guilt the parents have at saying, “I passed it to my child.” So it’s like, “I caused this disease.” And I think now, we have a tool where we could help these families.

Mitalipov wants to use CRISPR to eliminate disease, but the concern is his research has created a blueprint for less scrupulous doctors to design human beings – to edit embryos to make babies that are smarter, taller, stronger. Mitalipov says that’s not even possible right now.

Bill Whitaker: Your critics say that you’re playing God.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: I think– you could say to– to every treatment that they– humans and doctors develop that– we– we’re playing God. God gave us brains so we could find a way to eliminate suffering of human beings. And if that’s– you know, playing God, I guess that’s the way it is.

Bill Whitaker: So what do you think about editing an embryo to prevent disease?

Feng Zhang: We don’t really understand how complicated biology is. There’s a gene called PCSK9. If you remove PCSK9, you can reduce cardiovascular disease, heart attack– risks significantly. But it also has been shown recently to increase risk for diabetes. So how do you make the judgment call between these tradeoffs? And there will likely be other—impacts we haven’t yet identified. So I think we need to wait and be more cautious.

Eric Lander: I don’t think we’re close to ready to use it to go edit the human population. I think we’ve gotta use it for medicine for a while. I think those are the urgent questions. That’s what people want right now, is they want cures for disease.

Those urgent questions might soon be answered. A small clinical trial, the first in the U.S. using CRISPR to target certain types of cancer, is now enrolling patients.

Eric Lander: I wanna always balance hope versus hype here. While it’s not gonna affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is gonna have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades. And for the next generation, I think it’ll be transformative.

Produced by Nichole Marks. Associate producers, Kate Morris and Jaime Woods.

06

Apr
2018

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New technologies mean better crops

On 06, Apr 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

New technologies allow scientists to pinpoint specific genes to replace or delete. This editing allows scientists to improve the taste of tomatoes or lengthen the life of a strawberry. This will make crops better and will benefit both growers and consumers. The aim of this type of breading means heartier crops, more predictable yields and fewer pesticides. Gene edited crops are already on the market including a browning resistant mushroom and an improved potato.

Listen to this broadcast on the Market Place to learn more.

22

Mar
2018

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Food Evolution Screening – April 14th

On 22, Mar 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured | By Admin

Columbia County Farm Bureau Presents

Food Evolution Movie

a Scott Hamilton Kennedy film

When: Saturday—April 14th 9:00 Registration—9:30 Presentation by Dr. Cedric Mason Followed by Movie, Panel Discussion & Lunch at Noon Where: Taconic Hills School Auditorium 73 County Route 11A, Craryville, NY Cost: $8 Early Registration—$12 at the door Due to serving lunch, early registration is appreciated.

RSVP: Linda Fix—518-828-4401 or email: columbiacountyfarmbureau@yahoo.com

Farmers, the food producers, often feel criticized and misunderstood for their use of innovative farming techniques designed to boost yield, preserve soil health and safeguard the environment, all while trying to keep up with the evolving demands of their customers.

Farmers and consumers share common values in food, family and community. There is common ground between food consumers and food producers, at the end of the day, both want quality, wholesome products on New Yorker’s plates.

“Food Evolution” is “a fully independent investigation into the topic of GMOs every step of the way, interviewing experts on both sides of the aisle and including all points of view.” Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have saved crops, provided essential nutrients in formerly deficient staple crops and allowed for huge advances in no-till farming.

Genetic engineering, CRISPR and food: What the ‘revolution’ will bring in the near future

On 24, Jan 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

January 24, 2018

Humankind is on the verge of a genetic revolution that holds great promise and potential. It will change the ways food is grown, medicine is produced, animals are altered and will give rise to new ways of producing plastics, biofuels and chemicals.

Many object to the genetic revolution, insisting we should not be ‘playing God’ by tinkering with the building blocks of life; we should leave the genie in the bottle. This is the view held by many opponents of GMO foods.  But few transformative scientific advances are widely embraced at first. Once a discovery has been made and its impact widely felt it is impossible to stop despite the pleas of doubters and critics concerned about potential unintended consequences. Otherwise, science would not have experienced great leaps throughout history­­—and we would still be living a primitive existence.

Gene editing of humans and plants—a revolutionary technique developed just a few years ago that makes genetic tinkering dramatically easier, safer and less expensive—has begun to accelerate this revolution. University of California-Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna, one of the co-inventors of the CRISPR technique::

Within the next few years, this new biotechnology will give us higher-yielding crops, healthier livestock, and more nutritious foods. Within a few decades, we might well have genetically engineered pigs that can serve as human organ donors…we are on the cusp of a new era in the history of life on earth—an age in which humans exercise an unprecedented level of control over the genetic composition of the species that co-inhabit our planet. It won’t be long before CRISPR allows us to bend nature to our will in the way that humans have dreamed of since prehistory.

The four articles in this series will examine the dramatic changes that gene editing and other forms of genetic engineering will usher in.

Great advances likely for GE foods

Despite the best efforts of opponents, GE crops have become so embedded and pervasive in the food systems—even in Europe which has bans in place on growing GMOs in most countries—that it is impossible to dislodge them without doing serious damage to the agricultural sector and boosting food costs for consumers.

Even countries which ban the growing of GMOs or who have such strict labeling laws that few foods with GE ingredients are sold in supermarkets are huge consumers of GE products.

revolution 1 5 18 2Europe is one of the largest importers of GMO feed in the world. Most of the meat we consume from cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, pigs and fish farms are fed genetically modified corn, soybeans and alfalfa.

And the overwhelming majority of cheesesare made with an enzyme produced by GM microbes and some beers and wines are made with genetically engineered yeast.

North America, much of South America and Australia are major consumers of foods grown from GE seeds. Much of the corn oil, cotton seed oil, soybean oil and canola oil used for frying and cooking, and in salad dressings and mayonnaise is genetically modified. GM soybeans are used to make tofu, miso, soybean meal, soy ice cream, soy flour and soy milk. GM corn is processed into corn starch and corn syrup and is used to make whiskey.  Much of our sugar is derived from GM sugar beets and GE sugarcane is on the horizon. Over 90 percent of the papaya grown in Hawaii has been genetically modified to make it resistant to the ringspot virus.  Some of the squash eaten in the US is made from GM disease-resistant seeds and developing countries are field testing GM disease-resistant cassava.

Many critics of GE in agriculture focus on the fact that by volume most crops are used in commodity food manufacturing, specifically corn and soybeans. One reason for that is the high cost of getting new traits approved. Indeed, research continues on commodity crops, although many of the scientists work for academia and independent research institutes.

For example, in November 2016, researchers in the UK were granted the authority to begin trials of a genetically engineered wheat that has the potential to increase yields by 40 percent. The wheat, altered to produce a higher level of an enzyme critical for turning sunlight and carbon dioxide into plant fuel, was developed in part by Christine Raines, the Head of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex.

Genetic engineering and nutrition enhancement

 A new generation of foods are now on the horizon, some as the result of new breeding techniques (NBTs), such as gene editing.  Many of these foods will be nutritionally fortified, which will be critical to boosting the health of many of the poorest people in developing nations and increase yields.

Golden rice is a prime example of such a nutrition-enhanced crop.  It is genetically engineered to have high levels of beta carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. This is particularly important as many people in developing countries suffer from Vitamin A deficiency which leads to blindness and even death. Bangladesh is expected to begin cultivation of golden rice in 2018. The Philippines may also be close to growing it.

revolution 1 5 18 3strain of golden rice that includes not only high levels of beta carotene but also high levels of zinc and iron could be commercialized within 5 years. “Our results demonstrate that it is possible to combine several essential micronutrients – iron, zinc and beta carotene – in a single rice plant for healthy nutrition,” said Navreet Bhullar, senior scientist at ETH Zurich, which developed the rice.

The Science in the News group at Harvard University discussed some of the next generation foods.

Looking beyond Golden Rice, there are a large number of biofortified staple crops in development.  Many of these crops are designed to supply other micronutrients, notably vitamin E in corn, canola and soybeans…Protein content is also a key focus; protein-energy malnutrition affects 25% of children because many staple crops have low levels of essential amino acids.  Essential amino acids are building blocks of proteins and must be taken in through the diet or supplements. So far, corn, canola, and soybeans have been engineered to contain higher amounts of the essential amino acid lysine. Crops like corn, potatoes and sugar beets have also been modified to contain more dietary fiber, a component with multiple positive health benefits.

Other vitamin-enhanced crops have been developed though they have yet to be commercialized.  Australian scientists created a GE Vitamin A enriched banana, scientists in Kenya developed GE Vitamin A enhanced sorghum and plant scientists in Switzerland developed a GE Vitamin B6 enhanced cassava plant. None is near approval, however.

Scientists genetically engineered canola, a type of rapeseed, to produce additional omega-3 fatty acids. Research is being conducted on developing GM gluten free wheat and vegetables with higher levels of Vitamin E to fight heart disease.

Other more consumer-focused genetically-engineered crops that do not use transgenics, and have sailed through the approval system include:

  • FDA has approved the commercialization of a GE non-browning applethe Arctic Apple, developed by using a gene-silencing technique.
  • Simplot has developed GE potatoes created using gene-silencing techniques.  They are less prone to bruising and blackening, in some cases are resistant to certain diseases and also contain less asparagine which reduces the potential for acrylamide that is created when frying, baking and roasting.

Fighting plant diseases

Other products are in development that fight viruses and disease.  Scientists have used genetic engineering to develop disease-resistant rice.  A new plum variety resists the plum pox virus.  It has not yet been commercialized.  GE solutions may be the only answer to save the orange industry from citrus greeningwhich is devastating orange groves in Florida.  GE might be utilized to curb the damage caused by stem rust fungus in wheat and diseases effecting the coffee crop.

revolution 1 5 18 4In Africa, GE solutions could be used to combat the ravages of banana wilt and cassava brown streak disease and diseases that impact cocoa trees and potatoes. A GE bean has been developed in Brazil that is resistant to the golden mosaic virus.  Researchers at the University of Florida, the University of California-Berkeley and the 2Blades Foundation have developed a disease resistant GM tomato.

Scientists at the John Innes Center in the UK are attempting to create a strain of barley capable of making its own ammonium fertilizer from nitrogen in the soil. This would be particularly beneficial to farmers who grow crops in poor soil conditions or who lack the financial resources to buy artificial fertilizers.

Peggy Ozias-Akins, a horticulture expert at the University of Georgia has developed and tested genetically-engineered peanuts that do not produce two proteins linked to intense allergens.

New Breeding Techniques

New gene editing techniques (NBTs) such as CRISPR offer great potential and face lower approval hurdles, at least for now.

  • Scientists at Penn State have removed the gene that causes white button mushrooms to discolor, and the product was quickly approved.
  • In 2014, scientists in China produced bread wheat resistant to powdery mildew.
  • Calyxt, a biotechnology company, has developed a potato variety that prevents the accumulation of certain sugars, reducing the bitter taste associated with storage. The potato also has a lower amount of acrylamide.
  • DuPont has developed a gene-edited variety of cornwhich can be used to thicken food products and make adhesives.

In June, the EPA approved a new first of its kind GE corn known as SmartStaxPro, in which the plant’s genes are tweaked without transgenics to produce a natural toxin designed to kill western corn rootworm larvae.  It also produces a piece of RNA that shuts down a specific gene in the larvae, thereby killing them. The new GE corn is expected to be commercialized by the end of the decade.

What could slow—or even stop—this revolution? In an opinion piece for Nature Biology, Richard B. Flavell, a British molecular biologist and former director of the John Innes Center in the UK, which conducts research in plant science, genetics and microbiology, warned about the dangers of vilifying and hindering new GE technologies:

The consequences of simply sustaining the chaotic status quo—in which GMOs and other innovative plant products are summarily demonized by activists and the organic lobby—are frightening when one considers mounting challenges to food production, balanced nutrition and poverty alleviation across the world.  Those who seek to fuel the GMO versus the non-GMO debate are perpetuating irresolvable difference of opinion. …Those who seek to perpetuate the GMO controversy and actively prevent use of new technology to crop breeding are not only on the wrong side of the debate, they are on the wrong side of the evidence. If they continue to uphold beliefs against evidence, they will find themselves on the wrong side of history.

Steven E. Cerier is a freelance international economist and a frequent contributor to the Genetic Literacy Project.