Glyphosate infusion into the world

October 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Glyphosate herbicide usage has got so out of control, it seems to have taken on a life of its own.

Most of the livestock which provide us with our meat, dairy and eggs are fed maize, soya and cotton seed. Most of these three crops are liberally sprayed with glyphosate because they've been genetically transformed to accumulate this weedkiller.

Livestock aren't the only animals eating GM crops. Bees can forage over several miles, and monocultures of GM maize, soya, cotton, and oilseed rape in flower provide a bees' banquet. Hardly surprising then that American honey is ubiquitously contaminated with the herbicide.

GM wheat pollution mark III

October 2016
Wheat field in Oregon, USA: Photo Creative Commons
In 2013, when GM wheat was found growing in Oregon eight years after the last GM wheat field trial there, the Organic Consumers Association asked "How many other unknown instances of contamination have occurred but have yet to be discovered?" [1].

As of August 2016, we can tentatively answer that question: one per year.

D.I.Y. bugs

October 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Ever since CRISPR [1] hopped onto the biotech platform, replacing bits of the living world to suit your individual tastes or whims has suddenly become possible [2]. And you don't have to be a scientist to do it.

Smart plants are for real

October 2016
Ripe barley: Photo Creative Commons
We tend to view plants as having 'characteristics' rather than 'behaviours'. The latter suggests senses, reactions and communication at a level impossible without a nervous system.

Biotech scientists seem to view plants as lego-like structures into which they can slot characteristics of their choice, even animal ones. Belief in their ability to custom-build plant life is such that testing the whole-picture reality of what they've created has never been big on the GM agenda.

Plants, however, aren't simple bystanders in their environment, or passive sugar factories running on solar power. They're far smarter than we think.

Yellow rice - not nice

October 2016
Golden rice. Photo Creative Commons
Here's an interesting bit of information from Ted Greiner, a former Professor of Nutrition, who worked in several countries to introduce "Ultra Rice", a conventional fortified rice-based product (see below).

In Greiner's experience,
"rice-consuming populations were extremely picky about their rice and unwilling to accept even the tiniest changes in its appearance, taste or smell".
There's a good reason for this.

Gene drives or gene bombs

September 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
Earlier this year, the latest and most sinister variant of genetic engineering yet, the gene drive, hit the headlines [1].

When artificial DNA is linked to a gene drive in a plant or animal, it will engineer any DNA it pairs up with and create a genetic change which is passed on to 99 percent of the offspring. The GMO version will rapidly become ubiquitous in the population.

Oxitec business

September 2016
Photo: Creative Commons
From its August beginnings as a commercial spin-off from Oxford University's Innovation management subsidiary, 'Oxitec' self-destruct GM mosquitoes have never quite fulfilled early expectations.

Even the rosy vision of an end to major world killers like malaria, and dengue fever didn't manage to sell Oxitec mozzies.

However, Zika virus with its horrific connections to birth defects, provided a much better PR platform to generate the will to spend cash and annihilate mosquitoes at any cost [1].

In the meantime, the rights to Oxford's GM mozzies have been sold into the tender care of US-based Intrexon Corporation, and continue to be mired in controversy.