Farmers succeed in developing herbicide-resistant SuperWeeds

Thanks to glyphosate-resistant genetically modified seeds from Monsanto, farmers in the US have been able to vastly increase their use of glyphosate (the main ingredient in the weed-killer RoundUp), and hasten the evolution of common weeds into new, herbicide-resistant superweeds.  These SuperWeeds are out of control in areas of the midwest and Kansas.  Well done, farmers!

This is exactly the sort of outcome logic would predict, so let’s hope they intended to do that and aren’t instead just focused on their short-term profits.  Umm, yeah.  I think the only surprise would be that the weeds adapted so quickly…I’m sure Monsanto was hoping for a few more decades of profits to be had from that RoundUp/Seed combination!

Read more here: Farmers Fight Explosion of “Superweeds” – Scientific American.

Ice cream sandwiches don’t melt?

Gross  TheDenverChannel.com reports on a discovery a local mom stumbled upon.  Walmart-brand ice cream sandwiches don’t melt, or rather, they look pretty much solid even after being left out overnight.  I bet you can guess why!  Yep, it’s not what most people think of as ice cream.  To reduce cost, they’ve substituted cord syrup, guar gum, and cellulose gum for the milk-based products we’d normally expect.  Yuck.

Read more here: Why don’t ice cream sandwiches melt anymore? – 7NEWS Denver TheDenverChannel.com.

Beef: the most environmentally harmful animal product

PNAS-beef-animal-productsBad news for beef lovers.  Another study has shown that the most environmentally harmful animal in the American diet is beef.  Compared to pork, poultry, or eggs in a per-calorie comparison, beef  was worse in every measure – water, land, fertilizer.  It’s useful information for those who are considering cutting meat from their diet for environmental reasons…a huge first step would be to just minimize how much beef and dairy you consume.  There’s no way I’m cutting beef out of my diet entirely…I’m too much of a steak lover for that!  Including more poultry and pork looks like a good move though.

Read more at TreeHugger: Scientists identify the most environmentally harmful animal product in the American diet : TreeHugger.

Espresso in Space

tdyjfjfkPerhaps the greatest problem astronauts face has been solved – Lavazza has designed an espresso machine which the Italian Space Agency intends to send up to the International Space Station!  Astronauts can now enjoy a shot of espresso in the mornings, though due to the microgravity environment, they’ll be forced to sip it from a plastic bag rather than a ceramic cup.  But hey, small price to pay for the ability to drink espresso while enjoying one of the most magnificent views in the solar system!

If Bigelow Aerospace manages to build their space hotel, I wonder how long it’ll be before Starbucks opens up their first orbital coffee shop?

(via Phys.org)

RNAi GMO – RNA-interference GM crops

There’s a new category of genetically modified crops on the horizon that utilize a technique known as RNAi, or RNA interference.  For a recap of what RNA does, check out wikipedia, but in summary: it’s primarily a messenger, carrying instructions from DNA to control the synthesis of proteins.  RNAi is an attempt to interfere with this process; an insect (the corn root worm, in this case) takes up small siRNA (small interfering ribonucleic acid molecules) from a corn plant, which then turn off the production of critical proteins in those pests, killing them.  It’s a pretty amazing technology, and one that’s also being explored in the fight against cancer, to interfere with cell division of cancerous cells.

So there lies the concern.  The medical field is looking at ways to help the human body absorb those siRNA molecules.  The food industry wants the opposite, for there’s justifiably a lot of uncertainty and concern about the effect this may have on the body.  Some scientific studies have indicated that the body might be absorbing this, most find no evidence of that.  It seems much of the uncertainty comes from the difficulty in detecting these very small molecules in the first place.  There is also uncertainty about what other insects may be harmed by this (one study found that ladybugs were one victim).  On the plus side, this has the potential to reduce or eliminate two techniques currently employed – spraying crops with Roundup (that then gets into our food supply), or using corn that is genetically modified to produce BT Toxin (which we then consume).

Monsanto is convinced they’ve studied the issue enough, and have applied for approval to sell this new corn variant.  There still seems to be quite a bit of valid scientific debate over that subject…but if history has taught us anything, it’s that big business will win out over science and public health concerns.

You can read more about this at the NY Times or in the Boulder Weekly.

Facts about GMOs

1147927.largeWith all the news about GMOs…what do you really know about them?  Ignoring the health concerns for a moment, it’s good to look at some facts about how widespread they are, and that’s what this article at the WSJ does.  Some key points:

  • GMO crops have grown, on average, by 10 million hectares a year since 1996 (when they were introduced).
  • Most of the world’s GMO crops consist of four types of plants: soybeans (48%, by acreage)), corn (33%), cotton (15%), and canola (5%).
  • Five countries are responsible for about 90% of GMO crops.  US (40%), Brazil (23%), Argentina (14%), India (6%), and Canda (6%) – leaving other countries at 11% total.
  • In the US, most major crops are GMOs, more than 90% of our top crops like corn, soybeans, and cotton.  I think that goes a long way towards explaining opposition to GMO labeling!
  • Over 75% of GMO seed designs are owned by 10 companies (some of those are GM, some are non-GM but still considered proprietary).  Selling seed is a $34.5 billion business.

You can read more at the WSJ article linked above.  I’m a huge fan of using science to improve our lives, but believe  it cannot be selective science like GMOs are.  What I mean is, new seeds are designed, but long term health effects are not adequately studied before the seeds are introduced to market.  Instead, seeds are put on the market, making us all guinea pigs, but without adequate control of the variables, any health concerns that may someday surface cannot be accurately tied to any single crop.  There can be no accountability, and with neither accountability nor laws requiring extensive testing, there is no incentive for companies to be sure their products are human-safe.  While some GMO efforts are likely benign, the idea of engineering corn to produce poison to kill insects for example (read up on BT Toxin)…and then telling us it’s OK for us to eat that poison…that’s a real stretch.Oh, and that picture of a blue strawberry?  That’s not photoshop, that’s GMO at its finest, and you can read more about that here.