View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news


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News round up – November

Some interesting links I’ve been collecting over the last month:

GM fly trial

A biotech company, Oxitec, has applied for permission to carry out a small-scale test of GM olive flies in Spain. When GM flies breed with wild flies the female offspring will die, reducing the olive fly pop.ulation which are agricultural pests. Continue reading

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Bt crops – some background

One of the most widespread genetic modifications of crops is the addition of a Bt gene, so here’s some background on what it is and what it does.

A bacteria found in soil, Bacillus thuringiensis, produces proteins that are toxic to certain insects, and so has been used as a ‘microbial insecticide’ for well over 50 years.

More recently, crops including cotton, potato and corn have been modified to contain the gene for an inactive form of the Bt toxin. The plant itself is therefore producing the toxin which naturally occurs in bacteria. The Bt toxin becomes active in the gut of insects, which is an acidic environment with specific enzymes. Continue reading


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Drought resistance – has GM achieved what has been claimed?

Drought resistant crops would have huge benefits, particularly in the many areas of the world where lack of water limits yield. Selective breeding is yet to produce fully drought-resistant plants, so it is no surprise that people have looked to GM to speed up the process of developing drought-resistant plants.

Earlier this year, David Lawlor from Rothamsted Research published a review paper about drought resistance, having studied books on GM crops and peer-reviewed literature. Based on this evidence, he concluded that GM plants may currently not be better able to cope with drought than other varieties.  Genetic modification for drought resistance has been very promising in laboratory conditions, but Lawlor writes that GM varieties have not yet produced ‘clear evidence of substantial improvements in crops under drought in the field’. Continue reading


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Wicked – a word for musicals not for GM crop opponents

Recently, Michael Purugganan, a Filipino plant geneticist (not working on GM), and a professor of biology and Dean of Science at New York University, wrote an interesting article about why he supports golden rice.

I was struck by his comment on false claims (a common one being that it can’t have enough vitamin A in it). Purugganan says: “Those who perpetuate these myths are doing a disservice to our country, especially to the malnourished, poorest Filipinos, and I urge everyone to seek out credible scientific evidence (with the stress on being both credible and scientific) to find the truth for themselves.” Continue reading