The trouble with the genetically modified futureMARK BUCHANAN
NOVEMBER 18, 2014
Like many people, I have long wondered about the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMO). They have become so ubiquitous that they account for about 80 per cent of the corn grown in the United States.
["Like Many People" - Logical fallacy. Appeal to the Popular. Think for yourself man!]
Yet, we know almost nothing about what damage might ensue if the transplanted genes spread through global ecosystems.
How can so many smart people, including many scientists, be so sure that there is nothing to worry about?
[There are two possibilities. The first, as implied by your question, is that, they are not that smart after all. The second, which you are blind to, is that your question is stupid in the first place. It is like asking, "how can we be sure that the full moon does not cause crime? How can such smart people just ignore statistics on crime during full moon?"]
Judging from a new paper by several researchers from New York University, including The Black Swan author Nassim Taleb, they cannot and should not.
The researchers focus on the risk of extremely unlikely, but potentially devastating events. They argue that there is no easy way to decide whether such risks are worth taking — it all depends on the nature of the worst-case scenario.
Their approach helps explain why some technology, such as nuclear energy, should give no cause for alarm, while innovations such as GMOs merit extreme caution.
The researchers fully recognise that fear of bad outcomes can lead to paralysis. Any human action, including inaction, entails risk.
That said, the downside risks of some actions may be so hard to predict — and so potentially bad — that it is better to be safe than sorry.
The benefits, no matter how great, do not merit even a tiny chance of an irreversible, catastrophic outcome.
[Fear-mongering at its best!]
For most actions, there are identifiable limits on what can go wrong. Planning can reduce such risks to acceptable levels.
When introducing a new medicine, for example, we can monitor the unintended effects and react if too many people fall ill or die.
Mr Taleb and his colleagues argue that nuclear power is a similar case: Awful as the sudden meltdown of a large reactor might be, physics strongly suggests that it is exceedingly unlikely to have global and catastrophic consequences.
Not all risks are so easily defined. In some cases, as Mr Taleb explained in The Black Swan, experience and ordinary risk analysis are inadequate to understand the probability or scale of a devastating outcome.
GMOs are an excellent example. Despite all precautions, genes from modified organisms inevitably invade natural populations and, from there, have the potential to spread uncontrollably through the genetic ecosystem. There is no obvious mechanism to localise the damage.
Biologists still do not understand how genes interact within a single organism, let alone how genes might spread among organisms in complex ecosystems.
Only in the past 20 years have scientists realised how much bacteria rely on the so-called horizontal flow of genes — directly from one bacterium to another, without any reproduction taking place.
This seems to be one of the most effective ways that antibiotic resistance spreads among different species. Similar horizontal exchange might be hugely important for plants and animals. No one yet knows.
In other words, scientists are being irresponsibly short-sighted if they judge the safety of GMOs based on the scattered experience of the past couple of decades.
[Right. Because simple organisms like bacteria has "so-called horizontal flow of genes" so therefore complex organisms also have "so-called horizontal flow of genes". Complex organisms can also reproduce asexually, right?
I was going to point out that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but more dangerous than that is a little brain.]
It is akin to how, ahead of the 2008 financial crisis, analysts looked at 20 years of rising house prices and assumed they would always go up.
[Right. Because Financial Analysts ALWAYS practise scientific discipline in their analysis.]
The honest approach would be to admit that we understand almost nothing about the safety of GMOs, except that whatever happens is pretty likely to spread.
Science is at its best when it acknowledges uncertainty and focuses on defining how much can be known. In the case of GMOs, we know far too little for our own good.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mark Buchanan, a physicist and Bloomberg View columnist, is the author of the book “Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology and the Natural Sciences Can Teach Us About Economics.”
[He is also a specialist in taking unrelated and incomparable examples and linking them irresponsibly to create fear-mongering.]
Millions of GMO insects could be released in Florida KeysJANUARY 26, 2015
KEY WEST — Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the Florida Keys if British researchers win approval to use the bugs against two extremely painful viral diseases.
Never before have insects with modified DNA come so close to being set loose in a residential US neighbourhood.
“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” said Mr Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which is waiting to hear if the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will allow the experiment.
Dengue and chikungunya are growing threats in the US, but some people are more frightened at the thought of being bitten by a genetically modified organism. More than 130,000 people signed a Change.org petition against the experiment.
Even potential boosters say those responsible must do more to show that benefits outweigh the risks of breeding modified insects that could bite people.
“I think the science is fine, they definitely can kill mosquitoes, but the GMO issue still sticks as something of a thorny issue for the general public,” said Dr Phil Lounibos, who studies mosquito control at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.
Mosquito controllers say they’re running out of options. With climate change and globalisation spreading tropical diseases farther from the equator, storm winds, cargo ships and humans carry these viruses to places like Key West, the southern-most US city.
There are no vaccines or cures for dengue, known as “break-bone fever”, or chikungunya, so painful it causes contortions. US cases remain rare.
Insecticides are sprayed year-round in the Keys’ charming and crowded neighbourhoods. But Aedes aegypti, whose biting females spread these diseases, have evolved to resist four of the six insecticides used to kill them.
Enter Oxitec, a British biotech firm that patented a method of breeding Aedes aegypti with fragments of genes from the herpes simplex virus and E. coli bacteria as well as coral and cabbage. This synthetic DNA is commonly used in laboratory science and is thought to pose no significant risks to other animals, but it kills mosquito larvae.
Oxitec’s lab workers manually remove modified females, aiming to release only males, which don’t bite for blood like females do. The modified males then mate with wild females whose offspring die, reducing the population.
Oxitec has built a breeding lab in Marathon and hopes to release its mosquitoes in a Key West neighbourhood this spring.
FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman said no field tests will be allowed until the agency has “thoroughly reviewed all the necessary information”.
Company spokeswoman Chris Creese said the test will be similar in size to Oxitec’s 2012 experiment in the Cayman Islands, where 3.3 million modified mosquitoes were released over six months, suppressing 96 per cent of the targeted bugs. Oxitec says a later test in Brazil also was successful, and both countries now want larger-scale projects.
But critics accused Oxitec of failing to obtain informed consent in the Caymans, saying residents weren’t told they could be bitten by a few stray females overlooked in the lab.
Instead, Oxitec said only non-biting males would be released, and that even if humans were somehow bitten, no genetically modified DNA would enter their bloodstream.
Neither claim is entirely true, outside observers say.
“I’m on their side, in that consequences are highly unlikely. But to say that there’s no genetically modified DNA that might get into a human, that’s kind of a grey matter,” said Dr Lounibos.
[Unfortunately, Dr Lounibos is a Doctor who studies Mosquito Control at Florida. And he expresses doubt. Is he a molecular biologist? A geneticist? He is listed as having a PhD in Ecology and Behavior (of insects, presumably).
So in the rare or rather highly unlikely instance that a female mosquito were released (accidentally), and bit a human, how would the DNA of this mosquito get into the bloodstream of the human? Mosquito saliva? Mosquitoes have been biting humans for tens of thousands of years, presumably their saliva enters our bloodstream. We itch. We don't become mosquitoes, or become Mosquito-Man. DNA in saliva is just protein (?) at most. It cannot affect your DNA, or turn you into a superhero.
Maybe if it were radioactive.
Same for when a dog bites you. You might get Genetically Modified Rabies.
WAIT! Wait! Wait!
Worst case scenario: Mosquito bites you in the testicles (or thereabouts) and its genetically modified saliva somehow gets to your sperm, and.... SOMEHOW... enters your sperm (sorta the reverse of what usually happens with sperm), and MODIFIES your sperm (the mosquito saliva RAPES your sperm and "impregnates" it) with genetically modified DNA which in turn Genetically modifies your sperm. THEN you subsequently fuck a woman at the right time of the month, and the one or one of your genetically modified sperm (out of the millions that were not affected by the mosquito saliva) then fertilises her egg, nine months later, boom! Mosquito-baby is born!
The solution then is very simple. If you are a man and you were bitten by a mosquito near your genitals, and you suspect the mosquito may be a genetically modified female, you should masturbate (to ejaculation) and evict that genetically modified sperm. Of course you cannot be sure when the genetically modified saliva might genetically modify your sperm, so you should ejaculate several times. Over the next few days. Just to be safe.
And use a condom if you are going to fuck a woman.
And for god's sake DO NOT PRACTICE BESTIALISM. Your genetically modified sperm could impregnate a sheep and create Sheep-quito-man or something.]
Ms Creese says Oxitec has now released 70 million of its mosquitoes in several countries and received no reports of human impacts caused by bites or from the synthetic DNA, despite regulatory oversight that encourages people to report any problems. “We are confident of the safety of our mosquito, as there’s no mechanism for any adverse effect on human health. The proteins are non-toxic and non-allergenic,” she said.
Oxitec should still do more to show that the synthetic DNA causes no harm when transferred into humans by its mosquitoes, said Dr Guy Reeves, a molecular geneticist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute.
Key West resident Marilyn Smith wasn’t persuaded after Oxitec’s presentation at a public meeting. She says neither disease has had a major outbreak yet in Florida, so “why are we being used as the experiment, the guinea pigs, just to see what happens?” AP
[er... Yes? Duh!
No! No! No! This is NOT NIMBY-ism. This is not about "Not In My BackYard". This is "Not In My Blood Stream!" - NIMBS!
The mad scientists should just wait until there is an outbreak in Key West and sufficient residents who would object to their mad experiment has died before trying to roll out this "experiment".]