Tuesday, July 26, 2005
The $256 Question...
At least one of them. A good article
on the FBI's much publicized case of Critical Art Ensemble's Steve Kurtz and University of Pittsburgh geneticist Robert Ferrell on Alternet by Stan Cox. If you don't really know what's going on with the case, this is a good starting point for asking some basic, if unanswered, questions. Then go here
Monday, July 25, 2005
are now on. Responses welcome.
The NY Times has a story
on a rise in interest in using DNA tests to trace family lineage by some African Americans in the US.
According to the story: "The DNA tests are fueling the biggest surge in African-American genealogy since Alex Haley's 1976 novel, "Roots," inspired a generation to try to trace their ancestors back to Africa. For those who have spent decades poring over plantation records that did not list slaves by surname and ship manifests that did not list where they came from, the idea that the key lies in their own bodies is a powerful one."
The troubling part of this comes from this anecdotal narrative within the story:
"All her life, Rachel Fair has been teased by other black Americans about her light skin. 'High yellow,' they call her, a needling reference to the legacy of a slave owner who, she says, 'went down to that cabin and had what he wanted.' So it was especially satisfying for Ms. Fair, 64, when a recent DNA test suggested that her mother's African ancestry traced nearly to the root of the human family tree, which originated there 150,000 years ago. 'More white is showing in the color, but underneath, I'm deepest Africa,' said Ms. Fair, a retired parks supervisor in Cincinnati. 'I tell my friends they're kind of Johnny-come-latelies on the DNA scale, so back up, back up.'
What if her genetic test had identified Ms. Fair as having a European ancestor? Would her "blackness" be legitimately in question then, despite having lived with all the racism at work against her?
The story actually gets into some pretty good questions, and reveals how these tests can also be a way to generate new social ties.
This is Your Brain on Biotech
The prospect of a billion people nearing the age when they risk brain-related illnesses like Alzheimer's disease or chronic pain is helping fuel a costly scramble by biotechnology firms to find solutions.
(from the Seattle Times)
It's a Bird. It's a Plane...
The Guardian reported today
on the findings of some researchers in England that have found a couple of "superweeds" supposedly produced by cross fertilization between wild plants and a form of GE oilseed rape (known in the States as Canola). The oilseed rape was designed to be resistant to glufosinate-ammonium herbicide, a trait that a distant relative, charlock, and two forms of wild turnip were tested for and found to possess.
What's upsetting people is the fact that this was stated as a very unlikely, if not impossible, event according to the government's environmental department researchers. While "superweeds" have been a problem in the Americas where GE soy, corn and canola are widely grown
, this case is being treated as a surprise, despite other cases
outlined by the Guardian where gene flow from oilseed rape to other wild plants has been seen.
UK-based artist Heath Bunting created a "Superweed Kit
" back in 1999 (it's been exhibited in YOUgenics
since the first installment) both as a way to raise concerns about this very situation and to imagine the use of this inevitability as a leverage device against the corporations who are racing to compete in the new economy without too much regard for the ramifications. In a classic form of conflict escalation (Cold War style), Bunting now has a rocket delivery system
. Those that were critical of the project before
should love this.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
BT Coffee Test Crop Destroyed
In May 2000, researchers based in Montpellier from the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) planted plots of both GM and unmodified coffee plants. The GM plants had been engineered to contain a toxin gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which codes for a protein lethal to insects but harmless to humans. They chose French Guiana for the trial because no coffee grows there, avoiding any possibility that the GM variety could contaminate existing plants. Last August, with two years remaining in the trial, the plants were hacked down by vandals. Smallholders, who make up the majority of coffee-growers, fear that GM strains will enable richer farmers who can afford the technology to put them out of business. Emotions are running high, so the attack on the trial was not altogether surprising.
A Free Market Argument for the Open Sharing of Scientific Data
A July 6 article
by Reason Online's science correspondent argues the case for an open line of communication among scientists as the best defense against bioterrorism. The article focuses on the concerns of National Security agencies in preventing the development of bioweapons by terrorists. Interestingly, the article mentions a bioweapons program in apartheid controlled South Africa that would target only black Africans
as an example of potential future threats. Only towards the end of the piece does it get into threats that may prove more imminent and devastating to human health - communicable diseases like SARS and the bird flu
that has many public health officials issuing some pretty strong warnings
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Hungry for an Alternative
Tewolde Berhan believes that organic farming is the only real solution to famine in Africa. Sally J Hall meets the quiet but formidable Ethiopian who has become a thorn in the side of the GM foods lobby
Monsanto Has Brazil in Their Hands
The Brazilian population was surprised last April with the speed that Congress voted to allow soy growers to plant Genetic Modified seeds and scientists to conduct stem cell research.
Anthrax vaccine trial plans raise alarm with many
The government's effort to develop a new vaccine against anthrax has raised red flags among critics over plans to eventually test an experimental version on children.