Thursday, January 29, 2009

US FDA's Statement on Genetically Modified Animals

The FDA has released its final statement on the production of genetically modified animals. The agency's guidelines assert that GM animals are to be regulated as animals receiving drug treatments, such as hormones or antibiotics. According this logic, the genetic modification - a change made to animal's DNA, often with the help of a virus - is the same as a chemical-based modification of the animal's system. The guidelines are merely a statement that current regulations are sufficient for GM animal production.
As readers may remember, cloning is not considered to be a genetic engineering process, but simply a form of assisted reproduction since the original DNA is not modified.
Currently, there are no genetically modified animals or products from such animals used for food. However, despite some reporting that we are now likely to see GM meat products in the supermarket, as a recent LA Times article speculates, we are far more likely to see products from GM animals in the form of drugs or other medical treatments. According to Q&A page on the FDA site:

Q: What kinds of GE animals are in development?

A. Many kinds of GE animals are in development. At this time, the largest class of GE animals is being developed for biopharm purposes—that is, they are intended to produce substances (for example, in their milk or blood) that can be used as human or animal pharmaceuticals. Another group of GE animals are under development for use as sources of scarce cells, tissues, or organs for transplantation into humans (xenotransplant sources). Yet others are intended for use as food and may be disease resistant, or have improved nutritional or growth characteristics. And others include animals that produce high value industrial or consumer products, such as highly specific antimicrobials against human and animal pathogens (e.g., E. coli 0157 or Salmonella).

More than likely, drugs produced by genetically engineered animals will be much less of a problem for consumers than meat, eggs or dairy products. How many people currently even know what most of the compounds in their medications are?
A question that I have, and one not addressed (that I could find) by the FDA, is when the genetic modification performed on an animal would cease to be treated as a drug treatment. For how many generations will offspring of GM animals, who will inherit the modification, be treated as if receiving drug treatments?

posted by ryan griffis  # 5:30 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Climate Change

There has been some chatter in the scientific press, especially when concerning climate change and efforts at geoengineering, you know, the process of attempting to alter global systems (like climate) through various forms of chemical, mechanical or other forms of intervention.
An apparent "big deal" in this regard is underway (recently being cleared by the German Federal Ministry of Research) with the beginning of an Indo-German experiment (named LOHAFEX) at "fertilizing" an area (115 square miles) of ocean, in the Scotia Sea east of Argentina. The German ship RV Polarstern is headed there to dump 20 tons of iron sulphate particals in the hopes that it will help produce a booming plankton population (plankton apparently needs iron). The idea is that the plankton will intake a large amount of carbon, and take it with them to the bottom of the ocean as they die. Basically, it sounds like a creating a lawn on the ocean' surface, where it will do what plants do... intake carbon, output oxygen.
Some people, however, are concerned that this initiative isn't considering possible unintended consequences, like what an increase in iron sulphate and a geographical shifting of marine life might mean. There are also concerns over accountability and regulation - who's responsible for regulating and monitoring such globally situated experiments.
What groups like ETC fear in terms of this experimentation is that it will unfold along the lines of the biotechnology revolution, where the technology was established and covering much of the globe before many people even knew what it was, with very little oversight, and directed by profit motives. Geoengineering also follows the same philosophical and technical methods as biotechnology, treating the Earth as an organism that can be manipulated and treated by altering its components, its genetic make up, if you will. Let's just hope that the Earth, and we, fair better than the early test subjects for genetic therapies.
Wired Magazine's coverage of LOHAFEX
image above: source

posted by ryan griffis  # 1:05 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Interview with Philip Ross has an interview with artist and organizer Philip Ross, who curated the BioTechnique exhibit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and is currently organizing a series of events called Critter for the very interesting San Francisco based space Studio for Urban Projects. Check out the line up:

Clone Home
In this afternoon open house CRITTER will be a home for plant cloning, grafting and trading. Learn how to make multiple plants from one, using techniques that range from simple to superdork. Denise King from the Exploratorium, Philip Ross, and other plant propagators will be on hand to expand your library of plant possibilities. Hormones! Sexing your plant! Wooooo!

Kim-Chee Contest
A bay area competition for the makers of this pickled cabbage. Open tasting to the public, and a prize of $200 for best in show by a juried panel.

24 Hour Microscopy People
For an entire day the space will be occupied by a rotating crew of microscopists who will be on hand to magnify and project all samples brought in. Multiple visualization and projection technologies will be on hand, from simple water drop lenses to some fancy-shmancy I’m trying to cook up. The images will be projected onto the windows, accompanying buildings, screens, monitors, water vapor, etc. with live musical accompaniment to interpret the unfolding organic displays.

Living Wall Workshop
Living walls are architectural structures covered with vegetation and, in some cases, soil or an inorganic growing medium. These can be integrated into available vertical surfaces of urban areas for use in agriculture, grey water cleaning systems, and as organic air purifiers. Learn how to build your own green wall with easy to find materials, plants and parts.

Grey Water Now!
Grey water constitutes 50-80% of residential wastewater, and is made from domestic processes such as dish washing, laundry and bathing. In this workshop the Grey Water Guerillas will provide hands on demonstrations, techniques and information on how this rerouted water can be conserved, utilized, and kept out of the municipal waste water system.

Whiskey Still Workshop

Cheese Making 101

An event for exchanging and expanding mother cultures.

posted by ryan griffis  # 12:51 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Geography of Biodefense

Two recent stories in the press have drawn attention to some really questionable decisions to site biodefense facilities.
Wired magazine looks at the possibility of a level 4 biosafety lab, specifically a National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, being built at the existing Plum Island Animal Disease Center just off of the tip of Long Island. Of course, the primary question being the wisdom of such a facility being located so close to the most populated city in the country.
The New York Times looks at the existing Robert E. Shope Medical Laboratory at the University of Texas in Galveston, one of two facilities pushed by the post 9-11 Bush Administration. The second facility, to be located in Boston University Medical Center, has met much more resistance than has emerged in Galveston. Both facilities will study highly contagious and lethal pathogens, from Ebola to drug-resistant tuberculosis.
While no longer active, the Sunshine Project is a great resource for how these facilities are funded, regulated and sited.

posted by ryan griffis  # 9:20 AM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Will Sweet Energy Give Us Cavities?

It's been a while since I've posted here, but I just received news from our friends at the ETC Group. This weekend, they've been in attendance at SynBio 4.0 conference in Hong Kong. The meeting is obviously the fourth in a series where leaders in the emerging field of synthetic biology come together to plan our shiny new future. Even though I've been posting about synthetic biology here for a few years now, apparently, most of us in the U.S. don't have any idea what it is. OK, I don't really think this blog is a barometer of public knowledge... I'd be surprised if anyone is even reading it other than me.
Anyway... The ETC Group has a new report about the potential, and existing, problems surrounding the push to develop fuels from plant-derived sugars. Lots of familiar arguments against biofuels, but some welcome specificity with regard to genetic engineering.
And if you're interested in their first hand accounts of the SynBio 4.0 conference, check their blog.

posted by ryan griffis  # 2:44 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, June 02, 2008

Transgenics and Fascism in Germany

How would this compare in the States?

Via StrangeMaps.

posted by ryan griffis  # 12:36 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, May 22, 2008


On April 21, Federal Judge Richard J. Arcara dismissed the government’s entire indictment against Dr. Steven Kurtz as “insufficient on its face.” This means that even if the actions alleged in the indictment (which the judge must accept as “fact”) were true, they would not constitute a crime. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) had thirty days from the date of the ruling to appeal. No action has been taken in this time period, thus stopping any appeal of the dismissal. The only option left for the DoJ would be to re-indict Kurtz.

A Press Release with details will be coming soon.

posted by ryan griffis  # 1:33 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, May 19, 2008

Biopiracy + Climate Change

The ETC Group (yes, I report on their reports a lot) just release a couple of significant news releases...
1. The US Patent & Trademark Office (this past April) ruled against the controversial patent on the "Enola" bean. This story is particularly interesting in a number of ways. The bean's nume, at least as it's known in the US, is derived from the (former) patent holder's wife's name. The "Enola" bean is actually a quite common variety of yellow-colored beans (such as the azufrado and mayocoba - the ones that the Enola is derived from) that John Proctor brought back from Mexico and cultivated in the US in the mid 1990s (the patent was issued in 1999). Proctor's patent actually had the effect of preventing these beans - grown for centuries - from being imported into the US, as they were considered in violation of patent law.
The ETC Group is less than celebratory of the decision, however, noting that:
the U.S. patent system allowed the owner of a flagrantly unjust patent to legally monopolize markets and destroy competition - for close to half the 20-year patent term.
2. Biotech companies - like Monsanto, DuPont, BASF, Bayer, Mendel, Ceres, Evogene and Dow - are reportedly stockpiling patents on genetic material related to climate change. They assert that these companies see an opportunity to cash in on the environmental stresses of impending climate change by gaining ownership over advantageous genetic traits. ETC levels a critique of catastrophic climate change scare tactics being used by some government and corporate interests to advance their accumulation of capital, while also pointing out the problems with the utopian rhetoric that biotechnology will save the world from a climate-driven food crisis. The ETC Group's report is available here.

posted by ryan griffis  # 12:31 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, May 02, 2008

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act Passed

The New York Times reports on the recent unanimous US Senate passage of a bill that has been in the works for about 12 years. Of course, read against the developments of genetic databases like CODIS, discussed in my last post, it's difficult to know what to make of this exactly. Of course, genetic discrimination in the workplace and obtaining health insurance is a reality, so GINA at least addresses the legal obligation of the state to intervene in obvious instances of corporate abuse. But, if, as synthetic biology guru Craig Venter has supposedly said, genetic testing would render virtually everyone uninsurable by insurers' definitions of risk, then there's obviously a much more complicated situation unfolding here than a simple one of easily identifiable discrimination.
The general discussion doesn't even touch on concerns of bio-colonialism, or how this wave of science and commerce will differ from previous waves in its effects on expendable and oppressed peoples.

posted by ryan griffis  # 8:52 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

DNA Databasing

I recently ran across an AP story on a US Federal program authorized by Congress that would allow the Justice Department to collect DNA from anyone arrested or detained, even if not charged. Some thirteen states already had similar laws: Alaska, Arizona, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. What is of concern, is not just the collection of genetic material but the archiving of it in the National DNA Index System and larger CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). CODIS is actually a software system for organizing and making accessible genetic data, between National, State and Local agencies.
Of course, the development of CODIS involves private corporations in its creation and application. Companies like Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). SAIC, is also notable for its joint venture with Bechtel working on the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility. Other companies, like Orchid Cellmark, are involved in genetic testing for both self-surveillance applications (i.e. consumer DNA testing) and state-sponsored surveillance, like CODIS.
With the boom in consumer DNA "consulting" that I have written about here in the past, the increase in state indexing takes on some new meaning. As we have seen with communications surveillance, with telecos sharing data with the National Security Agency, for example, there should be little doubt that genetic information could and would cross state-corporate boundaries.

posted by ryan griffis  # 10:57 AM 0 comments links to this post


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