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The interview with the scientist is quite interesting. I'm curious to know the results of this experiment and hope it doesn't get fucked up by the protesters.
A gene, that already exists in the wild in mint plants, being transferred to wheat. Hopefully it'll work, and lead to lower pesticide dependence and greater protection from crop destruction by aphids.
one should hope
seems less one sided than the news stories I read on it, talked about the consequences of similar trials in america and canada.
I am not sure where I stand on GM stuff, i'll admit I am not very informed, but it seems like they always talk about noble uses like feeding the third world etc as the purpose, but then the reality seems to be big companies making alot of money copyrighting things, read stories about developing world farmers being sold seeds that wont produce further generations so they keep having to re buy them every season, companies suing farmers for stealing copyrighted genes when really they couldnt help accidental polination, which dont seem inline with the justifications.
Seems risky as well as it is irreversable, if some thing has harmful effects or is too succesful and kills off other things there wouldnt be a way turn things back once its out in the wild. So as much as instinctively dislike those protestors I think they may be more rational than they have been presented
well I guess their strategy is to oppose the technology as a whole because of how it tends to be used even though some cases are worse than others.
But I am not sure you can say this example is completely different, the guy on channel 4 was saying about similar trials in america and the emergence of superweeds, how in canada they can no longer label things as organic as the polan got out, dont think you can say there definitely wont be accidental polination, its just a field with a fence, it probably wont be harmful but its probably hard to predict strange interactions and unintended effects.
I am not on the protestors side but neither have I dismissed them, I dont know enough
The gene in this trial is taken from the mint plant.
It's a synthetic gene, but based on one found in peppermint.
but even if it were a natural gene, it is not a natural gene in wheat, who knows what effect the gene could have in another species, slight genetic defects can have big consequences within species, I imagine transpanting a gene from a different species all together there are a lot of unknowns, obviously thats probably what they are trying to find out but there does seem to be an element of risk
Indeed, who knows what could happen? If only there was some organised, objective method we could employ to find out the answer, some kind of scientific method..
yeah that's what I said in my last sentence, think one of the protestors made the point it is fine to do this in a laboratory it is out in the open they objected to
because of the risk of it getting out like in similar trials in america and canada
Wheat isn't wind-pollinating and I don't think peppermint is either so I can't really see how that would happen here. The protesters seem to be assuming all plants have identical reproductive methods. Which isn't true.
The Internet says up to 10% is
or sticking with pesticides or less effective methods of control?
We should at least do the research to try to get as much information as possible within a reasonable time scale, and then make a decision.
Aphids probably aren't capable of stock market speculation.
Grapes don't 'naturally' come without seeds and nor do oranges 'naturally' come without pips.
All they're doing is achieving something that would take generations to do by selective purposes otherwise.
I'm pretty sure no amount of selective breeding would produce wheat with mint genes or tomatoes with fish genes etc.
Orange in carrots must have existed naturally as a potential colour that was encouraged over generations
You can breed plants very differently to animals. I'm sure no one thought you could breed rabbits that were immune to myxomatosis until they tried to wipe out all the rabbits in Australia.
I don't know a lot about this either, I'm just pointing out that we've been selectively breeding plants for hundreds of years and we didn't, for example, create bindweed, which is a complete bastard of the highest order. I don't know that we will be destroying anything particularly.
I don't see how if the gene isn't in the species gene pool, I know you can make hybrids from similar species naturally but that is quite limited
Even if all of these concerns are totally valid (the commercial interest concerns seem more so than some of the others), none are reason to stop the current trial going ahead. The current trial is just scientists trying to figure out whether they can Do A Thing to some crops - it's not funded by a big company, it's not being carried out with commercial prospects in mind. The fact that people may do unethical things with the results of an experiment is never a good reason not to do the experiment. The science is neutral, what happens afterwards is where these debates should be coming in.
I dont think science is ever really neutral all the interests involved and the way its funded, I do think scientists should think about and take responsibility for how their work could potentially be used
Scientists must consider how their work will be used. But there is no reason to assume this work must necessarily be used by a company, or if it is, that it will be an unethical use of the technology.
Do you think the science isn't neutral, or something else? I mean, we generally take science to be facts about the world - such and such a thing /does/ objectively happen when you splice in a mint gene and this thing would happen whether the scientists are evil villains or just normal people.
I'm not sure the 'taking responsibility' thing works out, if you think this is to act as motivation to guide research. Who's to say that piece of research X which scientists stopped because it might have lead to bad thing A (and they felt they would be blamed) wouldn't have actually lead to good thing B? This is obviously simplified, but there's no way to know the answers to these questions other than to let scientists do research unfettered and then legislate at the level of public policy.
well I guess the scientific method is pretty neutral (though slightly biased by current paradigms, prestige and power within the scientific community as to what gets accepted but yeah pretty neutral) but science as it is practically done has all sorts of politics and interests involved that influence directions, its not like its neutral in the sense that all sceintists are given free reign to explore anything they want and the results are then put to use, alot of what they look into is determined and they should be careful when developing things that could be harmful
But do you not think that it's going to be rather inconsistently applied, insisting on scientists keeping in mind the effects of their research when deciding what to carry out and how?
A method that seems like it'll be far more successful would be to let scientists independently put together the set of relevant facts (in this case: what we can do to modify crops, what the observed outcomes are and so on) and then take this set of facts and use whatever political/ethical principles we see fit to decide how the research is to be used? That seems to be when we should consider things like distribution of GM crops, the effects on farmers, and so on - at the level of policy, not at the level of experiment. As long as the decisions are thorough at that second level, there's no need for scientists to police themselves in this manner - and more importantly, no need for others to police scientists by destroying research that /might/ have bad consequences.
Ideally I guess, but I dont think there is much expert understand amongst policy makers its only scientist that can really understand risks and potential consequences and there is all kinds of pressures on them. I wish I could remember all the beck I read at university, I only have an inkling of these arguments these days
Yeah, the bit about lack of expertise is definitely true, and means that (1) more scientists should be involved in policy making (2) people shouldn't go round destroying crops when they don't have the expertise to properly understand the risks.
the we are gonna go wreck the crops was a pretty bizarre strategy, pretty harmful to any argument they may have had
and it is probably more orientated towards maximising success rather than controlling for unintended consequences
"developing world farmers being sold seeds that wont produce further generations so they keep having to re buy them every season"
AFAIK this is partly because of GM protestors being concerned about the genes spreading to the wild. It's not like companies (or state-funded scientists) *have* to produce infertile crops.
All technology has risks, but you also have consider the costs of doing nothing. By allowing research to continue, we can make sure the technology is as low-risk as possible. By not allowing research to continue, we are excluding a potent technology in the fight against poverty and hunger.
Without denying your final statement, I'd nevertheless counter that often by allowing research to continue in its current form (i.e. as funded by private capital and as thereby accruing intellectual property rights), we are equally excluding a potent technology in the fight against poverty and hunger.
But private capital is important to speed up the process. Obviously a balance has to be struck to ensure there is enough incentive to justify private companies investing, whilst ensuring that any product they come up with can't be used to hold the world to ransom.
Wikipedia says gene patents can't be applied to 'naturally occurring genes in humans or any other naturally occurring organism'. So take the GM wheat in this case. Since the introduced gene is synthetic, presumably it could be patented, but the gene it's *based* on couldn't be, since it's naturally occurring. So that implies other companies or government researchers could work out how to use the naturally occurring gene, or maybe create another synthetic gene with a similar function.
in my part of the world, for instance, universities (as the premiere institutions in which state-funded research is conducted) are increasingly required, by state-administered funding schemes, to attract research income from non-state sources as a condition for receiving state funding. At the same time, in the state-based competitive grant schemes, the criterion of "national benefit" serves also to skew funding and thereby to shape the kind of research proposals that are put to such schemes.
And my part of the world isn't unique — it is exemplary of world-wide trends (or at least of first-world-wide trends). Put simply, governments are increasingly shirking their former responsibility for funding research, and those funds they do supply play their own role in compromising the "independence" of research by favouring "applied" research which can be shown to have direct socio-economic benefits.
such a prohibition isn't itself a natural law, but effectively had to be *won*, and therefore has to be *defended*. The critical point (i.e. about the implications of private capital's role in research) needs to be made again and again.
I'd also draw your attention to the "Controversy" section of that wikipedia entry, for examples of how even "lawful" cases of gene patenting are far from uncontroversial (with criticisms coming not just from putatively anti-modern, hippy protesters, but from scientific researchers themselves), which suggests that there's plenty of reason to continue to make the critical point and to take it further into areas where the law/ethics appears to be settled.
Gene patents are a largely American issue. Genes are not patentable in Europe, nor are "essentially biological processes".
The US position on what is and isn't patentable is summarised as "anything man-made under the sun", and hence is significantly more permissive than just about anywhere else in the world. Other jurisdictions (particularly Europe, and especially the UK as much as it can act independently of Europe here, which isn't much) are much more selective about allowing the patenting of controversial subject matter.
Of course things which happen in the US - even if they're notionally restricted to the US - have disproportionate effects on the rest of the world. The global R&D landscape is disproportionately affected by US issues, in any field.
But for gene patents (or even more broadly biological patents or even just patents!) a good chunk of these issues are largely American. Patent law isn't harmonised or globally consistent in the way that even copyright law is. US patent law is frequently the exception on so many fronts - grace periods, gene patents, software patents, business method patents... The Monsanto Roundup Ready stuff wouldn't even get off the ground in, for example, Europe.
And much of those have been entrenched in US patent law for decades now and there's no sign of a shift for the rest of the world to adopt those positions. In fact the European Patent Office (which it's worth pointing out isn't an EU body) recently arrived at an incredibly broad decision regarding stem cell patenting, which could be interpreted as meaning that any research which even potentially involves stem cells (even if it demonstrably does not) is not patentable.
I've got more to say about this but have to go to work - any future posting will be phone based and hence a bit brief.
at the moment much of this field is in the research stage moving into the development stage
once (if) biotech moves into the mainstream commercial exploitation that is sought by many of these patent holders then the quality of the legal argument changes from fundamental rights to signed contracts and enforcement of unilateral agreements - which American (or more accurately American owned multinational) Corporations have a long history in aggressively pursuing - often with heavy Government support
"...such a prohibition isn't itself a natural law, but effectively had to be *won*, and therefore has to be *defended*. The critical point (i.e. about the implications of private capital's role in research) needs to be made again and again."
^this really CANNOT be understated
And the size of the major players, and the influence they've been exerting on this topic for decades now.
Biotech is a mature (if growing) field. These legal issues have existed for decades. Some gene patents are getting on for 20 years old. The EU Biotech Directive in the legal protection of this stuff is 14 years old. This isn't a niche issue which is suddenly gaining prominence - it's been going on for decades.
but it's still a very long way from full market exploitation - food is just a small, though fundamental, part really
But Roundup Ready GM crops have been on sale since the mid-90s. Insulin it's largely made by recombinant gene technology since the mid-80s. Heck, penicillin has been made by biotechnological means (still is!) since the 40s.
but do nothing to negate me reiteration of robluvnic's point above
and the state of global capitalism in 2012 can't even be compared with the 1940s
Except perhaps to insert that conflating patentable subject matter in the US with basically everywhere else in the world isn't sensible, for the reasons stated above.
I was just looking to address the inference that biotech is some niche area of research which has been pootling along without significant commercial presence or market (lobbying!) power until now, because that really isn't the case.
well of course it is a huge global industry with a significant history - not doubting or underplaying that
but in comparison to the potential, predatory market outcomes of a corporate saturation and control of the foodchain /at its genetic level/ it is merely a toddler right now
and further, in comparison to a future vision endgame of precisely genetically designed ecosystems including cloned/regrown complex animals such as humans or whatever - the whole field is positively embryonic