Genetically engineered salmon: A problem?

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by Dinosaur, Feb 12, 2012.

  1. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    To claim "no experience" overstates to the point of misleading, in the case of ordinary breeding. What we get from some of the GM stuff is new kinds of genetic combinations - not minor variations within a familiar and well-experienced framework. The problem is not novelty, in a trivial sense, but a degree of novelty so large as to be qualitatively different - to be unpredictable to a much larger degree and in completely unfamiliar ways.

    This is false. No commercial GM technique alters only one gene, the change in the genome is not usually that tightly controlled, the total effects of the new genetics are difficult to track and impossible to fully predict (in part because the workings of the host genome are not well enough understood, in part because all the possible effects of the new gene are not known and cannot be reliably observed unless predicted and watched for), and so forth, and so the kinds of effects, not just the range but the kinds, possible are not known - unlike with conventional breeding, where the new string was formerly in a very similar environment and could be observed there, the new genetics here are in an environment much different from their old one and never before observed reacting to them.

    Some risk of genetic uniformity is imposed by inserting the same genetics into every modified organism - if a lethal and virulent pathogen ever learns to exploit the specific framing and insertion genetics of Round-up Ready soybeans, for example, we lose most of the US soybean crop at one stroke. The genetic uniformity is also increased by the circumstance that each modified variety is another expense, and so cost considerations limit the genetic variety of the modified crops.
    In responsible use, as with responsible use of antibiotics, applications can be timed and limited to avoid the kinds of unremitting sublethal exposure that engender resistance quickly (as described by standard Darwinian theory). In GM crops, no such regulation is possible. If you were to set out to breed resistance, informed by Darwinian theory, you could hardly do better.
    That is what scares me, about the tech folks - they do not recognize when they are walking off a clliff. These genes are in brand new environments, and they were often put there in ways that abet them jumping around and changing further. They are like an organism landing on a new continent and given extra mobility - the possibilities are orders of magnitude more varied than the those of the adjusted and mutually adjusting natives.

    My intent was not to dismiss the potential of the GM salmon, but to illustrate the enormity of the hazards of the more risky forms of GM. The threat with the salmon is predictable, trackable, measurable, known, sharply limited to salmon initially; compare with the threats from jumping herbicide sequestering bacterial genes framed in auxiliary abetters from unrelated plants and inserted into insect and fungus connected beans and grasses planted across a continent, say - for human and animal consumption. Hello?
    But they aren't nearly as poorly characterized - they are all pre-fit into a system whose product we have long experience with. Their shuffling is limited, their expression subject to pre-evolved limits and feedbacks and curbs within the organism. They are expressed within an environment pre-adjusted to handle them. They are not set up to be transferred easily into viruses, or moved between different organisms. They have a role, and we are familiar with their playing of it.
    Any of dozens, but an example you can check easily would be the sequestering of herbicide through chemical binding in plant organelles, the mechanism of resistance in glyphosphate-resistant crops. It turns out that some of this gets into the food produced (unexpectedly, it was supposed to stay in the leaves) and it turns out that when digested in a person's small intestine full of bacteria it sometimes happens that the various chemical constituents of the herbicide complex are released - modified, whole, broken down, etc - into the person's body. And nobody as of right now knows whether this is trouble or not. We're too committed to the poorly studied and dangerous GM crops - when something like this turns up, we can't even put a moratorium on the planting and harvesting until we figure out whether we are in a disaster..
    In a real world ecosystem, that would take a century or more. No matter, no one is doing it: too expensive, too complex. The possibilities one would have to check are orders of magnitude greater than for conventionally bred crops.
    The tool is no better than Monsanto's intentions, or Cargill's, or Dekalb's. And possibly worse.
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  3. tantalus Registered Senior Member

    Yes, no experience is a bit misleading, but perhaps I can be forgiven for a small bit of hyperbole. The genetic pool of carrots (arbitrary choice) is familiar in that we can all recognize a carrot. The individual genes within a carrot are well experienced with co-operating together in forming a carrot. But to suggest inserting a number of genes, which are joining a family of thousands of genes that cooperate to bring about a carrot, given that all genes are in the same language, and that the intended changes are being guided by a designer, alters the genome to a large degree, if not desired, doesn’t make sense. You can’t tell the difference between GM and non-gm produce in a blind test unless the specified alternations were intended to drastically alter the product in the first place, normally they aren’t, but that’s beside the point. Clearly the outcome isn’t wholly unpredictable, if that were the case, the value of the technique would be limited in the first place. On the contrary because it is so accurate and predictable (relatively speaking), we can alter crops at a far greater pace than conventional breeding can.

    When you think about it, we measure the degree of accuracy at polar opposites.

    Well yes normally it has to be at least 2, the target gene and a marker gene and often it is the case that multiple genes are being inserted or switched off, but one or 2 or 10, I don’t see why it should matter.

    There is an underlying concern regarding these kinds of monopolies, but it is hyperbole to state that an entire crop on a continental scale could be at risk. But let me pretend for a moment that it is so as to advance this line of thought. As a very loose analogy, consider the over reliance on potatoes by agricultural communities across Europe in the 1800s infamously remembered in Ireland in particular as the great famine. Could this be used as evidence that mankind shouldn’t eat potatoes, surely not, yet clearly there are concerns regarding the reliance on such a monopoly. Poor applications of GM isn’t an argument against it as a whole. One problem regarding the way the GM debate has developed is that GM has become a single entity, monstrous or glorious depending on the detractor.
    Like the way most conventional crops have been breed from wild species and then moved around the globe.

    Intuitive pronouncements of unnatural and alien don’t directly transfer into real danger.

    Perhaps it best you cite something, and quote from it, I don’t like it when people simply throw 10 websites at me as I don’t want to invest the time to sift threw them, preferably peer reviewed, or even just an expert opinion just stating theoretical risks.

    It seems appropiate for me to mention here that a problem with a single GM variety does not constitue a problem with all GM crops.

    Then you are simply taking an extreme stance in my opinion, requiring unreasonable guarantees that if applied to other applications of risk assessment would prevent humanity from doing practically anything.
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  5. Gregg Schaffter Registered Member

    In my honest opinion, and by scientific research, genetically engineering any food resource is risky no matter the advantages. It affects the food resources of other predators and causes the food chain to get all wacky, which is bad. They should do a bit more research before taking on this journey of genetic engineering.
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    In the first place, altering the genome by a large degree is not the problem - the problem is the kinds of consequences possible from even small changes of such an unfamiliar nature in such explosively influential areas.

    In the second, your overstatement of the knowledge and expertise and "control" of the "designer" is so dramatic, so mind-boggling, as to reveal a fundamental problem of worldview that I believe to be the central issue here: these guys do not know what they are doing, and they do not realize the nature or the scope of what could go wrong. They lack the requisite humility, and they are playing with dynamite. They don't even have a reasonable description and comprehension of the simple genome involved in the multicellular being they are modifying (they only got an example of the thing sequenced, the first step, a couple of years ago - if that) - let alone the roles in the organism, and not even approaching what they would have to know about the environment they were releasing it into.

    The outcome in the real world - deployed - is unpredictable in brand new ways, some of which are not (yet) known at all, some of which are merely grossly underestimated.

    And genes can reproduce, spread. You can't take them back, necessarily, if you find you've made a mistake.

    Like this:
    No, it isn't. Lower risk similar situations have in the past caused continent wide crop failures and near misses - grapes in Europe, potatoes in Ireland, corn in the US (a fungal blight specializing in a single type of hybridization in IIRC 1973 was only prevented from taking out 2/3 of North American maize by quick and lucky emergency action). Landscape scale genetic uniformity in a species creates a serious risk of massive, even extinction level kill - this is well known to any ecological biologist. And these modified crops have no evolutionary experience handling whatever vulnerabilities have been created.

    No, there are other arguments against eating GM stuff. The problems with GM are numerous and varied, and have their own arguments. This one is against relying on them on the scale currently being advanced by the profiters from them, because of the ecological vulnerability created by genetic uniformity. There are other arguments against relying on them on such a scale, as well.

    When the "poor" applications of GM encompass the vast majority of real world application of GM, as now, it can be difficult to distinguish arguments against poor applications from arguments against GM as a whole. But honest and careful reading and posting should keep things straight.

    That was a most revealing response to this:
    Notice that the words "unnatural" and "alien" did not appear, nor is the post based on intuition - the fact that the salmon modifications do not share many of the more problematic aspects of other GM modifications is not an "intuitive" claim, but an observation of (among others) the details of glysphosphate-resistant GM crops listed.

    The repeated attempts to frame the debate as between ignorant "intuition" irrationally fearful of anything "unnatural", and expert, controlled, knowledgeable science dealing competently with the real world, are propaganda - marketing.

    Only orders of magnitude greater in risk - it's not only a new continent, for this stuff, but a new planet. The Irish can give you the details on what can happen with the comparatively small risk of moving a standard bred plant.

    A bad problem with a single GM crop, unpredicted (like the release of glysphosphate compounds directly into the human intestines) or simply ignored (like the Bt resistance currently being bred into pests by Monsanto), indicates problems with the GM techniques involved, problems with the corporate dominance of the development and deployment of these bits of engineering, and problems with the hubris of narrow technological expertise generally.

    You were the one specifying what guarantees you found reasonable. I merely pointed out what it would take to get them, in time and effort, with technology like the genetic modifications we are seeing developed.
  8. tantalus Registered Senior Member

    We are in danger here of simply regurgitating the same points. Perhaps you agree ?

    Yes, when I referred to the genome, I was also implying expressed effects.

    What I am trying to illustrate is that GM methods exact very specific changes, that genes code specific information. You are essentially ridiculing thousands of scientists in their field of expertise, some people wouldn't find that very humble.

    My point is that this isn't a basis for opposing GM, but simply for opposing poor agricultural practices, like opposing the misuse of herbicides (without opposing all chemical use) etc.

    Nor did I quote them as such, but obviously it is what I am implying and I think there is a strong elelment in your reasoning that says moving genes between unrelated species is dangerous, partially based on the fact they are unrelated. Their genes, all written in the same language, moving a gene from a species separated by a phylum is not more dangerous than say a class or a genus.

    Well Guilty, I would be inclined to frame it this way in part. But, I have offered my detailed justifications for such, not simply just presented you with a catch phrase or propaganda.

    I didnt specify the exact gurantees, merely mentioned the logical framework to follow. I already made my view clear that chasing after every potential outcome through cause and effect is ridiculous and cant be exacted for any human influence on the natural world.
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    And I am pointing out that in the real world these guys don't know what all those changes are going be even within the organism, let alone in all the interactions out in the big world, and even when they do have some idea of some of them (as with the Bt resistance) money talks.

    Look: They're shotgunning this code into the genomes, bashing it in with viruses, using code from different phyla in combinations, etc etc, for starters. They can't even control the location of insertion all that well.

    I'm not ridiculing them. I'm ridiculing people who think this is, or could be in anything short of centuries of effort, a well-understood, well-studied field. This is a scientific frontier, on the edge of the most complex field of physical structure and behavior ever studied by orders of magnitude. They don't even have a good handle on the workings of the whole genome of any one multicellular organism in vivo yet - let alone the range of possibilities in its organism-mediated interactions with the environment of deployment.

    And trying to turn that common, simple, ordinary observation of incontrovertible fact into an attempt to go one-up on experts in some field is not respectable argument. Again we see the propaganda rhetoric, the marketing attempts.
    And my point was that makes it a basis for opposing almost all the current deployed GM, which is all that I was claiming.

    I am talking about GMs in the real world, not theoretical GMs.
    Again, the facepalm assertion.

    Of course it is. The further you get genetics from its ordinary and familiar and somewhat studied evolutionary environment, the less you know about what it's going to do, how it's going to be expressed, what the possibilities are in the big world. Some of those possibilities are probably going to be hazards, right? They will be harder to predict than the better studied, familiar effects known from familiar contexts. That makes deploying the modification in the big world more dangerous. That isn't rocket science, that's biology 101. The alternative is assuming safety based on ignorance of hazard.

    And following that logical framework in a field as boggling complex as this one would take many decades of full bore effort - based on our experience with such comparatively simple and easily researched fields as quantum physics, or aerodynamics, or petrochemical engineering.

    We aren't getting full bore effort, btw.
    If you're putting your food supply, your household economics, the health of your community, and the workings of the natural environment around you, at risk in ways you do not understand by means you cannot fully control or stop from spreading, you had better get over the attitude that you already understand what is trivial and what is important, what needs chasing and what you can assume is OK.

    The Easter Islanders probably thought a few rats running around were a trivial matter, when they first colonized the place.
  10. Gravage Registered Senior Member

    There does need to be some balance between expediency and cost efficiency and performing adequate studies. IMO Much of the 'scientific community' has been compromised over the last several decades, and its difficult to trust many studies because many are paid for (though that doesn't necessarily invalidate them) and there have been so many fraudulent studies come to light over the last 20 years or so.
    Because of the fraudulent studies I'm so sure that gm food is also bad for your health but you cannot see it until some time passes. Changes in nature are extremely slow (first they are slow than they get more rapid, step by step), but they show true face after some time, the same goes with human body.
    I've been reading where scientists are actually looking for holes in statistical analysis to prove that gm food is healthy (like in EFSA reports, Monsanto reports and etc...). now, I'm not believer in any conspiracy theories at all, but I don't believe modern science, as I used to believe, I believe only what my body says in the response to the food I eat, and water I drink (as well as I'm suspicious to other parts of science where technology takes place).
    Scientists don't know the limits on what they should do and what they shouldn't do, when something is proven bad, than it's already too late.

    And by the way the newest french study has proven that gm food is toxic/harmful:

    Now scientists who have shown skepticism about the results of this 2 years long experiment:

    However here are responses to critics to those who think they are right:

    I strongly recommend to read all 3 links.
    It is not the first time these flaws have been raised. True but curiously always the same people, not necessarily scientists, criticize the research of Seralini and coworkers. About statistical methods and "bad" experimental protocols, they are the same as those used to validate GMOs.
    Besides all this I have very bad experience with gm food, so for me it's obviously toxic.
  11. Gravage Registered Senior Member

    Take a look at my 47th post, my answers to Dinosaur.
  12. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Gravage: Quite a few posts back, I made a post which included the following.
    Note the bold part of the above.

    I posted the above because I spent time reading articles cited by you without finding any positive statements indicating that GMO products were harmful. All I found were claims that more research was required to make sure that GMO was safe & suggestions about what might happen.

    In response to my request you made post #47 which merely provided more links to articles alleged to support your views.

    You did not quote anything from those links. You did not indicate the position of any specific claims in those links.

    I do not intend to waste any more time reading articles from your links.

    When a search for Dr. Irina Ermnkovfl resulted in no evidence that such a person exists, I suspected that you are deceitful. You cited her as a credible scientist. After reading articles cited by you, my suspicion was further confirmed.

    You response in post 47 is another set of links, which I do not intend to waste time reading. I have no reason to expect your new links to be more meaningful to this discussion than your older links.

    It is a shame that Mary Shelly wrote the Frankenstein novel. It started the mythology of the mad scientist out to defy god & create havoc.

    BTW: Your claims to have evidence from your own experience with GMO products might be an indication that you have alergies or other biochemical problems unique to you & not pertinent to others. A sample of size one has no significance in the absence of other evidence. If there was valid evidence of harm due to GMO products, there would be hue & cry from reliable sources.
  13. Gravage Registered Senior Member

    I found dr. Irina here a month ago:

    As far as I remember she was discredited.
    However, it has to be noted there does need to be some balance between expediency and cost efficiency and performing adequate studies. IMO Much of the 'scientific community' has been compromised over the last several decades, and its difficult to trust many studies because many are paid for (though that doesn't necessarily invalidate them) and there have been so many fraudulent studies come to light over the last 20 years or so.
    Serallini and Irina are in the fight against pretty much like Don Quihote against windmills.

    You said:
    Your claims to have evidence from your own experience with GMO products might be an indication that you have alergies or other biochemical problems unique to you & not pertinent to others. A sample of size one has no significance in the absence of other evidence. If there was valid evidence of harm due to GMO products, there would be hue & cry from reliable sources.

    Or maybe the answer is that gm food is really harmful, but people didn't pay intention to this when they get sick or get a cancer or get Chron's disease, coeliac disease, or anything else what it has to do with the food.
    Something that has not been tested enough cannot be treated as safe as scientists claim that it is, until gm food is actually irrefutably proven that it is 100% safe, than it should be considered as harmful/toxic.
    Time will tell who is wrong and who is right...

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