The Meaning of Life (Part I)

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. …

The War Over Mangoes

by Meredith Rector (Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)) Growing mangoes in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has racked up an enormous socio-political expense for the region far greater than the price tag on the fruit in the supermarket. For a Mexican drug cartel desperate to move product, hiding …

Gene Drives: A Scientific Case for a Complete and Perpetual Ban

by Jonathan Latham, PhD One of the central issues of our day is how to safely manage the outputs of industrial innovation. Novel products incorporating nanotechnology, biotechnology, rare metals, microwaves, novel chemicals, and more, enter the market on a daily basis. Yet none of these products come with an adequate …

Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Test your understanding of the living world with this simple question. What kind of biomolecule is found in all living organisms? If your answer is “DNA”, you are incorrect. The mistake is very forgiveable though. The standard English-language biology education casts DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) as the …

Recent Articles:

Still Chasing Ghosts: A New Genetic Methodology Will Not Find the “Missing Heritability”

September 19, 2013 Commentaries, Health 26 Comments
Search for the missing heritability

By Evan Charney, Duke Institute for Brain Science, Duke University

One of the hopes and promises of the Human Genome Sequencing Project was that it would revolutionize the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of most human disorders. It would do this by uncovering the supposed “genetic bases” of human behavior. With a few exceptions, however, the search for common gene variants -“polymorphisms” – associated with common diseases has borne little fruit. And when such associations have been found the polymorphisms seem to have little predictive value and do little to advance our understanding of the causes of disease. In a 2012 study, for example, researchers found that incorporating genetic information did not improve doctors’ ability to predict disease risk for breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis [1]. … Continue Reading

Science and Social Control: Political Paralysis and the Genetics Agenda

NIH_1crop2

By Jonathan Latham, PhD (Originally posted July 31st and lost after a DDOS (electronic) attack).

Variations in individual “educational attainment” (essentially, whether students complete high school or college) cannot be attributed to inherited genetic differences. That is the finding of a new study reported in Science magazine (Rietveld et al. 2013). According to this research, fully 98% of all variation in educational attainment is accounted for by factors other than a person’s simple genetic makeup.

This implies that essentially all of student success is a consequence of potentially alterable social or environmental factors. This is an important and perhaps surprising observation, of high interest to parents, teachers, and policymakers alike; but it did not make the headlines.

The likely reason is that the authors of the study failed to mention the 98% figure in the title or the summary abstract. Nor was it mentioned in the accompanying press release. … Continue Reading

The Goodman Affair: Monsanto Targets the Heart of Science

R Goodman

by Claire Robinson and Jonathan Latham, PhD

Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, has jested that instead of scientific peer review, its rival The Lancet had a system of throwing a pile of papers down the stairs and publishing those that reached the bottom. On another occasion, Smith was challenged to publish an issue of the BMJ exclusively comprising papers that had failed peer review and see if anybody noticed. He replied, “How do you know I haven’t already done it?”

As Smith’s stories show, journal editors have a lot of power in science – power that provides opportunities for abuse. The life science industry knows this, and has increasingly moved to influence and control science publishing. … Continue Reading

The Experiment Is on Us: Science of Animal Testing Thrown into Doubt

by Pat Dutt and Jonathan Latham, PhD

New scientific research has cast grave doubt on the safety testing of hundreds of thousands of consumer products, food additives and industrial chemicals.

Everyday products, from soft drinks and baby foods, to paints, gardening products, cosmetics and shampoos, contain numerous synthetic chemicals as preservatives, dyes, active ingredients, or as contaminants. Official assurances of the safety of these chemicals are based largely on animal experiments that use rabbits, mice, rats and dogs. But new results from a consortium of researchers and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest such assurances may be worthless (Seok et al. 2013). … Continue Reading

Is the Hidden Viral Gene Safe? GMO Regulators Fail to Convince

EFSA Head Office

by Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD

Having unwittingly allowed a viral gene into the food chain, the response of regulators so far has been to release statements intended to allay public concerns. These statements, however, are inadequate to meet a potentially major food crisis. Not only do they fail to address important issues but they are also scientifically questionable even within their chosen frame of reference.

The GMO regulators involved are the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). These two agencies have separately released statements (see complete texts EFSA and FSANZ) defending their risk assessments and conclusions in response to our recent article “Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in GMO crops“. … Continue Reading

Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in Commercial GMO Crops

Cauliflower Mosaic Virus

by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

How should a regulatory agency announce they have discovered something potentially very important about the safety of products they have been approving for over twenty years?

In the course of analysis to identify potential allergens in GMO crops, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has belatedly discovered that the most common genetic regulatory sequence in commercial GMOs also encodes a significant fragment of a viral gene (Podevin and du Jardin, 2012). This finding has serious ramifications for crop biotechnology and its regulation, but possibly even greater ones for consumers and farmers. This is because there are clear indications that this viral gene (called Gene VI) might not be safe for human consumption. It also may disturb the normal functioning of crops, including their natural pest resistance. … Continue Reading

How Millions of Farmers are Advancing Agriculture For Themselves

SRI-grown Rice in China

by Jonathan Latham, PhD

The world record yield for paddy rice production is not held by an agricultural research station or by a large-scale farmer from the United States, but by Sumant Kumar who has a farm of just two hectares in Darveshpura village in the state of Bihar in Northern India. His record yield of 22.4 tons per hectare, from a one-acre plot, was achieved with what is known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). To put his achievement in perspective, the average paddy yield worldwide is about 4 tons per hectare. Even with the use of fertilizer, average yields are usually not more than 8 tons.

Sumant Kumar’s success was not a fluke. Four of his neighbors, using SRI methods, and all for the first time, matched or exceeded the previous world record from China, 19 tons per hectare. Moreover, they used only modest amounts of inorganic fertilizer and did not need chemical crop protection. … Continue Reading

Risk and Responsibility: Farming, Food, and Unconventional Gas Drilling

November 12, 2012 Commentaries, Health 2 Comments
American Gasland

Michelle Bamberger and Robert E. Oswald (Photo credit: Marcellus Protest)

Extraction of hydrocarbon gas from tight shale formations using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has been advertised as a path toward energy independence for the United States and is being promoted worldwide. This is tempered by environmental and societal concerns that have led to banning the practice in some countries (e.g., France), at least one state in the U.S. (Vermont), and numerous towns and cities in the United States. In the United States, the process itself is largely regulated at the state level, with exemptions from federal laws regulating air, drinking water and hazardous waste disposal. Regulation at the state level varies considerably among states with significant shale deposits, as does the level of enforcement of regulations. The argument often given to suggest that the process is safe cites the fact that in the sixty years since the first gas well was hydraulically fractured, the industry has not found proof it finds acceptable that drinking water has been contaminated. This assertion is not universally accepted because of at least two factors. … Continue Reading

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Commentaries

The Meaning of Life (Part I)

DNA double helix

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. …

The War Over Mangoes

Mangoes from Mexico

by Meredith Rector (Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)) Growing mangoes in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has racked up an enormous socio-political expense for the region far greater than the price tag on the fruit in the supermarket. For a Mexican drug cartel desperate to move product, hiding …

Gene Drives: A Scientific Case for a Complete and Perpetual Ban

Mosquito and DNA

by Jonathan Latham, PhD One of the central issues of our day is how to safely manage the outputs of industrial innovation. Novel products incorporating nanotechnology, biotechnology, rare metals, microwaves, novel chemicals, and more, enter the market on a daily basis. Yet none of these products come with an adequate …

Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life

Phytoplankton

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Test your understanding of the living world with this simple question. What kind of biomolecule is found in all living organisms? If your answer is “DNA”, you are incorrect. The mistake is very forgiveable though. The standard English-language biology education casts DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) as the …

More Commentaries...

Reviews

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Poison Spring Evaggelos Valllianatos

Book Author: Evaggelos Vallianatos with McKay Jenkins Reviewed by: Carol Van Strum “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts …

The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food

The Real Cost of Fracking book cover

Book Authors: Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald Reviewed by Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project) The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at …

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