Category Archives: Environment

MIT and Wilson Center receive NSF grant to develop “synthetic biology” agenda

phys.org | Jun 10, 2013

The MIT Center for International Studies and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars are collaborating on a $233,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help realize potential benefits and to address potential ecological effects of synthetic biology.

The grant is supported jointly by three units within NSF, the Division of Cellular and Molecular Biology, the Division of Environmental Biology, and the Engineering Directorate. The grant will fund development of an interdisciplinary research agenda to improve understanding of potential ecological effects of commercial uses of synthetic biology.

Worse Than GMO?: Urgent Action Needed!

The “New Bioeconomy”: Synthetic Biology’s Implications for the Environment, Health and Justice

The research agenda will be developed through consultations among synthetic biologists, evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and environmental scientists. It will be based on workshops that focus on near- and medium-term applications of synthetic biology, with scenarios based on the intentional and unintentional release of engineered organisms.

This project will be conducted jointly by the Program on Emerging Technologies of the MIT Center for International Studies and the Synthetic Biology Project at the Wilson Center. It will build on four previous workshops that brought together a wide range of scientists, regulators, NGOs, companies, and other stakeholders to discuss possible ecological risks associated with synthetic biology products and to identify sources of uncertainty over risks. These workshops were funded jointly by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the NSF Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. The project is expected to be completed in one year. A small board of advisors has been created to guide the design and execution of the workshops.

Provided by Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars/Science and Technology Innovation Program

World’s richest men aid GMO-promoting ‘Green Revolution’ center

gates
Associated Press/Eduardo Verdugo – From left, Chair of the International Center for Improvement of Corn and Wheat (CIMMYT) Sara Boettiger, Mexico state Gov. Eruviel Avila, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Mexican Secretary of Agriculture Enrique Martinez, Mexican telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim and CIMMYT Director General Thomas Lumpkin cut the ribbon at inauguration of the new research center for the CIMMYT in Texcoco, Mexico, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. Gates and Slim teamed up to to fund new seed breeding research which the CIMMYT says aims to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat systems to ensure global food security and reduce poverty. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

By MARK STEVENSON

Associated Press | Feb 13

TEXCOCO, Mexico (AP) — The research center largely responsible for launching the “green revolution” of the 1960s that dramatically raised crop yields is getting support from the world’s richest men to develop genetically-modified seeds to help farmers in the developing world grow more grain in the face of a changing climatic conditions and increased demand.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim donated a total of $25 million to build a new cluster of biotechnology labs at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

The facilities include hothouses “with high-efficiency air particle filters and a water treatment plant to prevent pollen and genetically modified material from escaping to the outdoors,” according to a statement by the billionaires’ foundations.

Both of the philanthropists were on hand for Wednesday’s inauguration of the new labs at the research center, known as CIMMYT, located just east of Mexico City.

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It was yet another coming of age moment for GM crops, because the nonprofit CIMMYT has become known over the last 50 years for providing low-cost, improved seeds through hybridization efforts, using its vast stockpiles of native corn and wheat genes from across the world to cross-breed the best attributes, like drought-resistance.

But increasingly, genetic splicing is joining the older technique of cross-pollination as “one of the tools in the toolbox,” said CIMMYT Director Thomas Lumpkin.

While Lumpkin claimed that even hybridization represents a sort of genetic modification by selective planting and breeding, he noted that CIMMYT hasn’t shipped any true GM seeds yet, and acknowledged that some countries might have concerns.

“We want to facilitate the movement of those (genetic) traits to the countries of the developing world that request them, that want them,” Lumpkin said. “Nothing is being pushed, nothing is being forced, and CIMMYT will not profit.”

Gates noted there are “legitimate issues, but solvable issues” around wider GM crop use, and that solutions could include distributing GM crops that are patented but require no royalty payments.

That alone would be a big change in the spread of GM crops, which up to now have been largely controlled by a few big biotechnology and agricultural companies that charge steep rates for GM seed and sue any farmer who uses, even accidentally, their patented GM traits, like pest resistance.

CIMMYT, with its ties to farm agencies throughout the world, could be a conduit to deliver GM benefits to the developing world, which has largely been locked out of them.

GM traits could be developed by the center and donated, or they could be bought cheaply. That’s where Gates and his foundation could come in. With his help CIMMYT, which is known for charging farmers as little as possible, could pick up some of the older traits for low prices.

“Some of these traits are getting near the end of their patent life or are available from multiple entities, so that there’s even some competition there,” Gates noted.

Lumpkin said farmers may be scared by the legal risks of GM crops, noting “you can have a law suit of a million dollars” for unauthorized use of patented crops.

“So CIMMYT is primarily focusing on getting tried and true GMO traits that are widely used around the world and bring them to the poor farmers of the developing world, so that the women of the developing world don’t have to spend the entire cropping system pulling weeds in the field … when there is such a simple modification used by all of the farmers in the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, South Africa.”

“Why can’t these poor farmers have these same traits that have been used for 15 years in the developed world?” he asked.

Still national sensitivities in Mexico, where the CIMMYT was founded in 1963, are still strong. Mexico is the birthplace of corn, and concern that GM crops might displace or contaminate genetically-valuable native strains have so far held up large-scale planting of GM corn in Mexico, even as the country has been forced to import about half of its basic grain consumption.

“Under the guise of philanthropy, what they are doing is promoting the use of transgenetic crops, with rhetoric about ending hunger in the world,” said Aleira Lara, of Greenpeace Mexico. “Those things are myths.”

“These (GM) seeds are not any kind of magic wand for increasing production, and they bring new problems to the countryside,” like developing resistance among pests and weeds, Lara said.

Lumpkin noted that CIMMYT is already doing some GM corn research in Africa, but not in Mexico.

“We are doing some research here with wheat, which is not such a sensitive issue in Mexico,” he said.

Lumpkin warned that the world could face a recurrence of the kind of crisis that CIMMYT was able to stave off 50 years ago, this time brought about by new plant diseases, climate change, water shortages and increasing consumption of grain-intensive foods, like meat.

“On one hand, there is rapidly increasing demand … on the other hand, conditions for producing this food are deteriorating rapidly,” he said.

Without new research avenues, he warned, “we have all of the ingredients for a new global food crisis.”

 

U.S. government to allow radioactive waste metals to be ‘recycled’ into consumers products like belt buckles, silverware

Nuclear Action Offering Nuclear Waste Barrels to Province North Holland in Haarlem<br /><br /><br />Nucleaire Actie Aanbieden Kernafvalvaten aan Provincie Noord-Holland in Haarlem

naturalnews.com | feb 7, 2013

(NaturalNews) The federal government is currently in the process of trying to get rid of tens of thousands of tons of radioactive scrap metal it has accumulated over the years from various nuclear testing and wartime activities. And a recent proposal made by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would lift existing restrictions on the recycling and reuse of this nuclear waste, allowing it to be formulated into everyday consumer products like belt buckles, silverware, and even surgical devices used by medical personnel on ill patients.

The shocking proposal comes more than a decade after DOE first tried to foist this growing stock of nuclear waste onto the American public back in the late 1990s. Back in 2000, Congressman Ed Markey from Massachusetts reportedly influenced then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to reinstate a ban that was temporarily lifted on the unmitigated recycling and reuse of radioactive waste metals in consumer products. But now, DOE is trying once again to secretly dispose of this radioactive waste stock by allowing scrap companies to sell it to consumer product manufacturers.

“A Department of Energy proposal to allow up to 14,000 metric tons of its radioactive scrap metal to be recycled into consumer products was called into question today by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) due to concerns over public health,” wrote Rep. Markey in a recent news brief about the issue. “In a letter sent to DOE head Steven Chu, Rep. Markey expressed ‘grave concerns’ over the potential of these metals becoming jewelry, cutlery, or other consumer products that could exceed healthy doses of radiation without any knowledge by the consumer.”

If granted its request, DOE could soon be responsible for triggering the widespread poisoning of the public with even more low-dose radiation via metal-based consumer products. Such products include not only cutlery and jewelry, but also automobiles, city buses, coffee makers, toasters, braces for teeth — practically anything that contains metal could end up being tainted with low-dose radiation as a result of DOE’s efforts.

Many imported consumer products already tainted with radiation

Even though DOE’s proposal has yet to become official policy, American consumers already need to be wary of the safety of metal-based products, particularly those imported from other countries. As we reported last January, domestic merchandise retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond recalled a line of tissue holders produced in India from its stores after learning that the metal used in their production was tainted with radio-isotope cobalt-60. In fact, radioactive goods routinely slip through customs, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is a serious cause for concern.

“India and China were the top sources of radioactive goods shipped to the U.S. through 2008,” explains a March 24, 2012, Bloomberg article about radioactive scrap metal. And there is no indication that things have improved since that time, according to Ross Bartley, a metallurgist who has been tracking radioactive contamination since the early 1990s. In all likelihood, he says, the problem has remained the same or even gotten worse.

Since low-dose radiation has been shown time and time again to cause birth defects, cataracts, cancer, and many other health problems, DOE’s insistence on exposing the public to even more of it is highly disturbing. Perhaps this is at least part of the reason why DOE head Steven Chu recently stepped down from his position at the agency following Rep. Markey’s letter of opposition to the agency’s proposal, not to mention a widespread and growing disapproval among citizens of this serious affront to public health.

Contact DOE and say NO to radioactive poisoning of consumer products

Though DOE insists that the amount of radiation emitted from radioactive waste is “negligible” in terms of being a public health threat, science says otherwise. Cumulative exposure to even low-dose radiation over the course of many months or even years can damage cells, DNA, and even hormone balance. This is why it is important to oppose DOE’s proposal to end the current moratorium on the reuse of radioactive waste metals.

You can contact DOE and urge the agency to keep radioactive metals out of industrial, commercial, and consumer products by emailing: scrap_PEAcomments@hq.doe.gov

Judge tosses Gulf spill claims against toxic dispersant maker

corexit

sfgate.com | Dec 5, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge presiding over litigation spawned by the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill has dismissed all claims against the manufacturer of a chemical dispersant that was used to break up crude gushing from BP’s blown-out well.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled last week that federal laws shield Illinois-based Nalco Co. from liability over the government’s use of Corexit after the 2010 spill.

Nalco didn’t decide whether, when, where, how or in what quantities Corexit would be used in response to the spill, Barbier noted. And the judge said it wouldn’t be proper for him to second guess the federal on-scene coordinator’s decision to use the dispersant.

Lawyers for cleanup workers and coastal residents exposed to the dispersant had argued Nalco isn’t immune from claims it supplied a defective product that wasn’t safe for use in the Gulf.

But the judge said the claims would create an “obstacle to federal law” if he allowed them to proceed.

More than 1.8 million gallons of dispersant were used in responding to the spill. It was last used four days after BP capped the well in June 2010.

A 2010 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that Corexit, when mixed with oil, is no more toxic to aquatic life than oil alone. But congressional investigators have claimed the U.S. Coast Guard defied a federal directive to use the chemical sparingly and routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of Corexit per day.

Toxic Corexit Producer Nalco Dismissed From Lawsuits Over 2010 BP Spill

corexit

Nalco said the claims for exposure-related injuries were preempted by federal law

bloomberg.com | Nov 28, 2012

By Margaret Cronin Fisk

Ecolab Inc. (ECL)’s Nalco Holding Co. unit, which provided a chemical dispersant used to deal with the 2010 BP Plc (BP/) Gulf of Mexico oil spill, has been dismissed from lawsuits over the incident.

BP used the Nalco dispersant to break up oil and reduce the harm to the Gulf Coast following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April 2010. Plaintiffs sued Nalco, claiming the dispersant, called Corexit, was defective and more toxic than the oil itself.

Nalco said the claims for exposure-related injuries were preempted by federal law giving the government authority to direct all actions to remove a substantial spill. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans agreed, finding today that the claims were preempted by the U.S. Clean Water Act and the National Contingency Plan, which put the government in charge of the response.

“Nalco did not decide whether, when, where, how or in what quantities Corexit was applied in response to the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo Well oil spill,” Barbier said in a 36-page opinion today.

Barbier also said allowing such claims might harm an all- out response to future spills.

“If the court were to permit” the claims against Corexit, even if the product was found to be defective or dangerous, “then during the next substantial spill or ‘spill of national significance,’ the threat of liability might cause the manufacturer of dispersant X to refuse to provide its product,” Barbier said.
‘We’re Ecstatic’

Barbier said he wasn’t considering whether Corexit was toxic or defective, just that the claims against Nalco had to be dismissed as a matter of law.

“We’re ecstatic,” Michael J. Monahan, spokesman for St. Paul, Minnesota-based Ecolab, said today. “Its a vindication of the position we’ve had all along,” he said in a phone interview.

Steve Herman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail for comment on the dismissal.

The lawsuit is part of In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

Agenda 21 – GMO Poison Documentary: Deteriorating health of Americans linked to Genetically Modified foods

When the US government ignored repeated warnings by its own scientists and allowed untested genetically modified (GM) crops into our environment and food supply, it was a gamble of unprecedented proportions. The health of all living things and all future generations were put at risk by an infant technology.

After two decades, physicians and scientists have uncovered a grave trend. The same serious health problems found in lab animals, livestock, and pets that have been fed GM foods are now on the rise in the US population. And when people and animals stop eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs), their health improves.

This seminal documentary provides compelling evidence to help explain the deteriorating health of Americans, especially among children, and offers a recipe for protecting ourselves and our future.

Youtube | Nov 9, 2012  by DocumentaryFeast

Agenda 21 – GMO Poison (Full Documentary) (1/2)

Agenda 21 – GMO Poison (Documentary) (2/2)

Brazil Embarks on Cloning of Wild Animals

Inter Press Service | Nov 6, 2012

by Alice Marcondes

The jaguar is one of the first three species that Brazilian scientists will attempt to clone. (Photo courtesy of the Brasilia Zoo.)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian scientists are attempting to clone animals in danger of extinction, like the jaguar and maned wolf, although the potential impact on the conservation of these threatened species is still not clear.

The cloning initiative is being undertaken by the Brasilia Zoological Garden in partnership with the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA, and is now in its second phase. The research is aimed at adapting cloning techniques to wild animal species as a means of contributing to conservation.

The first phase involved the collection of samples of genetic material, or germplasm, in the form of blood, sperm, somatic cells and umbilical cord cells.

“We already have 420 germplasm samples stored in our bank and are going to continue collecting,” EMBRAPA researcher Carlos Frederico Martins told Tierramérica*.

Eight animals have been chosen for the initiative, including the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus). Most are on the Red List of Threatened Species compiled by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The samples were gathered over the course of two years. In addition to the three species mentioned above, the bank has also been stocked with germplasm from the bush dog (Speothos venaticus), coati (genus Nasua), collared anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla), gray brocket deer (Mazama gouazoubira) and bison (genus Bison).

The researchers harvested the genetic material primarily from dead specimens of animals native to the Cerrado, the vast tropical savannah biome that stretches across central Brazil.

The next phase will be the training of researchers at the zoo.

“At EMBRAPA we have already cloned cows. What we are going to do now is to transfer our knowledge to the researchers so that they can conduct studies to adapt the technique to wild animals,” said Martins.

EMBRAPA was responsible for the birth of the first cloned animal in Brazil, a calf named Vitória, who was born in 2001 and lived until 2011.

After Vitória, many other animals have been cloned, mainly cows and horses who now add up to over 100 living specimens.

A bill that has been making its way through the Brazilian senate since 2007 would establish regulations for the practice of cloning, since the current legislation does not set very clear rules.

“Research can be freely conducted, but there is little monitoring and control. Any laboratory can clone cows, so it is impossible to precisely say how many clones exist,” explained the EMBRAPA researcher.

This is Brazil’s first attempt at cloning wild animals. Martins noted that “countries like the United States and South Korea are already working on similar research.”

The lack of prior experience makes it difficult to foresee how long it will take to produce the first clone, he said. But “we can predict that it will probably be a maned wolf, since this is the species for which we have many samples of genetic material,” he added.

Martins stressed, however, that the goal is not to release the clones into the wild. “The zoo wants to increase the number of specimens for its own use. The idea is to keep these animals in captivity. The use of clones would prevent the impact caused by the removal of these animals from their natural setting,” he said.

“From the point of view of conservation, the ideal approach is to preserve and multiply the number of wild animals where they are found,” he emphasised. Since cloned specimens contain the exact same genes as the animals they were cloned from, “they do not have the genetic variability that would make it beneficial to release them in the wild,” he explained.

Cloned animals would only be released in extreme cases, Martins said.

“If a certain species was in a state of drastic decline, at risk of total extinction, and it was possible to provide reinforcement, we will have the capacity,” Juciara Pelles, the head of conservation and research at the Brasilia Zoo, told Tierramérica.

“We are still in the phase of developing the technology, so we still don’t know if it will be possible to rescue a population in the wild, but we could potentially make it viable again,” she added.

The current technique has a five to seven percent rate of effectiveness. According to Martins, this percentage is within the average range achieved worldwide.

“It’s a low number, which makes the technology more costly, but it is average. The research underway is also aimed at raising it,” he noted.

For Onildo João Marini Filho, a biologist at ICMBio, the cloning of horses and cows is justified by its commercial purposes. But the cloning of wild animals needs to be handled with caution.

“There has to be a very tangible benefit for conservation. If there is something to be gained, it is valid. It might be possible, for example, to increase the number of animals to help with a breeding programme,” he told Tierramérica.

In order for the second phase of the research to effectively begin, the Brasilia Zoo is waiting for legal authorisation from the relevant agencies. It is hoped that the initial steps towards the creation of the first clone can be taken in approximately one month. “This is a long-term project,” said Pelles.

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.