Tag Archives: Biotechnology

Archives Reveal Why Africa Should not Depend on Monsanto for GMOs

New innovations in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry must pass through trials to find out the effectiveness and side effects. The innovation is given a Go, if the benefits way outweighs the side effects, if not it is taken back to the lab for more research.

While Food biotechnology may be the solution to food insecurity in Africa through GMOs, Africa must research, develop, produce the GMOs themselves. African nations must understand the innovation enough to be able to decide whether it should be adopted or modified to benefit  their citizens.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

The health and well-being of Africans cannot be left in the hands of profit-at-all-cost multinationals who may want to use Africans as guinea pigs for new innovations. As much as trials are a big part of research and development (R&D), African countries must carry it out themselves for themselves.

Read: Genome Editing – An Opportunity for Crop Improvement in Africa

It is time for African countries to build their own biotech industry, not only because the future will depend on it, but mainly because multinationals like  Monsanto cannot be trusted as  investigation has shown that the food biotech company based in the United State has endangered people’s health just for profit. The Guardian reported that Monsanto sold banned chemicals for years despite known health risks, archives reveal.

Read: Africa Must Produce its Own Technology

It was reported that Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive.

According to The Guardian, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are long-lived pollutants that were mass-produced by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977 for use as coolants and lubricators in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors.

By 1979, they had been completely banned in the US and elsewhere, after a weight of evidence linking them to health ailments that ranged from chloracne and Yusho (rice oil disease) to cancer, and to environmental harm.

Yet a decade earlier, one Monsanto pollution abatement plan in the archive from October 1969, singled out by Sherman, suggests that Monsanto was even then aware of the risks posed by PCB use.

More than 20,000 internal memos, minuted meetings, letters and other documents have been published in the new archive revealed, many for the first time.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

Most were obtained from legal discovery and access to documents requests digitized by the Poison Papers Project, which was launched by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy. Chiron Return contributed some documents to the library.

Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington – which is suing Monsanto for PCB clean-up costs potentially worth billions of dollars – said the archive contained damning evidence the state had previously been unaware of.

He told the Guardian: “If authentic, these records confirm that Monsanto knew that their PCBs were harmful and pervasive in the environment, and kept selling them in spite of that fact. They knew the dangers, but hid them from the public in order to profit.”

He told the Guardian: “More than 40 years ago, the former Monsanto voluntarily stopped production and sale of PCBs prior to any federal requirement to do so. At the time Monsanto manufactured PCBs, they were a legal and approved product used in many useful applications. Monsanto has no liability for pollution caused by those who used or discharged PCBs into the environment.”

Bio-Hacking: We Can Now Have Milk Without Cows and Eggs Without Chickens

“Bio-hacking” makes it possible to produce milk without cows and eggs without chickens. So-called synthetic biology could revolutionize food systems to more sustainably feed 7 billion,” says Hannes Sjoblad, a Swedish bio-hacker activist and Chief Disruption Officer at Epicenter in Stockholm.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

Bio-hacking applies technology in creative ways to change biological systems like cells, plants, animals – and Homo sapiens. Hannes Sjoblad believes bio-hacking can revolutionize food production systems to help sustainably feed a growing global population.

According to Hannes Sjoblad, “the current food production systems on the planet simply cannot sustain 7 billion inhabitants who would like to have the type of diet that you and I are used to. The current way of doing things is not sustainable. We are over-fishing, we are polluting, we’re cutting down rain-forests to feed beef cows – it’s absolutely not sustainable. And for me, the solution is not politics. The solution is not a citizen or a consumer activism. The solution must be technology.”

Image Credit: DW

He believes using digital biology technique to produce milk in-vitro for instance, and that “we can make the milk production process 10 to 100 times more energy-efficient. Entrepreneurs can modify the genes of yeast cells to make them produce milk. So we can now produce milk without cows.” There are now a lot of startups in this field that is called Digital Biology or Synthetic Biology.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

“Bio-hacking is a fairly new practice that could lead to major changes in our life. You could call it citizen or do-it-your-self biology. It takes place in small labs — mostly non-university — where all sorts of people get together to explore biology. That could mean figuring out how the DNA in plants affects their growth, or how to manipulate genes from another source to make a plant glow in the dark. It often is aimed at producing a product, like the chairs and building blocks that artist Philip Ross makes by feeding mushrooms a meal of sawdust or peanut shavings. It is experimenting on the cheap, usually without the benefit of a fancy university laboratory, and it often involves DNA and genes. If you don’t know enough biology to take part at first, you learn it along the way.” Explained Spencer Michels, a correspondent and producer in the San Francisco office of the PBS News Hour.

Source: DW, PBS

Genome Editing – An Opportunity for Crop Improvement in Africa

Africa must advance rapidly to meet growing food demands and raise incomes while protecting the environment for future generations. Crop improvement through genome editing will provide this opportunity.

Genome editing of crops represents the latest scientific progress with potential aimed at fighting the persistent food crisis situations in developing societies. Genome editing is simply inserting, deleting or replacing DNA at a specific site in the genome of a cell or organism and this can be achieved in the laboratory using engineered nucleases  known as Molecular Scissors.

A strand of DNA is cut at a specific point and naturally existing cellular repair mechanisms then fix the broken DNA strands and the way they are repaired affects gene function. The families of engineered nucleases used are Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs), Meganucleases, Transcription Activator-Like Effector-based Nucleases (TALEN), and the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR).

The emergence of CRISPR Associated System (CRISPR-Cas9) has revolutionized the field of genome editing and is now the most commonly used genome editing tool. Genome editing with CRISPR-Cas9 has been demonstrated in some crops like rice, lettuce, maize, potato, soybean and some other leguminous crops. In China, CRISPR has been used to produce a variety of wheat resistant to powdery mildew disease and presently in Japan; field trials for high yield gene edited rice are ongoing.

Genome editing/CRISPR-Cas9 system has potential for crop improvement in Africa because this technology is easier, faster and cheaper than genetic engineering or conventional breeding. It also offers new opportunities for developing improved crop varieties with clear-cut addition of valuable traits and removal of undesirable traits. Crops of reliable high yields, resistance to diseases, pests, and stress factors can now be readily available.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

Genome editing can be used for improvement of some of our staple crops in Africa like cassava, cowpea, yam, pearl millet, sweet potato, sorghum etc. Cassava brown streak virus affects cassava production greatly and CRISPR could offer a solution.

CRISPR-Cas9 system can be applied in the improvement of cowpea for resistance to abiotic stress. Abiotic stresses affecting cowpea production include drought, heat, and low soil fertility. Although the crop is known to be drought tolerant, its yield can be reduced significantly when exposed to seedling, mid-season or terminal drought. Genome editing can be used to improve the nutritional quality of these staple crops and also applied to local crop varieties that smallholder farmers in Africa prefer, to improve their livelihood.

Despite the debates on the acceptance of Genetically Modified Crops; there is hope for better policies and regulations concerning genome/CRISPR edited crops as it possible to edit the genome of crops without adding any foreign DNA.  Genome editing holds great promise for crop improvement in Africa and can be explored to tackle food insecurity and increase agricultural productivity. Africa must rise to its responsibility and take advantage of this opportunity in the global fight for zero hunger.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges