Thursday, December 16, 2010

Harvest of Fear

Should we Grow GM Crops?

Instructions: Read the page and click YES or NO, reach the YES or NO...etc until you’ve read all the arguments -- You will need to do this 12 times in order for your votes to be tallied. Navigate the site, each of the bold headings below are links within the site

1. What is a GM Crop.
The term GM foods is most commonly used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology methods. These plants have been modified in the laboratory to enhance quality traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. Genetically modified ingredients, in the form of modified enzymes, are found in virtually all breads, cheeses, sodas, and beers. This occurrence commenced in the mid-1990s with the mutation of crops such as soy and corn from food companies pooling raw materials from several sources into a single processing stream. Industry, government, and many academic scientists solicit the benefits of GM foods for agriculture, ecosystems, and human health and well-being, including feeding a world population bursting at the seams, which seems to be in high demand.

2. List 2 arguments FOR the growing of GM crops.

1) Advocates hold that GM foods will bypass old traditions and crops with their fast-paced development. They will be better for society as a whole, with some products already in the works while following the guideline for a low-calorie diet (containing sugar beets and oils with lower saturated fat content), and others bearing higher nutritional content (high-fiber corn and high-starch potatoes). Consequentially, the change in diet leads to healthier habits and an increase in energy levels. GM corn has lower fungal toxin content than non-GM corn, and farmers typically produce GM crops using fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Food scientists hope to genetically modify crops to add vitamins and minerals to help poor, malnourished third-world countries. After all, vitamin-A deficiency kills two million children each year, and another 500,000 become permanently blind. Scientists are already studying ways to inject pharmaceutical vaccines into tomatoes, therefore finding an alternative to shots.
"The benefits of biotechnology are many and include providing resistance to crop pests to improve production and reduce chemical pesticide usage, thereby making major improvements in both food quality and nutrition."
--World Health Organization Expert Consultation on Biotechnology and Food Safety

2) Farmers can avoid crop losses due to insect pests and bring their produce to market at less cost. Instead of spraying the plants with weed killers, GM soybeans can be made genetically resistant to a single broad-spectrum herbicide. This allows the grower to make a single deposit of weed killers instead of multiple attempts. Int he winter months, technologies are being developed in the lab to help farmers reduce losses from sudden frosts, which can kill young plants using antifreeze gene.
"I am particularly alarmed by those who seek to deny small-scale farmers of the Third World -- and especially those in sub-Saharan Africa -- access to the improved seeds, fertilizers and crop protection chemicals that have allowed the affluent nations the luxury of plentiful and inexpensive foodstuffs....While the affluent nations can certainly afford to pay more for food produced by the so-called organic methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low-income, food-deficit nations cannot."
--Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel-Prize-winning agriculturalist and father of the Green Revolution

3. List 2 arguments AGAINST the growing of GM crops.
1) One of scientists and environmentalists’ greatest worries is that GM crops could have a negative affect on the gas levels in the air and the well-fair of other species in the wild In 1999, monarch butterflies were chronicles as ill, which peaked students’ at Cornell University interest, Their studies exhibited that the ratio of 56:100 percent of monarch larvae that survived during the test was extremely disturbing. The control and variable included feeding the larvae milkweed plants covered in GM corn pollen, opposed to milkweed leaves with traditional corn pollen lived. Why is this so vital to the environmentalists? Approximately 50% of monarchs in the U.S. spend their summers dining on milkweed in corn-growing regions, and this point has never been brought to their attention before. On the other hand, the case of mosquitoes that became tolerant of DDT has been suspected to result in a category of 'superbugs' resistant to pesticides integrated into GM crops. In this same way, ‘superweeds’ are expected to convert to be immune to a broad-spectrum weed killer once they have come in contact with an herbicide-resistant gene from a closely related GM plant. This caused some geneticists to go directly to the source. What they found was even more perturbing; GM crops themselves can become weeds. Canadian farmers have reported that herbicide-resistant canola plants have annexed wheat fields within close proximity with the exemption of a feared superweed.
"Ecologists are unsure of the impacts of bypassing natural species boundaries. Consider, for example, the ambitious plans to engineer transgenic plants to serve as pharmaceutical factories for the production of chemicals and drugs. Foraging animals, seed-eating birds, and soil insects will be exposed to a range of genetically engineered drugs, vaccines, industrial enzymes, plastics, and hundreds of other foreign substances for the first time, with untold consequences."
--Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World

2) GM crops are definitely not a big hit with human emotions. Nature takes millions of years to impact on genetics, the environment, and even what we think. What gives us as a species the right to alter it in any way that fits our needs in a time period so short that it feels as though it's overnight? Who has the capacity to be a creator? How can we determine this? Is there a test such as the one Americans gave to immigrants? Perhaps, it is similar to an IQ test? One study that scientists were patronized for was their combination of antifreeze fish genes with fruit. This really got to the public's emotions. To some, the mere existence of genetic engineering is borderline on insanity, taking religion into consideration. GM processes are also couter-productive for many while limiting their choices in a specific diet. For those who are Orthodox Jewish, obeying the kosher dietary laws would be virtually impossible if tomatoes in their salad carried a surprise gene of pig.
"If Nature has spent millions of years building a structure with natural boundaries, it must be there for a purpose. It is there to guide the evolution of life and to maintain its integrity. Using genetic engineering in agriculture is like trying to fix something that has nothing wrong with it in the first place."
--Dr. Michael Antoniou, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Genetics, GKT Medical School, Guy's Hospital, London, U.K.

Engineer a Crop

4. Practice this simulation until you get the largest ears of corn. How many times did it take you?
It took me one try to engineer the most favorable breeding for the fifth generation.

Background Information: From cucumbers and carrots to white rice and wheat, we humans have altered the genes of almost every food we eat. For almost 10,000 years we've been engineering plants by keeping the seeds from the best crops and planting those the next season. Following this practice year after year has resulted in a slow but steady change -- and a substantial cumulative effect. We've been altering the genetic makeup of crops by cross-pollinating, too. About 8,000 years ago, for example, farmers in Central America crossed two mutant strains of a weedy-looking plant called Balsas teosinte and produced the first corn on the cob.

What’s for Dinner?

*Click on the foods on the table to see what research is being done to bioenginner the foods.

5. List two foods and desribe how they are being modified.
Background Info: Biotech companies and university laboratories are cooking up new ideas for GM foods all the time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists 7,516 field tests on new GM foods currently underway. It remains unclear which if any of these foods will pass the strict series of tests that stand between the laboratories and our supermarket shelves. Nevertheless, it's fun to sneak a peak into the future. Tuck in your napkin, pick up your fork -- well, your mouse, anyway -- and get a taste of the next wave of GM foods.

1) Potatoes: Although the approval from the food regulatory boards are still pending, manufactured potatoes are genetically mutated to absorb less oil in french fry form. Peanut oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil are being cooked up in the lab to be more efficient foods with a lower degree of saturated fat.

2) Coffee: As many adults are familiar with, coffee contains a high caffeine content, which is not always the most highly recommended choice. With genetic mutation now available in labs, biotechnology industries are on the move with 'naturally grown' decaffeinated coffee. This new innovated coffee bean is not yet approved for public ingestion. Nevertheless, when and if it is made public without health defects, it could save farmers time and money by decaffeinating coffee beans before the harvest.

*Read the article titled “Are GM Food Sufficiently Regulated in the US?”

Do you think food should be labeled if it has been genetically modified? Why or Why not?
I do think that genetically modified food should be labeled because it is not equitable for the government to leave the public in the dark on vital issues such as the one at hand. Regardless, they choose to put a respective quantity of the general community at risk if they have allergies, follow specific diets for health reasons, religiously obey a various selection of food, etc. In 1992, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) steadfastly denied the society the right to label the specific GM foods. Wouldn't this be suspicious if they were dead-set against broadcasting the produce's constituents? The FDA's insecure claim that finally withered the crowd was that Gm foods are no different than regular food, and therefore should not be highlighted. What's more, is that their mandatory notification process, which encourages employees overseeing the biotechnology to keep an eye on the products, is supervised by no other than an FDA blue-collar worker. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stood hushed in the background, silently cheering the FDA on with their own 5,000 genetically engineered crop applications. Stephen Johnson (Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, EPA) has conjectured that the technology utilized in the produce field has been rushed to the market without an unabridged inspection by regulators. This could possibly be why Cry9C (a protein in Starlink Corn that is intended to eliminate distinct insects) in the Taco Bell shells. Cry9C has been linked to infants becoming more prone to allergies, are sensitive to smaller quantities of allergen; are particularly susceptible to allergy from novel proteins, and often have diets richer in corn than adults. In other words, if there are traces of certain allergens in foods, especially in chain fast-food establishments, 74% need to seek the help of a physician. More than half the amount of humans who ate GM foods with Cry9C were in desperate demand for a general practitioner, at the least. What's at stake here, after all? Money that can be payed off by big corporations or the lives of 74% of the population that at Taco Bell?

Finished? Go to and type "genetic engineering" in the search field. Browse some of the sites that pop up.
Write down any of the sites you visited below.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Epigenetics and the Environment

Identical Twins:
Recent studies have been excessively focused on identical twins and the factors that make them unique, despite their label. Throughout the years, twins have been stereotyped to have an alike physique and mental capabilities. However, this is but a fantasy. Whether they are dressed the same for a family portrait does not decide which genes are turned on and off; that is a job for epigenetic tags. Imprinted tags are identical, thus giving twins their label. These determine what genes are active or not. The tags are placed on and off the genome in reality, which signals which trait to express or make dormant. So how do twins differ? And what causes this to occur?

The issue of nature versus nurture has been debated in Behavioral Genetics for over a century. From a genetic aspect, inherited traits from the maternal and paternal sources are researched, such as eye or hair color, are based on a biological component found in the DNA coding sequences. Other traits are coded from yet another origin: the environment. A study between two sets of twins (3 and 50 years old). Researchers hypothesized that certain diseases, handicaps, and traits are linked to their outside surroundings. In their research, dyed epigenetic samples were analyzed for epigenetic tag locations. Results yielded the 3 year old twins shared a generally common locale for their tags, whereas the 50 year old twins had the opposite effect. While running the study, scientists discovered that diseases such as arthritis are more environmentally-decided. However, dyslexia are more genetically influenced. This happens when the individual is allowed to make their own choices that may or may not impact their genetic makeup.

Fraternal twins are even more dissimilar in this case, speaking on a molecular level. Due to the fact that each stem from a different egg and sperm combination, they only share half the amount on similar genes that identical twins share. The rest of their pheno- and geno-type is based on their home lifestyle and the way they are raised. This also makes twins better role models for experiments when testing Molecular Genetics. To illustrate this point, take a set of identical twins. When one of them develops a disease such as lung cancer, scientists use newly advanced tools to pinpoint the mechanism of the event, whether it is environmental or genetic. In this case, the lung cancer is most likely caused by a physical activity that the particular twin chose to partake. Smoking, dietary decisions, exercise, and their overall routine influence the epigenome. These signals can be transferred from a number of sources, carried throughout the body on a cell, then copied onto a protein with the information to the genome, triggering the tags. Smoking must have been the main source of the twin's lung cancer.

Personal triggers on my specific epigenome most likely have been transforming my genotype through a semi-balanced diet, a fair amount of exercise, acceptable social behavior, the rate of the metabolic processes, fluctuating stress levels, environmental dust that provokes allergies/asthma, and the methods that may parents have chosen to raise me.

Lick your Rats:
Like many others in the animal kingdom, mother rats care for their young by grooming and licking their pups. These nurtured pups have been noted to develop a calmer personality, while opposing rats are more anxious. This trait is expressed in humans and bred dogs as well. These epigenetic tags that are established in the living organisms are almost as influential as the original imprinted tags. In the first week of the newborn's life, the Metho molecule (green) silences the GR gene (gold) in all rat pups. During the first week of licking, brain cells are stimulated and activate the GR gene, which makes the rat more calm in situations after stress hormones are released. This materializes in the hippocampus, where the GR protein energizes and binds to cortisol; this coordinates its fight-or-flight instinct. The nurturing that the pup receives in the first week may seem trivial at first glance, but the overall ramifications may conclude in breeding calmer rats, depending on how they were raised/licked.

As previously suggested, this occasion happens on a much larger and longer scale. Take humans and dogs, for example. The way a newborn is raised depends on how its parents are raised, which are based on how they were raised, and so on and so forth. The chain of reactions impact the way a human reacts to a situation, including stress. The all-too-common fight or flight instinct depends on whether he/she was raised to take a stand or flee from the combat zone. Social behavior is also a leading factor to how the individual nurtures his/her own offspring, if they even choose to have any. For example, the interaction with the opposite sex may take its toll on whether or not he/she will have an opportunity to produce progeny.

The interaction between dogs and humans are beneficial to biologist's studies because of their unique results that they have extracted. The chemical oxytocin is produced when an owner nurtures its dog. This occurs in both species, and has not been discovered in other relationships yet. This culminates in a more calm and nurturing second generation of dogs, and a convenience for humans that may live longer.

Nutrition and the Epigenome:
One can better understand something if they can easily relate to it, such as diet. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is a struggle for many, especially in America, and countless individuals succumb to temptation. Methyl groups, extracted from the metabolic pathways in a human being, silence genes with their epigenetic tag abilities. Owing to the known actuality that the epigenome commences life as a blank slate, it is vulnerable to any rapidly altering chemical such as folic acids, SAM-e, or B vitamins. The earlier the intake is increased, the quicker the epigenome is manipulated. Studies show that methyl or choline deficient mothers deny their child of a methylated-healthy adulthood.

Yet again, mice were tested in the lab for agouti-linked dietary impacts. Those that were prone to obesity, cancer, diabetes, and a yellow coat, lacked in the gene. All the while, the contrasting experiment cluster supported their brown hue, immunity to common diseases, and smaller framework. Even though there is such a significant difference, the two sets of rats are still generically homogeneous. In a separate, yet related investigation, pregnant mutated rats with a high income dosage of methyl produced "normal" brown mice. Scientists connected the dots and concluded that your epigenome isn't based on your specific diet, rather, your prenatal diet.

When the mutated mothers were supplied with a Bisphenol-A-rich exposure status, the ratio of yellow to brown mice increased with a steep incline. BPA, being toxic in addition to a polycarbonate plastic component, altered the genetics in the maternal DNA and therefore passed on the unhealthy lineage to her infants. Even so, when a test was done to dictate whether the diet or contamination exposure level outweighs one another or if they were co-dominant, the BPA capitulated to the methyl-rich diet, consequentially resulting in a primarily brown generation.

Analogous in many other categories, a one-size-fits-all procedure is not in the least helpful when considering factors of obesity, reduce stress levels, or mapping out a successful diet in order to achieve a balanced lifestyle. Just as mapping the genome did to biology, the same may be said for charting unique epigenomes for solitary patients in dire need of guidance.

Epigenetics and the Human Brain

The human brain, thought to be sacred because of its overindulgence in functions and hippocampus minor existence, features innumerable roles that support our actuality and continuation. Recent inquiries have stumbled upon an association between the brain and the epigenome, as well as its DNA methylation stability, basic chromatin protein mutations, long-term memory, and chiefly suicide rates. Dr. Moshe Szyf described the methods of epigenetic researching and the link between child abuse, suicide, and the epigenome. Those who were neglected or abused as a child showed a 100% rate of suicide, with a 70% methylation level in the hippocampus minor, identical DNA sequence as non-suiciders, and an environmental stamp on their brain. Their "twin" who did not commit self-murder expressed little to no differences in methylation levels in the cerebellum, overall methylation levels, and a significant GR peak difference. What codes for this variation? The ribosomal RNA which acts as a scaffold which determines the quantity of expressed genes, regulated by methylation. This allows for an identical twin, at 50 years old who has been raised separately to contain less active ribosomal rRNA genes, to have less protein production, than their twin. A common pattern is also found in Alzheimer's disease.

Abuse is not the only cause of suicide, despite what some may think. Mental disabilities such as Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome is caused by the CPB protein malfunctioning to reduce acetyl tags on histones. Other mentally handicapped patients may suffer from REELIN deficiency, which shapes the brain for infantile development. The 60 connector genes that differentiate unstable and healthy human beings from one another are chiefly signals between brain cells being mistranslated or intercepted. This can be modified by drugs given to patients with these types of illnesses may change gene expression, therefore stabilizing DNA methylation in order to reverse the symptoms of the particular disease. Other drugs that are received by the patient may be abused, resulting in the mutation of hundreds of genes at a certain point in time. This misuse ad possible addiction has the possibility of rewriting the epigenome to a point of no return. Notwithstanding, modern technology has been able to operate a process in which specific genes are pulled down and the methylation levels are measured. This translates which specific section of the brain is being affected, leading to gateways of solutions in the genetic field.