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Category Archives: Genetic Engineering

Genetic Engineering May Make Algae a Real Biofuel Contender for … – The News Wheel

Posted: June 24, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Added on June 23, 2017 The News Wheel algae , biofuel , corn , Exxon , Green driving , renewable energy source , soybeans

So far the biofuel game has belonged to two cropscorn and soybeans. But, a third organism is ready to play. Kind of.

According to Bloomberg writer Jennifer A Dlouhy, after eight years of painstaking work, researches from J. Craig Venters Synthetic Genomics in collaboration with Exxon (a relationship which started in 2009) may have finally found a way to turn algae into a viable biofuel source.

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Algae, which has been on scientists radars for a long time now as a biofuel candidate traditionally lack enough oils and fats that a viable biofuel source requires; corn and soybeans have whats needed, but algae is a more sustainable option because it can grow in salt water and thrive under harsh environmental conditions.And the oil contained in algae potentially could be processed in conventional refineries, according to Dlouhy.

Through advanced cell engineering, the team from J. Craig Venters Synthetic Genomics has reported that they were able to more than double the fatty lipids insidea strain of algae, reports Dlouhy.

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After depriving algae of nitrogen, the scientists were able to pinpoint the single gene tasked with monitoring the amount of oil the algae produces.

Using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique, the researchers were able to winnow a list of about 20 candidates to a single regulator they call it ZnCys and then to modulate its expression, according to Dlouhy.

The advanced cell engineering increased the typical oil production of algae10 to 15 percentto over 40 percent, reports Dlouhy.

Although this is a critical breakthrough and a much needed step in the evolution of algae into a viable biofuel source, commercialization of this kind of modified algae is decades away, according to Dlouhy.

News Source: Bloomberg

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How Genetic Engineering Fixed My Stupid Back – Entrepreneur

Posted: at 1:52 pm

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Around the age of 15, I began experiencing periodic bolts of searing pain shooting down the outer sides of my legs and up through my shoulder blades. The pain would occasionally grow so debilitating that I was forced to walk with a cane and could barely manage a flight of stairs. For sleepless months at a time, I would limp and grimace through my day. The worst part was that doctor after doctor was not able to diagnose the problem, and I resigned myself to a life of making the best of it.

Once I hit my mid-30s, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided I had to do something about it. I tasked myself to keep seeing doctors untilsomebodycould tell me what the problem was. After plowing through a series of specialists, I eventually found my way to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with an inflammatory condition, which isn’t exactly fully understood by science, calledAnkylosing spondylitis(spells just like it sounds).

Now, this condition can be treated somewhat with a special diet (please don’t send me any info on the subject — I know), but the food restrictions are pretty harsh and results in my case weren’t always consistent. But as it turns out, modern science has another fix.

My rheumatologist recommended that I begin a regimen of a type of medicine known as a biologic (or sometimes a “biopharmaceutical”), which is seeped directly from living organisms. I put a lot of trust in science and technology’s ability to make the world a better place, so I was open to seeing what this cutting-edge treatment could do for me.

And I am happy to say that after a month or so, the treatments worked — in fact, they worked far better than I could have possibly imagined. I’ve been almost totally pain-free for the past two years and even taken up running. (I should note that the medication I was on came with some serious potential side effects — most notably, they decrease your body’s immune system, including the ability to fight certain cancers. Just speaking for me, the trade-off was worth it.)

Now, this medication was unlike any other I had taken — I had to inject it. Most second-generation biologics used to fight inflammatory conditions have to be introduced directly into the body through a syringe or via an IV. I had to learn to use a disposable epi-pen like contraption, which I keep stored in my refrigerator. There was a learning curve, but not a sharp one (and it certainly helped that I am not at all squeamish when it comes to needles).

So, what is this magic goop I inject into my body? It comes from natural sources, but at the same time — there’s really anything natural about it.

Scientists have been deriving medicines from living organisms since forever — just about every vaccine you’ve taken can be considered a biologic. However, the scope of these medicines have boomed in recent years with the advent of genetic-manipulation techniques.

While the exact definition of “biologic” varies from regulatory body to regulatory body, the term is often used today to refer to newer classes of drugs resulting from techniques that tweak cells at their fundamental genetic level to turn them into living factories.

According to the FDA’sown description, “In contrast to most drugs that are chemically synthesized and their structure is known, most biologics are complex mixtures that are not easily identified or characterized.” Many of these second-generation biologics (ones that have popped up in the past 15 years or so, as opposed the first-gen ones like vaccines) are not recreatable — by humans. We just don’t know how. However, scientists can use modern genetic-manipulation techniques to cajole living cell cultures to do it for them. Therein lies a wrinkle to the biologic story — they can be insanely expensive.

The manufacturing of these medicines is a complex undertaking — particularly on an industrial scale. Not only is there gene manipulation, but the cellular cultures are particularly susceptible to contamination and must be maintained under very aseptic and strictly temperature-controlled environments — all of which must take place under the supervision of a highly trained workforce. When you consider that the patient pools are relatively small, prices inevitably rise.

I can only speak for myself and say that these drugs have been a godsend and truly improved my quality of life. But I’m also fascinated (and even humbled) to consider how this treatment would not be possible without decades of scientific inquiry that took place before it.

The line of scientific history — down through Darwin, Mendeland the team of Watson & Crick — had no idea it would one day help a middle-aged tech blogger not have to limp in pain for months at a time. They all just wanted to know the answers to weird and impractical questions.

This is why I get annoyed when I hear politicians wanting to balance budgetson the backs of scientific research. While there are ways to best use research dollars, their benefit is invaluable — just not always immediately (quantum physics took decades to find a use in the function of smartphones, as it took years for Einstein’s theories to be used insatellite configuration).

There is no way we can predict how the impractical research of today will affect some major breakthrough years down the line. That’s why we should all want our tax dollars to fund inquiry into weird, unnecessary questions like “Do gravitons exist?,” “What does Pluto look like?,” or “Is the whole universe a hologram?” Answering those questions might not necessarily bring us a new breakthrough today — in fact, they probably won’t. But they leave us with the promise that they will someday.

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GMO vs Gene Editing vs Genetic Engineering – Nanalyze

Posted: at 1:52 pm

If you had to come up with a short list for the greatest advancements in technology that have been made in the last decade, youd be hard pressed to place anything in front of the progress weve made in the world of genetics. For most of us, its been decadesyears since we took Biology 101 and wed be hard pressed to remember anything we learned were supposed to have learned.It seems like there is a spectrum where on one side you have people like us that are brain dead when it comes to the most basicgenetic concepts, while on the other hand you have people injecting themselves with viruses to live longer. The goal of this article is to provide some basic insights into genetic technology by proving clarity on the terminology. Well start with the very basics and make sure to conceptualize these concepts using real world analogies.

Your body contains trillions of cells which make up the physical you. Each one of these cells has a blueprint that is completely unique to you, called your DNA. Your DNA is just along ladder-shaped molecule that looks like this:

Source: Wikipedia

So that strand contains the entire set of instructions needed to recreate you. Some day well be able to take someones DNA and plug it into a software program that creates a digital you and we can see what drugs you will best respond to and why. If you took all the information stored within your DNA and put it into phone books, this is how many phone books you would need:

So far thats pretty straight forward right? Basically your DNA is this big set of instructions which explains how you turned out.Every single physical attribute you have is contained within that set of instructions. There is even speculation that your DNA can help explain your intelligence, but then everyone gets upset and says we shouldnt go down that path, mainly because they dont want to find out that maybe they got the short end of the stick in the genetic lottery. Its much easier to post articles on Medium talking about how offended you are about everything than it is to pick up a science book and start learning.

In order to read all that information on your DNA, we use machines (usually from Illumina) that dogene sequencing. (A gene is a distinct stretch of DNA that determines something about who you are). Gene sequencing is where we can go through and laboriously read every single character in your DNA and then store it in a big file. Not all genetic sequencing is the same. You can sequence some or all of a DNA strand and still extrapolate useful information from it. Now weve actually reached a price point where we can sequenceyour entire genome (a genome is your complete set of genes) for just $1,000:

Now, if wetake a strand of DNA and cut it into a bunch of segments, each segment is called a gene. When we talk about how you have your fathers eyes, that means the short segment of DNA that dictates eye color was passed on from your father. When we say people have good genes, it means that all those segments gave them the best attributes (or what each society sees as the best attributes). On a side note, there is actually a tribe called the Nacirema that believes obesity is the norm and idolizes it as a thing to be proud of, so thin isnt in for everyone.

Now that we know that a gene dictates certain attributes about you, what if we couldchange genes in order to start changing your attributes? This is now possible using a technology called gene editing.This is where we are able to precisely snip sections of DNA from the strand and then replace them with our own snippets (startups like Twist Bioscience are creating millions of these snippets). You may have read about something called CRISPR which is one popular method used for gene editing.

While its still early days, all kinds of companies are trying to land grab as much intellectual property as possible relating to gene editing. If were able to start changing genes, were essentially able to start creating synthetic life forms. This is what we refer to as synthetic biology. Check this out:

Those are the first genetically modified pets, glow in the dark fish. Yes people, fish that glow in the fcuking dark. More of a cat person you say? Well glow in the dark cats arent too far behind:

Glowing Cats that Fight AIDS

Scientists over at the Mayo Clinic created glowing cats 6 years ago for AIDS research though the Koreans had already mastered this feat over 10 years ago.

Now you may think to yourself that the concept of genetically modifying things ishardly new. Havent people been complaining about genetically modified organisms (GMO) for decades now? They certainly have, and heres a nice infographic that shows how more than 50% of people do not want to buy GMO food:

What most people dont know though, is because 94% of soybeans are GMO, and soy is contained in many processed foods, youre all eating GMO whether you like it or not. The fact that GMO has been subjected to such strong public backlash has raised obvious concerns from companies and investors looking to turn the world upside down with gene editing. A recent article by the New York Times reflected on this fact:

The current regulations were written for the earlier generation of genetically modified organisms, where scientists used bacteria and viruses typically from plant pests to drop a payload of new genes into the nuclei of the plant cells where they merge with the plants DNA. That worked, but scientists could not control where the new genes would be inserted, and that led to worries of potentially dangerous genetic disruptions or crossbreeding with non-G.M.O. crops.

GMO didnt just use the method mentioned above, but other methods as well like literally injecting the DNA directly into a cells nucleus. Note that all these methods fall under the envelope of genetic engineering. Consequently, gene editing is just another form of genetic engineering.

So lets review people.

From an investors perspective, understanding the background is very important. You dont want to spend 100s of million investing in a synthetic biology startup only to find that someone wrote a viral article on Medium about how horrible your GMO technology is and before you know it, youre all over the news, your investors are bailing, and your CEO resigns. While these risks exist, the U.S. needs to be very careful. Lots of other countries dont have people protesting every other day. They just get on with their business and now theyre even doing gene editing at the germline. When the day comes where theyve fully mastered how to control intelligence through genetic engineering, humankind isgoing to be in for one wild ride.

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Finally, a Biofuel to Get Excited About – The American Interest

Posted: June 23, 2017 at 5:50 am

Most biofuels news is badour current national program incentivizes the production and consumption of corn-based ethanol that somehow manages to increase food prices, increase gas prices, hurt American refineries, and hurt the environment. Its a boondoggle, plain and simple.

But not all biofuels are terrible. You can distill ethanol from cellulosic crops, an option thats both green and beneficial to farmers. Scientists have also been working hard to figure out how to use algae to create oil, and as theFTreports, a team from ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics just made an algal breakthrough:

Scientists at Synthetic Genomics, the biotech company founded by genomics pioneer Craig Venter, used advanced genetic engineering to double the oil content of their algal strain from 20 to 40 per cent, without inhibiting its growth. The findings are published in Nature Biotechnology on Monday. []

Previous attempts to boost the oil concentration in algae an important step in biofuel production failed because the cells stopped growing when they were overloaded with lipid. The new genetic process maintains growth until 40 per cent of the biomass consists of lipid, an industrially useful level.

Did you catch that last part? Anindustrially useful level. Thats a huge step forward for what to this point has been a fringe technology under the biofuels umbrella. Its significant, too, that this technological breakthrough is coming to us courtesy of genetic engineering. Once again were seeing the enormous potential of GM technology made manifest.

This is also more egg on the face of the peak oil crowd, who just a decade ago were chiding the world for its dependence on the energy source and confidently telling us that the sky was ready to fall. It hasnt. And technologies like hydraulic fracturing, horizontal well drilling, and maybe even algal biofuels look capable of thriving for decades to come.

In the near future, though, the sooner we see corn-based ethanol discarded as the awful fuel choice that it is, the better. Perhaps algae can help it on its way.

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How Genetic Engineering Fixed My Stupid Back – PCMag

Posted: at 5:50 am

Decades worth of the genetic research helped create the treatments that finally cured my back.

Around the age of 15, I began experiencing periodic bolts of searing pain shooting down the outer sides of my legs and up through my shoulder blades. The pain would occasionally grow so debilitating that I was forced to walk with a cane and could barely manage a flight of stairs. For sleepless months at a time, I would limp and grimace through my day. The worst part was that doctor after doctor was not able to diagnose the problem, and I resigned myself to a life of making the best of it.

Once I hit my mid-30s, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided I had to do something about it. I tasked myself to keep seeing doctors until somebody could tell me what the problem was. After plowing through a series of specialists, I eventually found my way to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with an inflammatory condition, which isn’t exactly fully understood by science, called Ankylosing spondylitis (spells just like it sounds).

Now, this condition can be treated somewhat with a special diet (please don’t send me any info on the subjectI know), but the food restrictions are pretty harsh and results in my case weren’t always consistent. But as it turns out, modern science has another fix.

My rheumatologist recommended that I begin a regimen of a type of medicine known as a biologic (or sometimes a “biopharmaceutical”), which is seeped directly from living organisms. I put a lot of trust in science and technology’s ability to make the world a better place, so I was open to seeing what this cutting-edge treatment could do for me.

And I am happy to say that after a month or so, the treatments workedin fact, they worked far better than I could have possibly imagined. I’ve been almost totally pain-free for the past two years and even taken up running. (I should note that the medication I was on came with some serious potential side effectsmost notably, they decrease your body’s immune system, including the ability to fight certain cancers. Just speaking for me, the trade-off was worth it.)

Now, this medication was unlike any other I had takenI had to inject it. Most second-generation biologics used to fight inflammatory conditions have to be introduced directly into the body through a syringe or via an IV. I had to learn to use a disposable epi-pen like contraption, which I keep stored in my refrigerator. There was a learning curve, but not a sharp one (and it certainly helped that I am not at all squeamish when it comes to needles).

So, what is this magic goop I inject into my body? It comes from natural sources, but at the same timethere’s really anything natural about it.

Scientists have been deriving medicines from living organisms since foreverjust about every vaccine you’ve taken can be considered a biologic. However, the scope of these medicines have boomed in recent years with the advent of genetic-manipulation techniques.

While the exact definition of “biologic” varies from regulatory body to regulatory body, the term is often used today to refer to newer classes of drugs resulting from techniques that tweak cells at their fundamental genetic level to turn them into living factories.

According to the FDA’s own description, “In contrast to most drugs that are chemically synthesized and their structure is known, most biologics are complex mixtures that are not easily identified or characterized.” Many of these second-generation biologics (ones that have popped up in the past 15 years or so, as opposed the first-gen ones like vaccines) are not recreatableby humans. We just don’t know how. However, scientists can use modern genetic-manipulation techniques to cajole living cell cultures to do it for them. Therein lies a wrinkle to the biologic storythey can be insanely expensive.

The manufacturing of these medicines is a complex undertakingparticularly on an industrial scale. Not only is there gene manipulation, but the cellular cultures are particularly susceptible to contamination and must be maintained under very aseptic and strictly temperature-controlled environmentsall of which must take place under the supervision of a highly trained workforce. When you consider that the patient pools are relatively small, prices inevitably rise.

I can only speak for myself and say that these drugs have been a godsend and truly improved my quality of life. But I’m also fascinated (and even humbled) to consider how this treatment would not be possible without decades of scientific inquiry that took place before it.

The line of scientific historydown through Darwin, Mendel, and the team of Watson & Crickhad no idea it would one day help a middle-aged tech blogger not have to limp in pain for months at a time. They all just wanted to know the answers to weird and impractical questions.

This is why I get annoyed when I hear politicians wanting to balance budgets on the backs of scientific research. While there are ways to best use research dollars, their benefit is invaluablejust not always immediately (quantum physics took decades to find a use in the function of smartphones, as it took years for Einstein’s theories to be used in satellite configuration).

There is no way we can predict how the impractical research of today will affect some major breakthrough years down the line. That’s why we should all want our tax dollars to fund inquiry into weird, unnecessary questions like “do gravitons exist?,” “what does Pluto look like?,” or “is the whole universe a hologram?” Answering those questions might not necessarily bring us a new breakthrough todayin fact, they probably won’t. But they leave us with the promise that they will someday.

Evan Dashevsky is a features editor with PCMag and host of our live interview series The Convo. He can usually be found listening to blisteringly loud noises on his headphones while exploring the nexus between tech, culture, and politics. Follow his thought sneezes over on the Twitter (@haldash) and slightly more in-depth diatribin’ over on the Facebook. More

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genetic engineering | Definition, Process, & Uses …

Posted: June 22, 2017 at 4:48 am

Genetic engineering, the artificial manipulation, modification, and recombination of DNA or other nucleic acid molecules in order to modify an organism or population of organisms.

The term genetic engineering initially referred to various techniques used for the modification or manipulation of organisms through the processes of heredity and reproduction. As such, the term embraced both artificial selection and all the interventions of biomedical techniques, among them artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (e.g., test-tube babies), cloning, and gene manipulation. In the latter part of the 20th century, however, the term came to refer more specifically to methods of recombinant DNA technology (or gene cloning), in which DNA molecules from two or more sources are combined either within cells or in vitro and are then inserted into host organisms in which they are able to propagate.

The possibility for recombinant DNA technology emerged with the discovery of restriction enzymes in 1968 by Swiss microbiologist Werner Arber. The following year American microbiologist Hamilton O. Smith purified so-called type II restriction enzymes, which were found to be essential to genetic engineering for their ability to cleave a specific site within the DNA (as opposed to type I restriction enzymes, which cleave DNA at random sites). Drawing on Smiths work, American molecular biologist Daniel Nathans helped advance the technique of DNA recombination in 197071 and demonstrated that type II enzymes could be useful in genetic studies. Genetic engineering based on recombination was pioneered in 1973 by American biochemists Stanley N. Cohen and Herbert W. Boyer, who were among the first to cut DNA into fragments, rejoin different fragments, and insert the new genes into E. coli bacteria, which then reproduced.

Most recombinant DNA technology involves the insertion of foreign genes into the plasmids of common laboratory strains of bacteria. Plasmids are small rings of DNA; they are not part of the bacteriums chromosome (the main repository of the organisms genetic information). Nonetheless, they are capable of directing protein synthesis, and, like chromosomal DNA, they are reproduced and passed on to the bacteriums progeny. Thus, by incorporating foreign DNA (for example, a mammalian gene) into a bacterium, researchers can obtain an almost limitless number of copies of the inserted gene. Furthermore, if the inserted gene is operative (i.e., if it directs protein synthesis), the modified bacterium will produce the protein specified by the foreign DNA.

A subsequent generation of genetic engineering techniques that emerged in the early 21st century centred on gene editing. Gene editing, based on a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9, allows researchers to customize a living organisms genetic sequence by making very specific changes to its DNA. Gene editing has a wide array of applications, being used for the genetic modification of crop plants and livestock and of laboratory model organisms (e.g., mice). The correction of genetic errors associated with disease in animals suggests that gene editing has potential applications in gene therapy for humans.

Genetic engineering has advanced the understanding of many theoretical and practical aspects of gene function and organization. Through recombinant DNA techniques, bacteria have been created that are capable of synthesizing human insulin, human growth hormone, alpha interferon, a hepatitis B vaccine, and other medically useful substances. Plants may be genetically adjusted to enable them to fix nitrogen, and genetic diseases can possibly be corrected by replacing dysfunctional genes with normally functioning genes. Nevertheless, special concern has been focused on such achievements for fear that they might result in the introduction of unfavourable and possibly dangerous traits into microorganisms that were previously free of theme.g., resistance to antibiotics, production of toxins, or a tendency to cause disease. Likewise, the application of gene editing in humans has raised ethical concerns, particularly regarding its potential use to alter traits such as intelligence and beauty.

In 1980 the new microorganisms created by recombinant DNA research were deemed patentable, and in 1986 the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the sale of the first living genetically altered organisma virus, used as a pseudorabies vaccine, from which a single gene had been cut. Since then several hundred patents have been awarded for genetically altered bacteria and plants. Patents on genetically engineered and genetically modified organisms, particularly crops and other foods, however, were a contentious issue, and they remained so into the first part of the 21st century.

ethics: Bioethics

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origins of agriculture: Genetic engineering

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history of science: The 20th-century revolution

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in genetics

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in DNA sequencing

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in recombinant DNA technology

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in George Ledyard Stebbins, Jr.

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in Sir Ian Wilmut

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in genetically modified organism (GMO)

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Protesters, police clash at conference – Sacramento Bee

Posted: at 4:48 am


Sacramento Bee
Protesters, police clash at conference
Sacramento Bee
Protesters contend the meeting is not about ending hunger, but rather is a stage for the United States to push its agenda on other countries, an agenda that promotes big-business interests and technology, specifically the genetic engineering of crops

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Your coffee could get worse and more expensive thanks to climate change – SFGate

Posted: at 4:48 am

Photo: Kitjanat Burinram / EyeEm / Getty Images

Kitjanat Burinram / EyeEm / Getty Images

Kitjanat Burinram / EyeEm / Getty Images

10. Fresh Brew Coffee882 Bush St.

10. Fresh Brew Coffee882 Bush St.

6 Monterey Blvd.

6 Monterey Blvd.

2701 Leavenworth St.

2701 Leavenworth St.

442 Hyde St.

442 Hyde St.

1035 Fillmore St.

1035 Fillmore St.

3139 Mission St.

3139 Mission St.

1401 Sixth Ave.

1401 Sixth Ave.

3414 22nd St.

3414 22nd St.

2155 Bayshore Blvd.

2155 Bayshore Blvd.

Your coffee could get worse and more expensive thanks to climate change

Coffee drinkers may be in for a bleak future, thanks to climate change.

A new study published in the academic journal Nature Plants by researchers from the University of Nottingham,Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and other institutions has found that the cost of coffee is likely about to go up, and the quality is about to nosedive.

In short, the issue is that the Earth is getting too hot. As researchers found, more than half of the land wherein coffee crops grow in Ethiopia will be no longer agriculturally viable due to a longer dry season, unpredictable rainfall, and higher-than-usual temperatures.

“Historical climate data shows that the mean annual temperature of Ethiopia has increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius (roughly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) between 1960 and 2006,” the study reads.

What’s worse, as Popular Science reports, this is already a similar issue in other coffee-growing areas of the world, including Colombia, Indonesia, and Brazil.

There’s no easy solution to a complex problem, and though the study points out “cost-effective agronomy” options, it appears that coffee drinkers will likely need to shell out more for their beloved beverage in the future.

One such option put forth by the study is to move crops up higher in altitude, to lower temperatures. That’s a possibility, but it’s an expensive endeavor, and it will almost certainly change the taste of the coffee derived from the terroir of the soil we’re used to. Another option, as Pop Sci points out, is to consider genetic engineering.

No matter what, it seems the cost will rise for consumers that is, if nothing changes.

Alyssa Pereira is an SFGATE staff writer. Email her at apereira@sfchronicle.com or find her on Twitter at @alyspereira.

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‘Food Evolution’ movie could mark turning point in public GMO discussion – Genetic Literacy Project

Posted: June 21, 2017 at 3:50 am

Last year a Pew Research poll gauged public sentiment toward genetic engineering of food crops (familiarly, GMO). The results showed that while the public is consumed with fear and suspicion, scientists view the technology as safe and effective.

This divide may be due to the deep presence of non-scientific websites, books and films that abandon science to perpetuate a popular and profitable myth. Fear is their main vehicle. For anti-corporate reasons or simply to promote high-priced, lifestyle-based food products, there are many that create hyperbole and disparaging imagery around the science of genetic engineering. Many opposed to the technology are only experts at producing media targeted to tarnish the favorable applications of these helpful technologies.

Non-scientific media dominates the media. From alarmist pseudo-documentaries like Food Inc. and GMO OMG, to the scientifically painful inept fiction Consumed, media in this space are designed to shock and scare, knowingly at the expense of scientifically precise information. There have been few artistically-driven Hollywood efforts to speak up for the science, telling the evidence-based story to the majority of consumers that simply want to enjoy safe and affordable food produced sustainably.

[Editors Note: Stacy Malkan, co-director of USRight to Know, offers an opposing take on the movie here.]

But this trend is changing with a new series of scientific documentaries. The first film is Food Evolution, directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy. The documentary examines the issues by taking a close-and-personal look at several global agricultural situations, the personalities involved, the successes, and most painfully, the damaging consequences of our failure to deploy useful technology that can help those in need. Food Evolution conveys a scientific story with imagery, humanity and compassion that scientists never could alone. The film is narrated by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, adding his gravitas to this important topic.

The film centers on political and field situations in Hawaii, Uganda, and other locations throughout the world. The central players are the scientists that understand and share the benefits of these technologies. Scientists like Drs. Alison Van Eenennaam, Dennis Gonsalves, Pamela Ronald and Leena Tripathi, along with former anti-biotech activist and author Mark Lynas, carry the film as a vehicle that takes them through their discussions of the science and their interactions with the public and farmers.

But the film also provides enough rope to the charlatans that pollute a scientific discourse with manufactured fear. Prominent among them is Jeffery Smith, an author and film producer opposed to biotechnology. The film shows how he manipulates language, makes claims, and tweaks the emotions of concerned people to sell his science-challenged message. It exposes the for-profit misgivings of the Food Babe Vani Hari, and the ideologically-charged anti-corporatism of other leaders in an anti-GMO movement that seeks to end the use of biotechnology- even if it hurts those in need. These are the most important aspects of the film because they expose how a cadre of non-experts is willing to bastardize science, and sacrifice progress and people for ideology and profit.

But the real stars of the show are a papaya, a banana, and the people that need them. Their story is shown with stunning imagery and emotion-evoking vignettes that encapsulate the frustrations we feel as scientists with solutions stalled by activist fear-mongering.

Ive seen the film several times, and each time Ive lost tears. As a scientist, it is painful to relive how safe and effective solutions that can change the lives of people and help our planetbut their use is restricted because of well-financed and coordinated misinformation and fear campaigns.

The beauty of Food Evolution is that it will benchmark a time when public sentiment was changing to support a pro-science message. For twenty years we have been told of horrors that never materialized. We have watched products intended to serve humanity languish in public laboratories because of affluent-nation fears. We have witnessed approval of scientifically-baseless legislation restrict choices for farmers. Weve observed the internets profiteers tour the planet and reap personal wealth while lying to the public about science.

But even before the film has been presented in wide release, news of this film has prompted a typical and expected response from anti-biotech activists. They are shouting the tired claims that this is a Monsanto-financed propaganda flick and that nobody should trust it.

Watch for yourself and determine who is lying to you. Is it the politicians, celebrities and scaremongers, or the public, government and company scientists that have dedicated their lives to developing technology to solve problems for people and planet? This film answers that question in remarkable clarity.

Finally, high congratulations to Scott Hamilton Kennedy and his team. While the scientific community has extolled its virtues, it is unclear how the film community will embrace Food Evolution. However, ultimately the filmmakers can revel in the satisfaction that they told the truth at a time when those that stand up are punished for telling the truth. It is a brave, first-class effort that will age impeccably well, and perhaps punctuate the transition to a gentler time where science and reason rule over misinformation and fear.

Food Evolution opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 23rd.

A version of this article appeared at Huffington Post as MOVIE REVIEW: Food Evolution and has been republished here with permission from the authors and the original publisher.

Kevin Folta is professor and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Dr. Folta researches the functional genomics of small fruit crops, the plant transformation, the genetic basis of flavors, andstudies at photomorphogenesis and flowering. He has also written many publications and edited books, most recently the 2011 Genetics, Genomics, and Breeding of Berries. Follow him on Twitter@kevinfolta

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Liquid Biopsy Guides New Prostate Cancer Drug Trial – Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Posted: June 19, 2017 at 6:48 pm

Its been no secret that screening methods to detect prostate cancer have been woefully lacking and largely inconsistent with respect to the results they provide. Yet, with the rise in validated biomarkers and advanced diagnostics coupled with next-generation sequencing methods, new liquid biopsy assays are guiding physician treatment options. Now, a group of investigators at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust have developed a three-in-one blood test that could transform the treatment of advanced prostate cancer through the use of precision drugs designed to target mutations in the BRCA genes.

“Blood tests for cancer promise to be truly revolutionary, noted Paul Workman, Ph.D., chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London. They are cheap and simple to use, but most importantly, because they aren’t invasive, they can be employed or applied to routinely monitor patients to spot early if treatment is failingoffering patients the best chance of surviving their disease.

The research team was able to isolate cancer DNA in a patients bloodstream and determine which men with advanced prostate cancer were likely to benefit from treatment with a new class of drugs called poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitorsspecifically the drug olaparib. Moreover, the scientists were able to use the test to analyze DNA in the blood after treatment had started, so people who were not responding could be identified and switched to an alternative therapy in as little as four to eight weeks. The third aspect of the new test came when the research team was able to monitor a patient’s blood throughout treatment, quickly picking up signs that the cancer was evolving genetically and might be becoming resistant to the drugs.

Findings from the new study were published recently in Cancer Discovery in an article entitled Circulating Free DNA to Guide Prostate Cancer Treatment with PARP Inhibition.

“Our study identifies, for the first time, genetic changes that allow prostate cancer cells to become resistant to the precision medicine olaparib, explained senior study investigator Johann de Bono, M.D., professor of cancer research at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. “From these findings, we were able to develop a powerful, three-in-one test that could in future be used to help doctors select treatment, check whether it is working, and monitor the cancer in the longer term. We think it could be used to make clinical decisions about whether a PARP inhibitor is working within as little as four to eight weeks of starting therapy.

The investigators are optimistic that the new test could help to extend or save lives by targeting treatment more effectively, while also reducing the side effects of treatment and ensuring patients don’t receive drugs that are unlikely to do them any good. Additionally, the new study is also the first to identify which genetic mutations prostate cancers use to resist treatment with olaparib. The test could potentially be adapted to monitor treatment with PARP inhibitors for other cancers.

“Not only could the test have a major impact on the treatment of prostate cancer, but it could also be adapted to open up the possibility of precision medicine to patients with other types of cancer as well,” Dr. de Bono remarked.

In the study, researchers at the ICR and The Royal Marsden collected blood samples from 49 men at The Royal Marsden with advanced prostate cancer enrolled in the TOPARP-A Phase II clinical trial of olaparib. Olaparib is good at killing cancer cells that have errors in genes that have a role in repairing damaged DNA such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. Some patients respond to the drug for years, but in other patients, the treatment either fails early, or the cancer evolves resistance. Evaluating the levels of cancer DNA circulating in the blood, the researchers found that patients who responded to the drug had a median drop in the levels of circulating DNA of 49.6% after only eight weeks of treatment, whereas cancer DNA levels rose by a median of 2.1% in patients who did not respond.

Men whose blood levels of DNA had decreased at eight weeks after treatment survived an average of 17 months, compared with only 10.1 months for men whose cancer DNA levels remained high.

“This is another important example where liquid biopsiesa simple blood test as opposed to an invasive tissue biopsycan be used to direct and improve the treatment of patients with cancer,” commented David Cunningham, Ph.D., director of clinical research at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

The researchers also performed a detailed examination of the genetic changes that occurred in cancer DNA from patients who had stopped responding to olaparib. They found that cancer cells had acquired new genetic changes that canceled out the original errors in DNA repairparticularly in the genes BRCA2 and PALB2that had made the cancer susceptible to olaparib in the first place.

“To greatly improve the survival chances of the 47,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, it’s clear that we need to move away from the current one-size-fits-all approach to much more targeted treatment methods, concluded Matthew Hobbs, Ph.D., deputy director of research at Prostate Cancer UK. The results from this study and others like it are crucial as they give an important understanding of the factors that drive certain prostate cancers, or make them vulnerable to specific treatments.

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Liquid Biopsy Guides New Prostate Cancer Drug Trial – Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

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