Tag: genetically engineered crops

Food for Thought: BASF Plant Sciences Moving to the US

NGOs such as Greenpeace and BUND as well as Green politicians such as Rhineland-Palatinate State Minister Ulrike Hoefken, responsible for the environment, agriculture, food, viniculture and forests, hailed the recent decision by German chemical company BASF to move its plant science activities from Limburgerhof, Rhineland-Palatinate/Germany, to Raleigh, North Carolina.

BASF said the decision was made because of “lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe”, adding it did “not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market.” As a result, development and commercialization of all products targeted solely at cultivation in the European market will be halted.

In response to this decision, Minister Hoefken said that “the research by BASF has not been constrained by any means”, adding the decision was caused by lack of success of genetically engineered products in cultivation and marketing. She also stated, “agrogenetic engineering is not able to comply with statutory provisions. Agrogenetic engineering is no worthwhile future technology.”

Hoefken, however, did not say that politicians have bestowed great care in the past to make regulatory provisions as impractical as possible for companies developing genetically engineered plants.  As examples, companies and farmers planting genetically engineered crops are liable for compensation if conventional crops (or honey) in the vicinity are “contaminated” with genes by the genetically engineered variants. There is no threshold level defined so that based on today’s PCR capabilities it is very easy to find them, and the “contaminated” harvest is treated and destroyed as if polluted with plutonium. In addition, fields tilled with genetically engineered plants have to be disclosed in a public registry – an invitation for self-proclaimed “field liberators” which vandalize the fields in a well-organized manner on a regular basis, flogging security guards and destroying plants and machinery. A list of these destructions compiled by the Federation of German Plant Breeders (BPI) can be found here. Politics has done nothing to stop this practice.

While BASF will slash 140 positions in Europe, it will keep and strengthen its research facilities at metanomics in Berlin/Germany and CropDesign in Ghent/Belgium. “Although the conditions for cultivation of genetically modified crops in Europe are unfavorable, there are world-class research institutes and universities in both Berlin and Ghent,” said Dr. Peter Eckes, President of BASF Plant Science. “We have excellent scientists and facilities there and at our research sites in North America.” BASF therefore will continue its research at these locations. metanomics profiles metabolites, e.g. for gene discovery, mechanism-of-action studies, biomarker discovery and other applications. Metabolite profiling for healthcare customers in industry and academia are offered by BASF Group company metanomics health, also based in Berlin.

Already in 2004, Bayer and Syngenta had stopped their activities to test genetically modified plants in Germany. The only company still pursuing such tests in Germany is KWS Saat AG .

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Die Welt this week reports on plans by BayerCropScience, a division of Bayer AG, to develop new, heat- and drought-resistant wheat varieties. To accomplish this goal, BayerCropScience will refrain from introducing novel genes into the wheat genome for fear of protests in Europe. However, the company is cooperating, among others, with Israel-based Evogene to also develop genetically engineered crops for other markets.

Michael Simm in Focus features the latest accomplishments of synthetic biology in which researchers control artificially introduced networks of genes in cells and tissue. As an example, scientists from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) in Basle, Switzerland, have inserted genes for hormone production into cells. By adding genetic control elements that can be switched on by irradiation with blue light these genes can be controlled from outside. As an example, the researchers in vitro introduced a genetic network for the production of insulin into human tissue which subsequently was micro encapsulated and transplanted to the skin of diabetic mice. After a meal, blue light is applied to switch on insulin production in order to normalize blood sugar levels. The model works well so that the researchers are thinking about clinical trials. Already, the use of light to switch on genes has led to the new scientific discipline of optogenetics which is exploring light-controlled genes and cells to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s or epilepsy. D-BSSE researchers also developed cells carrying a network of genes that is able to normalize uric acid levels in gout patients.

Siegfried Hofmann in Handelsblatt is introducing various therapeutic approaches of biopharmaceutical companies in a series entitled “future lab 2020.” Topics range from personalized medicine to stem cell therapies to novel immune therapies.

David Shaywitz in Forbes provides a thoughtful article explaining why Silicon Valley failed to make a dent in the healthcare space: “most tech-savvy entrepreneurs lack an in-depth appreciation for the complexity of medicine in general, and the nuances of the doctor-patient dynamic they are confidently trying to influence or replace.” He goes on to say that management of high-tech companies needs to understand the science: “When a science-driven business is led by leaders who don’t even know what they don’t know, and who actually believe that the crisp powerpoint slides that bubble up for their review actually and adequately represent the science involved – then you risk making some very ignorant decisions.”

The New Scientist this week features a story on how cancer cells can be poisoned with  2-deoxyglucose. The sugar dislodges a protein protecting a suicide switch which subsequently can be triggered by ABT-263 navitoclax, a molecule under development at Genentech. The magazine also reports on a call for proposals by DARPA, the US military’s research arm, to develop small interfering RNA (siRNA) to fight bacteria. DARPA is seeking ideas for adaptable nanoparticles that can be reprogrammed “on the fly” by loading up specific siRNA to deal with outbreaks among troops.

And finally, the Economist features people pioneering the backyard generation of fuel to power their diesel cars. The recipe starts with collecting used kitchen oil, which after some filtering is broken down into esters and glycerol by adding sodium hydroxide and methanol and heating. Glycerol is drained away and the remainder is washed with water to get rid of impurities. Removing residual water and moisture is done with an aquarium bubbler. The resulting biodiesel, the article states, can be used in diesel cars without any modification. Already, British company Oilybits is selling devices to produce 120 liter batches of biodiesel in a more professional way.