GMOs


Gene and Tonic, July 7, 2016: Vermont's New Law and the Nobel Laureates

On July 1st, Vermont’s GMO labeling law went into effect. All food sold in the state that has been genetically modified has to say so on the label.

While some geneticists are throwing their hands up in the air in total exasperation, others are consulting big food.

“It’s all been genetically modified at some point. So put GM on every piece of food,” reads one consultant’s email. “They’re Vermonters. While you’re changing the labels--which I do understand isn’t cheap--you might as well put, ‘Have a beautiful and pleasant day, Vermont!’”

A Tool to Strengthen the Voice of Science in Online Journalism

Emmanuel Vincent is the founder of Climate Feedback, a project which includes a new tool for scientists to comment directly on climate science news. The tool is a plugin which can be downloaded for free and gives a viewer real time access to the feedback of scientists on a particular online article.  Though the project is just for news about climate science, Emmanuel says in today’s interview, that the project could scale for other science journalism as well. 

What would it take to get something like this up an running for biologists who want to keep journalists honest about such topics as GMOs and the latest in genome editing techniques? Would the model be a non-profit such as Wikipedia, or a company like Reddit? 

Join us in probing a new approach to improving not only science, but the delivery of science to a wider audience.

Gene & Tonic: Disruption in Sequencing, Scientist Politicians, Some Cool Synbio

Join Theral for a quick wrap-up of the week's biotech news:

The biggest news this week has been the flow of stories coming from last week’s AGBT conference held in Florida. This is the annual all out party for the all out darling of our industry, the sequencing space. Like a debutante ball, it’s where anybody who’s anybody comes out and does their curtsy to society.

This year’s debut favorite was no doubt 10X Genomics. It turns out they can almost turn water into wine. Well, almost. What they do is turn short reads into long reads, piggybacking on Illumina’s technology. Have you been following our series on the rise of long read sequencing? It turns out that scientists just decided that they want to actually see the whole genome. Hence the use of long reads.

Illumina has reigned king in sequencing for several years, but their platform is based on short reads. We heard from one of our guests on the program this week that Illumina’s dominance is vulnerable. David Smith at the Mayo Clinic says their platform is about maxed out. Instead he looks for some big stuff from BGI.

Huh? BGI? Isn’t that just Illumina’s platform? Well no. He’s talking about Complete Genomics. Remember them? They were at one time a debut darling then got sold to BGI for a song and a dance. (Every debut is followed by a depression, isn’t it?) But we heard this week that Complete’s still got some juice. David Smith says they’ll be coming out with an assembled human genome for $1,000 come June. That’s an assembled genome.

But this is unofficial. BGI/Complete were not saying anything at AGBT. According to all accounts, the biggest presence at the conference was PacBio. They held this workshop with an incredible lineup of scientific superstars. Temporarily the IQ in the state of Florida rose to the national average.

Craig Venter was there. We heard PacBio flew him in on a private jet with a private security detail.

I mean. Wow. Treatment like the President of the United States.

In fact, I’m going to ask why doesn’t Venter just run for president in 2016? Right, why can’t we have a scientist president? Scientists and technologists are basically in control of the planet anyway. Why not get some on Capitol Hill and recognize them for who they already are.

We found out this week that Harold Varmus is stepping down from the NCI. Why doesn’t he run for a higher office? Why do scientists give up at that level?

Did you see the Science Magazine article this week about the one lone physicist in congress. Bill Foster of Illinois. The news was that he is joining the science committee in the House of Representatives. Wait--there is a scientist committee in congress? So who else is on it then? The lone physicist congressman was quoted in the article:

“There are good conversations to be had on both sides of the aisle. But it’s important that those be fact-based.”

D’ya think?

We asked George Church of Harvard why he doesn’t run for the senate. He looks very senatorial, right? He wrote back and said that if he wanted to hang out with a bunch of Neanderthals, he prefer they be of his own make.

No, he didn’t really say that. We made that up.

But speaking of synthetic biology projects, one of our guests this week is making color changing flowers. You can see it on video. These flowers literally change to another color while you’re watching them. Isn’t it just amazing what mankind can do when we get bored? Next thing you know, we’ll be bringing back smallpox, polio and the measles to the U.S. Because living in the age of vaccines just hasn’t been fun enough.

And that’s Gene & Tonic for Friday March 6th. Stay tuned next week when we’ll continue our conversation on long reads with a researcher from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. We’ll also be talking about arrays in this age of sequencing in an exclusive interview with the CEO of Affymetrix, Frank Witney.

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U.K. Life Science Update with Eliot Forster, MedCity

Guest:

Eliot Forster, Executive Chair, MedCity Bio and Contact Info

Listen (2:54) Cashing in on illustrious life science tradition

Listen (2:56) Culture of collaboration strong in the UK

Listen (5:01) A growing acceptance of GMOs

Listen (4:59) Did you ever think you would see American companies moving to the UK?

Listen (7:49) How goes the shift toward personalized medicine?

From Darwin's seminal work to the discovery of the structure of DNA to the 100K Genomes Project, the U.K. can boast of an illustrious life science tradition. Today, the U.K. government is backing a major push to cash in on that tradition, seeing life science business--from personalized medicine to genetic engineering—as a a major component of their new economy.

MedCity is a non-profit representing the life science community in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. Eliot Forster, Executive Chair of MedCity, joins us to give an update on the U.K.’s bio-economy. With support from the highest offices in government, the life science community there is benefiting from some important trends. Forster says there is a strong culture of collaboration and a regulatory and tax environment that is favoring more innovation.

Forster chuckles at the thought that some American companies are taking advantage of these new trends in England in the form of tax inversions. Thirty years ago, you wouldn't have predicted it, he says.

The commitment to biotech in the U.K. was on full display earlier this year when Prime Minister David Cameron created the new cabinet role of life sciences minister.

“If you’re looking to do work in the life sciences sector--whether a startup or a subsidiary of a major international—come to London, come to Oxford, come to Cambridge,” says Forster. "You’ll be very surprised by what you find, and pleasantly so."

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

New Yorker Takedown of Leading Anti-GMO Activist

Michael Specter has written an excellent comprehensive piece on the GMO debate over at the New Yorker this morning.

The Perfect 46 with Brett Ryan Bonowicz, Filmmaker

Guest:

Brett Ryan Bonowicz, Filmmaker
Bio and Contact Info

Listen (4:00) Where is the "fiction" in your science fiction?

Listen (4:47) Upcoming screenings

Listen (3:51) Learning where to draw the ethical lines

Listen (3:43) What would a biotech company look like with Steve Jobs or Elon Musk as CEO?

Listen (2:42) Would you personally try a service like GenePeeks?

Listen (6:53) Tackling the topic of GMO's next

In today’s interview, we talk with filmmaker, Brett Ryan Bonowicz. He’s the writer, director and producer of The Perfect 46, a new film exploring the future of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Whereas our industry often gets demonized by Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters that are full of special effects and fancy sets, Brett’s film seeks to ask tough ethical questions and show the industry in a more nuanced way.

“I knew I wanted to get into science fiction. And I knew I wanted to get into discussions that didn’t have definitive answers, where I could explore a lot of grey area where each person was right in their own way,” he says in explaining why he chose his topic.

While the film is set just barely into the future, and there is no company existing today like the one in the film, the screenplay unfolds in a very plausible way. A geneticist creates a website called "The Perfect 46" that pairs folks with their genetic match for having children.

To better describe his interest in portraying events that might be right around the corner, Brett calls his work “science-factual,” a term he says he borrowed from some Walt Disney work.

Brett was first attracted to the topic in 2008 when he read about 23andMe in Time Magazine and subsequently used their service. Watching his film and talking with Brett gives us a chance to see the industry from an outsider’s perspective.

The film’s next screening is at Stanford on August 4th, accompanied by a panel discussion with local life scientists.

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Antireductionism and Biology: An Interview with John Dupre, Philosopher of Biology

Guest:

John Dupre, Professor, University of Exeter

Bio and Contact Info

Listen (2:19) Why should scientists think about philosophy?

Listen (8:47) Antireductionism

Listen (6:04) Have molecular biologists suffered from reductionism?

Listen (9:20) Underestimating the problems of biology

Listen (2:01) Are biologists getting the message?

Listen (5:29) Do you think much about the GMO controversy?

When a researcher is doing basic science, what is meant by that? Indeed, what is science? Ernest Rutherford, a British chemist and physicist at the turn of the 20th century remarked, “all science is either physics or stamp collecting." Is this true? Can all science be reduced to physics or does a discipline such as biology need to be studied in its own way? We can ask more specific questions pertaining to life science. What is a genome? And is the tree of life really a tree? And furthermore, are these questions really that interesting?

Here to answer these questions and kick off a new series, "Philosophy of Science," is John Dupre, a philosopher of biology and professor at the University of Exeter in Southern England. John is an antireductionist. In today's interview he argues that molecular biologists have been limited by a system of science inherited from physicists and other scientists that has been overly reductionist. For example, he says that biologists have relied too much on certain models of the cell without remembering that these are abstract models.

"The real nature of the parts is really shaped by the sort of system that it's participating in," he says.

It's true that we've recently seen biologists become more concerned with "systems" and move away from the overly gene-centric view of biology. The power of new tools and cheap computing are now opening up new possibilities to look at the vast network of connections that transpire in biology. However, John questions whether the new systems biologists aren't just more reductionists working at large.

Should scientists be studying philosophy? John answers, " . . . some scientists need to think more about what they're doing than they're often given time to do."

We finish with a question about the public controversy over GMOs.

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

John Cumbers Previews SynBioBeta 2013

Guest:

John Cumbers, PhD, Synthetic Biologist, NASA Ames

Bio and Contact Info

Listen (4:03) Synbio in UK

Listen (1:45) Intrexon IPO and consumer space

Listen (5:30) Crowdfunding and its discontent

Listen (2:39) GMO OMG

Listen (4:52) Trouble in the DIY space?

Listen (3:21) Resveratrol yogurt

Listen (4:06) Highlights of upcoming SynBioBeta conference

Joining us to kick off a new SynBio Series is John Cumbers, founder of SynBioBeta. Cumbers and his team puts on the annual conference for the synthetic biology community in San Francisco each year. The next one is scheduled for Nov 15, 2013. In today's show, John previews the upcoming conference and reviews some of the events of the past year: the Intrexon IPO, the crowdfunded Glowing Plants Project, and other happenings in this exciting space.

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

The Very Angry Evolutionary Biologist

Guest:

Dan Graur, PhD, Professor, University of Houston Bio and Contact Info

Listen (3:09) Study of biology overtaken by hype

Listen (4:55) Scientist vs. technician

Listen (6:34) Public unaware that all they eat are GMOs

Listen (3:58) Do you have a role as a scientist to reach out to the lay audience?

Listen (2:27) What was your reaction to gene patent decision?

Listen (1:43) Thoughts on clinical genomics

Listen (2:04) Twitter and the Very Angry Evolutionary Biologist

We're happy to welcome Dan Graur, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Houston, back to the program. Dan and his colleagues caused a stir in the world of genetics with their publication "On the Immortality of Television Sets," a sarcastic and witty criticism of the ENCODE Project and ensuing claims about the death of "junk DNA."

In today's interview, Graur says that he's always been a critic of bad science. He sees a trend where technicians and tools folks are masquerading as scientists.

"What happened in recent years," he says, "is that we have a huge influx of people who are not versed in the basics of population genetics and molecular evolution, and such. They are all essentially people who know how to write computer programs, who believe that science is not driven by questions, but it's driven by a sort of high tech natural history--the data will tell us what is in there."

Is not biology an information science? Does not the new biologist need to be a bioinformatician as well? Graur says we do not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to basic science. (We'll be pursuing this question in an upcoming series, "The Bioinformatician Bottleneck")

Graur is currently working on a book about GMOs for the lay audience. He also shares his thoughts on gene patents, clinical genomes, and that marvelous "time waster", Twitter.

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Transparency the Best PR Strategy, Says Arcadia Bio CEO, Eric Rey

Guests:

Eric Rey, CEO, Arcadia Biosciences

Bio and Contact Info

Listen (6:46) Nitrogen Use Efficiency

Listen (6:38) Where are you finding commercial success?

Listen (2:14) Tilling - a non transgenic platform

Listen (5:43) Best PR comes from being open and honest

Listen (2:05) Understanding GM backlash

Listen (6:13) Food labeling

Arcadia Biosciences is a company in Davis, California that has been developing GM (genetically modified) plants for farmers for over ten years. Their lead product, NUE or nitrogen use efficiency, has been licensed out to agricultural partners around the world. Arcadia CEO, Eric Rey, joins us to explain where the company has found success in those ten years. He discusses Arcadia's science, their business model, and insists the best strategy for overcoming the challenge of GM backlash is in being "as open and honest as possible."

Some of the strongest resistance to genetically modifying crops comes from Eric's home turf, Berkeley, California, which he's quick to remind us is "not the bastion of conservative thinking." Eric finds it ironic that those who are willing to consider the facts about climate change have a hard time doing the same about the GM products his company is producing. Concluding the interview, Eric takes on the recent political push to require labeling for GM foods.

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."



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