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The advent of CRISPR-Cas9 technology has increased attention, and contention, regarding the use and regulation of genome editing technologies. Public discussions continue to give evidence of this debate falling back into the previous polarized positions of technological enthusiasts versus those who are more cautious in their approach. One response to this contentious relapse could be to view this promising and problematic new technology from a radically different perspective that embraces both the excitement of this technological advance and the prudence necessary to use it well. The thought of Teilhard de Chardin provides this desired perspective, and some insights that may help carry forward public discussions to achieve widely accepted uses and regulations.
In recent years, CRISPR-Cas9 has become one of the simplest and most cost-effective genetic engineering techniques among scientists and researchers aiming to alter genes in organisms. As Zika came to the fore as a global health crisis, many suggested the use of CRISPR-Cas9 gene drives in mosquitoes as a possible means to prevent the transmission of the virus without the need to subject humans to risky experimental treatments. This paper suggests that using gene drives or other forms of genome editing in nonhumans (like mosquitos) for the purposes of disease prevention raises important issues about informed consent. Additionally, it examines the consequences this line of inquiry could have for the use of gene drives as a tool in public health and suggests that the guidance offered by informed consent protocols could help the scientific community deploy gene drives in a way that ensures that ongoing research is consistent with our ethical priorities.
The target site of glyphosate [N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine] inhibition in plants and bacteria is 5-enolpyruvylshikimate 3-phosphate (EPSP) synthase. Our strategy for developing glyphosate-resistant crops has been to genetically engineer plants with a gene that codes for EPSP synthase with low sensitivity in glyphosate. We cloned such a gene from the aroA locus of a glyphosate-resistant mutagenized strain of Salmonella typhimurium. The enzyme encoded by this gene has a single amino acid change resulting in lower affinity for glyphosate and higher affinity for substrates than either plant or wild-type bacterial counterpart. A chimaeric gene containing the mutant aroA gene behind the octopine synthase promoter was constructed and integrated into Agrobacterium T-DNA vectors. Analysis of gall tissue from Brassica campestris L. (turnip rape) infected with A. tumefaciens K12 containing this chimaera showed mRNA and protein expressed from the bacterial gene; 50% of the total EPSP synthase activity present had kinetic properties of the mutant bacterial enzyme. Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L. ‘Xanthi′) plants have been regenerated from cocultivation with A. rhizogenes containing the same construct; analysis indicates expression of the gene and enhanced tolerance to glyphosate.
It has been thirty years since the first genetically engineered animal with altered milk composition was reported. During the intervening years, the world population has increased from 5bn to 7bn people. An increasing demand for protein in the human diet has followed this population expansion, putting huge stress on the food supply chain. Many solutions to the grand challenge of food security for all have been proposed and are currently under investigation and study. Amongst these, genetics still has an important role to play, aiming to continually enable the selection of livestock with enhanced traits. Part of the geneticist's tool box is the technology of genetic engineering. In this Invited Review, we indicate that this technology has come a long way, we focus on the genetic engineering of dairy animals and we argue that the new strategies for precision breeding demand proper evaluation as to how they could contribute to the essential increases in agricultural productivity our society must achieve.
We proffer a contemporary solution to the so-called Fermi Paradox, which is concerned with conflict between Copernicanism and the apparent paucity of evidence for intelligent alien civilizations. In particular, we argue that every community of organisms that reaches its space-faring age will (1) almost immediately use its rocket-building computers to reverse-engineer its genetic chemistry and (2) self-destruct when some individual uses said technology to design an omnicidal pathogen. We discuss some of the possible approaches to prevention with regard to Homo sapiens’ vulnerability to bioterrorism, particularly on a short-term basis.
In contrast to neoliberal rhetoric, the commercialisation of knowledge has proved to be an intricate endeavour that implies unexpected effects. Taking Monsanto’s transgenic canola and its propertisation regime as an example, we will shed some light on the counterintuitive phenomenon that strong intellectual property rights are in heavy contrast to the liberal utopia of full commodification, i.e. universal competition and ideal type market relationships. We will find that Monsanto, in order to avoid Napsterisation, has established and still maintains a rather repressive commercialisation regime that maximises property control by strongly reducing the exchangeability of seed and crops. It can therefore be interpreted as a new form of landlord dominion which contradicts the modernist idea of concordance between market liberalisation and individual emancipation.
The Genetic Virtue Project (GVP) is a proposed interdisciplinary effort between philosophers, psychologists and geneticists to discover and enhance human ethics using biotechnology genetic correlates of virtuous behavior. The empirical plausibility that virtues have biological correlates is based on the claims that (a) virtues are a subset of personality, specifically, personality traits conceived of as “enduring behaviors,” and (b) that there is ample evidence that personality traits have a genetic basis. The moral necessity to use the GVP for moral enhancement is based on the claims that we should eliminate evil (as understood generically, not religiously), as some evil is a function of human nature. The GVP is defended against several ethical and political criticisms.
Research has shown that agricultural professionals are one of the major influences on farmer adoption of agricultural innovations. Genetic engineering and organic farming represent two vastly different innovations in agriculture, and both assert to have important sustainability outcomes. This paper presents the views from a telephone survey of agricultural scientists, extension officers and academics in Australia (n=185) on the barriers to further adoption of organic farming and agricultural genetic engineering, as well as exploring where they obtain their information about the two innovations. Many professionals believe that market issues (in terms of small market size and the extent that consumers are willing to pay premiums) will limit the size of farmer adoption of organics in Australia, while on-farm issues (in terms of production difficulties and pest and disease problems) are named as the second largest barrier to further adoption. On the other hand, professionals from the targeted sample, who were more knowledgeable about organic farming, named information needs and lack of government support as the major barrier facing further diffusion of organic farming. In contrast, public attitudes and negative media portrayal are named as the largest barrier facing further adoption of genetic engineering in Australia. The uncertainty surrounding the research into genetic engineering (and the lack of long-term research) is believed to be the second largest barrier facing further diffusion of genetic engineering while market problems are seen as the third largest barrier.
Vaccinations are the mainstay of western preventive medicine, and they have been used to protect some crops against disease and insect pests. We consider rice as a model for protection using induced resistance since it is one of the most important staple crops and there have been significant new developments in: cross-resistance among rice insects, chemical pathways involved in induced resistance, sequencing the rice genome and expression of genes conferring resistance against rice insect pests. Insect attack has been found to cause lesions that kill planthopper eggs and early stages of gall midges. Damaged plants released volatiles that made them less likely to be chosen by planthoppers and more attractive to parasitoids. Chemical elicitors have been developed for dicotyledonous plants and these can induce resistance in rice, although rice does not fit models developed to explain signalling in dicots. For example, salicylic acid did not increase in rice after infection by pathogens and did not appear to be the mobile signal for induced resistance against pathogens although it was involved in induced responses to phloem-feeding insects. Jasmonic acid acted as a signal in some induced responses to pathogens as well as chewing insects. Many of the genes associated with induced resistance in rice have recently been mapped, and techniques are being developed to incorporate them into the genome of cultivated varieties. Attempts to control insect pests of rice will affect interactions with pathogens, predators and parasites, and other organisms in this agroecosystem.
Plants provide the major part of human food intake. Whilst advances in agronomic characteristics (improved yield and better pest and disease resistance) continue to be a very high priority, there is increasing opportunity to enhance the nutritional value of plant based diets by improving the nutritional quality of staple foods. We now have proof of principle that genetic engineering can be used to produce plant-derived human vaccines. In relation to plant foods for human health, the research challenges include understanding: (1) why certain foods cause adverse reactions in some individuals but not in others; (2) the mechanisms of action of apparently ‘protective’ foods such as fruits and vegetables. There is also a need to develop much more informative and robust methods for measuring dietary exposure to specific plant foods or food constituents, including both recent exposure, for which a metabolomics approach may be particularly helpful, and long-term exposure.
The improvement of quality and quantitative traits in industrial crops is among the most important goals in plant breeding. Many traits of interest are controlled by multiple genes and improvements have so far only been obtained through conventional breeding. The use of biotechnological tools to modify quantitative traits is highly challenging. CropDesign has developed TraitMill™, an automated plant evaluation platform allowing high-throughput testing of the effect of plant-based transgenes on agronomically valuable traits in crop plants. The focus of the platform is currently on rice, a good model for other important cereals such as maize and wheat. TraitMill™ offers a high-throughput prediction of gene function. Genes of validated function that confer trait improvement can then be transferred to other cereal crop species such as maize, but also to dicots, trees and ornamentals. TraitMill™ involves the following key components: (i) selection of candidate trait improvement genes among genes involved in signal transduction, cell cycle control, transcription, nutrient metabolism, etc.; (ii) a suite of validated constitutive or tissue-specific promoters from rice allowing for the selection of the most appropriate promoter–gene combination in view of the desired trait improvement; (iii) an industrialized plant transformation system generating tens of thousands of transgenic plants annually; and (iv) a robotized trait evaluation set-up for plant evaluation, proprietary image analysis software for measuring plant performance parameters and statistical analysis of results.
Oilseed crops are major sources of oils for human nutrition, and an increasing proportion is also being utilized for industrial purposes. Recent advances in our understanding of the basic biochemistry of seed oil biosynthesis, coupled with identification of genes for oilseed modification, have set the stage for the genetic engineering of oilseed crops that produce ‘designer’ plant seed oils tailored for specific applications. In this review we provide an overview of seed oil biosynthesis and highlight the enzymatic steps that have already been targeted for genetic manipulation, with the end goal of producing seed oils containing desired amounts of fatty acid components. Furthermore, we describe the identification of genes from various wild plant species that are capable of producing structurally diverse fatty acids, and how these advances open the door to the production of entirely novel oils in conventional oilseed crops. Transgenic oilseeds producing high amounts of these novel fatty acids represent renewable sources of raw materials that may compete with, and eventually replace, some petrochemicals that are derived from non-renewable crude oil.
Genetically engineered transgenic crop varieties (TGVs) have spread rapidly in the last 10 years, increasingly to traditionally-based agricultural systems (TBAS) of the Third World both as seed and food. Proponents claim they are key to reducing hunger and negative environmental impacts of agriculture. Opponents claim they will have the opposite effect. The risk management process (RMP) is the primary way in which TGVs are regulated in the US (and many other industrial countries), and proponents claim that the findings of that process in the US and its regulatory consequences should be extended to TBAS. However, TBAS differ in important ways from industrial agriculture, so TGVs could have different effects in TBAS, and farmers there may evaluate risks and benefits differently. To evaluate some potential impacts of TGVs in TBAS we used the RMP as a framework for the case of Bt maize in Mesoamerica and Cuba. We interviewed 334 farmers in Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico about farming practices, evaluations of potential harm via hypothetical scenarios, and ranking of maize types. Results suggest high potential for transgene flow via seed, grain and pollen; differences in effects of this exposure in TBAS compared with industrial agriculture; farmers see some potential consequences as harmful. Perceptions of harm differ among farmers in ways determined by their farming systems, and are different from those commonly assumed in industrial systems. An RMP including participation of farmers and characteristics of TBAS critical for their functioning is necessary to ensure that investments in agricultural technologies will improve, not compromise these agricultural systems.
Previous studies have shown that the widely used plant transformation vector Agrobacterium tumefaciens can persist in genetically engineered plants in vitro and in transgenic greenhouse-grown plants, despite the use of counter-selective antibiotics. However, little is known regarding Agrobacterium persistence in tree species. To understand the kinetics of A. tumefaciens decline and persistence in transformation experiments, we assayed for the presence of A. tumefaciens in spruce and pine embryogenic tissue for up to 10 weeks post-transformation. The A. tumefaciens populations declined rapidly in the first five days post-cocultivation but generally declined more slowly in pine, relative to spruce. No bacteria were detected in spruce embryogenic tissue beyond four weeks after cocultivation, however in pine there were ~100 colony forming units per g tissue at 10 weeks post-cocultivation. We present evidence that the detection limit for PCR using virD2 primers to detect A. tumefaciens in a background of pine needle DNA was approximately 109–1010 A. tumefaciens cells per g of tissue. We also assayed for A. tumefaciens in transgenic pine and spruce embryogenic tissue and from needles, branches, stems and roots of transformed plants, up to four years post-inoculation. Occasionally A. tumefaciens was detected in embryogenic tissue up to 12 months post-inoculation. A. tumefaciens was never detected in cultured embryogenic tissue more than twelve months after inoculation, nor in developing somatic embryos or germinating plantlets, nor any of the parts of greenhouse-grown plants. From these data we conclude that if A. tumefaciens persists in transgenic conifers, it does so beneath our ability to detect it.
Selective control of Egyptian broomrape is extremely difficult because the close association between host crop and parasite limits the use of most mechanical and herbicidal approaches. However, this host–parasite interaction can also form the basis of the simplest control strategy: parasite-resistant crops. Although much work has been conducted to identify and characterize mechanisms of parasite resistance, varieties with stable resistance are still unavailable for most affected crops. The development of resistant crops can be accelerated by genetic engineering to the extent that important aspects of the host–parasite interaction are understood. In this study, we characterize a variety of gene promoter elements with respect to parasite induction and expression pattern. Studies were conducted using transgenic plants expressing fusions of the β-glucuronidase reporter gene with promoter elements from several genes. Promoters from genes known to have increased expression in response to pathogen attack or wounding showed localized, induced expression after parasitism. These included phenylalanine ammonia lyase, chalcone synthase, sesquiterpene cyclase, and HMG1 (3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl CoA reductase). In contrast, the systemic acquired resistance–associated gene PR-1a was not induced by parasitism. Non–defense-related genes varied in response, with squalene synthase being repressed, whereas farnesyltransferase was highly expressed in the region of parasite attachment. These results demonstrate a range of expression, both in intensity and tissue specificity, in response to parasitism.
Feed formulation to meet nutritional requirements of livestock is becoming increasingly challenging. Regulations have banned the use of traditional high-quality protein supplements such as meat-and-bone meal, pollution from animal excreta of N and P is an issue and antibiotics are no longer available as insurance against the impact of enteric infection and feed anti-nutritional factors. The improved genetic potential of livestock is increasing daily requirement for energy and protein (essential amino acids). To benefit from the enhanced growth potential of livestock diets with high nutrient density are needed that can be formulated from crops without increased cost. Genetic modification of commodity crops used to manufacture animal feed in order to improve the density and quality of available nutrients is a potential solution to some of these problems. Furthermore, crops may be used as biofactories to produce molecules and products used in animal feed with considerable reductions in manufacturing fixed costs. Nevertheless, there are considerable not insurmountable challenges, such as the creation of sufficient economic value to deliver benefit to all members in the feed production chain, which is an essential element of identity preserving and delivering the technology to livestock producers. Individual output traits in the major commodity crops may not provide sufficient value to adequately compensate all the members of the feed production chain. Successful adoption of output traits may rely on inserting combinations of agronomic input traits with specific quality traits or increasing the value proposition by inserting combinations of output traits.
Controversy over the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops may have induced some farmers to disadopt these seeds, making a traditional diffusion model inappropriate. In this study, we develop and estimate a dynamic diffusion model, examine the diffusion paths of GE corn, soybeans, and cotton, predict the adoption of those crops over the next two years, and explore the main determinants of the diffusion rate. Our estimates indicate that future growth of Bt crops will be slower or negative, depending mainly on the infestation levels of the target pests. Adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans and cotton will continue to increase, unless consumer sentiment in the United States changes radically.
Genetic engineering holds out great promise for the development of improved poultry vaccines. Engineered microbes containing foreign genes from several pathogens provide the basis for multivalent vaccines. The vaccine vector should be non-pathogenic and capable of incorporating and expressing foreigngenes. Subunit proteins expressed by non-avian vectors, such as baculoviruses, can be used to evaluate the nature of their antigenic and protective properties and could find use as subunit or virus-like particle based vaccines. Live recombinant viruses can also be used as vaccines. While RNA viruses such as picornaviruses have been used as vectors, DNA viruses are more easily engineered. Avian poxviruses expressing the Newcastle disease virus (NDV) haemagglutin neuraminidase (HN) and fusion (F) proteins protect against Newcastle disease. Because of their ease of administration through the feed or water, their ability to establish mucosal immunity, and recent advances in genome manipulation, avian adenoviruses are now being developed as recombinant avian vaccines. A recombinant fowl adenovirus expresses a green fluorescent protein reporter gene cloned into a non essential TR-2 region of viral DNA and is also immunogenic. Current efforts are directed at incorporating genes, such as HN from NDV, from avian pathogens into this vector. Genetic engineering can also improve diagnostics. For example, recombinant HN can be used in enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) based NDV diagnostic kits. Baculovirus expressed NDV nucleoprotein (NP) used in a differential ELISA can differentiate between birds immunised with a fowl pox virus expressing NP and NDV infected birds. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) also has an impact on avian health. PCR can be used in diagnostics and, because of its extreme specificity, in epidemiological studies. Rapid and accurate identification and emerging or re-emerging microbial diseases are some challenges that can be more readily addressed by the application of molecular approaches including genetic engineering. Similarly, the development of multivalent and multi-pathogen vaccines through genetic engineering is certainly a realistic objective. Such vaccines would provide multiple protection in a cost effective manner.
The isolation of a Glycine max cytochrome P450 monooxygenase (P450) cDNA designated CYP71A10 that conferred linuron resistance to laboratory-grown, transgenic Nicotiana tabacum seedlings was previously reported. A nonsegregating transgenic N. tabacum line has been established that possesses two independent copies of the G. max CYP71A10 transgene. Five-week-old progeny plants of this selected line were grown in a controlled environmental chamber and treated with linuron using either pretransplant incorporated (PTI) or postemergence (POST) applications. CYP71A10-transformed N. tabacum was more tolerant to linuron than the wild type for both application methods. The transgenic N. tabacum line tolerated an approximately 16-fold and 12-fold higher rate of linuron than wild-type N. tabacum when the herbicide was applied PTI or POST, respectively. These results provide evidence that plant-derived P450 genes can be employed effectively to confer herbicide resistance to transgenic plants.
Author' note: This article is based on remarks made in February 1998 at the annual meeting of the Weed Science Society of America in Chicago. Those remarks were in turn based on an article, to be published in Spanish, titled “Es Antinatural la Manipulación Genética de los Animales?” The Spanish version will appear in the Proceedings of the Segundo Congreso Caribeno de Bioetica, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, March 1998. It addresses the question of the engineering of animals; the focus here is the engineering of plants. Whether one considers flora or fauna, the unnaturalness objection raises the same cluster of concerns. Consequently, an assessment of those concerns need not vary significantly in turning from animals to plants.