Gene editing in farm animals: don’t bet the farm on this pig in a poke

“It is very worrying not only to read about yet another blunder by the industrial farming sector (Pigs in the pink: gene editing is set to revolutionise the farming industry, 17 March) but also that the article didn’t attempt to counterbalance with a different viewpoint. It is well known that healthy, agroecological, farming systems support healthy animals and plants that are then, by and large, resilient to disease. The solution for a sick animal is not to edit genes, because this does not address the cause of the problem and only makes it worse, as the ill health will only find a different way to express itself. In the meantime we are supporting unhealthy farming systems and their associated diseases, and consuming sick pigs.”

This is a fairly good article addressing a problem in the promise of gene editing.

Thoughts?

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Building a backup bee

The director of bee biology for the Wonderful Company, Gordon Wardell, is working on a magnificent experiment. He is trying, across a vast grove of pistachios, to develop an alternative insect pollinator.

With the decline of honey bee populations (due to many things, including (and likely prominently) because of viruses!), the need for an alternate has become critical. Not just for pistachios, but for almonds, which rely exclusively on honeybees for pollination.

Want to know more about this crazy idea (trust me, this one is a long shot)? Read about it here.

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Algae as people food?

When maintaining the delightful snails, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, in captivity (say in the lab, prior to infecting them with all sorts of trematodes), we feed them a micro algae called spirulina.

You might have heard of it. It has become popular in super food drinks and smoothies. If you see a green smoothy, it likely has this little micro algae. Additionally, many people have touted to me the great health benefits, and the anti-oxidants.

But I resisted. Because spirulina is not people food. It’s snail food.

But now, algae might infiltrate our food supply on a more permanent basis. Read about it here!

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What Eats What: A Landlubber’s Guide to Deep Sea Dining

You’ll never go to dinner in the deep sea. It’s dark, vast and weird down there. If the pressure alone didn’t destroy your land-bound body, some hungry sea creature would probably try to eat you.

Fortunately for you, something else has spent a lot of time down there, helping to prepare this guide to deep sea dining.

For nearly three decades, robots with cameras deployed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have glided through the ocean off the coast of central California at depths as deep as two and half miles below.

Want to know who eats who, before you ask them to dinner? Read about it here!

2017 year-ender: What I’ve learned from reading health news every morning

Each morning, Jill U. Adams (health journalist and an associate editor at HealthNewsReview.org) scans 26 news sites for stories that report on some claim of a health benefit by a specific intervention.

From this practice (for work it must be noted) she’s come up with a list of things that are becoming clear in health reporting this year (read the full article here):

 

Coffee. It’s neither terribly good nor terribly bad for you.

CelebritiesA study about the most attractive female lips offered up a chance for news outlets to post photos of Angelina Jolie. We’ve seen the same thing with many other celeb-focused health stories. New treatment for morning sickness? Kim Kardashian.  Wacky health claims? Gwenyth Paltrow. A “struggle” with chronic dry eyes? Marisa Tomei. It’s clickbait.

Headlines. Beware the hyped-up headline. Nothing makes me skeptical faster than a headline telling me how to live longer. And it’s hard not do a second roll of eyes when I scan ahead to see the article describing findings from an association study. I also watch for any of publisher Gary Schwitzer’s seven words you shouldn’t use.

Headlines, head-spinning version. Talk about different framings to a story! In April we blogged about seemingly opposite headlines on stories covering the same study. One news outlet’s story on colonoscopy warned readers that delaying the procedure was risky; another proclaimed waiting was okay.

Healthy foods. Please no. You can have healthy diets — such as a healthy pattern of eating that is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. But there is no one food that will prevent cancer or make you sleep better or make you heart healthy despite what headlines may tell you. Why? Because there is no evidence for such things. Most of the studies on individual foods are association studies that rely on participants’ self-report of what they eat. They are not clinical trials that randomly put participants into an “eat blueberries” group and an “avoid blueberries” group and test the intervention for long enough in enough people to show causation.

Ill-defined interventions. Exercise is a prime example. Everyone knows by now that “exercise” is good for you. A health news story looking at exercise as an intervention should be specific  — how often, how long, and how intensely the physical fitness was measured. In December, we called out the lack of specificity in this HealthDay story review.

Proxy outcomes. Another HealthDay story, Can Coffee Perk Up Heart Health, Too?, reports on a study that measured the activation of particular gene clusters involved in inflammation. It’s quite a jump from these molecules to inflammation in general to inflammation that leads to pathology, much less to actual health outcomes. A New York Times story from the same month, Running may be good for your knees, reported on a study that found different inflammatory mediators in the knee’s synovial fluid after running or sitting for 30 minutes–which is a proxy, or a surrogate marker, for knee health.

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Save the Bananas!

Interesting facts: All commercial bananas in the US/Europe/Canada (really all imported bananas) are all decended from one banana grown on the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (Chatsworth House).

They are all clonal, which makes them particularly susceptible to a coevolving disease.

Such as Panama Disease, which is now killing off bananas in the thousands.

What’s more, this has happened before… and may result in there being no bananas left on our grocery shelves.

Read more about it over at the BBC.

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What do mummy seals tell us about climate change?

Antarctica has one of the worlds driest deserts, which it turns out is perfect for preserving seals. For thousands of years. For next summer this means a new mummy movie, Seal Mummies!

But seriously, Paleontologists Paul Koch and Emily Brault from UCSC are using these mummies for something besides next summer’s blockbuster. They are looking at the long term ecological impacts of the changing climate in Antartica. What’s more, there are a TON of seal mummies just lying around. Over 500 in fact, some of them hundreds or thousands of years old. What this can tell us about the changing ecosystem is invaluable. Read about it over at Forbes.

A seal mummy on the Taylor Glacier (Picture via brookpeterson on flickr.com CC BY-ND 2.0)

A living crabeater seal in Antarctica (Image via Liam Quinn on Wikimedia Commons CC-BY 2.0)