Vote on production and labelling of GM foods in California

Safety and issues pertaining to GM food in California

Courtesy: The Sacremanto Bee

Susan Lang doesn’t know for certain if her son’s itchy skin and upset stomach were caused by eating food made from crops whose genes were altered in a lab.

But over the years, she believes she’s been able to soothe the 8-year-old’s eczema and digestive problems by eliminating genetically modified organisms from his diet.

“I know that when I feed this child better he does better, and feeding him better includes not feeding him GMOs,” Lang said.

The Fair Oaks woman concedes, however, that her evidence is not scientific, saying she has “more than a hunch, but I don’t have proof.”

Lang learned about genetic engineering – the process of splicing plant or animal genes to create new characteristics – as she began altering her family’s diet to help her son. In the process, she became concerned that consumers don’t know enough about the technology that goes into producing a huge part of the American food supply. Eventually she became a volunteer for the Proposition 37 campaign.

The measure on Tuesday’s California ballot asks voters if food companies should be required to label genetically engineered food. At the core of the debate is a seemingly simple question: Is it safe to eat?

Proposition 37 supporters offer little scientific evidence that genetically modified food is dangerous to human health. A recent French study that found rats developed tumors after months of eating genetically modified corn was quickly panned by the scientific community.

Supporters instead point out perceived deficiencies in most studies that exist, raise questions about the procedures for approving the food and argue that the biotechnology industry has undue influence on government regulators.

“Experts are still debating if foods modified with DNA from other plants, animals, bacteria and even viruses are safe,” says a radio ad urging a “yes” vote on Proposition 37. “But while the debate goes on, we all have the right to make an informed choice.”

Opponents are making the case that labeling the food implies health dangers that haven’t been proved.

“As a doctor, it concerns me when families are given misleading health information,” Dr. Sherry Franklin of San Diego says in a No on 37 ad.

The ad also points out that the American Medical Association has said there is “no scientific justification” for labeling genetically engineered food.

That is true – but incomplete. The association that represents the nation’s doctors also calls for greater “availability of unbiased information and research activities on bioengineered foods.” And it says there should be a different system for testing genetically engineered food before it hits store shelves. Right now, the testing process is voluntary; the medical association says it should be mandatory.

The voluntary testing system is a concern to Proposition 37 supporters. They say it puts too much control in the hands of companies that stand to profit from their biotech inventions.

Altered crops in many foods

Most corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets grown in the United States are engineered to kill pests or withstand being sprayed with weed killers such as Round-Up. Those genetically engineered crops wind up in thousands of non-organic grocery products in the form of corn syrup, sugar,canola oil or soy-based emulsifiers. Some non-organic papaya, crook neck squash and corn on the cob is also genetically modified.

“There is no evidence that there is any health issue with any of the products on the market. And there is nothing particular to the technology itself that makes it dangerous,” said Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis, which uses genetic engineering to develop agricultural seeds.

He dismisses the idea that there is not enough testing of genetically engineered food, saying the voluntary testing by companies that modify crops has created a pile of credible evidence.

But such tests are biased by commercial interest and too short to show the long-term impacts of eating engineered food, says anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith, who has written two books and made a film criticizing the technology.

Smith lives in Iowa but has been touring California promoting his work and Proposition 37. His film, “Genetic Roulette,” features about a dozen doctors describing health problems – including allergies, diabetes, gastrointestinal distress and autism – they associate with eating GMOs.

“I decided strategically – because I think it’s a greater motivation – to focus on the health dangers,” said Smith, whose background is in marketing not science.

One solution, he said, is labeling engineered food so people know what they’re eating.

Proposition 37 is more about ideology than science, said Bob Goldberg, a UCLA biologist who teaches a class on genetic engineering.

“I’m against this proposition because I’m a scientist and I’m a person who has done genetic engineering my entire career,” Goldberg said. “In many respects, I don’t view this as a political campaign, I view this as an anti-science campaign.”

Goldberg, a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, said the organization believes it’s wrong to lump all genetically engineered foods into the same category because they use the same laboratory technique. Instead, he said, the safety of crops and food products – whether the result of genetic engineering or other scientific processes – should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

A National Academy of Sciences spokeswoman said the group has not evaluated whether it’s safe to eat genetically engineered food.

Goldberg points to a statement this month by the American Association for the Advancement of Science that says, “The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”

Doctor suggests diet change

Dr. Kelly Sutton isn’t convinced. She is a board-certified internist in Fair Oaks who describes her approach to medicine as “holistic,” incorporating both science and spirituality.

“I’ve practiced for 40 years so I’ve come through a long stretch of seeing changes in health,” Sutton said, including huge increases in allergies, skin problems and cancer.

“We are living longer but living sicker,” she said.

When people come to her with such problems, Sutton said one of the first things she suggests is a change of diet, including a move toward organic and non-GMO foods. She said her patients’ health usually improves.

“I am only speculating from experience,” Sutton said. “There is no serious study that says genetically modified food does this but not that.”

Lang, the Fair Oaks mother, said the anecdotal evidence she’s seen in her son is enough for her to keep GMOs out of her kitchen by eating organic and avoiding most packaged foods.

A day after organizing a Proposition 37 rally with organic farmers last week, Lang made her family a soup of carrots, Swiss chard, broccoli and homemade chicken stock. Potatoes baked in the oven while she whipped up her own dressing for a salad and chopped mango to top fish cakes.

“Since the answers aren’t there,” Lang said, “I choose to proceed on a precautionary principle.”


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Possible usage of siRNA for HCV

siRNA mediated silencing of IRES domain III by Qudsia Mairaj


Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV). It can develop as a milder infection of a few weeks duration or it may lead towards a serious, persistent chronic infection [1]. HCV is leading cause of end stage chirrohsis and hepatocellular carcinoma [2]. According to WHO (world health organization) data, about 160 million people globally are chronically infected with HCV and it makes 2/3% of the world population [7].In Pakistan, about 6% of population is infected by HCV [4].

HCV is a single stranded RNA virus of positive polarity and it is an enveloped virus[4]. HCV belongs to Hpacivirus genus, which is a related to family Flaviviridae[5].Its genome is 9.6 kb in size [6]. At the 5’ and 3’ are UTR (untranslated regions) are not translated, but are crucial for translation and replication of virus. 5’ UTR has ribosome binding entry site (IRES). This IRES is responsible for recruiting translational machinery to carry out the process of translation [16]. It translates a long polypeptide chain of 3000 amino acids. Structural proteins coded by HCV genes are core proteins, E1 and E2, and nonstructural proteins are NS2, NS3, NS4,NS4A, NS4B,NS5,NS5A and NS5B coded by regulatory genes.

HCV life cycle:

Liver is the primarily target organ of HCV and it affects liver cells [7]. Its life cycle involves certain steps which are attachment, entry and penetration into liver cells through cell-mediated endocytosis [9], replication and translation, assembly and maturation and release of infectious virions. It uses certain cell receptor for its entry that are CD81 [18, 19], low density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor [17], highly sulfated heparin sulfate, scavenger receptor Class B type 1 (SR-B1) [19] and DC-SIGN (dendritic cell-specific interacellular adhesion molecules 3 grabbing non integrin) L-SIGN (DC-SIGNr’ liver and lymph node specific) [8]. Most recently another receptor for HCV entry has been identified that is Claudin-1 [8]. E1 and E2 are two important viral proteins that interact with variety of cell receptor during entry. Fusion of virus is then mediated by viral proteins RdRp (NS5) and NS3 [9]. Translation is carried out in membranous webs formed on the surface of ER (endoplasmic reticulum). Resulted long polypeptide will be subjected to proteolytic cleavage by certain host and viral proteases to form functional proteins. Then the assembly of new viruses takes place, maturation occurs and virions are released to infect new host cells.

Current treatment for HCV infection:

We know that HCV genome is a +ve strand or in other words it is a mRNA. Hence when it enters the host step, after locating its specific site (ER) it starts translation. So it, instead of making copies of genome, makes proteins. Hence it starts an immediate pathogenic response to body and leads towards infection within less period of time.

Different approaches are in practice for the treatment of HCV. Most commonly used antiviral drugs include Ribavirin and pegylated interferon alpha (pegIFN alpha). But these are not specific aniviral drugs [20]. Not only they prove ineffective in some cases, but pegIFN alpha and RBV are difficult to tolerate. Viruses can develop resistant against these drugs. In case of HCV, its replication is carried out by RNA dependant RNA-polymerase (RdRp), which does not have a proof reading activity and has very high error rate. It results in the mutation of HCV genome leading towards the formation of quasi species. These mutant viruses may develop resistant against a particular antiviral drug. Apart from that antiviral drugs have many side effects including toxic effects, allergic effects etc.

IRES as a target for HCV therapy through siRNA:

IRES (internal ribosomal entry site) of HCV is best studied among other viral IRES [15]. HCV IRES is present in folded form forming many stem loops known as domains (I, II, III, IV), a pseudoknot and a helical structure. These all elements take part in forming a tertiary structure for efficient binding of 40S ribosome subunit and eIF3 (eukaryotic initiation factor 3).

Of all four domains most important domains for siRNA targeting is domain III. Study in mice showed that domain III is the only domain that interacts efficiently with all other III domains, suggesting that it holds all other domains of IRES [16]. It further interacts with eIF3 and recruits ribosome for translation [17].

Apart from this most important function of IRES domain III, IRES is highly conserved region which makes it an attractive target for siRNA therapy. Within the IRES, domain III has an internal loop (loop IIIb) and an adjacent mismatched helix which is nessary for IRES-dependant initiation of translation and it is highly conserved [22] and hence a wonderful target for siRNA mediated silencing of HCV translation. As IRES is necessary for viral translation, it won’t be able to carry out translation after degradation by siRNA and no replication will take place. Hence viral infection can be overcome at early stage of viral life cycle right after entry of virus into cell.

siRNA as a promising future antiviral therapy for HCV:

Among possible therapeutic therapies, RNA interference (RNAi) is an emerging new technique and it’s believed to be proved successful for the treatment of Hepaptitis C [10]. RNAi is a regulatory mechanism of most eukaryotic cells. It involves the active RISC (RNA induced silencing complex) which carries out post-transcriptional gene silencing. siRNA is a double stranded short stretch of nucleotide ranging between 21-22 nucleotides with a characteristic 3′ overhang. After its processing, it becomes single stranded “guide strand” and binds to its target mRNA and degrades it [11]. It can be prepared synthetically in vitro.

HIV-1 was the first primate virus shown to be inhibited by siRNA [12]. Problem with the siRNA is the difficulty with its delivery into cells. Once it is gotten into its target place it can do its job very well but first there is need to deliver it into target location. A new technique is developed to use aptamer for siRNA delivery into cells. These are oligonucleotides present naturally or can be synthesized. Their property is that they have high affinity and specificity for the target molecule to which they bind [24]. They have their own specific and stable three-dimensional structure which provides them with high specificity with respect to their target molecule.

Different types of aptamer have been applied for the affective drug delivery of drugs into specific cells. The molecules that are needed to be delivered into cells, are attached to aptamer through direct conjugation or by means of some functional groups [13].

Most well established aptamers for siRNA delivery are the prostate-specific-membrane antigen (PSMA) aptamers that bind with high affinity to PSMA [14]. It proved a successful method for delivery of siRNA into cells. If siRNA conjugated with a specific aptamer is used as an antiviral therapy for HCV it would be very successful. For efficient delivery of these siRNA-aptamer chimeras, nanoparticle vectors can be used which displays large surface area for siRNA-aptamer binding and exposing aptamer for binding to cell receptor [23]. Following this strategy, if we make a construct of siRNA-aptamer chimeras against domain III of IRES, especially the sub-domain/internal loop IIIb, it would prove a very efficient method to inhibit the HCV infection in early stages of viral life cycle.

This siRNA-aptamer has many outcomes. Relatively low concentration of siRNA molecules would be required as only specific cell would be targeted, target will be more specific and response will be fast. As IRES is conserved region, maximum viral infection will be inhibited. Aptamer is safe to use and it is less toxic and less immunogenic.



2)      Mühlberger, N., R. Schwarzer, B. Lettmeier, G. Sroczynski, S. Zeuzem and U. Siebert (2009) HCV-related burden of disease in Europe: a systematic assessment of incidence, prevalence, morbidity, and mortality. BMC Public Health 9:34

3)      Khaliq, S., S. Jahan, A. Pervaiz, U.A. Ashfaq and S. Khaliq (2011) Down-regulation of IRES containing 5’UTR of HCV genotype 3a using siRNAs. Virology Journal 8:221

4)      Blight, K.J., A.A. Kolykhalov,K.E. Reed,E. V. Agapov, C.M. Rice (1998) Molecular virology of hepatitis C virus: an update with respect to potential antiviral targets. Antiviral Therapy 3:71-81

5)      Raney, D.K., S.D. Sharma, I.M. Moustafa and C.E. Cameron (2010) Hepatitis C Virus Non-structural Protein 3 (HCV NS3): A Multifunctional Antiviral Target. The journal Of Biological Chemistery 285:22723-22725


7)      Hahn, V.T. (2011) Arrest All Accessories — Inhibition of Hepatitis C Virus by Compounds that Target Host Factors

8)       Zeisel.B.M., H. Barth, C. Schuster and T.F. Baumert (2009) Hepatitis C Virus Entry: Molecular Mechanisms and Targets for Antiviral Therapy. Frontiers in bioscience 14:3274-85

9)       Jazwinski.B.A., M.D and A.J. Muir (2011) Direct-Acting Antiviral Medications for Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection. Gastroenterol Hepatol 7:154-162

10)   Chevalier1,C., A. Saulnier, Y. Benureau, D. Fléchet, D. Delgrange, F. Colbère-Garapin, C. Wychowski and A. Martin (2007) Inhibition of Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Cell Culture by Small Interfering RNAs. Molecular Therapy 15:1452-1462

11)   Kim,H.D. and J.J. Rossi (2008) RNAi mechanisms and applications. Biotechniques 44:613-616

12)   Rossi,J.J. (2006) RNAi as a treatment for HIV-1 infection. BioTechniques 40:S25-S29

13)   Zhoul,J. and J.J. Rossi (2010)  Aptamer-targeted cell-specific RNA interference. Silence 1:4

14)   McNamara, O.J., E. R. Andrechek, Y. Wang, K.D. Viles1, R.E. Rempel, E. Gilboa,  B.A. Sullenger and  P.H. Giangrande (2006) Cell type–specific delivery of siRNAs with aptamersiRNA chimeras. Nature Biotechnology 24:1005-1015

15)   Jang, S.K. (2006) IRES elements of picornaviruses and hepatitis c virus. Virus Research 119:2-15

16)   Buratti,E., S. Tisminetzky, M. Zotti, and F.E. Baralle (1998)  Functional analysis of the

interaction between HCV 50UTR and putative subunits of eukaryotic translation  nitiation factor eIF3. Nucleic Acids Research 26:3179-3187

17)   Joyce, A.M. and D. Lorne J. Tyrrell (2010) The cell biology of hepatitis C virus. Microbes and Infection

18)    Meuleman,P., J. Hesselgesser, M. Paulson, T. Vanwolleghem, I. Desombere, H. Reiser, G.L. Roels (2008) Hepatology 48:1761-1768

19)   Scarselli,E., H. Ansuini, R. Cerino, R.M. Roccasecca, S. Acali, G. Filocamo, C. Traboni, A. Nicosia, R. Cortese and A. Vitelli (2002) The human  scavenger receptor class B type I is a novel candidate receptor for the hepatitis C virus. Embo Journal 21:5017-5025


21)   Nulf,J.C. and D. Corey (2004) Intracellular inhibition of hepatitis C virus (HCV) internal ribosomal entry site (IRES)-dependent translation by peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) and locked nucleic acids (LNAs). Nucleic Acids Research 32:3792-3798

22)   Collier,J.A., J. Gallego, R. Klinck, P.T. Cole, S. J. Harris, G.P. Harrison, F. Aboul-ela, G. Varani, and S. Walker

23)   Bagalkot,V. and X. Gao (2011) siRNA-Aptamer Chimeras on Nanoparticles: Preserving Targeting Functionality for Effective Gene Silencing. ACS Nano 5:8131-8139

24) Que-Gewirth,N.S. and B. A. Sullenger (2007) Gene therapy progress and prospects: RNA aptamers. Gene Therapy 14:283-291


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The Search for Extra Terrestrial Genomes

The Next Genome Race: Martian DNA

Well, we may have seen numerous races in our times, but now we have two high-profile entrepreneurs say they want to put a DNA sequencing machine on the surface of Mars in a bid to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

In what appears to be a race for the first extraterrestrial genome, researcher J. Craig Venter said Tuesday that his Maryland academic institute and company, Sythentic Genomics, would develop a machine capable of sequencing and beaming back DNA data from Mars.

And likewise we have  Jonathan Rothberg, founder of Ion Torrent, a DNA sequencing company, is collaborating on an effort to adapt his company’s “Personal Genome Machine” for Martian conditions.

“There will be DNA life forms there,” Venter predicted Tuesday in New York, where he was speaking at the Wired Health Conference. “We want to make sure an Ion Torrent goes to Mars,” Rothberg told Technology Review.

Their Systems

Venter said researchers working with him have already begun tests at a Mars-like test site in the Mojave Desert. Their goal, he said, is to demonstrate a machine capable of autonomously isolating microbes from soil, sequencing their DNA, and then transmitting the information to a remote computer, as would be required on an unmanned Mars mission. Heather Kowalski, a spokeswoman for Venter, confirmed the existence of the project, but also said the prototype system was “not yet 100 percent robotic.”

Meanwhile, Rothberg’s Personal Genome Machine is being adapted for Martian conditions as part of a NASA-funded project at Harvard and MIT called SET-G, or “the search for extra-terrestrial genomes.”

Christopher Carr, an MIT research scientist involved in the effort, says his lab is working to shrink Ion Torrent’s machine from 30 kilograms down to just 3 kilograms so that it can fit on a NASA rover. Other tests, already conducted, have determined how well the device can withstand the heavy radiation it would encounter on the way to Mars.

Martian chronicler: A micro-fluidic device developed at MIT designed to automatically run DNA experiments on other planets.
Credit: Christopher Carr | MIT

The Catch

Looking for DNA on Mars won’t be easy. A robot would have to scoop up soil and prepare a sample automatically. The sequencing machine would need to work in cold temperatures and in a very thin atmosphere made mostly of CO2. Martian genes might also be different from those in the bodies of terrestrial animals, perhaps being made up of different chemical building blocks.

The Final Word

The slim odds apparently appeal to both Venter and Rothberg, two of biotechnology’s biggest showmen. A decade ago, Venter gave academic researchers heartburn with his privately financed effort to sequence the human genome. Rothberg, also a media celebrity, has made news by sequencing the DNA of notables like James Watson, as well as of Neanderthals.


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GM Crops-Reality and Fiction

GM crops, The other side of the story by Maria Atia

Activism against GM crops is quite a hot topic these days in the biotechnology community because of the recent study they published against agricultural products. But the whole story is more than what it looks.

Some French people published an article this month in which they have claimed that the biotechnology products are harmful for living organisms especially the modified corn that is being used by almost everyone these days. They have reported in their study that the corn has caused the growth of tumor in the laboratory rats under testing. But if I can guess it you can too- that this whole is just a set up for degrading the reputation of biotechnology products. The lead researcher of the study is an activist and does not have a very good fame in agriculture biotechnology.

The study against biotech products was published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal and was available to people on 19th September. All reliable biotech sources have raised concerns about the study and have completely negated the study altogether. If you closely analyze the study you will find more mistakes than what is written right. But the main issue at the present is the damage that is meant to be done by the activists through this study.

One mistake made in the study is that the type of mice chosen to work on is those who have already been modified to get tumor faster than normal. For every research to become approved and successful, a certain population size is chosen of both the control and the carrier patients. If any one of the population is not of an appropriate size then the study becomes doubtful. And the same has happened in this case. The number of rats taken as control population is not enough to regard it as a successful study. With a small control group, in my opinion at least, it becomes difficult to deduce anything about their behavior with regards to a specific condition.

Such low methods are being used by the activist groups to destroy the repute of agricultural biotechnology products. They just want to take us back 10-20 years when these things were neither talked too much about on nor anybody knew about their benefits in the first place. Instead of thinking about the how we can improve the agriculture biotech industry they are thinking that how it can be destroyed. They do not think about aspects of science such as defensible science, sound economics, and appreciation and other certain industrial and environmental impacts.

The dilemma is that the media promotes everything, despite its being good or bad and so this news has also managed to get an audience. The study has not reached the conclusion yet but people have started to avoid the use of biotech products. One such example is of Russia. While making use of the opportunity in hand, Russia has announced that cancellation of the import of biotech corn and a few other products. This study is also energizing Prop 37 campaign in California.

But I would like to take this opportunity and tell you a little bit about that why agriculture biotech is important. Below are mentioned a few points which you can tell to other people and spread the word around and you will ultimately help the agricultural biotech community by gaining a few votes for it.

Biotech is old

Biotechnologically modified products have been used for a long period of time. Biotechnology entered the agriculture field with the introduction of domesticated crops and livestock. After this the method of selective breeding was introduced. All told next and the most important and the newest method being used now is Recombinant DNA technology or gene modification test protocols. All this is being done in order to help and benefit mankind.

Safety comes First

Safety has become a very important issue in Biotechnology. The European Commission is an organization which first reviews all the work that is done. This commission is very strict in terms of rules, regulations and safety. Unless and until it is proved 100% that the product is right it does not enter the market. The European Commission, World Health Organization, American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences, all agree to the fact that the biotech products including corn are 100% safe.

Strict Evaluation

Whenever any agricultural product is to be launched in the market it is first evaluated according to the standards set. In U.S., three departments – the Agriculture Department, Environment Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration– have been specified for any kind of help. Every institute has some specific evaluating test which they perform and through the identification process it is confirmed whether the biotech product is safe to be used by general public or not. Without being evaluated for complete human and environment safety the product is never approved.

Benefits of Agricultural Biotech

Farmers have become a lot of dependent on the biotech crops for increased productivity, no weed problem, less input costs and better digging methods improving the soil, air and water quality. 90% of the US farmers have been using these crops for the past two decade. No one ever lodged even a single complaint against them. The most commonly used modified crops are corn, soybean and cotton. If now the farmers choose to discontinue the use of biotech crops they would face a lot of trouble as the crop demand will increase and the supply will decrease.

Why problem now?

During the time period of 20 years a lot of biotech corn, cotton and soybean have been used throughout the world not just in US. The question is that if in 20 years no report of death due to eating these crops was done then how it got reported all of a sudden. And for record keeping, hundreds of people and ten mice make quite a distinguishable sample size.

Not even one bad report has ever entered the biotech crops’ result card, the record is that good. Hopes are that the above mentioned points will be of some help to you and you can play role in spreading the awareness and defeating the activists.



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Expiring Agri Patents

Expiring Patents and Regulatory Issues in the Biotech Crop Market by Maria Atia

Biotech crops were first introduced in the U.S. in 1994. These crops with better traits were highly received by the farmers and since then they have been a major part of the seed market in U.S. All the traits introduced in the biotech crops introduced in the market were patented and rights protected by the developers. As a result all such crops seeds available in the market were costly. But still the farmers preferred them because of their qualities such as high yields, deliverance of significant environmental benefits and increased per-acre profitability.

The patents are only for a specific period of time. During that time period no other company can make the same product with that specific trait. But once the patent expires, other companies are at full liberty to make and sell that product. The same is going to happen for biotech crop seeds in the coming decade. Gregory Conko, CEI Senior Fellow, in his study, “Is There a Future for Generic Biotech Crops?”, has mentioned that patent of almost 22 biotech traits including Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean trait will expire in the next 10 years, Roundup soybean being the most widely and largely accepted and used biotech crop.

He has also mentioned that although 15 million farmers in 28 countries around the world use the biotech seeds, all of them are awaiting the expiry of patents of those seeds. This is so because when the patents expire other companies would be able to produce that seed with the specific trait and sell it to farmers for much cheaper rates. This helps in booming of the generic biotech seed market. In other industries, patent expiries always end up benefiting the consumers, allowing same products being cheaply available but not in biotech crop market.

The main element of Conko’s study is the problem that will be faced by companies in order to reproduce the trait in crops on their own. What goes on is this that the biotech crop traits are to be reapproved every 3-5 years. For the re-approval process secret business information, known only by the original developers, is required. The generic market progress halts at this step. Conko mentioned in his study that this whole process is a very time consuming and costly process and does nothing other than keeping away the would-be generic opponents from the brand-name biotech companies.

For all things to work out ways are being sought to help both the generic seed developers and the biotech industry developers. If such an agreement is not achieved the farmers will suffer by spending more on the generic seeds than they did on the biotech crop seeds. Hopes are that the biotech companies will agree on sharing some of their knowledge so that farmers may be helped and the generic seed market may develop.


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Google to invest more in biotech

Google VC to invest in Biotech by Muhammad Adeel

Google has a habit of doing big things and now Google Ventures is aiming to invest in biotech entrepreneurs as well. The venture capital front of the search engine giant is aiming to make life sciences a main area of investment in the coming 5 years. The amount that has been allocated for this venture is in reported to be $1 Billion!

This approach of Google Ventures was announced by the Managing Partner, William Maris during his appearance at CNBC. He cited that the venture front is willing to take on risky fronts like cryogenics and nanotechnology as well. Furthermore, they intend to fund pharmaceutical companies that are developing cancer drugs as well. This is being said, this is not for the first time that Google has invested in biotech. They have invested in more than 100 companies. The group has backed the antibody-discovery outfit Adimab (a 2010 Fierce 15 company), Foundation Medicine, a personalized cancer diagnostics group, and the life sciences software firm DNAnexus, to name a few.

It’s been a positive development in biotech because a number of other VC groups have reduced their bets in the sector or pulled out altogether. Backing a biotech often requires long commitments from VC groups and plenty of capital–both of which Google Ventures can deliver. “There’s a whole world of innovation out there outside of social media. It’s a huge growth area, but we’re investing a lot of money in life sciences,” Maris said, as quoted by He also noted that his group seeks to fund entrepreneurs with “a healthy disregard for the impossible.


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New Journal on Microbiome Studies

Journal on microbiome studies to be released by Muhammad Adeel

A new journal is being launched this month which focuses on microbiome studies. The  journal, called Microbiome, is the hard work of two people: University of Maryland Medical School’s Jacques Ravel and the University of Delaware’s Eric Wommack.The intent of this journal is to provide a place to bring together both the environmental and medical microbiome communities.

According to Ravel: “The expertise you find in the two communities are extremely complementary and they need to be reading the same journal, same methodology, that are published by one or the other,”.

The Keystone Symposium was the turning point that Ravel helped organize in early 2011 on microbial communities as drivers of ecosystem diversity. At the meeting, Ravel says, there was a realization that people studying the human microbiome hadn’t been talking to people focused on environmental microbiomes.

Furthermore, Wommack adds that environmental microbiologists have long taken a community-level view of microorganisms. This is a notion that has just started in the medical microbiologists. “The focus of the microbiome research is, of course, how entire communities of microorganisms may cause disease or prevent disease,” Wommack says. “It’s just a really new way of thinking for the medical establishment. However, the environmental microbiologists have been thinking this way for decades.”

The journal will also be having a section called Microbiome Announcements where researchers can publish raw datasets. “A lot of people generate datasets and those things almost never end in publication,” Ravel says. “I think there is a need for a citation, a journal, something that people can actually publish to show their data: the way they generated it, very detailed methodologies, very detailed metadata.”

In addition to this, Wommack adds that methodology can influence comparative metagenomic studies and that traditional papers often have insufficient methods or supplemental methods sections for researchers to determine whether or not to include a dataset in a comparative study. “We’re hoping that the microbiome report will … become a detailed record of how things were handled from sample through sequencing,” he says. It has also been promised that the data will be held to high genomic standards.

The journal is going to be published by BioMed Central. The good thing about it is that it would be an open access journal and would come out once a month. “That, to me, was a deal breaker, to not have open access to this, especially the announcements. If you have to pay for having access to the announcement, it is not of any use, I think,” Ravel says.

The inaugural issue, he adds, is shaping up well. “We’ve got some actually really, really interesting papers coming out that deal with not just descriptive studies, but clinical studies using microbiome manipulation, for example,” Ravel says.

Dr. Ravel

Online submissions can also be made at











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