In Japan, the Central Pollution Management Committee of the Ministry for the Environment
has released its report on the regulation of GMOs (16th December). They have decided
that there will not be a special law in Japan, like the law in Europe, to regulate GMOs. The Committee remained split on this question, throughout its 16 meetings
since June 1989. The report is in Japanese, and reviews the regulations in the USA
and Europe, and is a split decision. Japanese newspapers reported the findings in
the headlines, there will be no special bill to regulate GMO release.
There are already various regulations on GMO release (see EEIN 1: 32), and considering the characteristics of GMOs, the two views of the report were expressed (lawyers favouring a special bill, and scientists favouring product based examination using existing laws). It will be easier for scientists to have guidelines than a bill, because it is very difficult to alter a bill to meet the situations created by new and changing technology. There was nothing very concrete proposed in the report, they may establish a specialised committee. In the recent public opinion survey conducted in Japan (EEIN 1: 71-3), the regulation of biotechnology was one topic addressed. The results will be presented in a forthcoming report (see p. 14), but the general opinion seems to be split between government regulation, and government plus industry regulation, with a few others expressing the need for public and third party involvement.
There is some Japanese protests against particular genetic engineering facilities, particularly against a P3 virus research lab in downtown Shinjuku, Tokyo, and J. Rifkin recently visited the protestors to support them; Japan Times (26 Dec 1991), 18. However, there has been little court success for the protestors.
On European regulations over genetic engineering and biotechnology see Biotechnology 9: 1056-61, 1017. Few of the member states of the EC had implemented the draft directives, by the 23rd October, when they were supposed to have some regulations in place. It still looks unlikely that the regulations for recombinant products will be unified, at least for a long time. It summarised the probable dates for EC countries to implement regulations on contained use of GMOs, and release, and the administering authorities. Also on biotechnology regulation see a review of European Study Service, Biotechnology: EEC Policy on the Eve of 1993 (Belgium 1991, 390pp, BFr 11,800), in Nature 353: 711. This report is said to be out of date in some areas. There are some concerns over the recent new British regulations on genetic engineering, about the cost of implementation; Nature 354: 5. The costs of approval will need to be met by the researchers, and estimates range upwards of 2,000 per application. The Department of the Environment plans to charge the same fees for academics and industry. Denmark and Germany also propose to charge similar fees, but most countries are not yet to that stage of regulation.
On the developing US EPA release rules see Biotechnology 9: 791. The drafts are opposed by most universities, whereas industry was in favour. However, the whole situation of release of GMOs in the USA remains in a state of change, because of recent policy changes (EEIN 1: 59).
All biological defense research work in the USA that goes on in high containment level facilities will be subject to public review, following a court case; Science 254: 1289. Also on biowarfare see Science 254: 523 (see EEIN 1: 74).
Field Trials of GMOs
Australia became the first country to allow nation-wide sale of a GMO; Nature 353: 687, though the Nogall product has been sold in New South Wales since 1989; SG 137. It is used to counter Crown Gall disease, and the produce, Biocare Technology, is awaiting the results of applications to Japan and the USA.
Field trials by a company, Agriculture Canada, of genetically modified plants, for 52 tests, have have raised concerns there; GEN (Nov/Dec 1991), 10.
One trial of transgenic tobacco plants in North Carolina, USA, in summer 1991, involved the production of pharmaceuticals in plants. Tobacco plants produced either tricosanthin, an antiviral compound (Compound Q), used to treat AIDS patients, or the enzyme amylase for the food industry; GEN (Nov/Dec 1991), 1, 55. The trial suggests that from one acre of tobacco the profit for growing tobacco to produce food industry enzymes is $10-50,000, before processing. There is research also on potato and alfalfa. The advantage of using plants over animals is the much speedier scale-up, months instead of years.
Reviews on plasmid loss in bacteria are D.K. Summers, "The kinetics of plasmid loss", TIBTECH 9: 273-8; and P.K.R. Kumar et al., "Strategies for improving plasmid stability in genetically modified bacteria in bioreactors", TIBTECH 9: 279-83. Summers considers both the situation in fermentation and in field release, whereas Kumar et al. is applied to bioreactors.
On soil ecology, see R.A. Jones et al., "Effects of genetically engineered microorganisms on nitrogen transformations and nitrogen-transforming microbial populations in soil", Applied & Environmental Microbiology 57: 3212-9. No significant effects of five GEMs on ammonification, nitrification and denitrification in the soil were measured.
A book review of Fincham & Ravertz, Genetically Engineered Organisms (EEIN 1: 74) is in TIBTECH 9: 365-6.
On a meeting review of molecular interactions between gut epithelial cells and pathogenic microorganisms see Cell 67: 651-9. On animal-bacterial mutualism (symbiosis) , in the squid, see Science 254: 1491-4. On the definition of a species see SA (Nov 1991), 14.
In Japan, general approval has been granted for the release of tomatoes resistant
to TMV made by genetic engineering for growth at fields of the Ministry of Agriculture,
Forestry and Fisheries, but it is not expected that this F1 stock will be commercially used. The transgenic plants were released in a special enclosed area two years ago,
and from the results of that experiment and international trends, they have extended
the permission to a general permission. The plants will be able to be grown on isolated fields, surrounded by buffer zones, but without any special system of fences and
security. The progress in field releases is very slow in Japan.
On the obstacles to Canadian biotechnology, including patent policies, and regulations, see Biotechnology 10: 122; Science 254 (1991), 1720. There are about 350 biotechnology companies in Canada, but they experience long delays. A recent report by a Canadian biotechnology group is summarised.
A bioindustry group in the UK has criticised the recent UK Dept. of the Environment draft regulations on the handling and release of GMOs; NS (8 Feb 1991); 20. They have also criticised other policies in Europe, including commercial issues; Nature 355: 289. A computer program to aid researchers find out which regulations apply to field tests of GMOs in the USA is introduced in Biotechnology 10: 146.
A method for removing selection genes from plants made by genetic engineering is mentioned in the section on Plants, above. This would ease people's fears about the release of GMOs and possible transfer of antibiotic resistance genes that were used as selection markers.
On the release of viruses for biological control of insect pests, including genetically engineered strains, see Nature 355: 119. The results from the release of recombinant rabies virus in Belgium appear to be encouraging, and there are needs for this vaccine in many countries; Lancet 339: 52.
A finding that some laboratory strains of E. coli can grow faster than strains taken from patients is mentioned in Biotechnology 10: 111. The laboratory strains may be less adaptable, but it still is an interesting surprise and more such studies should be done to look at the ideas of biological containment. A method for identifying microbes based on rRNA is introduced in Biotechnology 10: 124.
A book on the use of biotechnology to help villages in the developing countries is
Reaching the Unreached: Biotechnology in Agriculture, a dialogue,
ed. M.S. Swaminathan, ISBN 033392 192 5, 371pp. (India: MacMillan 1991). It is the
proceedings of a dialogue held in Madras in January 1991 on how to make biotechnology
reach the poor. It describes the concept of biovillages, and the results of some
international experience with contributions from workers from several countries. It
is recently published and contains some useful data, and experience.
A report recently written in New Zealand on an evaluation of the use of herbicide tolerant plants is A.J. Connor et al., Impacts of developing herbicide-resistant plants (Lincoln University: Centre for Resource Management: October 1991), 38pp.). They judged the possible gene flow from crops to weeds as a negligible threat, and provided analyses to say that the amount of herbicides used will be reduced by the use of such crops, even if herbicides are required to kill all the plant material after harvest. The report states that there will be marked environmental and protection advantages in using the new technology. The address of the Centre for Resource Management is P.O. Box 56, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand.
On the commercial development of biopesticides see Biotechnology 10: . In India there are several biopesticides being produced on a large scale, and from my brief visit to India there appears to be more concern about the use of biopesticides than there is in industrialised countries. For information on a bioinsecticides production facility contact: Dr. K. Jayaraman, Centre for Biotechnology, Anna University, Madras 600 025, India.
A recent edition of Nature & Resources 27 (3), 1991, is focused on Biotechnology: promises and pitfalls. It is a UNESCO publication, (Editor, UNESCO, 7 place de Fontenoy, 75700 Paris, France). It includes articles on: "Biotechnology for sustainable development", "Tissue cultures: in vitro biosphere reserves", "Biotechnologies, microbes and the environment", "Culture collections: safeguards against extinction", "Conserving microbial gene pools for sustainable development". As is discussed in the summary of the recent COSTED conference in this issue, no single national policy is the best but developing countries need to chose their own policy to utilise what resources they have.
A list of papers presented at a recent conference in Miami, on the theme, Advances in gene technology: feeding the world in the 21st century, is in Biotechnology 10: 56-9. It includes a number of interesting papers in biotechnology and genetic engineering, and a book has also been published. A discussion of the commercial concerns related to this goal is in Biotechnology 10: 47-50.
The results of nationwide opinion surveys in Japan on attitudes to genetic engineering that I conducted, and others that the Agency for the Environment conducted, are reported in a new book (Attitudes to Genetic Engineering: Japanese and International Comparisons ), advertised on the back page of this newsletter, that will be available from mid-May. They suggest that there is support for the environmental application of GMOs in Japan, especially of plants.
The US government is deregulating many areas of business, including biotechnology. The regulatory scheme will be based on risk, not on the method of manufacture; Biotechnology 10: 248, 358; Science 255: 911; Nature 356: 1-2; NS (7 March 1991), 10. The document prohibits special regulations for genetic therapies, and food, drugs and pesticides made from recombinant DNA, unless there is "unreasonable risk". As expected, biotechnology companies approve of the approach, but the scope policy statement doesn't clarify the regulations, these must await the release of regulations that have been held up awaiting the policy release statement. The EPA is expected to soon publish its guidelines for field release.
German regulations have gone in the other direction, and required that scientists who will work with recombinant DNA must attend a three day course on safety and law, even if they have already performed such experiments for a long time; Science 255: 524-6; Lancet 339: 606-7. This approach confuses safety with regulations, we need to look at the safety of any experiments and overregulating may only cloud over other areas of safety which the regulators neglected to consider, but the scientists will be too busy and defensive to think about all of these because they have to spend all their energy on filling out the application forms.
Their are fears that unemployed Russian and other former Soviet scientists who were involved with biological weapons research may work for smaller unstable countries who want to develop biological weapons. Methods to check compliance with the 1972 Convention banning offensive biological weapons research are being attempted, but it may be difficult to prevent all such research; NS (21 March 1991), 8, (28 March 1991), 14.
A microbe engineered to degrade chloro- and methyl-aromatics was found to survive in a natural ecosystem; R. Pipke et al., "Survival and function of a genetically engineered Pseudomonad in aquatic sediment microcosms", AEM 58: 1259-65. A laboratory trial of gene transfer between microorganisms is N.B. Shoemaker et al., "Evidence for natural transfer of a tetracycline resistance gene between bacteria from the human colon and bacteria from the bovine rumen", AEM 58: 1313-20. On global antibiotic resistance surveillance; NEJM 326: 292-7, 339-40.
A study of practices in the Netherlands for the washing of laboratory lab coats from genetic engineering research has found some interesting results; NS (21 March 1991), 11. Dirty lab coats had been sent to local laundries, where the first step was a soak in 35 C water. The soak water was then drained into the local sewers, before washing the coats. Scientists isolated viable E. coli from dried coat material, up to two years after coat use, including survival of the K12 strain. The wash water was flushed to the sewers where gene exchange with bacteria in the sewers could occur, thereby making the release of genetic material into the environment quite possible. Others should look at how their lab coats are washed!
A trial to examine the spread of genes in radish has found that some genes were transferred up to 1km from the genetically engineered radishes; NS (21 March 1991), 21; Conservation Biology 5: 531. They used modified white radishes with marker plots of wild radish planted in plots up to 1km away. Most transfer took place at very short distances, but long distance transfer was also observed, via pollen. As plant breeders have long known, the isolation distances for different crops vary greatly.
The procedures used in the recent approval of field trials of transgenic catfish in the USA are discussed in Biotechnology 10: 492. The regulatory process for transgenic fish in the USA is still being developed.
The outcrossing rate of foxtail millets is reported, with implications for transgenic crop release, in Theor. Applied Genetics 83: 940-6. The genetic and behavioural consequences of releasing guppies in Trinidad may also be relevant for modelling the effects of introducing new varieties to the environment; Proc. Royal Soc. London B 248: 111-6, 117-22.
In the USA, the FDA has proposed its guidelines for regulation of foodstuffs made from genetic engineering; Nature 357: 352. The basic process is to avoid extra regulations if there is no reason to suspect a novel substance is in the food. Industry must decide whether a new variety needs pre-market approval by the FDA, and this is one point of criticism. Rifkin has filed a petition demanding that such foodstuffs be labelled if they come from a GMO. There is still much concern about food irradiation and the issue of labelling of foodstuffs made from genetically modified organisms is discussed in Chemistry & Industry (6 April 1992), 243; NY Times (16 June), A24. The US biotechnology regulations (or lack of) are discussed in Science 256: 19; Amer. Soc. Micro. News 58: 251-2.
President Yeltsin recently confirmed that the anthrax outbreak in the former Soviet Union did occur as a result of biological warfare experiments; Japan Times (18 June 1992), 19. Russia has established an internal law banning biological weapons; NS (23 May 1992), 6.
Critiques of the current Bush administration policy on deregulation are in geneWATCH
8(2), 1,3; NS
(13 June 1992), 50; while a positive view is in GEN
12(4), 1, 15; Biotechnology
10: 626. See reviews of policy in AJPH
82: 1165-6; NS
(11 July 1992), 7. The RAC committee on field testing approval is no longer being used,
and it is likely to be closed soon; SA
(June 1992), 83. A review of the UK approach to regulation of the release of GMOs is
8(2), 6, 11. However, environmentalists are still upset over the new UK laws; NS
(8 Aug 1992), 6. In Germany there is still much paperwork. The French may be increasing
the regulation of genetic engineering laboratories; Science
A critique of USDA policy on field testing GMOs is in R.P. Wrubel et al., "Field testing transgenic plants", BioScience 42: 280-9. The main critique is that more environmental data should be obtained from the studies. The UK PROSAMO programme is discussed in Biotechnology 10: 830-1, 833. Public confidence is sought in the UK; NS (27 June 1992), 49. A report on the rabies control project using a genetically modified vaccine is in SA (June 1992) 56-62.
A Danish company, GX systems, is focusing on suicide gene technology, to destroy microorganisms after they have performed their function; GEN 12(9), 13, 27.
In Japan , the MAFF and other national centers in Tsukuba have applied for permission to grow a TMV-resistant tomato in unrestricted conditions; GEN 12(9), 22; EEIN 2: 18.
The possibility of gene transfer is one of the principle concerns about release of GMOs. Some papers of relevance include: C.F. Amabile-Cuevas & M.E. Chicurel, "Bacterial plasmids and gene flux", Cell 70: 189-99; V. Ctovsky et al., "Nuclear localization of Agrobacterium VirE2 protein in plant cells", Science 256: 1802-5; R.F. Fisher & S.R. Long, "Rhizobium - plant signal exchange", Nature 357: 655-60.
The American Society of Microbiology is involved in the biological warfare debate;geneWATCH 8(2), 7, 13. Meanwhile the US Army sees itself as a growing investor and user of biotechnology; GEN 12(8), 3, 27. Fortunately these investments may not be in biowarfare, but in biosensors, immunocompetence boosting and bioproduction of materials. Russian biological warfare labs are said to have switched to drug and vaccine production for medical uses; Biotechnology 10: 727; though there is still debate over how far they have changed; Japan Times (2 Sept 1992), 8.. The US Army biowarfare labs are also redirecting research; Science 256: 1751. The chemical weapons treaty debate is discussed in Biotechnology 10: 833; Lancet 340: 45. It is expected to be signed later this year.
The Calgene Flavr Savr (Flavour Savour) tomato, which contains an antisense gene for polygalactonase to prevent softening, has been given general
for growth in the USA; Federal Register
57 (19 Oct 1992), 47608-16. This means that it is no longer required to apply for field
testing permission, and represents the beginning of a new stage in the use of GMOs.
It is also a welcome decision, because after assessing the field safety of GMOs,
once they are found to be safe they should be made available for people's benefit. The
decision on whether the tomato is safe to eat is expected soon from the FDA (EEIN
2: 62), see the later section. A detailed analysis was released in the Federal Register.
The release of this tomato will present policy decisions for other countries also.
The EEC biotechnology safety directives on large-scale contained use of genetically modified organisms are compared to US regulations in GEN (Aug 1992), 1, 19. The different regulations may make some US companies unsure of what is required, and some European companies may prefer to perform such work in the US where only good large scale practice is required. There is still uncertainty in the UK about implementing the EC GMO regulations regarding the aspects of openness and patenting; Nature 359: 569.
German researchers and industry are seeking to ease the laws on genetic engineering in Germany ; Nature 359: 93; Lancet 340: 842. The current law requires as much paperwork for experiments of "no risk" category, as those with medium to high risk, and researchers would like to avoid the preparation of paperwork for the "no risk" experiments. The approaches appear to differ based on Lander. While industry has diverted resources to overseas branches or licensees, research institutes cannot. Therefore they are leading a campaign to ease the bureaucratic regulations. Some politicians have supported a proposal, we must await its fate.
A citizen's panel in Denmark has reported that the patenting of transgenic animals should be opposed, and food produced from genetically engineered varieties should be labelled; NS (3 Oct 1992), 5. In the Netherlands, a field test of genetically engineered maize has been sabotaged; NS (22 Aug 1992), 4. All 900 plants, which were herbicide tolerant, had their stems cut, while adjacent transgenic sugarbeet and oilseed rape were untouched. The company says it will delay the market entry for 1-2 years, and follows a similar sabotage last year.
Apparently, illegal medical waste has been transported from Germany to France, and customs are now checking waste entering France; Lancet 340: 477, 541-2.
A report from the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment from the Interim Assessment Group (IAG) for the Field Testing or Release of GMOs, until end of June 1992, reports that there were a total of 24 proposals considered for field tests and 3 for transport of GMOs. Recent trials include an ongoing trial of genetically engineered kiwifruit , and a field trial of transgenic sheep carrying a gene that may improve growth rate. If people have enquiries about the system of monitoring GMO field releases in New Zealand they could contact Dr Abdul Moeed, chairperson of the IAG, Ministry for the Environment, P.O. Box 10362, Wellington, New Zealand.
There has been continuing controversy in Japan about the opening of the new building of the National Institute of Health, in Shinjuku, Tokyo; Nature 358: 703; Attitudes to Genetic Engineering, 76. Rather than moving the research facility to a sparsely populated area, like Tsukuba Science City, the researchers wanted to build it in the heart of Tokyo. Local residents continue to protest, and the other aspects of the story are discussed in the news report. It includes experiments at the P3 level of containment, on infectious diseases. Meanwhile, the court case over the Tsukuba Riken P4 biosafety level laboratory (Attitudes to Genetic Engineering p. 75-77), has finished hearing evidence and will make a decision on payment of monetary compensation (although there has been no accident!) in January 1993. The protesters are not satisfied.
The results of the tests performed on the transgenic TMV-resistant tomato in Tsukuba Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries National Institute of Agro-Environmental Sciences research center are reported in Japanese in the Bulletin of the National Institute of Agro-Environmental Sciences 8 (June 1992). Next year several field tests are proposed, including melons and rice.
The regulation of transgenic plants in the USA is discussed in an editorial in Science 257: 1327; and reviewed in Biotechnology 10: 967-71. It is reported that by the end of 1992, about 600 field tests will have been conducted involving 40 species of genetically modified plants in about 20 countries of the world. Calls are made for looser regulations, when past cases and experience suggest that there is very little risk. Meanwhile, the state of Minnesota has introduced its own set of guidelines for release of GMOs; Bio 10: 960-1. They will use existing state agencies, and follow North Carolina which introduced their state regulations three years ago. Reaction is mixed. The US National Biotechnology Policy Board has said that overregulation in the USA is damaging industry; Nature 359: 569.
The results of a field trial of transgenic potatoes with what were thought to be neutral-acting genes, GUS-reporter genes and neomycin-resistance gene are described in P.J. Dale & H.C. McPartlan, "Field performance of transgenic potato plants compared with controls regenerated from tuber discs and shoot cuttings", Theor. & Appl. Genetics 84: 585-91. The genes appeared to have no effect of plant performance in the field. The detection of bacteria in soil by direct DNA extraction and PCR is applied in AEM 58: 2717-22. Discussion of how to model the behaviour of transgenic fishes , and whether exotic fishes are models, is discussed in Biotechnology 10: 1090-1.
The case of exotic mussel invasion of the great Lakes in the USA is described in SA (Oct 1992), 11-2. A special issue of the journal Ecological Modelling 63: 1-334 is devoted to ecosystem theory. A review of another relevant topic is W.J. Bock, "The species concept in theory and practice", Zoological Science 9: 697-712. Perceptions of risks and how to educate people about them are in C. Chess & K.L. Salomone, "Rhetoric and reality: risk communication in government agencies", J. Environmental Education 23: 28-33.
A short general review is S. Wald, "Biotechnology, agriculture and food", OECD Observer (Aug/Sept 1992), 4-8. It looks at some OECD publications on the topic. The issue of herbicide-tolerant crops is reviewed in an article J. Dekker & G. Comstock, "Ethical and environmental considerations in the release of herbicide resistant crops", Agriculture and Human Values (Fall 1992), 1-13. They call for much closer examination of the implications of such crops before they are introduced. A special issue of the J. Agricultural & Environmental Ethics 4(2) (1991), 101-222 includes papers on the topics "Ethics and Agricultural Biotechnology: Opposing Viewpoints, ed. G. Comstock. It includes papers on the bovine growth hormone use, justice between intellectual property rights and farmers in developing countries, the structure of scientific research and the common good, manipulating the genome of pigs, intellectual property rights from publicly funded research and ethical issues in biotechnology and agriculture. The journal is available for C$15 from Business office, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Room 039, MacKinnon Building, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1.
has followed up the approval for unrestricted growth of a genetically modified tomato
2: 73, 76) with new proposed rules which would mean that field trials of certain
classes of GMOs (corn, cotton, tomato, soybean, tobacco) may only need to notify
the USDA on the day when they commence trials; Nature
359: 663-4; 360: 94; Federal Register
(6 Nov 1992); GEN
(15 Nov 1992), 1, 16. If an institutional biosafety committee judged other GMOs to be
safe, they would also not require federal overview. See other comments in Biotechnology
The federal government of Germany has agreed to ease the requirements of the gene technology law paperwork; Nature 360: 286. However, a factory for producing insulin that Hoechst wanted to open has been blocked again; Nature 360: 402. An article in German on the problems with over-regulation of genetic engineering in Germany (EEIN 2: 73) is Naturwissen-schaften 79: 482-4. A review of the implementation of the genetic engineering directives of the European Parliament is in Biotech Forum Europe 9: 458-64; also see Biotechnology 10: 1421-6; Science 258: 551; NS (21 Nov 1992), 9. The Dutch government must decide whether the world's first transgenic bull can breed; NS (28 Nov 1992), 8. The bull has a modified lactoferrin gene and could make cows (female) less susceptible to mastitis. The bull was bred by a company Gene Pharming Europe, in Leiden.
The attitudes of scientists working in genetic engineering or biotechnology in the European Molecular Biology Organisation to concerns about genetic engineering has been surveyed and reported in I. Rabino, "A study of attitudes and concerns of genetic engineering scientists in Western Europe", Biotech Forum Europe 9: 636-40; Science 258: 894. From a sample of 400 respondents, 33% considered public attention to have been harmful, 26% saw benefits, and 27% saw it as equally beneficial or harmful. However, 67% reported no harm to their personal research. The views of scientists working in Germany or Switzerland were most negative. The conclusion by most scientists was for a need to be more open to the public, and to inform people what they are doing or planning.
An article on risk communication to the public is in EST 26: 2048-56. It discusses how to develop a method to communicate risk, after finding out what people think is important. In Japan a new Biohistory Research Hall is being opened in April next year, to promote public interest in biology; Science 258: 894.
The results of an experimental release of a genetically engineered microorganism to lake water, and plasmid loss, is reported in AEM 58: 3630-7. A paper on the genetic relationship between plants and their parasites reports gene-for-gene coevolution; Nature 360: 121-5. A review of a meeting on molecular signals between plants and microbes is in Cell 71: 191-9; The Plant Cell 4: 1173-9; Plant Molecular Biology 20: iii-v.
In surveys by
, 66% of consumers in test surveys said that they would pay more for such a tomato
if they feel they are getting good value. More comments on the safety of the Calgene
tomato are in Biotechnology
10 (1992), 1520-1; Nature
361: 197. In the book Attitudes to Genetic Engineering,
I reported that 55% of Japanese public say they have a concern about eating genetically-engineered
"meat". A Sept. 1992 survey (N=3,800) reports that 57% of people said that they
had concerns about the standards and efficacy of tests for imported beef; Japan Times
(18 Feb 1993), 3 - almost the same level of concern. About 60% said that they thought
local beef was too expensive, and 60% also said they found the taste of foreign beef
the same. As I have reported previously, from time-to-time rumours are released
that foreign food imports have chemicals and pesticides, in what some could see as an attempt
to keep people paying higher prices for local produce. From the high level of concern,
it appears that many people believe such rumours. In the USA, the FDA has changed food labelling requirements; BMJ
China has announced publicly what has been known for some time, that they are growing large scale trials of genetically engineered crops; NS (2 Jan 1993), 3, 4. It is also reported that farmers are already spraying engineered Rhizobia onto crops to increase nitrogen fixation. They plan to launch the world's first genetically engineered cigarette later in 1993. They have produced TMV-resistant tobacco, and also are looking at ways to increase nicotine expression so that people will smoke less for the same amount of stimulant.
As reported in the last issue, the USDA has proposed a notification process to replace a review process for certain types of GMO field release; Biotechnology 10 (1992), 1524. An older review of their past testing policy is in BioScience 42 (1992), 280-9; and other comments on APHIS rules are in Biotechnology 11: 8. New EPA rules apply to small-scale (less than 10 acre) tests of many genetically modified microorganisms in the USA; Nature 361: 193. A review of expected events in 1993 in agricultural biotechnology is in Nature 361: 6; and letters on the issues are in Science 259: 162-3. The balance of environmentalism and biotechnology is discussed in Biotechnology 11: 236.
In the Netherlands , the transgenic bull called Herman, who produces lactoferrin, has been given Parliamentary approval to breed. However, only female progeny will be allowed to survive; Lancet 341: 43; NS (9 Jan 1993), 8. Denmark is regulating the growth and use of transgenic animals, replacing a ban on this technology; Biotechnology 10 (1992), 1526. A book review of Transgenic Animals , is in Science 259: 109. The parliamentary moves in German to soften the paperwork for low risk genetic experiments is reported in BMJ 306: 85-6. A review of European groups opposing biotechnology is Biotechnology 11: 44-8.
French researchers have received wider support for the concept of introducing genetically engineered human disease hosts, such as snails, into the world as a method to control human disease; Science 259: 180-1. The idea is that these would be unable to host the pathogen, and would compete with the existing hosts to lower the number of pathogen-carrying vectors. The first stage is to develop gene transfer techniques for invertebrates, who could also produce many useful substances, as bioreactors. Any future widespread use would require much environmental testing before general release.
Although the chemical weapons ban was signed into law; NS (23 Jan 1993), 7; Nature 361: 105, the issue of verification is still remaining, Nature 361: 382; as is the issue of how to dispose safely of all the existing chemical weapons, Nature 360 (1992), 621-2. However, the US admits that it experimented with the effects of mustard gas on its own soldiers for the last fifty years, and is now seeking out about 4,000 persons for compensation; NS (16 Jan 1993), 8; BMJ 306: 292. The Institute of Medicine in the USA has issued a report accusing the US Dept. of Defense of covering up these past tests, and barring access to important documents, some of which are publically open yet unavailable to review; Science 259: 167.
The finding of residues of taro on stone tools used 28,000 years ago in the Solomon
Islands has questioned the origin of world agriculture; NS
(12 Dec 1992), 14. Previous reports show agriculture in the Middle East, but it
appears to have been more widespread. There are plant residues on Egyptian tools
17-18,000 years old, and there are drainage ditches in New Guinea that are 7-10,000
The question of biological control of white fly in the USA is discussed in Science 259: 30.
The US USDA has exempted genetically modified corn, cotton, tomatoes, soybeans, tobacco
and potatoes from reviews. This would cover 85% of past releases. Researchers should
notify intention, and wait for 30 days before commencing. It does not include plants used for drug production (Federal Register
, 31 March 1992). The EPA has proposed an amended rule (EEIN 3: 18) for small scale testing
of GMOs, that would mean that notification only is required.
A new book on theological issues and genetic technology is Ronald Cole-Turner, The New Genesis. Theology and the Genetic Revolution (Westminster/John Knox Press (USA) 1993, 144pp., US$13). An editorial by D. Kevles on biotechnology, ethics and society is in Biotechnology 11 (March 1992), S11. A letter on the Japanese opposition to the site of the NIH biotechnology and pathology laboratory in downtown Tokyo is in Nature 362: 284. On European opposition to biotech see Biotechnology 11: 420.
A book review of H.D. Crone, Banning Chemical Weapons (Cambridge Uni. Press 1993, 122pp., 28), is in Nature 362: 662. A report on the declassification of WWII chemical- warfare research in the USA is Lancet 341: 819. Disclosures about the secret USSR anthrax experiences are in NS (20 March 1992), 4; Science 259: 1698. A new book , The Microbiologist and Biological Defence Research: Ethics, Politics, and International Security, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 666 (1992), 250pp., includes discussion on history, ethics, conventions and the current situation.
There is fear that British river fish are being affected by high levels of steriods in waste water, to change males to females; Science 259: 1119. The generation of a new phenotype in indigenous bacteria from a genetically modified Pseudomonas bacteria allows detection of gene transfer; AEM 59: 807-14. Hybridisation between different fish species is reported in Nature 362: 444-6. The role of acquired characteristics in inheritance and evolution is discussed in SA (March 1992), 112. If we include viruses, plus some interesting examples of Lamarckian-style hereditary.
An interview with a US scientist who redirected research priorities away from herbicide resistant plants is in Ag Bioethics Forum (Dec 92), 1, 5. A review of insect resistance to chemicals is R.A. Morton, "Evolution of Drosophila insecticide resistance", Genome 36: 1-7. A review of B. thuringiensis insecticidal protein research and how to combat resistance to this toxin is Nature 361: 593-4. Japan has said that it will donate 30 tonnes of pesticide to Cambodia , but studies in Thailand show increased use of pesticide increases pests, and in Indonesia decreased pesticide use is associated with increased rice production; NS (13 March 1992), 5.
A review of the
and field trials of
363: 580-1; and a paper reporting a scientific study is M.J. Crawley et al., "Ecology
in natural habitats", Nature
363: 620-3. They studied herbicide-resistant rape and kanamycin tolerance and found
no evidence that these changes increase the invasion potential. In some characters
the transgenic plants were actually less invasive than the wild type. A review also
of interest is A.F. Raybould & A.J. Gray, "Genetically modified crops and hybridization
with wild relatives: a
perspective", J. Applied Ecology
30: 199-219. This paper suggests research priorities to address the ecological issues.
Calgene has begun 6 field trials in Canada of genetically engineered canola designed to produce a novel plant oil for food use; GEN (1 Jun), 28. Field trials of transgenic rice in China and Japan and Texas are discussed in NS (12 June 1993), 20. Commercial sales in Europe of a genetically modified gerbera made in Finland that has softer colours are soon expected; NS (8 May 1993), 17. Field trials of a live vaccine for salmon and trout have been completed in Ireland , but there is an apparent reluctance to expand the work; NS (24 April 1993), 18. The vaccine is a mutant of Aeromonas salmonicidia .
A report from a health survey of workers in a recombinant DNA production factory in Switzerland is in Appl. Microbioly & Biotechnology 39: 227-34. The workers showed no biochemical contact with the bacteria or genes used. A review of the recommendations for safe work with cell cultures containing potential human pathogens is in Appl. Micro. & Biotech. 39: 141-7.
In Japan, in Tsukuba Science City, the court challenge to the safety of the P4-level recombinant DNA facility has been decided, with the judge deciding there was no risk. The protestors have decided not to appeal the decision; Yomiuri Shinbun (26 June 1993), 23.
The German government has drafted the revised genetic engineering regulations to speed up applications, but it is expected to be approved after modifications at the end of 1993; Nature 363: 481. In Germany protestors camped in a field to attempt to stop the planting of transgenic potatoes and sugarbeet; NS (8 May 1993), 8. In Holland there is also continuing opposition to the commercial-isation of GMOs; NS (5 June 1993), 8. Environmental protests about biotech in the USA are discussed in Biotechnology 11: 666-7.
The generalisation of standards for biotechnology product manufacturing are debated in GEN (15 Feb 1993), 4, 25. Each company may use modified standards, and accept different quality standards. On the general use of risk analysis see a review in Environment (March 1993), 16-20, 37-9.
A paper examining how clonal bacteria are is PNAS 90: 4384-8. Some bacteria, and parasitic protozoa, are clonal while others are not. On bacterial sex-pheromone-induced plasmid transfer see a review in Cell 73: 9-12. Another review on the genetics of micobes is in PNAS 90: 4334-6. A conditional suicide gene system for E.coli is described in AEM 59: 1361-6.
A book review of G.B. Carter, Porton Down: 75 Years of Chemical and Biological Research (HMSO, 105pp, 10), describes biowarfare research in the UK; BMJ 306: 1208. US biowarfare research is described as second class science and a waste of money in NS (10 April 1993), 6. On the chemical weapons treaty and industry inspections see C&I (18 Jan 1993), 39. The safest procedures to dispose of chemical weapons are being debated; NS (19 June 1993), 16.
A scientific study showing the advanatages to soil quality and farming output of
is in Science
260: 344-9. There should be no hesitation to adopt such practices. A report from
the World Resources Institute (1709 New York Ave, N.W., Suite 700, Washington D.C.
20006, USA) argues that if the environmental costs of agriculture are subtracted
from the operating profits, most farms in the USA could save US$280 per acre by adopting "
farming". These practises involve crop rotation, fewer pesticides and alternative
The use of more efficient cycling in farms can also be applied to traditional farams such as a village in China as shown in Nature 362: 788; J. Applied Ecology 30: 86-94. The use of fish farms and marginal land to grow grass for the fish, and to recycle nutrients saved pollution, and earned more money. In Japan carp are being used by some farmers to eat weeds in rice paddies to aviod pesticide use. A report on sustainable agriculture for tropical areas is in EST 27: 1004-5. The use of South American savannas for rice and other crops is discussed in NS (19 June 1993), 36-9. The use of roots for sustainable agriculture is reviewed in C&I (4 Jan 1993), 14-7.
A report on the use of a fungus to control grasshoppers in Australia may change the US practices also is in Science 260: 887. Reviews of different aspects of pesticide use, industry and issues in India are in C&I (15 Feb 1993), 112-8; (1 March 1993), 148-54.
On the intertwined origins of agriculture and civilisation see Science 260: 704-5; Nature 363: 402-3, 435-8; Economic Botany 47: 3-14.
As of 19 July 1993 the
had received 142 notifications for release of GMOs, since the 30 April. The number
of environmental release permits issued in total was 457, noting that some of these
are for multiple sites (up to 89 for the most sites per permit). US regulations
are discussed in Biotechnology
11: 876-7; Science
The OECD has surveyed field releases of GMOs since 1986 and found that of 846 approvals, 483 were for herbicide tolerant plants (57%), with the next most common trait being virus resistance. 34% of the trials were for oilseed rape, next were potato, tobacco, tomato, corn, flax, soybean, cotton, in descending order. The USA and Canada had the most recorded trials.
Releases of genetically modified fish will come under the guidelines of the USDA when a new bill is introduced, research on a Sea Grant program is under the Commerce Dept., so this will formalise regulation; Science 261: 542.
The Austrian proposed bill which will regulate GMOs as well as human genetics has been revised, to remove some bureaucracy from low risk experiments; Nature 364 (26 Aug 1993). The magazine Zeithema (Vienna) has published a special issue on biotechnology to promote discussion. The papers are in Austrian, including one on biotech in Japan by D. Macer.
Experiments off the Florida coast show that marine bacteria take up DNA free floating in seawater; NS (7 Aug 1993), 14. In a study of a Vibrio species, 10% could undergo transformation (uptake of DNA). In a typical estuary of 1 trillion litres, there may be 1011 - 1015 transformations per year with a DNA concentration of 4-50ug free DNA per litre. Horizontal inter- and intra-specific gene transfer is reported in Drosophila in Science 260: 1796-9; in bacteria in Biotechnology 11: 767; AEM 59: 2257-63. A review of J.C. Fry & M. Day, eds., Release of Genetically Engineered and Other Microorganisms , Cambridge University Press, 1993, US$90, is in Biotechnology 11: 937.
In Australia there is concern over the use of viruses to sterilise the red fox and rabbit, in pest control efforts; Science 261: 683-4. A paper looking at the global transport of exotic marine organisms by shipping is in Science 261: 78-82, 34-5. Many of them are taken in as ballast seawater, and are plankton, and these invasions have already been occurring. A review of biological invasions and what we can learn from them is TREE 8: 133-7.
has drafted a bill on GMO release, to bring it into accordance with the EC directives
on GMO release, after a long delay; Nature
365: 684. It will not give the autonomous regions a say in the national process,
so it is expected to be controversial. In
the Social Democrats are threatening to block a bill in the Bundesrat, that was approved
by the Bundestag in early October. They object to the phrase allowing release of
GMOs without a public hearing.
In New Zealand the bill to establish an Environmental Risk Management Authority (older proposed name was Hazards Controls Commission) is expected to progress after the forthcoming elections. For more details contact the NZ Ministry for the Environment. All new organisms will be assessed prior to release in New Zealand. The statutory Authority will replace the interim committee, which has approved 27 releases of GMOs (plants and animals) or large scale fermentations of genetic engineering organisms.
A general review of options for regulation especially for developing countries is W. Lesser & A.P. Maloney, Biosafety: A Report on Regulatory Approaches for the Deliberate Release of Genetically-Engineered Organisms - Issues and Options for Developing Countries, Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development 1993 (Box 14, Kennedy Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853-5901, USA), 67pp.
The floods in the US this summer led to the loss of a transgenic insect-resistant corn trial in Iowa, but no fears of gene transfer are held by the researchers because the corn were not old enough to flower; Science 261: 1271. A review of interest is C.F. Amabile-Cuevas & M.E. Chicurel, "Horizontal gene transfer", American Scientist 81: 332--41. On transposons see Cell 74: 781-6.
Comments on the use of biotech to detect research into biowarfare , and for use in biosensors to detect pathogens, are Biotechnology 11: 979. On chemical weapons see Nature 365: 218; and on searching laboratories to detect such weapons,Science 261: 826.