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Category Archives: Human Genetic Engineering

Sonny Perdue proposes transferring animal biotech regulation to USDA – AG Week

According to a statement from the USDA, the agency will begin an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit public input and feedback on the contemplated regulatory framework.

Our livestock producers need all the tools in the toolbox to help protect against animal diseases and continue to meet the challenge of feeding everyone now and into the future. If we do not put these safe biotechnology advances to work here at home, our competitors in other nations will, Perdue said. Science-based advances in biotechnology have great promise to continue to enhance rural prosperity and improve the quality of life across Americas heartland and around the globe. With this effort, we are outlining a pragmatic, science-based, and risk-based approach that focuses on potential risk to animal and livestock health, the environment, and food safety in order to provide our farmers and ranchers the tools they need to continue to feed, clothe and fuel the world.

This ANPR will transition portions of FDAs pre-existing animal biotechnology regulatory oversight to USDA. USDA will consult with FDA to ensure reviews benefit from FDAs expertise, while providing developers with a one-stop-shop for their products at USDA.

Through this ANPR, USDA is proposing to establish a flexible, forward-looking, risk-proportionate and science-based regulatory framework that provides a predictable pathway to commercialization and keeps pace with advances in science and technology for certain farm animals (cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses, mules, or other equines, catfish, and poultry) developed using genetic engineering intended for agricultural purposes.

USDAs proposed safety review would cover molecular characterization, animal health (including noninfectious, infectious, and zoonotic diseases), efficacy (for disease and pest resistance traits), environmental considerations, food safety evaluation of any expressed substance (including allergenicity and compositional analyses of key components), and food storage and processing. USDAs proposal would provide end-to-end regulatory oversight from pre-market reviews through post-market food safety monitoring of animals. USDA will continue to coordinate closely with the FDA to fulfill oversight responsibilities and provide the appropriate regulatory environment, ensuring the safety of products derived from new technologies, while fostering innovation at the same time.

Under the regulatory framework being contemplated, USDA would provide regulatory oversight from pre-market reviews through post-market food safety monitoring for certain farm animals developed using genetic engineering. USDA would promulgate regulations using the authorities granted to the Department through the Animal Health Protection Act (AHPA), the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA). Pursuant to these authorities, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would conduct a safety assessment of organisms developed using genetic engineering that may increase an animals susceptibility to pests or diseases of livestock, including zoonotic diseases, or ability to transmit the same. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would conduct a pre-slaughter food safety assessment to ensure that the slaughter and processing of animals developed using genetic engineering would not result in a product that is unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food.

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Sonny Perdue proposes transferring animal biotech regulation to USDA - AG Week

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Frankenfish or food of the future? The risks and rewards of Canadas genetically engineered salmon – The Narwhal

This is the second part of The Narwhals three-part series on the future of sustainable salmon.

On Prince Edward Island, anchored between Rollo Bay and a sea of potato fields, the first genetically engineered salmon raised in Canada for food are swimming in tanks.

Grown in a land-based containment system, they look like any other Atlantic salmon: silvery, pale-bellied and speckled on top. But hidden in their DNA is a growth hormone gene from chinook salmon spliced into genetic coding from ocean pout, an eel-like fish that allows them to grow to full size at twice the speed.

When the salmon are harvested early in the new year, they will be shipped to seafood distributors, finding their way to restaurants, hotels, hospitals and grocery stores. Yet Canadians munching on salmon tacos or salmon au gratin wont have a clue they are eating the worlds first genetically modified food animal. Unlike the European Union and the United States, Canada does not require GMO foods to be labelled and the fast-growing fish are no exception.

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AquaBounty Technologies, the U.S.-based biotechnology company pioneering the genetically engineered salmon, says it is combining the goodness of nature with the power of science and technology.

We believe savouring your favourite fish and helping save the planet should be one and the same, the companys website says. And thats why we believe in using science and technology to help solve global problems, like food scarcity and climate change.

AquaBounty markets the salmon as disease- and antibiotic-free, saying its product comes with a reduced carbon footprint and no risk of pollution of marine ecosystems compared to traditional sea-cage farming.

But others have a wildly different view of the AquaBounty salmon, grown with technology called AquAdvantage, a name that would be at home on the pages of a dystopian Margaret Atwood novel.

Its Frankenfish, says Charlie Sark, a member of the Mikmaq First Nations and professor in the school of climate change and adaptation at the University of P.E.I. Its science fiction. Just because weve created a machine that can splice genes together, does it mean we should do it?

Even if the engineered salmon are raised only in land-based containment systems, Sark and others say human error could lead to the genetic contamination of threatened wild salmon stocks, underscoring that the federal governments behind-closed-doors approval of AquAdvantage fish has far reaching consequences for Indigenous Rights and nature.

Salmon are sacred, Sark says in an interview. You just cant change the genetics of an animal that Indigenous peoples have used for thousands of years without first consulting them.

An AquaBounty genetically engineered Atlantic farmed salmon photographed in July, 2020, at a fish farm facility on Prince Edward Island. Photo: AquaBounty

Genetically engineered salmon eggs were approved for land-based production in Canada in 2013, when Stephen Harpers Conservatives were in power.

The government only permitted one company, AquaBounty, to produce the eggs and only at a P.E.I. facility. Today, the Rollo Bay operation is also the sole supplier of genetically engineered Atlantic salmon eggs for the companys land-based salmon farm in Albany, Indiana, which planned to send salmon to market late this year or early in 2021.

The eggs had their genesis in a laboratory at Newfoundlands Memorial University, where scientist Garth Fletcher and his colleagues isolated the anti-freeze gene in ocean pout, which can survive year-round in near-freezing waters.

They replaced the coding region in the middle of the anti-freeze gene unlike in other fish, the gene doesnt turn off seasonally with the growth hormone gene from chinook salmon (the scientists used chinook because it was readily available at the time).

Then the team injected the new coding sequence into Atlantic salmon eggs. It took a while for us not to kill the eggs, Fletcher, head of the ocean sciences department, says in an interview.

After tweaking their technique, Fletcher and his colleagues were excited to discover the genetic trait was passed on through breeding. And then came another exciting finding for the team; the rapidly-growing salmon reached maturity in just under two years, compared to three.

Scientist Garth Fletcher is head of the ocean sciences department at Memorial University and worked with colleagues to develop the AquAdvantage technology now being used in AquaBounty salmon farms. Photo: David Howells / Memorial University

It was an enormous change in the rate of growth, Fletcher says, noting that cross-breeding has further enhanced growth speed. Its the same with any crop, if you can replant land or get another set of fish earlier than normal, you have increased productivity.

By comparison, regular Atlantic salmon grown in optimal conditions in Atlantic Sapphires land-based facility in Florida reach maturity in 22 to 24 months.

Fletcher doesnt consider the genetically modified salmon to be much different than new fruit and vegetable products created through cross-breeding, such as the Cosmic Crisp apple that has a longer shelf life or Depurple, a purple cauliflower sweeter than the typical white variety.

He says food companies are getting rid of everything that doesnt meet their standards in terms of a commercial product. Youre actually changing nature all these kinds of things are unnatural if you want to call it that.

There is a problem with food production in the world. I know some of it is political, but if I have an idea or a technique that might be able to help with food production then Im all for it, as a scientist.

The need for protein is growing in tandem with the worlds rising population, expected to top nine billion before 2025. Salmon, which have Omega-3 fatty acids and are a good source of minerals and vitamins, are increasingly in demand. But the on-going decline of wild stocks is constricting supply. And as tighter regulations make open net pen salmon farming more challenging, investors including AquaBounty are turning to land-based salmon farming.

AquaBounty farmed salmon grown in containment tanks. The company says the fish are reared without the need for antibiotics and are free from parasites. Photo: AquaBounty

Fletchers team, which was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, partnered with a small company that morphed into AquaBounty, largely bankrolled by billionaire biotech entrepreneur Randall Kirk.

When AquaBounty set up its research and development facility on Prince Edward Island to produce the genetically modified eggs, the federal government did not permit the fish to be grown to adult size, so eggs were shipped to an AquaBounty research and development facility in Panama.

Once Health Canada approved the salmon for consumption in 2016, Ottawa allowed AquAdvantage salmon grown in the Panama facility to be sold to unwitting Canadian consumers.

The first batch of genetically modified Atlantic salmon from the Panama facility arrived at Montreals Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport in 2017, according to import documents obtained by the Quebec food watchdog group Vigilance OGM. More than 4.5 tonnes of AquAdvantage salmon subsequently flowed, unlabelled and untraceable, into Canadas food supply.

Peter Bowyer, AquaBounty farm manager, oversees containment systems where the salmon are grown. Photo: AquaBounty

There is no mandatory labelling for consumers in the grocery stores and theres very little transparency, and yet we find ourselves in the position of eating the worlds first genetically engineered animal, says Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, which represents 16 groups working on issues related to genetic engineering in food and farming.

Sharratt, who has an extensive background working as a researcher and campaigner for groups involved in genetic engineering and global justice issues, says the lack of transparency extends to Ottawas decision-making process for approving the engineered salmon.

Starting in 2019, following a federal risk assessment, Ottawa allowed the salmon to be raised to maturity at the Rollo Bay facility, which also produces conventional salmon eggs, triggering concerns about a potential mix-up.

The biotechnology action network has tried to obtain information about the behind closed door approval process, Sharratt says, but information AquaBounty submitted to the government is confidential and the networks questions havent been satisfactorily answered.

The information thats used to decide the safety of genetically engineered food is submitted by the companies that want approval, she says. Very little of that information is publicly available. Very little is peer-reviewed.

The absence of information is all the more concerning, she says, because of the broad and also unknown implications of tampering with nature and the precedents it sets.

What we have here is potentially a very profound shift in the way we view food and where it comes from. Do fish come from the ocean, do they come from our rivers, do they come from an ecosystem? Or do they come from an on land factory? What decisions are we making that further threaten the future of wild salmon?

Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, is concerned about the consequences of genetically modified food. Photo: Lucy Sharratt

Nature Canada senior advisor Mark Butler says the federal government has opened a Pandoras box by approving the development and sale of genetically engineered salmon and eggs without a robust public discussion about the potential consequences.

You could say, whats wrong with pink blue jays or blue cardinals? We are now applying engineering to the genome to the very blueprint of life. It has big implications and this technology is racing along. I think it gets at the whole issue of whats wild and whats nature, and where do humans stop and where does nature start?

Do we have the right to edit the genome of a wild species from an Indigenous perspective? This raises some pretty fundamental questions and challenges.

Salmon are sacred to Indigenous peoples like the Mikmaq, and are part and parcel of food security and food sovereignty, Sark points out. They are also an integral part of cultures through ceremony, song, oral history and art. As wild stocks decline, it has a reverberating impact on the physical and spiritual health of Indigenous communities.

Sark says Indigenous peoples should have been properly consulted and Ottawa should have obtained their free, prior and informed consent before approving genetically engineered salmon.

As a Mikmaq I have a right to food, I have a right to fish lobster, I have an inherent right to access and harvest fish out of the ocean or out of the streams, the brooks, the rivers, the lakes. The Canadian government cannot extinguish that right.

He wonders what would happen if he caught an Atlantic salmon that somehow contained DNA owned by AquaBounty.

Im holding a salmon that Ive caught in my traditional waters, that my ancestors have used for thousands of years, but because its an escaped salmon or an inbred salmon from this genetically modified [organism], is it illegal for me to hold that fish and eat it without paying AquaBounty? Sark asks. Where does this end?

Kris Hunter of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a science and advocacy organization dedicated to conserving and restoring wild Atlantic salmon, says genetically engineered salmon could be an ecological disaster for wild salmon, especially if rules change and they become the fish of choice for the farmed salmon industry.

if these animals were to get out what impact that would have on the wild fishery?

He points to the escape of hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon from fish farms in B.C. and Washington state. In December 2019, more than 20,000 salmon escaped from a Mowi fish farm near Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island, while more than 160,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm in Washington State in 2018, leading to a state ban on raising Atlantic salmon in open net pens.

Some escaped Atlantic salmon have been found in the salmon-bearing Fraser River, heightening worries that they will compete for food and habitat given evidence that the farmed fish can naturally reproduce.

Our concern would be if these animals were to get out and what impact that would have on the wild fishery? The wild fishery is not doing well right now.

Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting Canadas oceans, is uneasy about how the fast-growing genetically modified salmon might behave in the wild, possibly mating with endangered salmon populations, preying on wild juvenile salmon and outcompeting wild salmon and other ocean creatures for food. You can picture it wanting to hoover up everything in its path.

And if the salmon farming industry transitions to land-based containment systems, Wristen and Butler say there will be pressure on companies from investors to embrace genetically engineered salmon, to keep costs in line with competitors.

A wild Atlantic salmon in the waters near Quebec. Canadas wild Atlantic salmon populations have dramatically declined in recent decades. Photo: Shutterstock

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved AquaBountys genetically engineered salmon in 2010, on the condition that the salmon be sterile. Sterility is achieved through a process that creates a condition called triploidy the salmon have three chromosome sets instead of two that is between 99.5 and 99.8 per cent effective.

Its an important barrier, but not a fool proof barrier, Butler notes. For every 10,000 salmon the company produces, between 20 and 50 fish will be fertile.

Hunter, director of programs for P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, says the Atlantic Salmon Federation has met with AquaBounty and the company appears to be doing due diligence to make sure the genetically engineered salmon dont escape.

Our concern is an accident. A truck goes off the road carrying these things as its crossing a salmon river, and the next thing you know these fish are out and theyre breeding amongst other fish populations and causing untold damage.

Genetically engineered salmon eggs could also get mixed up with the regular salmon eggs harvested at the same AquaBounty facility and end up at an open net pen farm, Hunter points out. The company isnt currently permitted to sell the eggs to open net pen operations in Canada, but Hunter says that could always change.

Systems fail and accidents happen. Once the genie is out of the bottle you cant put it back in We think this is a very risky enterprise. And we dont necessarily see the benefit.

In an emailed response to questions from The Narwhal, AquaBounty president and CEO Sylvia Wulf said the company does not plan to supply AquAdvantage salmon eggs to open net pen farms and will produce the genetically modified salmon in its own land-based facilities.

AquaBountys land-based farm in Albany, Indiana, plans to send its first salmon to market later this year or early next year, depending on demand, which has been dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company also plans to build a much larger facility in Mayfield, Kentucky, that will produce 10,000 metric tonnes of salmon a year, about eight times more than its Indiana plant.

Wulf says all of the companys market production salmon are female and sterile, which means they cannot mate with each other or with other Atlantic salmon. In addition to the biological barrier, she says the companys land-based containment systems are equipped with physical barriers, including screens, grates, netting, pumps and chemical disinfection, to prevent escape of salmon at all life stages, from eggs to full size.

AquaBountys P.E.I. fish farm. The facility is located in farmland where potatoes and soybeans grow and is about one kilometre away from the Northumberland strait. The facilitys proximity to streams and ocean water is cause for concern among critics. Photo: Leo Broderick

And AquaBounty will address egg mix-up concerns by ensuring that eggs are from conventional salmon before sending them out to farms, says Wulf, who declined a telephone interview.

Sark calls the secretive federal approval process of AquAdvantage salmon a coup detat, noting that the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which regulates genetically modified organisms, hasnt been updated for 20 years and doesnt have the bandwidth to consider genetically modified salmon.

The act, according to Butler, is a really complicated and obtuse piece of legislation, while Wristen says as challenging to decipher as the often maligned income tax act.

Our act is outdated, Sark says, and I would say extremely colonial in its essence that it cant consider genetic modification of animals that Indigenous people to a large extent still rely on, or use for ceremonial purposes, which is a matter of our sovereignty. Using the animals for sustenance is a matter of food security. The role it plays in ceremony and in culture and identity is a matter of our food sovereignty.

This is a first in the world. Youre approving it to go ahead. And your legislation is inadequate.

In the September Speech from the Throne, the Trudeau government pledged to update the environmental protection act. But Butler says senior officials in Environment Canada have indicated the changes will be minor, much to the dismay of those considering the impacts of genetically engineered salmon.

This is a first in the world, Sark says. Youre approving it to go ahead. And your legislation is inadequate and youre not considering making it adequate? Wait a second. Isnt that your job? Isnt that the role of government to make sure our health and security is looked after? Isnt that the ultimate number one goal when you sit there in Parliament to look after our interests, not the economic interests of one company?

In 2016, the Centre for Food Safety and the environmental law organization EarthJustice sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approving genetically engineered salmon, acting on behalf of a broad coalition of environmental, consumer, commercial and recreational fishing organizations and the Quinault Indian Nation.

In early November, a U.S. federal court judge ruled the Food and Drug Administration failed to analyze the risks to endangered salmon from an escape and to take into account the full extent of plans to grow the genetically modified salmon in the U.S. and around the world.

The court also ruled that the Food and Drug Administrations conclusion that genetically engineered salmon could have no possible effect on endangered wild Atlantic salmon stocks was wrong, and violated the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

While Judge Vincent Chhabria found the current risk to wild salmon stocks is low, he said the possibility of exposure increases with each new facility built.

Understanding the harm that could result from that exposure and having an explanation of it on record will only become more important, the judge said, ordering the FDA to go back to the drawing board to sketch out a full explanation of potential environmental consequences.

The decision, watched closely by Nature Canada, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and other groups in Canada, was celebrated by Earthjustice and its clients. Our efforts should be focused on saving the wild salmon populations that we already have not manufacturing new species that pose yet another threat to their survival, Earthjustice managing attorney Steve Mashuda said in a media statement.

Earthjustice cited studies showing there is a high risk for genetically engineered organisms to escape into the natural environment, and that genetically engineered salmon can crossbreed with native fish. Genetically engineered crops commonly cross-pollinate or establish themselves in nearby fields or the wild a process known as transgenic contamination. The contamination episodes have cost American farmers billions of dollars over the past decade, Earthjustice noted.

In wild organisms like fish, it would be even more damaging.

Wulf says the company is disappointed with some of the judges conclusions but remains confident in the robust scientific studies and review that led to the 2015 FDA approval of AquaBounty salmon.

This case did not call into question FDAs approval regarding the health and safety of our AquAdvantage salmon, she wrote in her email. The focus of this decision was on the potential environmental impacts, and the judge confirmed the low threat to the environment of our salmon.

The decision will not impact operations at the Prince Edward Island or Indiana facilities, according to Wulf, who says the company will work with the FDA on next steps and will continue to evaluate the legal decision.

The future of our domestic and global food supply will depend on innovation and technology and AquaBounty remains steadfast in our commitment to leading that charge.

Butler, who supports land-based salmon farming operations, has a piece of advice for AquaBounty: Skip the genetically engineered salmon and just raise normal fish using the best techniques and the best genetic strains and we wont have a problem with your operation, he says.

Most Canadians, if they had to assess the risks and benefits, would just say, Give me a normal salmon.

Canadian farmed salmon are being genetically engineered to grow faster to feed more people. But some worry there isn't enough transparency and accountability when it comes to the impact of genetic engineering on the natural world and Indigenous rights. Illustration: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

And since youre here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (weve made a conscious decision to keep our journalism free for all readers, regardless of whether or not they can afford to pay). Despite 2020 being the absolute worst, some really good things happened at The Narwhal, with more than two million readers and a record number of new monthly members. Will you be the next Narwhal to join our pod?

As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isnt to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs its to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, weve hired eight journalists in less than a year.

Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but were telling stories differently by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 2,200 members.

The truth is we wouldnt be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.

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Frankenfish or food of the future? The risks and rewards of Canadas genetically engineered salmon - The Narwhal

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Marking Environmental Progress Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary Part VI – Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Throughout 2020, much of our attention has been focused on the uncertainties brought on by the novel coronavirus and the prolonged election season. With so much of our time and effort taken up by lockdowns, personal distancing and campaigns, it has been a struggle to keep track of many of the other issues that typically affect our lives.

Despite the almost overwhelming litany of distractions, the Mackinac Centers Environmental Policy Initiative has spent the past several months putting together a list of 50 reasons people can be optimistic about our future. We chose to list 50 separate technological and environmental innovations that have helped human life to flourish on our planet, and not because that was all we could find. In fact, there are so many more examples to list that we could have kept this up for a great deal longer. We chose to narrow the project to a list of 50 to recognize the fact that 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

So far, weve seen 45 different ways that humanity has improved the environment for ourselves and the planet. Those reasons include:

With this post, we will finish off the final five ways human ingenuity is improving our environment and helping people to live healthier, longer, more fulfilled lives:

This completes our 50th Anniversary of Earth Day list of reasons people have to be optimistic about their future. Human ingenuity has developed amazing technologies and found numerous new ways to solve the environmental challenges we face. Whether these innovations help us find cheaper and cleaner energy sources, expand our ability to treat disease, decrease poverty, increase our access to food, stop species extinctions, or protect us from the impacts of natural disasters, their common element is the creative potential of the human mind.

Humanity is often wrongly maligned by green groups, elected officials, and the media as a necessarily destructive influence on our Earth. But our 50 examples demonstrate this is simply not the case. We have only published 50 reasons in this series, but the human mind has not yet begun to approach the limit of what it can achieve.

Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.Permission to reprint any comments below is granted only for those comments written by Mackinac Center policy staff.

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Marking Environmental Progress Earth Day's 50th Anniversary Part VI - Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Should education be a part of human engineering? – Sunday Observer

With genetic engineering, well be able to increase the complexity of our DNA and improve the human race. But itll be a slow process, because one will have to wait about 18 years to see the effect of changes to the genetic code. Stephen Hawking

Modern eugenics, better known in the present world as human genetic engineering has become one of the most important research areas, since genetic engineering can prevent and/or cure diseases or improve the human body in significant ways.

Even though potential health benefits of human gene therapy are enormous one should not overlook the equally staggering potential dangers it also brings.

Genetic testing already allows parents to identify some diseases in their child in utero which will give them the choice to decide whether they want to terminate the pregnancy.

Genetic testing

This can be extended to detect negative traits implicated by a particular gene and try to eliminate it or modify it. This becomes controversial since what exactly constitutes negative traits is open to interpretation. Many people think the laws of nature should not be tampered with, even if the intentions of doing so are backed by the purest of motives.

Advancements in genetic engineering and modern research in the area of eugenics these days do not get as much publicity as the new findings and applications in the area of ICT and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

As in any other area of science and technology, genetic engineering also has its good and bad coming with it leaving the choice of using it for selfish reasons or for the betterment of the world in general, in the hands of human beings.

This is where the question: Should education be a part of human engineering? comes to the surface since it is obvious that the advancement of technology comes through science and technology education.

But, if the system of education in which science and technology education of the kind is facilitated does not emphasise the importance and provide opportunities to develop ones ethical and moral standards then the development of such technologies can, in the long run, do more harm than good.

The practice or the concept of improving the human species by selectively mating people with specific desirable hereditary traits is known as Eugenics. It supposedly aims to reduce human suffering by breeding out diseases, disabilities and so-called undesirable characteristics from the human population. The word eugenics is supposed to have been coined by Sir Francis Galton in the late 1800s to mean well-born or good creation using the Greek words eu meaning good and genos meaning birth.

Eugenics

Even though Galton gets the credit for introducing the concept and the word eugenics in modern history, Platos The Republic mentions about creating a superior society by procreating high-class people together and discouraging reproduction among the lower classes and/or cross breeding.

Historically, eugenics encouraged people of so called superior class to reproduce more and discouraged reproduction of the mentally challenged or anyone who fell outside the social norm.

Even though eugenics got all its negative publicity due to Adolf Hitlers obsessive attempts to create a superior Aryan race during the years leading to World War II, he has mentioned in his books that he has followed American eugenics very closely in the 1930s.

In 1896, the state of Connecticut, in the USA, made it illegal for people with epilepsy or who were feeble-minded to marry.

As the concept of eugenics was becoming popular, in the early 1900s, scientists and administrators in the USA established a eugenics record office to track families and their genetic traits.

There have been over 20,000 forced sterilisations in state mental institutions in the state of California under the guise of protecting the society from the offspring of people with mental illness.

Thirty-three states eventually allowed involuntary sterilisation of anyone who deemed unworthy to procreate according to the definitions of the lawmakers at the time. Records show that close to 50 percent of Native Americans were sterilised between 1970 and 1976.

Some of the women have been sterilised during other surgical procedures without their knowledge. Such occurrences were taking place in the USA long after Hitlers trials of creating the Aryan race.

Genetic differences

Even if we do not use the word eugenics, as long as we do the same thing with the expectation of similar results, the consequences would be the same.

There may be genetically enhanced athletes performing in Olympics and in professional sports in the future. It may seem unfair just as the usage of steroids or other enhancement drugs is considered to be.

But, the supporters of human engineering might argue that it has always been the case where some humans are born with better performance abilities than others and the ability to manipulate the genes is also a part of the natural progress of human knowledge. In fairness, enhanced genetic differences would be no worse than natural ones, assuming that they were safe and made available to anyone interested in doing so.

In a world dominated by competition from kindergarten to universities and beyond, parents would be lined up to receive the services of genetic engineers to give their children every possible advantage.

The advancement of science and technology, though it can bring much good, it is dangerous since it is used by humans themselves who have not shown any development in their ethical and moral behaviour.

If the word spiritual can be used to denote any or all activities which can drive the human being forward towards a higher state of consciousness, then an essential part of an education system would be a support system for the participants to improve their spirituality.

This type of spirituality has nothing to do with religion but will be capable of guiding the thought process of the human being away from using his knowledge against the common good.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and thirteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [emailprotected]

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Should education be a part of human engineering? - Sunday Observer

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Explained: What US FDA nod for genetically modified pigs means – The Indian Express

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 19, 2020 12:45:50 pmThis undated photo provided by Revivicor, Inc., a unit of United Therapeutics, shows a genetically modified pig. (Revivicor, Inc. via AP)

This week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a first-of-its-kind intentional genomic alteration (IGA) in a line of domestic pigs referred to as GalSafe pigs. These pigs may be used for food and human therapeutics, the FDA has said. This will be the first time that the regulator has approved an animal biotechnology product for both food and biomedical purposes.

What is intentional genomic alteration?

Intentional genomic alteration in animals means making specific changes to the genome of the organism using modern molecular technologies that are popularly referred to as genome editing or genetic engineering. However, there are other technologies that can be used to make IGAs in animals.

Such changes in the DNA sequence of an animal may be carried out for research purposes, to produce healthier meat for human consumption and to study disease resistance in animals among other reasons. One example is of using IGAs to make an animal more susceptible to certain diseases such as cancer, which helps researchers get a better understanding of the disease and develop new therapies to treat it.

The FDA maintains that the only difference between an animal with an IGA and one that does not have an IGA is that the IGA gives them a new trait or characteristic, such as faster growth or resistance to certain diseases.

Essentially, an IGA is inserted into an animal to change or alter its structure and function and the FDA makes sure that the IGA contained in the animal is safe for the animal and safe for anyone who consumes a product or food derived from the animal. Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What does FDAs recent approval mean?

The FDA made the announcement this week and allowed IGA in GalSafe pigs to eliminate a type of sugar found in mammals called alpha-gal. This sugar is present on the surface of these pigs cells and when they are used for products such as medicines or food (the sugar is found in red meats such as beef, pork and lamb), the sugar makes some people with Alpha-gal Syndrome (AGS) more susceptible to developing mild to severe allergic reactions.

Since GalSafe pigs may potentially be used to produce human medical products, IGA will help eventually free these products from detectable alpha-gal sugar, thereby protecting their human consumers from potential allergies.

According to the FDA, GalSafe pigs may be used to make the blood-thinning drug heparin.

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A closer look at the genomes of microbial communities in the human mouth – Tech Explorist

Some bacteria are abundant in specific locations while absent from others. But, how did the bacteria get into the wrong place? How do we add the good bacteria into the right place when the biogeography has gotten out of whack?

Bacterias are so tiny and small that it is difficult to characterize which subgroups of bacteria live and what genes or metabolic abilities allow them to thrive in these wrong places.

Scientists from Harvard University studied the human oral microbiome and discovered impressive variability in bacterial subpopulations living in some mouth regions.

Co-author A. Murat Eren, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago, said, The mouth is the perfect place to study microbial communities. Not only is it the beginning of the GI tract, but its also a very unique and small environment thats microbially diverse enough that we can start to answer interesting questions about microbiomes and their evolution.

The mouth contains a surprising amount of site-specific microbes in different areas. For instance, the microbes found on the tongue are very different from the microbes found on the teeth plaque. Your tongue microbes are more similar to those living on someone elses tongue than they are to those living in your throat or on your gums!

Scientists scoured through public databases and downloaded 100 genomes that represented four bacteria species commonly found in the mouth, Haemophilus parainfluenzae, and the three oral species of the genus Rothia. Using these bacterias as references, scientists tend to discover their relatives sampled in hundreds of volunteers mouths from the Human Microbiome Project (HMP).

Lead author Daniel R. Utter said,We used these genomes as a starting point, but quickly moved beyond them to probe the total genetic variation among the trillions of bacterial cells living in our mouths. Because thats what were curious about, not the arbitrary few that have been sequenced.

Using the approach called metagenomics, scientists deeply examined the genomes of the microbes, which led to a shocking discovery. They found a tremendous amount of variability. What was more surprising was the patterning of that variability across the different parts of the mouth, specifically, between the tongue, cheek, and tooth surfaces.

For example, within a single microbe species, the researchers found distinct genetic forms strongly associated with a single, different site within the mouth. In many cases, the team was able to identify a handful of genes that might explain a particular bacterial groups specific habitat. Applying metagenomics, the scientists were also able to identify specific ways free-living bacteria in peoples mouths differed from their lab-grown relatives.

Colleen Cavanaugh from the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, said,Having identified some strong bacterial candidates that could determine adaptation to a particular habitat, we would like to test these hypotheses experimentally. These findings could potentially be the key to unlocking targeted probiotics, where scientists could use whats been learned about each microbes habitats requirements to engineering beneficial microbes to land in a specified habitat.

Co-author Jessica Mark Welch, an associate scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, said,The mouth is so easily accessible that people have been working on bacteria from the mouth for a long time.

Every environment we look at has these complicated, complex communities of bacteria, but why is that? Understanding why these communities are so complex and how the different bacteria interact will help us better understand how to fix a bacterial community thats damaging our health, telling us which microbes need to be removed or added back in.

Utter said,This study and others like it can provide new insights on the role of oral microbes in human health. The ability to identify specific genes behind habitat adaptation has been somewhat of a holy grail in microbial ecology. We are very excited about our contributions in this area!

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A closer look at the genomes of microbial communities in the human mouth - Tech Explorist

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