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This Shavuot, Have Another Slice of Grasshopper Cheesecake or Be Brave Enough to Try a Real Insect – CTech

§ May 30th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on This Shavuot, Have Another Slice of Grasshopper Cheesecake or Be Brave Enough to Try a Real Insect – CTech

In Israel, the Jewish harvest holiday of Shavuot, also known as Pentecost, which is celebrated this week. is dominated by cheese and cheesecake. But this year, even observant Jews, separating dairy and meat products, might want to consider adding some novel parve grasshopper meat to their dairy spread.

Notably, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been a longstanding supporter of cultivating insects as an alternative source of protein. However, introducing new protein sources, even from resources that have been around for a long time, like bugs, requires compliance with sometimes onerous regulatory oversight.

For example, the European Union (EU), which is infamously terrified of genetically modified (GMO) food products, has a special set of new regulations for novel foods. As per the EU rules, novel foods are defined as "food that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before May 15, 1997." Insects clearly fall under this legal definition.

The novel food regulatory process is also designed to allow foods that are otherwise eaten in other countries, for example, traditional foods, like grasshopper, to be brought into the EU. Currently, the process is notoriously long and expensive, and, to date, only four traditional foods have been authorized since the law's inception in 2018.

As of last month, however, it was reported that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was set to rule on allowing insect-based foods such as those containing parts of or whole mealworms, locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers to be readily available across the continent by the fall of 2020.

The U.S. insect food industry has been even more stifled, heretofore lacking any standard system for regulating insects as food. Allegedly, it has focused more on their negative aspects, regulating, for example, insect parts in food as filthand not on their potential as edible foods via certified Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP).

Until such time as entomophagy becomes mainstream, the aforementioned fast food industry is at least trying to do its part in dealing with the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Burger King, for example, recently announced it would be including extra onions in its Whoppers in Italy in the hope that the resulting bad breath will provide that needed extra impetus for keeping social distancing guidelines.

Edible insects, like other technologies and ideas that have long sat at the cusp of broad social acceptance, may have found their opportunity to go mainstream during the current crisis. There is a growing push to use the global pandemic as an opportunity to reset some of our bad habits and help promote wallflower notions, including telemedicine, distance learning, and even universal basic income.

The World Economic Forum (WEF), for example, sees the crisis as an occasion to "to redesign a sustainable, inclusive economy, revitalizing industry, preserving vital biodiversity systems and tackling climate change." Effectively, the WEF sees this as an opportunity to push through the European Green New Deal that was proposed just prior to the first reports of the pandemic in December.

Under this agenda, Europe's "greener, more resilient and inclusive future" would find the use of alternative, affordable, and clean protein sources to be especially appealing.

But not everything at the end of the pandemic will be green. NASA's iconic pumpkin-colored flight suits will be replaced this week with Hollywood-designed, retro white suits that will be worn by the first two astronauts to arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) on a private rocket. The suits design has already proven its mettle in two previous launches with Starman on Elon Musk's orbiting Tesla and Ripley, the female test dummy, in an early test of the Dragon Crew capsule.

Many look forward to seeing NASA's real human astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, arrive at the ISS via SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, bedecked in their new white suits on their historic mission, if all goes well, just as Shavuot starts on Thursday.

Behnken and Hurley however, wont be the only ones who will have the opportunity to experience Shavuot in space. Late last week, Japans space agency JAXA, in conjunction with Japanese robotics startup GITAI Inc. reportedly sent a telepresence robot, effectively a space avatar or robonaut, to the ISS. This device will allow select earth-bound individuals to begin to appreciate what it is like to spend time on the ISS, and is designed, ironically, just as we are introducing new ways to launch humans outside of earth, to reduce our reliance on a human presence in space.

Behnken and Hurley also won't be the only people wearing white this weekend. While Americans already traditionally started wearing white as part of their formal attire on Memorial Day, this past Monday, many Israelis will likely be festooned in their whites this coming Shavuot, while enjoying the holidays white night (all-nighter) learning events.

Although NASA, which consideredincorporating insects (as of 1947, the first animals in space) into its space-cuisine as far back as 1981, will likely not be feeding its new ISS guests any grasshoppers this Shavuot, maybe people down here on earth might be bold enough to do so. And, if you still cannot stomach the real deal, at least enjoy the long-standing Shavuot staple, the green-hued grasshopper cheesecake.

Dov Greenbaum is a director at the Zvi Meitar Institute for Legal Implications of Emerging Technologies, at Israeli academic institute IDC Herzliya.

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This Shavuot, Have Another Slice of Grasshopper Cheesecake or Be Brave Enough to Try a Real Insect - CTech

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UW researcher invents groundbreaking microbiological gout remedy | Current Edition – Wyoming Tribune

§ May 30th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on UW researcher invents groundbreaking microbiological gout remedy | Current Edition – Wyoming Tribune

Dr. Christoph Geisler hadnt thought much about gout one way or another until his former boss had a debilitating attack, which prompted the microbiologist to do a little investigating. What he found was not only was the affliction incredibly painful, but there were also no good cures.

Now, less than a year later, the former chemical engineer turned molecular biologist has turned his curiosity into a full-time career and business. Hes now getting close to launching the first genetically engineered probiotic designed to tackle gout by targeting the gut. His patent-pending probiotic supplement called Krystalase contains microbes specifically engineered to address the root cause of gout.

Geisler, a former doctorate student at the University of Wyoming, is originally from the Netherlands. He founded his company, Theraneutrics, in 2018 and was one of three new innovative companies to win UWs prestigious Microbial Ecology Collaborative Startup Launchpad (MECSL) award in April. Along with the designation, the award also includes $25,000 in seed capital funded by the National Science Foundation and Wyoming EPSCoR. This money is split among the three winners, including Laramie-based AsimicA and Livestock Wx, a Casper company founded by Chad McNutt to provide weather information for livestock producers.

As one of the winners, Geisler not only won seed funding for his business, but also was affirmed in the promise of his idea. He plans to use the money to help develop his prototype strain, which is currently in the research and development phase and thus far demonstrates proof of principle in a test tube.

Although seemingly simple in theory, his genetically modified strain of yeast works as a probiotic to break down the uric acid that humans are unable to metabolize. The human body makes uric acid as a byproduct, and if levels get too high, it can start to form long, thin needle-like crystals in joints. The result is gout, with pain that Geisler describes as one of the worst imaginable. And though uric acid is produced in cells of every part of the body, humans and apes unlike other mammals and organisms are unable to metabolically break down the poorly soluble substance.

Think of humans as mutants that dont have the gene to degrade uric acid, he said. In healthy humans, it ends up excreted (though urine), but it cant be broken down by our bodies.

Until now, Geisler explained, despite the prevalence of gout in the United States and beyond, there hasnt been a new cure invented for the past 40 years. People tend to think of gout as a 19th century ailment, he added, but its actually becoming much more common because of the obesity epidemic, and heavy dairy and meat consumption. There are basically two commonly prescribed remedies created by big pharma, both of which are rife with detrimental side effects because they go directly into the bloodstream, he explained.

His probiotic has been engineered to target and break down uric acid in the gut to prevent it from being reabsorbed in the bloodstream. This eliminates it from the body and stops gout attacks by preventing uric acid crystals from forming. There are many other supplements, typically plant-based, that are marketed towards gout, Geisler mentioned. This includes cherry extract, which decreases inflammation and helps with the pain. However, none of these supplements actually target the root cause of gout, Geisler said, and many rely on a placebo effect: They create the illusion of actually working, when, in fact, many people just learn to live with the pain.

Geisler, who thus far is an inventor on four U.S. patents, is encouraged by the success of his probiotic thus far, and plans to begin testing it on mice as Theraneutrics enters the next phase of product testing. Due to the time required and expense of doing multiple trials to earn Food and Drug Administration approval, Geisler plans to market Krystalase as a supplement, which cuts up to 10 years off the time required to bring a product to market.

Unlike the costly price of the most effective anti-gout drugs on the market (up to $17,000 every two to four weeks), Krystalase is designed to be affordable at about $3 per day (or roughly $90 a month), with no side effects or need for expensive health insurance. Because it is genetically modified, as opposed to plant-based organic, he recognizes his market will likely not compete with organic supplements. Instead, this puts him in a category of his own as the first probiotic specifically designed to tackle gout. He expects to optimize the genetic circuits and complete animal trials over the next year, at which point he thinks the product will be getting ready to hit markets.

Why nobody until now has thought to tackle gout on a metabolic level is a question that he cant answer.

Somebody has to be the first to come up with the idea, right? he said with a laugh.

Traditionally, gout research has been confined to designing new drugs that target the same mechanism, and therefore are likely to be no more effective than existing drugs, with similar side effects, Geisler said. On top of that, he added, the phrase genetically modified, has been demonized, making it scary to many. Advancements in gene modification technology, however, have come a long way in the past two decades, he noted, making such tools much more accessible for researchers like him.

Mainly, he said, hes happy to work on creating a product that has the potential of bringing relief to a large body of patients currently suffering from such a painful ailment.

Once he successfully brings Krystalase to market, who knows where his next inspiration will take him? Maybe hell accidentally run into another medical condition for which theres no good cure. Necessity, after all, as he pointed out, is the mother of all invention.

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UW researcher invents groundbreaking microbiological gout remedy | Current Edition - Wyoming Tribune

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COVID-19: More than 500 scientists from around the globe to analyse patients blood – BBC Focus Magazine

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More than 500 scientists from around the world have formed a coalition to share data on the novel coronavirus, based on techniques which examine peoples blood.

The COVID-19 Mass Spectrometry Coalition (COVID-19-MSC) is made up of leading experts who will work together to look at the ways the virus is present in patients blood and examine how it is structured.

The aim is to refine testing approaches, look at treatment options, and determine isolation requirements.

Mass spectrometry is a technique used by scientists to measure and analyse molecules.

When scientists put a sample through a mass spectrometer, they can find out the ratio of mass to electric charge of the component molecules in the sample.

The COVID-19-MSC is using the technology to measure the molecules that change in a patients blood as the infection takes hold. It can be used to find out what the molecules are, and how many of them there are.

The coalition, announced in The Lancet, and coordinated by the University of Manchester, is looking for biomarkers in the patients blood that will determine how a given individual will respond to the virus.

This information would allow hospital labs to predict the outcome of the disease and to target treatment accordingly.

Mass spectrometry will also help develop effective treatments by targeted studies that measure the decrease in these markers.

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Mass spectrometry is a powerful analytical tool that can be applied in many important ways to help address the COVID-19 pandemic, said Liverpool Professor of Biological Mass Spectrometry, Claire Eyers.

Our international collaborative endeavour will leverage our diverse technological expertise to respond to current unmet needs in understanding and addressing COVID-19 biology.

Professor Perdita Barran, director of the Michael Barber Centre for Collaborative Mass Spectrometry, at the University of Manchester, said: By cooperating in this way, the scientists working in the coalition will have access to many more sources of data from around the world.

We will be pooling our expertise and we believe we will be able to work much faster and have an impact on a range of priorities; from testing, to treatment and vaccination.

Vaccines work by fooling our bodies into thinking that weve been infected by a virus. Our body mounts an immune response, and builds a memory of that virus which will enable us to fight it in the future.

Viruses and the immune system interact in complex ways, so there are many different approaches to developing an effective vaccine. The two most common types are inactivated vaccines (which use harmless viruses that have been killed, but which still activate the immune system), and attenuated vaccines (which use live viruses that have been modified so that they trigger an immune response without causing us harm).

A more recent development is recombinant vaccines, which involve genetically engineering a less harmful virus so that it includes a small part of the target virus. Our body launches an immune response to the carrier virus, but also to the target virus.

Over the past few years, this approach has been used to develop a vaccine (called rVSV-ZEBOV) against theEbola virus. It consists of a vesicular stomatitis animal virus (which causes flu-like symptoms in humans), engineered to have an outer protein of the Zaire strain of Ebola.

Vaccines go through a huge amount of testing to check that they are safe and effective, whether there are any side effects, and what dosage levels are suitable. It usually takes years before a vaccine is commercially available.

Sometimes this is too long, and the new Ebola vaccine is being administered under compassionate use terms: it has yet to complete all its formal testing and paperwork, but has been shown to be safe and effective. Something similar may be possible if one of the many groups around the world working on a vaccine for the new strain ofcoronavirus(SARS-CoV-2) is successful.

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Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus and looks after all things books, culture and media. She is also a regular interviewer on the Science Focus Podcast. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.

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COVID-19: More than 500 scientists from around the globe to analyse patients blood - BBC Focus Magazine

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Ethicists: We need more flexible tools for evaluating gene-edited food – The Conversation US

§ May 30th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Ethicists: We need more flexible tools for evaluating gene-edited food – The Conversation US

Is there now a way to genetically engineer crops to create food that people can confidently consider natural?

Gene-editing technology sounds like it might offer this possibility. By altering an organisms genetic material, or genome, without introducing genes from other species, advocates of genome editing argue the technique can sidestep most of the difficult ethical and regulatory challenges plaguing organisms with added transgenes, which are genes from other species. Some even argue these cisgenic products are natural enough to count as organic.

As ethicists specializing in how technology alters human-nature relations, we can understand why advocates see the ethics this way. If crossing species lines is the measure of whether a technique counts as natural or not, then genome editing appears to have the potential to pass a naturalness test.

Genome editing, its boosters say, can make changes that look almost evolutionary. Arguably, these changes could have happened by themselves through the natural course of events, if anyone had the patience to wait for them. Conventional breeding for potatoes resistant to late blight is theoretically possible, for example, but it would take a lot of time.

Although we understand the potential advantages of speed, we dont think an ethics hinging on the idea of cisgenesis is adequate. We propose a better ethical lens to use in its place.

Our work is part of a four-year project funded by the Norwegian Research Council scrutinizing how gene editing could change how we think about food. The work brings together researchers from universities and scientific institutes in Norway, the U.K. and the U.S. to compare a range of techniques for producing useful new crops.

Our project is not focused on the safety of the crops under development, something that obviously requires concerted scientific investigation of its own. Although the safety of humans and the health of the environment is ethically crucial when developing new foods, other ethical issues must also be considered.

To see this, consider how objections against genetically modified organisms go far beyond safety. Ethical issues around food sovereignty range broadly across farmer choice, excess corporate power, economic security and other concerns. Ethical acceptability requires a much higher bar than safety alone.

Although we believe gene editing may have promise for addressing the agricultural challenges caused by rising global populations, climate change and the overuse of chemical pesticides, we dont think an ethical analysis based entirely on crossing species lines and naturalness is adequate.

It is already clear that arguing gene-edited food is ethical based on species lines has not satisfied all of gene editings critics. As Ricarda Steinbrecher, a molecular biologist cautious about gene editing, has said, Whether or not the DNA sequences come from closely related species is irrelevant, the process of genetic engineering is the same, involving the same risks and unpredictabilities, as with transgenesis.

Comments of this kind suggest talking about species lines is an unreliable guide. Species and subspecies boundaries are notoriously infirm. Charles Darwin himself conceded in Origin of Species, I look at the term species, as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other.

The 2005 edition of the Mammal Species of the World demonstrated this arbitrariness by collapsing all 12 subspecies of American cougars down to one Puma concolor cougar overnight. In 2017, the Cat Classification Task Force revised the Felidae family again.

If species lines are not clear, claiming naturalness based on not crossing species lines is, in our view, a shaky guide. The lack of clarity matters because a premature ethical green light could mean a premature regulatory green light, with broad implications for both agricultural producers and consumers.

We think a more reliable ethical measure is to ask about how a technique for crop breeding interferes with the integrity of the organism being altered.

The term integrity already has application in environmental ethics, ecology, cell biology, interhuman ethics, organic agriculture and genetics.

A unifying theme in all these domains is that integrity points toward some kind of functional wholeness of an organism, a cell, a genome or an ecological system. The idea of maintaining integrity tracks a central intuition about being cautious before interfering too much with living systems and their components.

The integrity lens makes it clear why the ethics of gene editing may not be radically different from the ethics of genetic modification using transgenes. The cell wall is still penetrated by the gene-editing components. The genome of the organism is cut at a site chosen by the scientist, and a repair is initiated which (it is hoped) will result in a desired change to the organism. When it comes to the techniques involved with gene editing a crop or other food for a desired trait, integrity is compromised at several levels and none has anything to do with crossing species lines. The integrity lens makes it clear the ethics is not resolved by debating naturalness or species boundaries.

Negotiation of each others integrity is a necessary part of human-to-human relations. Adopted as an ethical practice in the field of biotechnology, it might provide a better guide in attempts to accommodate different ethical, ecological and cultural priorities in policymaking. An ethic with a central place for discussion of integrity promises a framework that is both more flexible and discerning.

As new breeding techniques create new ethical debates over food, we think the ethical toolbox needs updating. Talking about crossing species lines simply isnt enough. If Darwin had known about gene editing, we think he would have agreed.

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Ethicists: We need more flexible tools for evaluating gene-edited food - The Conversation US

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Mass Extermination of Iowa Pigs Amid Pandemic Revealed – The Intercept

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This article and accompanying video include graphic imagessome readers may find disturbing.

Video footage of dead pigs being removed from an Iowa Select Farms barn on May 19, 2020, after ventilation shutdown was used to depopulatethousands.

Still: DxE investigation

Iowas largest pork producer, Iowa Select Farms, has been using a cruel and excruciating method to kill thousands of pigs that have become commercially worthless due to the coronavirus pandemic. As is true for so much of what the agricultural industry does, the companys gruesome extermination of sentient animals that are emotionally complex and intelligent has been conducted entirely out of public view.

But The Intercept, as the result of an investigation by animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, has obtained video footage of the procedure and the resulting carnage that occurred at one of the companys facilities in mid-May. Additionally, a whistleblower employed by Iowa Select has provided extensive details to The Intercept about the extraordinary methods now being employed to kill pigs agonizingly andover the course of many hours in increasingly large numbers.

What prompted both the DxE investigation and the whistleblower to come forward is Iowa Selectsrecentadoption ofthe mass-extermination method known asventilation shutdown, or VSD. Under this method, pigs at the companys rural Grundy County facility arebeing depopulated,using the industrys jargon, bysealing off all airways to their barns and inserting steam into them, intensifying the heat and humidity inside and leaving them to die overnight. Most pigs though not all dieafter hours of suffering from a combination of being suffocated and roasted to death. The recordings obtained by The Interceptincludeaudio of the piercing cries of pigs as they succumb. The recordings also show that some pigs manage to survive the ordeal but, on the morning after, Iowa Select dispatches armed workersto enter the barn to survey the mound of pig corpses for any lingering signs of life, and thenuse their bolt guns to extinguish any survivors.

Im in

The whistleblower told The Intercept that when Iowa Select beganusing the ventilation shutdown method in late April,it first experimented on a smaller group of hogs byjust shutting off the airways into their barn and turning up the heat. Other employees told similar stories to DxE investigators. After those experiments failed the oxygen-deprived pigs survived over the course of many hours, the whistleblower said, due to a failure to increase the heat to fatal levels Iowa Select decided tobegininjecting steaminto the barns, to accelerate the accumulation of heat and humidity. That steam is visible in the video provided to The Intercept andis the culmination, at least thus far, of severalattempts to perfect VSD. The whistleblower explained the process:

They shut the pit pans off, shut the ventilation fans off, and heat up the building. Thats what the plan is. Its horrific as it is. It was first used on test cull sows: thosewere first given the VSD treatment. The first day they shut off all the fans and turned the heat up and the hottest they could get the building was 120 degrees. After four to five hours, none of the animals were dead. There was an attempt to induce steam into the building, along with the heat and the ventilation shutdown, and that is how they ultimately perfected their VSD operation. Every time theyve been euthanizing the animals, its been a test in a sense. Piglets were killed off in a barn with gas generators.

The profit model of the agriculturalindustry depends, of course, on raising animals in ways that cause suffering for years and then ultimately killing themto convert them into meat. Thoughfood lines are growingaround the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has promptedfactory farms to exterminate animals en masse because of the erosion of their commercial supply chains. Numerous slaughterhouses have been forced to close due to Covid-19 outbreaks among theirinsufficiently protected employees, and this has only increased the amount of excess animals the industry regards as worthless and disposable.

Rather than caring for these animals until pre-pandemic demand returns, or converting them into discounted or donated food for millions of people who have suddenly become unemployed and food insecure by caring for theanimalsuntil slaughterhouse capacity can accommodate them, many companies, including Iowa Select, have evidently made decisions driven exclusively by agoal tomaximize profits. In sum, they are slaughtering these now worthless animals in vast numbers as fast as possible, using extermination methods that cause sustained suffering and agony, to avoid the costs of keeping them alive.

During the pandemic, mass slaughter has become commonplace at factory farms, even though many of these farms are not where large-scale killing is meant to occur. In normal times, the animals would be transported to slaughterhouses and killed there in ways that, at least in theory, minimize the crueltyby accelerating the death process.But mass killings that radically deviate from the normal slaughterhouse process are now rampant in this industry and are expected to increase. At least two million animals have already reportedlybeen culled on farm, and that number is expected to rise, The Guardian reported on April 29. Officials in Iowa have warnedthat producers could be forced to kill 700,000 pigs a week due to meat plant slowdowns or closures.

Thismass extermination requires the use oflife-extinguishingprocedures which, prior to the pandemic, were not typically employedby this industry. And those procedures are anything but quick, painless, or humane, as this four-minute video produced by The Intercept demonstrates:

The decision to kill healthy animals in unusually large numbers has led many factory farms to resort to methods that are novel and gruesome. The quickest and most merciful way to induce death for so many animals at once shooting them in the head one by one would be too emotionally traumatizing even for factory farm employees who are accustomed to raising animals in order to bring them to slaughter. Even when standard industrial methods of slaughter are used, factory farm work has been demonstrated to entail serious mental health harmsfor workers.

But the method of ventilation shutdownnow being used at Iowa Select causes pigs to endure great anguish over many hours on their way to death. On the hidden audio recorders placed in the barn as part of DxEs investigation, sustained screams of distress and agony are audible as the heat fills the building while the air supply is shut down. The deployment of armed workers to shoot any pigs who are clinging to life in the morning is designed to ensure 100 percent mortality. But the number of pigs in the barn is so great that standard methods to confirm death, such as pulse-checking, are not performed, making it quite possible that some pigs survived the ventilator shutdown, were not killed by bolt guns, and are therefore buried alive or crushed by the bulldozers that haul away the corpses.

An Iowa Select Farmsworkeron May 19, 2020, carrying a gun in a barn after ventilation shutdown has been used to kill excess pigs.

Still: DxE investigation

Iowa Select has not responded to numerous questions submitted by The Intercept. But upon discovering that investigators from DxE had obtained video footage from inside one of its barns showing the suffering of pigs during this process, the company tried to preempt this reporting by admitting its use of VSD in an article published last week byaporkindustry newsletter. The thought of euthanizing entire herds is devastating, a company spokesperson told the newsletter. Sadly, Iowa Select has been forced to make this heartbreaking decision for some of its herd.

To another industry outlet,the company announced in a statement that they have been forced to euthanize some of its herd, emphasizing not the pain endured by the animals that were exterminated, but the suffering of company executives: Its been hard on us to come to those decisions, says Pete Thomas, DVM at Iowa Select Farms.

The video obtained during DxEs investigation and provided to The Intercept viscerally conveys theinhumane crueltyof this extermination method. The video cameras placed inside the barn, along with audio recorders, were activated shortlyafter DxE investigators learned that a ventilation shutdown was scheduled for a particular night in mid-May.

Those video and audio devices recorded the start of the killing process, beginning with the sealing off of all airways, and continued all night as the pigs suffered and died. The devices continued recording through to the next morning, when Iowa Select employees entered the barn, finished the extermination process by shooting the pigs who managed to survive and then removed the corpses using bulldozers. The audio recorders document the noises of anguish emitted by the pigs during the procedure, as well as the sound of guns finishing off survivors. It also recordsdiscussions by Iowa Select Farms about what they were doing, followed by theireventual discovery that hidden cameras had captured everything that was done.

In an interview with The Intercept, the whistleblowing employee of Iowa Select, who originally wanted to speak on the record but changed their mind due to fear of reprisals from the industry that dominates their state, described the abuses that prompted them to reach out to DxE even prior to the pandemic. The whistleblower recounted how their pre-Covid-19 anguish escalated significantly over the last several months, and how they were pushed over the limits of their conscience by witnessing the unparalleled horrors of their employers use of ventilation shutdowns.

Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the whistleblower decided tocovertlycommunicate with DxEinvestigators after reading a study published by the group on the inhumane and often illegalconfinement of factory farmpigs in which they linger for years with no adequate space even to turn around. The conditions in which the Iowa Select pigs were kept with nowhere near enough room to be considered humane by the whistleblower was increasingly weighing on their conscience. The whistleblower explained to The Intercept that a massive increase in pig production over 2019 led to the already cramped space for pigs becoming even smaller. Despite being around farms for decades, the whistleblower could hardly bear to see what was happening. Its immoral, hard to see every single day, they said.

Months ago, the whistleblower even began conducting research into regulatory requirements, after observing that the pigs were being stored in ways thatappeared tothemto bedouble what is permitted by applicable standards. But they quickly determined that the state would have little interest in taking action.

Indeed, the agricultural industry has longused its economic dominance to influence both political parties and the legislative process to enact laws and regulations with little purpose other than to maximize their profit margins and conceal from the public the realities of how they operate. The industry succeeded even to the point of inducing the enactment of now-notorious andconstitutionally invalidated ag-gag laws, designed to punish various forms of transparency intended to show the public the realities of what takes place inside industrial farms. A shortdocumentary produced by The Intercept lastyear revealed pervasive abuses in Iowas meat industry and how those abuses are protected and enabled by industry-dominated politicians who receive substantial donations and dutifully subject themselves to industry lobbyist control.

The whistleblowers growing concerns about the ethics of this industry quickly evolved as the coronavirus pandemic began seriously affecting factory farms. The pandemic caused massive backups, the whistleblower said. As market gluts and slaughterhouse shutdowns increased, the whistleblower began to suspect that massive kill-offs of healthy pigs were being planned by the company: Pigs, in the whistleblowers words, are now being killed for no reason.

This realization of imminent mass extermination using methods that cause death slowly and painfully elevated the crisis of conscience to an entirely new level. The weight of that was pretty heavy, to be honest, the whistleblower said. Over the course of the last several months,thewhistleblower began seeing Iowa Select implement new protocols and schedules for the transportation of pigs, reviewing documents describing new procedures,and hearing from other facility employees about plans for ventilation shutdown. That was when the whistleblower concluded that the reality of killing healthy pigs en masse was coming very much sooner rather than later.

The Iowa Select Farms whistlebloweris far from being a coastal animal rights activist or vegan fanatic ideologically opposed to all animal agriculture.The source is virtually the opposite of that industry-peddled caricature:someone who has been around farming, including industrial agriculture,for their entire life. They are someone fully accustomed to the raising and slaughtering of animals for food, often under repressive and inhumane conditions.And yet, even with all of that mental conditioning and cultural immersion, the whistleblowerwas reaching the breaking point for what theirconscience could withstand even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic ushered in all-newmoral atrocities,they could no longer morally justifystaying silent and complicit about an industry that has long providedthem and much oftheir community with employment.

Rather than becoming inured to these abusesas the result ofdaily exposure, the whistleblower was becoming increasingly sickened by them. While this is an industry Ive grown up around, the whistleblower said, I wasnt becoming numb to it. It was affecting me more and more every day: feeling the compassion and empathy for these animals that we were working with every day, then beginning to question the ethics and morality of industrial practices.

As The Intercept has often documented, pigs are social animals at least asintelligent and emotionally complex as dogs, who experience the full range of emotions from life: joy, playfulness, love, connection, pain, loss, suffering, and grief. But at least prior to the coronavirus pandemic, even with all the immense suffering factory farm animals endure bred by industrial agriculture to live in extreme deprivation, which often includes beingconfined for years in cages so small they cannever even turn around, living in festering disease, and beinggenetically modifiedto be more profitable to the point that their own distorted bodies cause constant pain the method of slaughter that finally ends their suffering is typically (though not always) free of sustained, enduring pain and agony.

But the pandemic, while having no effect onthe inherent moral value of these sentient beings, has stripped them of their commercial worth.And that has resulted in the industry using extermination methods outside of the standard processes, producing new ethical and moral horrors in an industry that was already suffused with them.

Iowa Select Farms brands itself as an ethical, animal-friendly company,andits website repeatedly emphasizes the companys ethical concern for its animals.The company functions, according to the site, with homegrown Iowa values. We believe in doing the right thing every day, operating with character and integrity and being stewards of our resources.

The company proclaims that it believe[s] by taking care of our animals, people, environment and communities we will achieve our mission of producing pork, responsibly. The motto that adorns the front page of its website is Producing Pork Responsibly and features bucolic images and videos touting the companys compassion to its employees and animals alike, includingone page headlined, A True Passion for Animals Runs Deep.

Iowa Select Farms website.

Butthe company is a money-making machine. The nations fourth-largest pork producer, selling more than5 million hogs each year principally to Tyson Foods and the Brazilian firm JBS, it has been privately owned by Jeff and Deb Hanson since its 1992 founding.

Upon learning of imminent exposure of its extermination methods due to its discovery of hidden cameras, the company is tryingto spin the story in its favor.One of theindustry newslettersthat the company spoke with dutifully painted the DxE investigators as the villains its headline was Animal Activists Attack Iowa Select Farms while downplaying or even justifying the extermination method used.Thecompanys spokesperson repeatedits us-as-the-real-victims narrative toa different industry newsletter: The thought of euthanizing entire herds is devastating. Sadly, Iowa Select has been forced to make this heartbreaking decision for some of its herd.

When forced to admit their mass extermination program, the factory farm industryinsists on a pleasant-sounding euphemism euthanizing to create the impression that their animals are being gently put to sleep in socially familiar and ethically acceptable ways. This term, by design, evokes the way an elderly family dog suffering from a painful and incurable disease is treated when brought to the neighborhood veterinarians office and administered a chemical that quickly and painlessly brings about unconsciousness in order to relieve the animal of suffering, all for the good of the beloved family pet. This euphemism similarlytriggers humanitariansentiments by invoking the increasingly accepted right of humans to legally obtain the assistance of doctors to enable humane and painless forms of suicide when they are suffering from incurable, degenerative diseases.

But in the context of ventilation shutdown, that term radically distorts the mortifying reality of what is being done at these factory farms both because of the extreme, sustained suffering experienced by the animals subjected to it and becauseeuthanasia implies the merciful killing of hopelessly sick and suffering living beings. But the pigs that are being mass exterminated are not sick at all but perfectly well; what they lack is not health but commercial value.

To defend its ventilation shutdown methods, Iowa Select claims, in the words of one of the industry newsletters, that veterinarians and production well-being professionals are overseeing the process to ensure accordance with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians and American Veterinary Medical Association. But that claim is questionable in several respects.

The veterinarians used by this industrymay bedependent upon the very factory farms whose corporate conduct they are charged with overseeing andcouldthus be incentivized to sanction those practices,similar to the way one would not rely on scientists working for the fossil fuel industry as a primaryauthority for assessing the environmental soundness of Exxon Mobils conduct. The Iowa-based American Association of Swine Veterinarians receives ample financial support from corporationswith involvement in the industrial agriculture.The AASV did not respond to inquiries from The Intercept about its relationship to the pork industry or to its role in Iowa Selects use of ventilation shutdown.

On May 19 the same day Iowa Select discovered thatDxE investigators had obtained video footage of ventilation shutdown in one ofits barns the AASV board of directorspublished astatement on Covid-19 and swine producers that said: If depopulation must be considered, veterinarians should reference theAmerican Veterinary Medical Associations Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals. That manual describes the proper ethical protocols for numerous depopulation methods, dividing them into Preferred methods and ones that are only Permitted in Constrained Circumstances.

Ventilation shutdown is classified by those guidelines not as preferred but as permitted in constrained circumstances. The AASVs May 19 statementproclaimed that with regard to depopulation procedures, priority should be given to those methods classified as Preferred but the circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 processing disruption may require the use of methods classified as Permitted in Constrained Circumstances.'In effect, the AASV, at exactly the time Iowa Select discovered that its mass extermination of pigs had been recorded by animal rights investigators, publicly decreed that ventilation shutdown could be justified given the exigencies of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ventilators at an Iowa Select barn sealed off to prevent air from entering the facility where pigs are placed.

Still: DxE investigation

But both the video footage obtained by The Intercept and the testimonial from the Iowa Select whistleblowerreveal that, contrary to Iowa Selects claims, not everything is being done in compliance with the depopulation guidelinescodified bytheAmerican Veterinary Medical Associations Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals, the manual which AASV suggests should be used forextermination programs justified in the name of Covid-19.

That manual provides thatdepopulation methods, when carried out in the optimal manner, should result in rapid loss of consciousness and the associated loss of brain function. Avoiding suffering for the animals is a primary metric to determine a methods ethical propriety. According to the manual:Physical methods must be skillfully executed to ensure a quick and humane death because failure to do so can cause significant stress, distress, and pain.

The manual states that the most efficient way to avoid pain and suffering is sudden death, entailing the direct, trained application of violent force to each animal targeted for extermination: Physical methods that destroy or render nonfunctional the brain regions responsible for cortical integration (eg, gunshot, captive bolt, cerebral induction of epileptiform activity in the brain [eg, electric stunning], blunt force cranial trauma, and maceration) produce instantaneous unconsciousness.

The manual explicitly emphasizes that the more employeesare required to administer direct violence necessary for sudden death the greater the risk to them of emotional and mental health injury: Physical methods usually require a more direct association of the operator with the animals, which can be offensive to, and upsetting for, the operator. That emotional injury can extend far beyond the facility employees themselves. As the manual explains: Those making the decision to depopulate must be mindful of the emotional impact of the procedure on owners of the animals, laboratory technicians, conservation managers, emergency response personnel, veterinarians, and the community at large.

While the manual approves of the use of ventilation shutdown for mass killing in certain limited circumstances only when other, more merciful and ethical procedures are unavailable the description makes clear how horrifying it is, and how much suffering it entails, even when done in accordance with the most rigid protocols, because the animals do not die instantly but over time from a combination of suffocation and heat. Worse, 100 percent mortality for the animals subjected to it is difficult to achieve:

Circumstances that have resulted in VSD of modern swine facilities have resulted in the complete or partial depopulation of pigs housed in affected facilities. When ventilation systems fail, pigs may suffer distress or death by what is commonly called suffocation implying lack of oxygen or excessive CO2. In realistic terms, death may result from any combination of excessive temperature, CO2, or toxic gases from slurry or manure below the barn.

Ventilation shutdown involves closing up the house, shutting inlets, and turning off the fans. Body heat from the herd raises the temperature in the house until animals die from hyperthermia. Numerous variables may make the time to death of 100% of animals in the barn subject to a range of times. The age and size of the barn; the insulation of the barn; the ventilation system; the ability to adequately seal fans, louvres, doors, and windows; and the number and size of animals in the barn can make achieving temperature goals problematic. In the United Kingdom, a case study involving swine that experienced a ventilation failure event showed that 100% mortality was not achieved within that particular barn design, even after 16 hours.

The manual states without qualification that failure to achieve 100% mortality in depopulation is unacceptable. Yet, beyond other apparent deviations from the manual on at least some occasions including a failure to introduce enough heat into the barn to kill most or all of the oxygen-deprived pigs Iowa Selects process, as demonstrated by both the video at the barn and the whistleblowers revelations, has at least on some occasions not achieved 100 percent mortality, a failure the manual classifies as unacceptable.

When this source first spoke to The Intercept, they indicated that they wanted to speak on the record about what they had been seeing and why theyfound it so unconscionable. They wanted to put their name and face on these denunciations. Ultimately, however, the whistleblower decided that they could not subjectthemself andtheir family to the almost-certain extreme repercussionsof denouncing an industry of unparalleled power in their state, as well as risking their employment in the middle of a job-killing pandemic.

Coming forward would cause a lot of pain and anguish with friends and family, the whistleblower said. This industry encompasses everything that is home. Everything around is here based off this very industry, and with that, its seeing friends, friends parents and kids, all seeing you as the bad guy. This industry has done a very good job with its PR campaign: No matter what, before anything is said, youre going to be the bad guy.

Iowa Selects success in immediately shifting blame away from itself andonto theDxEinvestigators who were about to exposetheir cruel and inhumane practices doing so literally on the same day the company discovered that its ventilation shutdown horror show had been recorded on video illustrates how well-grounded the whistleblowers fears are.

Even opting for anonymity to reveal these industry secrets, as the source well knows, is a risky propositionin an extremely well-funded and powerful industry with a demonstrated intent and ability topunish anyone who shines a light on what they do. Along with the DxE investigators whowork in a legal regime where the criminals are deemed to be not those who impose systemic cruelty on animals but those who expose it, the whistleblower here is aware of the risks they have taken by coming forward, but told The Intercept that the mandates of conscience compelled the decision to do so.

Watch todays new episode of SYSTEM UPDATE about this article, including interviews with the lead DxE investigator and the Iowa Select Farms whistleblower, debuting on The Intercepts YouTube channel at 7:00 p.m. ET.


Mass Extermination of Iowa Pigs Amid Pandemic Revealed - The Intercept

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The Pros And Cons Of Genetically Engineering Humans

§ May 26th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on The Pros And Cons Of Genetically Engineering Humans

Today there is a lot of fear and anxiety around the prospect of genetically modify humans beings. Yet it is increasingly looking like this will become more commonplace in the coming decades.

Over the past year, Ive had the opportunity to speak with members of the scientific and business communities working on genetic engineering. Ive discussed with them how this technology could evolve and what some of the potential benefits and risks are to society. In this post, Ill share what Ive learned, in case others find it interesting.

Why should we care about genetic engineering?

It could help eliminate hundreds of diseases. It could eliminate many forms of pain and anxiety. It could increase intelligence and longevity. It could change the scale of human happiness and productivity by many orders of magnitude. There are only a handful of areas of research in the world with this much potential.

Zooming out, genetic engineering could be viewed as a historical event on par with the cambrian explosion in how it changed the pace of evolution. When most people think of evolution theyre thinking about biological evolution through natural selection, but this is just one form. Over time, it will likely be superseded by other forms of evolution that act much more quickly. What are some of these? The candidates in my mind are (1) artificial intelligence, or synthetic life, breeding and mutating at a rapid rate (2) biological life, with genetic engineering being used to take a more directive approach, and (3) some merged hybrid of the two. Instead of waiting hundreds of thousands of years for beneficial mutations to show up (as with natural selection), we could start to see beneficial changes every year.

This all sounds pretty far fetched, I dont think any of it will happen soon in the near future.

Its important to disentangle whether we think something will happen from whether we think it should happen. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of it happening, and this influences their prediction of how likely it is to happen.

Consider where we are today:

So genetic engineering is already happening on humans today, and I dont see any reason why it would stop.

With the creation of CRISPR and similar techniques, weve seen an explosion in research around making actual edits to DNA. I recommend reading Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternbergs book, A Crack In Creation, for a great overview of this topic.

A lot of research is happening, but actually editing human DNA wont be allowed. You dont actually think people should be having designer babies do you?

If it has the potential to eradicate many diseases and minimize human suffering, I think we should continue to research it, with the caution and prudence it deserves.

Some will say that every child has the right to remain genetically unmodified, and others will say that every child has the right to be born free of preventable diseases. We make many decisions on behalf of children to try and help them have a better life, and I dont see why this would be any exception.

Many new medical treatments have similar ethical issues as they are being developed. Typically, new drugs are tested on mice, then terminally ill patients, then slowly wider sets of people. They go through FDA trials for safety and efficacy. There is a well established path to test new therapies. Genetic engineering may have more potential (both for good and for harm) than most new medical treatments, but this doesnt mean that a similar process cant be followed.

The American National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine also gave qualified support to human genome editing in 2017 once answers have been found to safety and efficiency problemsbut only for serious conditions under stringent oversight.

As for designer babies, people use this term to mean choosing traits like height or eye color that are not related to health. I do think some parents will want to choose attributes like these, but this isnt where most of the potential benefits will come from. Ill discuss this more a bit lower down.

Finally, it wont just be babies. Adults will be genetically modified at some point as well.

I dont know. It just seems wrong to play god and move into this territory.

Think about surgery. Three hundred years ago, it must have seemed quite strange to play god and cut open a human body. Surgery was also an incredibly risky and crude process (someones arm or leg might be amputated on a battlefield in an attempt to save their life, for instance). Over time, surgery became much safer, and we started to use it in less life threatening situations. Today, people undergo purely elective or cosmetic surgery.

The same thing will likely be true with genetic engineering. It may start off being used only in dire situations where people have no other options, but eventually it could become safe enough where people genetically modify themselves for purely cosmetic reasons (for example, to change their hair color). In my view, there is nothing inherently wrong with people wanting to change, improve, or heal their own bodies, even if some uses are more urgent than others. And everyone should make this choice for themselves (I wouldnt presume to make the choice for them).

We wont know the long term effects on people for many decades. I certainly wouldnt want to be one of the first to get it done!

There is a misconception that the first edits made in humans will be totally unpredictable. There are some genes that one in ten people on earth have, that makes them healthier in some way. It will be safer than many people think to introduce this gene into someone who doesnt have it, since it can be widely studied in the existing population. Most new drugs are introduced into the market with just hundreds or thousands of people who have taken it during trial periods, and this is a sufficient bar to demonstrate safety. So a gene that a billion people in the world already have could potentially be far safer than any new drug that has ever come to market.

In addition, new therapies are often tested on terminally ill people who have no other options, so healthy people likely wouldnt be the initial market.

This doesnt mean that there cant be other risks in the procedure, but the idea that an edit to a human genome would have entirely unpredictable results is false.

Many conditions are not controlled by one or two genes. So it wont be as simple as you say to eradicate disease.

This is true. Diseases exist on a spectrum from having a single gene culprit to having many thousands of risk variants which increase or decrease susceptibility to environmental factors. A growing body of research is advancing from uncovering these monogenic (single gene) causes of diseases to uncovering the causes of more complex (polygenic) diseases. Results are improving quickly as a consequence of larger datasets, cheaper sequencing, and use of machine learning.

Even in a world where only simple gene edits were possible, a lot of human suffering could be eliminated. For instance, Verve is developing gene therapies to make heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the world, less prevalent with relatively small edits. But other conditions, like depression or diabetes, dont seem to be caused by a single gene, or even a handful of genes.

Luckily, machine learning (and techniques like deep learning) are well suited to solving complex, multi-variate, problems like polygenic risk scoring, and machine learning is improving at an incredible rate right now. Companies like GenomicPrediction have started offering polygenic risk scores to expecting parents. In addition, the datasets of sequenced genomes keep getting larger (some have over a million sequenced genomes at this point) which will improve the accuracy of the machine learning models over time.

Many things arent controlled by genetics. You cant make happy/healthy humans just with genetic engineering.

Also true. There are many environmental and lifestyle factors to consider, in addition to genetics. The lifestyle/nurture components are hard challenges in their own right, but thankfully we have some amount of control over them. For instance, we can eat healthier food, go for walks, or exercise. But in contrast, we have very little control of our genetics today.

Most people take it as a given that they can never change their genes, which is actually quite sad if you think about it. It feels terrible to be stuck in any situation where youre powerless to change it. Imagine the person who continually struggles with their weight, no matter how much they focus on exercise and diet, comparing themselves to people who seem to eat whatever they want without gaining a pound. Nature can be very cruel to us, and genes can create an uneven playing field in life. Genetic engineering may not be the whole solution, but it would certainly unlock a big piece of it.

Its a slippery slope from disease prevention to enhancement, where do we draw the line?

The likely answer is that there isnt a clear line, and we wont draw one. The overton window will continue to shift as people become more comfortable with genetic engineering.

Genetic engineering will start by being focused on disease prevention, because this is the most socially acceptable form of it at the moment. But, for instance, if you have a gene that creates low bone density (making you predisposed to osteoporosis), and you correct this with genetic engineering, are your stronger bones preventing disease or are they an enhancement (enabling you to play sports and lift heavy things)? The answer is both. There are many blurry lines like this. To me, the goal is just to improve the human condition, so the distinction between preventing bad outcomes and creating good outcomes becomes less relevant.

In addition, it is worth noting that we do things all the time today to enhance the human body (wearing running shoes, putting on sunblock, corrective lens, etc). And we even do things to enhance ourselves genetically today, like choosing who to have children with or couples who do IVF screening. Genetic enhancement may be scary to some people today, but I think this is mainly just because it is new. Over time, it could be considered as normal as getting LASIK surgery to fix your eyesight.

If everyone wants to have a certain trait, wont this create less diversity in the world?

There are some genes, like those which increase your risk of heart disease, which most people will want to eliminate. So in that sense there might be less genetic diversity. But I dont think this will be an overwhelming trend for two reasons. The first is that there is great variety in human preferences (in what is considered beautful, for instance) and the second is that many people have a desire to stand out and be unique. If it becomes cheap and ubiquitous to become some definition of beautiful then it will no longer hold the same cache, and preferences will evolve, just like in fashion. When you can be whomever you want, I think well actually see much greater diversity, not less.

You can see a glimpse of what this might look in video games today, where people can create their own avatar. When people can be whatever character they want, the range of expression is much greater than in real life.

Genetic engineering could also help same-sex couples have genetically related children, which would be a new development. And it could even lead to children which are the product of more than two people. Imagine a child that is the product of ten, or even a hundred, people.

Finally, we may see people change themselves in ways that cant occur naturally today (webbed fingers? scales? night vision like a cat?). If we are truly able to master genetic engineering over the coming century, there will be many beautiful new forms of individual expression that we cant even imagine today. The very idea of what it means to be human will change.

Many great entrepreneurs and artists had ADHD, Autism, depression, schizophrenia and other conditions which people may want to eliminate with genetic engineering. In this world, wouldnt these qualities be eliminated in the name of conformity and risk aversion?

I dont think so. Parents aspire for their children to be all sorts of things in life: artists, scientists, politicians, generals, religious leaders, entrepreneurs, etc. These each might have some genetic traits in common, and others that are very different. If it turned out that the best chance of becoming a successful artist was to start with a certain set of genes that included ADHD, I suspect many parents would still opt for this.

We will probably find ourselves in a world with far more brilliant outliers, if parents can get a genetic head start on raising the next Picasso or Einstein. Other parents will opt for balance. There is no right or wrong answer, just preferences.

Finally, just because we see examples like the above today, doesnt mean this needs to be the case in the future. Brilliant people are often spikey (outliers in a few areas with severe deficiencies in others), but in a world where genetic engineering is mastered there may be people with all the upside (and more), with little or none of the down side, so there is no guarantee the two need to be linked.

Will this lead to modern day eugenics?

Eugenics was about various political or government groups trying to modify the gene pool through use of force.

The ideal outcome here is freedom of choice for every individual. When people can choose how they want to modify and heal themselves (and their children) I think this will be very liberating. There are people in society who might try to abuse this technology (just like any technology), but as long as it is broadly available I think this mitigates a lot of the risk. Its unlikely that one country or political group would have exclusive access to genetic engineering for long (it is widely researched globally, with a lot of information exchange between groups, both formally and informally).

Some day, genetic engineering may even make it possible to create people who are more tolerant and accepting of others around them. Tribalism is a part of our evolution, and it may have a genetic component. Even children exhibit this quality from a young age. How interesting would it be if people were able to change on this dimension genetically? We dont know how to do this yet, but it could be possible in the future.

Wont this create a world of haves and have nots? What if it is only available to rich people? What if it turns out like Gattaca?

Just like many technologies, genetic engineering will almost certainly be available in developed countries first, and it will be expensive. But this is not unique. Cell phones, airplanes, and even basic sanitation are all unevenly distributed around the world. The beauty of technology is that it tends to drive down costs down over time, so it eventually reaches a wider group of people. The cell phone was once a tool only for rich people on Wall St, and it is now available to even the poorest people in the world. There is an open question about whether genetic engineering will follow a cost curve that is more like technology (lower over time following Moores law) or like healthcare (rising over time following Erooms law), but this has more to do with policy decisions around it I think. The main point is that high initial costs are not a good reason to prevent innovation from happening. If we took this approach, we likely wouldnt have any of the improvements we see in the world today.

Its also true that genetic engineering will offer advantages to those who can access it. This could create a less even playing field in some ways, but in other ways, it could actually make it more fair. Today, some people win the genetic lottery at birth while others lose (for instance, being prone to depression, a learning disability, etc). If any child could start on a level playing field genetically, this feels like a more fair world.

Finally, genetic modification can also take place in adult humans. So even if someone doesnt have access to it at birth, they may still be able to benefit from genetic engineering later in life.

Gattaca misses this last point, implying that you will always be left behind if werent born into an elite group. Reality will probably afford more social mobility, with adults benefiting from new genetic engineering treatments as well. It is a very entertaining film none the less, and I suggest anyone who is interested in the subject watch it.

What if people try to enhance traits like intelligence?

Many intelligent people exist in the world today, and, at least the ethical ones dont seem to pose too much of a problem. So lets say we doubled the number of smart people in the world (by whatever definition of smart you prefer) through genetic engineering, while keeping the percentage of ethical ones the same or greater. Or similarly, we could double the smartness of the existing people. Would this be a problem?

Certainly some good things would happen. The pace of improvement in society would likely increase, for instance, with many more smart, capable, people solving the worlds challenges.

The biggest negative change might be that the rest of us feel a little left behind or bewildered by all the new progress and areas of research, if we didnt similarly have our intelligence increased. This boils down to a question of whether you think we should value overall growth in society, or ones relative place in it, more highly. Each person should answer this for themselves (I dont think there is a right answer).

So it could be a mixed outcome, or very good, depending on your perspective. (Side note: this is a great short story about what it might feel like as society begins to advance.)

One final thought experiment: if people want to become smarter, do we have the right to stop them? If it is by getting an education, most people would say no. If it is through genetic engineering, how is this different?

Should parents be able to choose the genes of their child?

In general, I think yes, because parents choose all sorts of things that have a major impact on their children (what they eat, how they are educated, whether they are born at all, etc) as their guardian. This is a well established concept in the law today, with guardians making major decisions for a child until they turn 18 (or an equivalent age in each country). Once children come of age, they will likely take control of their genetic modification, just as they can make a decision to get a tattoo.

It would be a shame if the genes parents chose for their children were fixed indefinitely into the future. As Ive discussed elsewhere, its likely in the future that genes can be modified in living people, not just embryos. So hopefully children arent stuck with their parents genetic preferences for life.


Imagine that youre an expecting parent. How much would you pay to have the peace of mind that your child will arrive healthy? Imagine you were an adult with a life threatening disease. How much would you pay to receive a cure that required a genetic edit? The answer to these questions says a lot about how genetic engineering is likely to be adopted in the future.

Today, it is widely considered to be unconscionable to genetically modify humans. But I believe that within twenty years, we will see this view change dramatically, to a point where it will be considered unconscionable not to genetically modify people in many cases.

Genetic engineering is one of the highest potential areas of research today. I believe we should continue to invest it, and entrepreneurs should work hard to bring new products to market in this space. Yes, it has risks, and we must proceed with caution. But many new technologies have risks even life threatening ones and we eventually are able to use them to greatly benefit the world. We shouldnt let fear hold back progress on promising new areas of research.

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The Pros And Cons Of Genetically Engineering Humans

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Is It Ethical to Create Genetically Edited Humans? – The …

§ May 26th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Is It Ethical to Create Genetically Edited Humans? – The …

What is your initial reaction to this news and why?

In Chinese Scientist Claims to Use Crispr to Make First Genetically Edited Babies, Gina Kolata, Sui-Lee Wee and Pam Belluck write about the darker side of this milestone:

Ever since scientists created the powerful gene editing technique Crispr, they have braced apprehensively for the day when it would be used to create a genetically altered human being. Many nations banned such work, fearing it could be misused to alter everything from eye color to I.Q.

Now, the moment they feared may have come. On Monday, a scientist in China announced that he had created the worlds first genetically edited babies, twin girls who were born this month.

The researcher, He Jiankui, said that he had altered a gene in the embryos, before having them implanted in the mothers womb, with the goal of making the babies resistant to infection with H.I.V. He has not published the research in any journal and did not share any evidence or data that definitively proved he had done it.

But his previous work is known to many experts in the field, who said many with alarm that it was entirely possible he had.

Its scary, said Dr. Alexander Marson, a gene editing expert at the University of California in San Francisco.

While the United States and many other countries have made it illegal to deliberately alter the genes of human embryos, it is not against the law to do so in China, but the practice is opposed by many researchers there. A group of 122 Chinese scientists issued a statement calling Dr. Hes actions crazy and his claims a huge blow to the global reputation and development of Chinese science.

If human embryos can be routinely edited, many scientists, ethicists and policymakers fear a slippery slope to a future in which babies are genetically engineered for traits like athletic or intellectual prowess that have nothing to do with preventing devastating medical conditions.

While those possibilities might seem far in the future, a different concern is urgent and immediate: safety. The methods used for gene editing can inadvertently alter other genes in unpredictable ways. Dr. He said that did not happen in this case, but it is a worry that looms over the field.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

After reading this article, has your initial reaction to this news changed at all? What do you think of Dr. Hes experiment?

Some argue that gene editing is a welcome advance that could eliminate disease. Others see it as a slippery slope that might lead to so-called designer babies who are engineered to be stronger, smarter and more attractive than everyone else. Where do you stand in this debate? Is it ethical to create genetically edited humans? Why or why not?

What legal limits, if any, should be placed on the practice of human gene editing? Should it be banned in any form? Should it be allowed for some reasons and not others? Or should doctors be permitted to freely research and experiment with the genetic engineering of human beings? Why do you think the way you do?

In the 1970s, when the first baby was conceived via in vitro fertilization, millions of people went into a moral panic about doctors playing God and interfering with a natural process. Today, I.V.F. has become a broadly accepted and commonplace practice that has helped millions of people have babies. In your opinion, is the paranoia surrounding genetic editing overblown, as the fear around I.V.F. once was? Or is the alarm about this latest advance legitimate? Can you think of any other instances where panic about some technological advancement was either overdone or turned out to be well-founded? How does it compare to genetic editing?

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What are the Top 5 most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates? – Alliance for Science

§ May 26th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on What are the Top 5 most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates? – Alliance for Science

More than 100 vaccine efforts are currently underway in the global push to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. Which are most likely to work? And how long will it take? Weve compiled a list of the top 5 most promising candidate vaccine platforms, with a brief summary of relevant details. Well keep this page updated so come back regularly to learn the latest developments.

Adenoviruses, which exist in the wild in humans and typically cause mild infections such as the common cold, have been genetically engineered to express viral antigens found in SARS-CoV-2, usually those of the infamous spike protein that the coronavirus uses to break into human cells. These engineered adenoviruses, when put into a vaccine, trigger an immune response in the human body, protecting against COVID-19.

This is a new technology: no adenovirus vector vaccines for other diseases are yet widely available, though vaccines for HIV, influenza, Ebola and malaria using this platform are in clinical trials and an Ebola vaccine has been briefly deployed.

Probably the highest-profile effort is the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine candidate from Oxford Universitys Jenner Institute. (ChAdOx1 stands for chimpanzee adenovirus Oxford 1.) The Chinese company CanSino Biologics the medical science arm of the Peoples Liberation Army, no less has completed Phase 1 trials with an adenovirus vector vaccine called Ad5-nCoV.

A big-name corporate player is Johnson & Johnson, via its subsidiary Janssen, which uses a genetically modified human adenovirus technology it calls AdVac. This is a proven platform, which was used to produce thousands of doses of companys Ebola vaccine deployed in the Congo in November 2019.

CanSino reported positive results in a Lancet paper on May 22. This is the first Phase 1 COVID vaccine clinical trial anywhere in the world to report full results in a peer-reviewed paper, with 108 healthy adults all showing an immune response to the adenovirus vector vaccine. There was a stumbling block, however. Because the adenovirus (which causes common cold symptoms) is already widespread in the human population, some of those in the trial had already been naturally infected with it, dampening their immune response. Will Oxfords chimp adenovirus vaccine perform better? Time will tell, but meanwhile CanSino is proceeding to Phase 2 trials with a six-month study of 500 adults in Wuhan.

The Oxford team published a preprint on May 13 showing that ChAdOx1 prevented rhesus macaques monkeys from getting pneumonia when infected with SARS-CoV-19. Thats the good news the vaccine protected against disease. The bad news was that the vaccinated monkeys still became infected, and nose swabs showed the same amounts of virus in samples taken from both vaccinated and non-vaccinated animals. This means in theory that vaccinated people could still be infectious even if they dont actually get symptoms of the disease. Still, it would be a massive step forward if we could just push the disease from pneumonia to a common cold, in the words of one expert. Phase 1 trials in over a thousand United Kingdom-based human volunteers are ongoing.

Oxford University has partnered with the global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The company is making a big bet on Oxfords vaccine, which is now being renamed AZD1222. On May 21it announced an agreement to produce 400 million doses and claims to be able to manufacture 1 billion doses with current facilities. The US government is also betting big on Oxford: its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) put $1billion behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca effort, with a Phase 3 trial involving 30,000 participants now in development.

Johnson & Johnson, while it has the corporate muscle to produce vaccine doses in large quantities, doesnt expect to start Phase 1 trials until September, which it says could possibly allow vaccine availability for emergency use in early 2021.

While conventional vaccines work by presenting the bodys immune system with the inactivated real virus or antigens derived from it, injecting mRNA into cells means that they produce the required viral proteins directly inside the human body. mRNA (the m stands for messenger) is the molecule that takes instructions from DNA to the cells protein factories (called ribosomes). As Dr. Sanjay Mishra from Vanderbilt University explains: A big advantage of mRNA vaccines is that scientists can skip the laboratory production of proteins by directly injecting the molecular instructions to make the protein into the human body itself.

In this case the RNA sequence is taken from the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome, stimulating an immune response that should later stop the COVID-19 disease. One advantage to mRNA vaccines is a cheaper, faster production process, making them potentially the most scalable to tackle a global pandemic.

Moderna a biotech startup now worth tens of billions, though it has yet to sell a single product is in the lead. Other teams pursuing the mRNA approach include one based at Imperial College, London; the German-based company BioNTech, which is working in alliance with the drugs giant Pfizer; and CureVac, another German-based company. A Chinese consortium from Fudan University, Shanghai JiaoTong University and RNACure Biopharma is employing a second strategy of using mRNA to create virus-like particles in the body to activate an immune response.

Modernas vaccine was the first to be injected into human volunteers, way back in mid-March. Its May 18 announcement that its vaccine candidate had stimulated an immune response with the production of neutralizing antibodies in eight human volunteers in its Phase I trial generated global media coverage and a stock market rally. Others were more skeptical, however, pointing to incomplete data and demanding more context from this interim result, which was not yet for the full trial and not published in a peer-reviewed journal.

CureVac announced positive pre-clinical results for its lead COVID vaccine candidate on May 14 and aims to start Phase 2/3 clinical trials in human volunteers in June. BioNTech announced on May 5 that volunteers for its Phase 1/2 study have begun taking their first doses of its mRNA vaccine candidate, called BNT162, in the United States and Germany.

The most traditional vaccine approach one utilized over many decades is to inject someone with the inactivated virus. This stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, while the virus is either killed before injection or weakened sufficiently so that it cannot cause a serious infection. Inactivated viruses are used against influenza, for example, and in the global effort to eradicate polio.

Here once again the Chinese are in the lead. The Chinese company Sinovac, in partnership with a number of leading medical research institutes in China, designed a vaccine by isolating SARS-CoV-2 samples from infected hospital patients and growing the virus in cell lines before inactivating it with a chemical agent. It is called PiCoVacc (for purified inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine).

An international team has a different approach, using a vaccine that is already widely deployed: the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis. It has been shown to protect against other respiratory diseases, too, so researchers are hoping it might be effective against COVID. (BCG is an inactivated bacterial pathogen, not a virus.)

The Chinese team has made impressive progress with its inactivated viral COVID vaccine. In a paper published in Science on May 6, the team reported that their candidate vaccine had induced SARS-CoV-2-specific neutralizing antibodies in mice, rats and non-human primates. It also provided partial or complete protection in macaques against deliberate infection with the virus. A Phase 1/2 clinical trial with 744 human participants is underway in China, with the first results predicted for August.

Because BCG already has a decades-long history of safe use as a vaccine, trials to see whether it is effective against COVID have gone straight to Phase 3. Trials are currently underway among 10,000 frontline health workers in Australia, run by Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, and in the Netherlands among a further 1,500 health workers.

As we recently told Reuters in an interview, No, DNA vaccines will not lead to genetically engineered humans. However, the technique does involve injecting a fragment of circular DNA, called a plasmid, into human cells. This introduced DNA codes for SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins that are then expressed by the cell and help prime the immune system to fight off an attack by COVID-19. Like mRNA, this is a new technology no DNA vaccines have ever been fully developed and utilized in humans to prevent disease.

The leading developer is Inovio, which worked with a DNA candidate vaccine against MERS. Several other teams are also working on DNA vaccine candidates for the novel coronavirus, including one at the Harvard Medical School.

On May 20, Inovio scientists published trial results in the journal Nature Communications for its COVID candidate DNA vaccine, INO-4800. This showed robust binding and neutralizing antibody as well as T cell responses in mice and guinea pigs, according to the company, raising hopes that INO-4800 might also stimulate a strong immune response in humans. Inovios vaccine is already in human trials, with a Phase 1 study testing on 40 volunteers in Philadelphia and Kansas City results are expected in late June. After that, Inovio plans a large, randomized Phase 2/3 clinical trial this summer.

Separately, the Harvard-led team announced in a paper published in Science on May 20 that various DNA candidate vaccines expressing different forms of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein had succeeded in immunizing rhesus macaque monkeys. This adds further to hopes that at least some of these DNA vaccines will also work in humans. Some have called this a moon shot, but hey, thats worked before

This is another traditional method for vaccinations: genes that code for proteins from the pathogen in COVIDs case, mostly the notorious spike protein are spliced into different viruses, which are then mass-produced. The approach has been used successfully in the HPV vaccine, for example. Virus-like particles can also be produced in plants.

Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi, is repurposing its earlier SARS vaccine efforts into COVID. Its recombinant DNA approach in cell lines has already been licensed to produce an influenza vaccine, distributed since 2017 in the US under the brand FluBlok. This should produce a quicker and more stable product than vaccines traditionally produced in chicken eggs.

This approach is also being used by a team at the University of Pittsburgh, whose members had already worked on SARS and MERS and quickly repurposed their spike protein vaccine to target SARS-CoV-2. Its purified protein can be delivered in a microneedle array, a fingertip-sized patch of 400 tiny soluble needles that affixes to the skin like a Band-Aid.

Separately, Novavax has developed a way to package SARS-CoV-2s spike proteins into nanoparticles that should enhance the immune response by better mimicking the virus. In Canada, Medicago began producing virus-like particles of the coronavirus expressed in leaves of Nicotiana benthamiana, a wild relative of tobacco just 20 days after the viral genome was published.

Sanofi says its candidate vaccine is expected to enter clinical trials in the second half of 2020 and to be available by the second half of 2021, making it a backup perhaps if quicker mRNA and DNA vaccine approaches prove to be duds.

The Pittsburgh team won the race to produce the first peer-reviewed paper on a COVID vaccine trial, reporting in mid-March that its microneedle vaccine had elicited potent antigen-specific antibody responses when tested in mice. However, Phase 1 human trials have not yet begun, and the scientists warn that getting results would typically require at least a year and probably longer.

Novavax has received investments totalling $388 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) to advance clinical development of its candidate vaccine NVX-CoV2373. Phase 1 trials began on May 26 in Australia in 131 human volunteers, with results expected in July. The company is developing scaled-up production that could potentially deliver 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020, and 1 billion doses during 2021.

Medicago announced positive results for a trial of its COVID candidate vaccine in mice on May 14, and aims to start human trials in the summer. It can already produce 120 million doses of the vaccine per year in its current facilities, and aims to scale up to 1 billion per year by 2023.

Image: Shutterstock

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Who’s leading the race? A guide to coronavirus vaccines in the pipeline – ABC News

§ May 25th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Who’s leading the race? A guide to coronavirus vaccines in the pipeline – ABC News

There are more than 100 coronavirus vaccines in the pipeline and almost a dozen that have made it to human trials so far.

But which one if any will be the panacea to the COVID-19 pandemic is still anyone's guess.

Researchers working to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine face a unique and significant set of challenges not to mention the fact they're trying to do it in record time.

While it will be some months before we know whether any of the proposed vaccines are effective, initial safety trials and encouraging animal studies show promising early signs.

Let's take a closer look at some of the candidates leading the race (remembering those that make it to clinical trials first will not necessarily be the most effective).

A quick recap, according to the World Health Organization, as of May 24.

While vaccine developers typically follow a linear sequence (pre-clinical animal studies to Phase 1/2/3/4 human trials), the urgency of COVID-19 means many are speeding up their timelines.

In some cases, Phase 1 and 2 trials are being squashed together (testing safety and effectiveness of the vaccine at the same time), or Phase 1 human safety trials are running before animal efficacy data is in.

This week, all eyes were on an experimental vaccine produced by American biotech company Moderna the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in humans back in March.

On Monday, the biotech firm announced its RNA vaccine, which was given to 45 healthy individuals in a Phase 1 trial, appeared to be safe and promote an immune response against COVID-19.

Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC's Coronacast podcast.

Unlike more traditional vaccines, which contain a weakened version of the actual virus or portions of it, Moderna's vaccine is based on a new technology that involves taking genetic material from the virus and delivering it to healthy cells.

Using messenger RNA (or mRNA), the vaccine carries instructions to the body to create the SARS-CoV-2 protein the vaccine is aiming to protect against.

The idea is that the body detects the genetic material and new protein as foreign, and mounts an immune response producing antibodies that learn to remember and fight the virus if the body encounters it again.

Without publishing its findings in full, Moderna said preliminary data of eight people in its trial showed participants developed neutralising antibodies (which stop the virus replicating) at levels similar to people who have recovered from COVID-19.

The findings, though limited, sent the company's share price soaring. But it later dropped when Medical news website STAT reported the figures "don't mean much on their own, because critical information was withheld", including information about the other 37 trial participants.

Like all vaccine candidates, Moderna's findings need to be repeated in much larger Phase 2 (and eventually Phase 3) clinical trials to prove the vaccine actually works. These are expected to begin soon.

Meanwhile, two other genetic vaccines for COVID-19 have also made it to human trials one from American biotech firm Inovio, and another jointly developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German company BioNTech.

Inovio, which has enrolled 40 people in a phase 1 trial of its DNA vaccine, is expected to publish its results in early June.

Pfizer, on the other hand, has begun delivering doses of its RNA vaccine to 360 volunteers in the US as part of a Phase 1/2 trial. The drug maker and its German partner said if the vaccine proved to be safe and effective, it could potentially be ready for US distribution by the end of the year.

Kylie Quinn, a vice-chancellor's research fellow at RMIT University, said although genetic vaccines are relatively easy and inexpensive to produce, none have been approved for human use before.

"We don't know how they're going to perform in humans, but the advantage of them is that they are very quick in terms of design and manufacturing, and should be relatively safe," said Dr Quinn.

Using an entirely different approach, scientists at Oxford University's Jenner Institute recently announced a coronavirus vaccine they are working on appears to be protective in monkeys. The vaccine is already being tested in humans.

According to a preliminary research paper which has not yet been peer-reviewed the vaccine candidate provided protection in six rhesus macaque monkeys who were vaccinated and then exposed to high levels of SARS-CoV-2.

The animals had less of the virus in their lungs and airways when compared to non-vaccinated animals, and were protected from developing pneumonia.

Oxford's vaccine candidate is known as a viral vector vaccine, and is one of several being developed for COVID-19. These vaccines work by introducing a different type of virus that is engineered to include proteins of the virus the vaccine is aiming to protect against.

"You basically take a virus that is generally harmless but can infect cells and you use it like a trojan horse," Dr Quinn said.

For the Oxford vaccine, a genetically modified version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees is being used to carry a protein from SARS-CoV-2 to the body. The goal is to stimulate an immune response and prime the body to respond to any future infection.

Unlike most other vaccines, which begin with small clinical trials to demonstrate safety, this vaccine was fast-tracked because the research team had already tested very similar vaccines in humans for other viruses, including MERS and Ebola.

Researchers hope to test the vaccine on more than 6,000 people in the UK by the end of May, as part of a Phase 1/2 trial. If those results show the vaccine is effective, they say the first few million doses could be available as soon as September, with emergency approval from regulators.

Trevor Drew, director of CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, said the decision by British drug-maker AstraZeneca to partner with Oxford to manufacture and distribute the vaccine was an encouraging sign.

"The Oxford vaccine is really quite a clever one," Professor Drew said. "I think it's probably going to be one of the prime candidates."

Besides Oxford, one other viral vector vaccine has made it to human trials. It comes from Chinese vaccine company CanSino.

While CanSino is yet to publish detailed results of its Phase 1 trial, its vaccine candidate was the first to reach Phase 2 clinical trials back in April.

Three of the remaining vaccines to have made it to human trials are "inactivated" vaccines, which means they contain the actual virus, but it's been killed by being exposed to ultraviolet light or chemicals.

"This is a really simple and sometimes very effective way of introducing your immune system to something without having the potential to cause disease," Dr Quinn said. "It's a very old style of vaccine."

Inactivated vaccines are slightly different to live attentuated vaccines, which involve introducing a "live" virus into the body, but one that has been weakened. Just a handful of COVID-19 vaccine candidates are using this approach, all still in pre-clinical trials.

The three inactivated vaccines that have made it to human trials are being developed in China and are in Phase 1/2 clinical trials, however data from the initial phase 1 trials is limited.

One of the vaccine candidates, developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, was recently shown to be effective in rhesus macaque monkeys, who like in the Oxford vaccine study generated neutralising antibodies.

"It builds the case that [this vaccine] is possibly viable and worth following up on," Dr Quinn said.

The final type of vaccine researchers are pursuing are called subunit or protein vaccines. These contain only a fragment of the virus, rather than the whole thing.

US biotech company Novavax recently begun Phase 1 clinical trials in Australia with a subunit vaccine that targets the "spike" protein on the surface of coronvirus particles.

It's the same technique being pursued by researchers at the University of Queensland, who are set to begin clinical trials in July.

There are pros and cons to every vaccine approach, and it may be that multiple candidates are found to show some protection against COVID-19.

No vaccine is 100 per cent effective, and the vast majority of vaccines that make it to clinical trials do not succeed in getting to market.

Given the challenges of manufacturing and distributing a vaccine on a global scale, Dr Quinn said it wouldn't be a bad outcome if several candidates were ultimately used.

Get the latest health news and information from across the ABC.

"Different vaccines have very specific manufacturing requirements," she said.

"So perhaps having a few different vaccine formats that each show a level of protecting we can spread the weight across different manufacturing facilities."

Professor Drew said because the COVID-19 vaccine development timeline was being compressed, and some of the longer-term effects would be unknown, the decision to roll it out if an effective vaccine was found would likely be based on each country's individual level of risk.

"How urgent is the vaccine needed, and what are the potential benefits against some of the more minor risks?" he said.

"In the current situation with COVID-19, a lot of those decisions may be made with the acceptance [that] there may be some minor downstream issues, but certainly no worse than the current suffering that's being created by the disease itself."

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Letter: The coronavirus was not created by humans –

§ May 23rd, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Letter: The coronavirus was not created by humans –

Published 12:00am EDT, Friday, May 22, 2020

It has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, COVID-19 is not man-made or genetically modified..

The major research labs in the U.S. all agree (and our allies worldwide) as does the U.S. national Director of Intelligence who released a statement on April 30.

They can tell because human engineered viruses all have common obvious components not present in this virus.

It is also highly unlikely that it was a science experiment gone wrong as the new coronavirus is way different genetically than the SARS virus that originated in bats and was being studied in the Wuhan lab.

No one knows what the animal host source of the new virus is yet, but so far its not bats. Im no scientist so I listen to the experts on this.

So why President Trump would say, the day after this announcement was made by his Director of Intelligence that he has reason to believe it is man made?!

It is mind boggling that our president would make inaccurate statements during a major worldwide pandemic and scare and confuse the people at a time when they are looking for and need calm and reassurance.

The only reason Im bringing this up is because a lot of people Ive spoken to, mainly the presidents supporters, still think its man-made because of President Trumps statements.

So everyone lets remain calm, we are not under a germ warfare attack!

Yes, China probably tried to cover it up and yes, China is moving into world domination.

But lets not get fooled into starting WWIII over false information.

Matt Yordon


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EU wants to halve use of pesticides by 2030 – EUobserver

§ May 23rd, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on EU wants to halve use of pesticides by 2030 – EUobserver

The European Commission wants to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in the EU by 50 percent over the next decade, in a benchmark established by the new Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategy on Wednesday (20 May).

However, the definitive target will be subjected to the results of a risk assessment that the commission plans to put forward before 2022 - when the existing rules on the sustainable use of pesticides will need to be updated.

Chemical pesticides are used for the protection of plants and crops, but they are also potentially toxic to humans, bees and other pollinators.

In 2018, a third of the food consumed in the EU contained residues of two or more pesticides, including illegal pesticides that are not approved to be used in the EU, according to the European Food Safety Authority.

This is why over 80 NGOs and over 300,000 citizens have called repeatedly on the commission for a much higher 80 percent reduction target of chemical pesticides, and to achieve their full phase-out by 2035.

However, even the reduction target proposed by the commission is not "realistic" according to the industry.

"A reduction rate of 50 percent by 2030 is not realistic and will not have the desired effect of having a more sustainable food production model in Europe," said the director-general of the European Crop Protection Association, Graldine Kutas.

"Thanks to advances in crop protection products, on average, there has been a 97 percent reduction [in the use of these products] compared to what was required in the 1960s," she added.

Meanwhile, MEPs from the European Conservatives and Reformists and the European People's Party groups have previously asked the commission to postpone the strategy until the Covid-19 crisis is over.

Liberal MEP Pascal Canfin, who chairs the European Parliament environment committee, welcomed the commission's proposal and committed to making it mandatory in the ongoing reform of the Common Agriculture Policy.

However, Canfin bemoaned the lack of reaction to parliament's requests to reduce the market presence of "bee-killing pesticides which have been suffering a hecatomb [huge sacrifice] for several decades in Europe".

The number of bee colonies has declined by more than 50 percent in some member states.

This is why the biodiversity strategy states that at least 10 percent of the utilised agricultural area should be reserved for wild animals, plants, pollinators and natural pest regulators.

Studies from across Europe show that if a minimum of 10-14 percent of agricultural land is left to nature, then pollinators would recover.

Besides pathogens and parasites, one of the biggest threats to honeybees is the common exposure to pesticides used in agriculture.

Earlier this year, the European Court of Auditors concluded that the commission has not been able to accurately monitor the risk of pesticides due to the lack of detailed, harmonised and updated data among member states.

Similarly, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) denounced that there is no conclusive data about the precise amount of pesticides used in the EU's agricultural sector.

The EU's executive body aims to revise the pesticides statistics regulation to overcome such data gaps in 2023.

Additionally, the Farm to Fork strategy aims to reduce the excess of nutrients - especially nitrogen and phosphorus - in the environment, by reducing at least 20 percent of the use of fertilisers by 2030.

The commission, together with member states, will put forward an 'integrated nutrient management action plan' to address nutrient pollution - with extra measures, if necessary.

However, some NGOs slammed the commission's strategy as 'half-baked'.

"The Farm to Fork Strategy leaves the door open for weakening GMO [genetically modified organism] safety laws, remains dangerously weak on pesticides and industrial animal agriculture," said Mute Schimpf from NGO Friends of the Earth Europe.

"Agribusiness executives will sleep well tonight," she added.

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Meet the UK family enrolled as COVID-19 vaccine guinea pigs – Euronews

§ May 23rd, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Meet the UK family enrolled as COVID-19 vaccine guinea pigs – Euronews

While some have been taking advantage of coronavirus lockdowns to make banana bread or catch up on their cleaning, one British family decided to help scientists hunting for a vaccine by becoming their human guinea pigs.

The COVID-19 pandemic left Katie Viney, her husband Tony and their daughter Rhiannon locked down at home near Oxford, England. They didnt want to stand by and do nothing, and they could now go down in health history by all taking part in Britains first human trial of a potential vaccine.

"So many other people have been able to do their bit and I just thought, I'm not a nurse, I'm not a trained doctor, so this is the thing I can do," 19-year-old Rhiannon told Euronews.

The Vineys are among more than 1,000 healthy volunteers recruited for the trial, led by the University of Oxford. Half of the participants are getting the prototype vaccine, the others a placebo.

The British government said this week it was pumping more money into such efforts to develop a vaccine, by giving an additional 84 million pounds (94 million) to the study underway in Oxford as well as toward a separate vaccine trial at Imperial College London.

All participants in the Oxford trial have now received their dose, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said on Sunday. If it proves a success, the government plans to roll out the vaccine to 30 million people by September.

The Vineys have been regularly taking their temperatures, keeping an eye out for any symptoms.

"We've had absolutely no side effects whatsoever, really, I can't even feel where I've had the injection. And I'm not at all worried, I've got no concerns about having this," said Katie.

"The hope, as with everybody, is that we find that vaccine that could let the world get back to whatever 'normal' becomes," said Tony. "It's really nice to be able to volunteer for something like this, and we feel a bit honoured to be able to do that, truthfully."

The University of Oxford announced in April that it had reached a deal with AstraZeneca that would see the pharmaceutical company manufacture and distribute the vaccine globally.

The vaccine candidate, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infections in chimpanzees, and that was genetically modified so that it cannot develop in humans.

Further genetic material was added to make the spike protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. That spike protein, which binds to receptors on human cells, is believed to play a key role in infecting people with the new coronavirus.

As a whole, the vaccine prototype aims to make the body recognise and develop an immune response to that spike protein, to stop the coronavirus from infecting human cells.

Researchers now want to see whether the vaccine triggers an immune response to stop COVID-19 infection and keep any side effects in check.

Volunteers are given either the coronavirus vaccine candidate or an existing vaccine against meningitis thats used as a control for comparison.

The meningitis vaccine is typically given to teenagers or used as a travel vaccine. The reason for selecting it rather than saline water, for instance, is because scientists expect the coronavirus vaccine to cause some small side effects such as a sore arm, headache and fever. If they used saline, which would cause no such side effects, they fear participants would automatically know whether they were given the new vaccine or the placebo.

"It is critical for this study that participants remain blinded to whether or not they have received the vaccine, as, if they knew, this could affect their health behaviour in the community following vaccination, and may lead to a bias in the results of the study," the university explains.

To assess whether the vaccine protects from COVID-19, scientists will compare the number of infections in the control group with the number of infections in the vaccinated group.

The trial therefore relies on some participants developing COVID-19. And how quickly they get infected and transmit the disease will influence how quickly the trial will yield results. The team expects to collect enough data within six months at most.

If the results are encouraging, late-stage trials of the vaccine's effectiveness could take place in the second half of this year. That's much faster than usual procedures, which usually take several years.

If the vaccine doesnt show positive results in the first phase, the university could decide to change dosing or stop the trial altogether.

Getting a vaccine to market usually takes years, not months, and some experts have warned that the magic bullet against COVID-19 may never be found.

With no guarantee of success on a vaccine, Oxford University is also leading what it describes as the world's biggest treatment trial. HIV and anti-malarial drugs, as well as an antibiotic, are among those being tested on COVID-19 patients.

Professor Richard Haynes, who coordinates the Recovery clinical trial at the University of Oxford, says its important to continue hunting for effective treatments too, as some people will end up in hospital even when we have a vaccine.

Over the past eight weeks, we've now recruited over 10,000 people from over 180 different hospitals. We're testing lots of different treatments and at the moment it's too early to say whether any of them are beneficial or not. We won't know. But hopefully, we'll get some answers over the summer," he said.

You can also watch Damon's report in the video player above.

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If you want to know what the jobs of the future might look like, here are some possibilities – American Enterprise Institute

§ May 14th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on If you want to know what the jobs of the future might look like, here are some possibilities – American Enterprise Institute

Before the coronavirus pandemic, some polls suggested Americans worried a lot about robots taking their jobs. And if they were worried before, those fears seem likely to escalate thanks to COVID-19 and a possible long-term focus on more social distancing and less human contact in the workplace. Already, according to the recent New York Times piece Robots Welcome to Take Over, as Pandemic Accelerates Automation, recycling services have increased their orders for robots to sift through the material. And its hardly a stretch to think that social distancing needs will make robots a more attractive option at fulfillment warehouses. Then again, some store cashiers might be happy to have their jobs automated away if it means a different retail job with less customer interaction.

Indeed, one reason people have always been uncomfortable with automation is that its easier to imagine losing a current job than gaining a new one that might not currently exist. What will the jobs of the future look like? Its a frequent question for labor economists and technologists.

Some possible answers or at least new ways of thinking about that question might be found in Working Futures from late 2019. Its an intriguing anthology of 14 speculative stories about the intersection of jobs and advancing automation. The pieces emerged from a 2018 scenario-planning exercise in San Francisco involving some 50 techies, entrepreneurs, investors, lawyers, and others. The resulting 10 future worlds were then sent to science fiction writers to be used as launching pads for their imaginations. In the books introduction, editor Michael Masnick writes that each story contributes something to our thinking on the future of innovation and work, and what the world might soon look likein both good and bad ways.

In The Chaperone by Andrew Dana Hudson, Jan is a customer service rep for a company that sells personalized AI assistants. Its her job to make sure the owners, usually men, dont get too emotionally attached to their cyberservants. When Jan isnt breaking hearts for the richest company in the world one under constant threat of nationalization by the new socialist federal government she lives in a FEMA camp outside Atlanta for climate change refugees.

Another favorite of mine is Joan Henry vs. The Algorithm by Randy Lubin, an updating of the American folk tale about John Henry, the steel-driving man who dies after racing and defeating a steam-powered, rock-drilling machine. The specific contest this time around is between the title character and an AI competitor over whos the better virtual reality gamemaster. But actually Joans entire working life has been a race against one machine or another. From that piece:

Joan had been outrunning the algorithm her entire adult life, re-skilling and transitioning across myriad roles ahead of their automation. Shed seen countless friends and colleagues succumb, unable or unwilling to adapt to the shrinking labor pool. Not Joanshed survived thanks to marathon study sessions, endless networking, and a knack for knowing the right time to switch to the next hot micro-profession. She cherished her identity as a professionalhard working, creative, empathetic, and flexible. Living off basic income was not an option; she would not become another economic dropout. When Joan started as a Maestro, she thought shed be safe for at least a few years. The synthesis of real time storytelling, worldbuilding, and acting for a live audience seemed far too complex for any algorithm to master. Just eight months later and her job was already on the line.

Among the other future jobs explored: a third-party human resources officers for AI workers getting hired, fired, or transferred; preschool teachers for genetically modified kiddies; a life services broker to help consumers navigate among the megacompanies supplying all their subscription-based services, from housing to healthcare to education; and a virtual reality therapist who lets CGI prints handle the easier stuff, although the patient may not know it.

These arent really dystopian stories, although some depict worlds with big problems. Technology might help create a better society in some ways, but not a perfect one. And while technology might totally automate some jobs, in others it allows humans to do more. In a A Quiet Lie by Ross Pruden, heres how VR shrink Phyllis manages patients:

Her huge monitor currently held live sessions of 20 other patients, scattered throughout the world. One patient was in Sri Lanka, another in Idaho. Four of them were active military and six were vets. The rest were civilians of varying ages. Just like her patients, Phyllis interacted with [AI helpers] David and Clancy as facilitators. Leveraging human mimicry at this level of competency helped Phyllis see a much larger caseload than she could have done only five years ago. With large-scale tragedies like that awful cruise ship collision last year, she could see as many as 50 clients at once, if needed. That meant more patients, less overhead, and more time which meant more pro bono work. At rough count, she had saved at least three lives in the last year from those pro bono sessions, all because she could afford to spare time for it.

We need more speculative efforts like these, especially post-pandemic when there are sure to be some significant labor market and workplace changes in addition to the ones generated by new tech. We need stories about how things might work out, even if theyre not all positive.

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Corrupt and secretive, China is doing its best to muzzle its brilliant scientists on Covid-19 –

§ May 13th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Corrupt and secretive, China is doing its best to muzzle its brilliant scientists on Covid-19 –

The pressure on scientists studying the virus and how to control it is just as direct. China is producing some good science, including negative studies, in which a drug is shown not to work, which its scientists might have previously been reluctant to publish. Chinas scientists are making the most of the new atmosphere of global collaboration wherever they can. But its laboratories are undoubtedly also fronts in the propaganda war. Beijing has claimed to have a vaccine in stage two trials, but has published no data from stage one trials. Last month, according to University World News, Chinese authorities issued a directive requiring all studies on the virus, especially relating to its origins, to be vetted by political authorities before being submitted to scientific journals.

Unsurprisingly, the effect on free inquiry is chilling. There are certain topics that China-linked scientists will not correspond about, like whether Beijings current data on cases is reliable. The planned convening of major government political gatherings strongly suggests it has suppressed its epidemic as it claims, but that is hardly good data. One Western researcher has had a Chinese scientist clam up and get scared when he broached certain subjects, like the risk of a second wave. Its no wonder when Beijing has attributed its major results in fighting the virus to the brave leader Xi Jinping.

Recently, the scientific community became incensed by the US governments claims that the pandemic started with an accident at a virus laboratory in Wuhan. Given Chinas corruption and secrecy, the claim looks politically plausible but, as far as a layman can discern, scientifically dubious. Virologists have studied the viruss genome and concluded it is not genetically modified and probably jumped into humans sometime last year, whereas the most closely related virus thought to have been kept at the Wuhan lab would have taken 50 years to evolve into the 2019 coronavirus. Without further evidence, the USs statements are just propaganda and probably damaging efforts to get at the real problem: the corruption and vested interests preventing a clean-up of Chinas lethal wild animal trade and wet markets.

Yet perhaps because of their professional habit of self-criticism, Western scientists tend to be happier to lambast the US than the regime that has presided over the catastrophe we face today. They are slow to admit that the Chinese Communist Party has no interest in an open investigation into the viruss origins, that it has itself promoted wild rumours that the virus started in the US military, and that it covered up knowledge of human-to-human transmission of the virus for several weeks and convinced the World Health Organisation to obfuscate about it. The desire for co-operation with Beijing has so corrupted our institutions that EU ambassadors published an opinion column in which they agreed to remove any reference to the viruss emergence in China, at Beijings request. This is not a regime that has any interest in the truth.

If you ask a scientist about China, you will probably get an earful of praise. China gets science, they say. Its education system prioritises science, it produces excellent researchers and its laboratories are powerhouses in everything from genetics and artificial intelligence, to applied physics, materials science, and oncology. And they are right. When Chinese authorities decide a field is of strategic value, they shower scientists with money, prizes, titles, first-class plane tickets and unlimited resources. The effect is especially potent in places like the UK, where science is undervalued and underfunded.

But we only ever see a selection of the data, research and talent China could produce, because anything that contradicts the narrative of the Communist Party or threatens its legitimacy is suppressed. So the worlds scientists might love China, but Chinas regime does not love science. It cannot, because it is threatened by sciences very lifeblood: the pursuit of truth. No one understands that more than Chinas own brilliant scientists.

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Spin me a yarn: the future of medical textiles and regenerative medicine – Medical Device Network

§ May 11th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Spin me a yarn: the future of medical textiles and regenerative medicine – Medical Device Network

Except for hard metals like stainless steel, gold and titanium, most synthetic materials in the body create a very significant scarring response. Credit: INSERM

The power of needlework should never be underestimated. Where would we be without the textile industry providing natural and synthetic fibres to thousands of sectors across the globe? In addition to clothing our bodies, textiles are used to help heal them, from wound dressings to sutures and meshes. Some scientists are now going further, using weaving and knitting techniques to create medical fabrics from biological materials such as human cells.

Nicolas LHeureux, director of research at INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research is exploring exactly this. He works on repairing damaged blood vessels with biological textiles grown in the laboratory.

Synthetic materials are recognised as not being a normal part of the body, LHeureux explains. Except for hard metals like stainless steel, gold and titanium, most create a very significant scarring response.

He likens it to a splinter. The body recognises the material as foreign and reacts to it by trying to push it out. If its not able to eject it, scar tissue will form and inflammation will be triggered. This can lead to redness, pain, swelling and scarring.

Some parts of the body are better at dealing with scarring than others. Sometimes a scar can actually be helpful, providing mechanical support to the structure. But in a blood vessel, a scarring response could recreate the same blockage surgeons were aiming to fix in the first place. Grafting and stenting can result in restenosis (where the treated vessel closes off again) over time due to this scarring behaviour.

A scarring response will create a lot of tissue that will clog the inner part of your tube. Then your blood will not flow well anymore, LHeureux says.

Synthetic grafts work best for large vessels such as the aorta, which is roughly two centimetres in diameter. If there is a little bit of scarring from the graft, the blood will likely still be able to flow normally. But for smaller blood vessels, rejection of synthetic materials can create a real problem.

LHeureux and his team are developing grafts that wont produce that rejection response. What is more likely to be accepted is a material the body is already familiar with. Researchers cultivate human cells in the laboratory (originally extracted from a skin biopsy), where various chemicals are used to influence them to form sheets of collagen. These sheets are then cut into thin threads of yarn-like material.

The material we collect in sheets is the extracellular matrix outside the cell. Thats what we get the cells to overproduce in the lab, LHeureux reveals. This is the material that they lay down in the right conditions at the bottom of the plastic containers where we grow the cells.

Because the makeup of collagen doesnt vary from person to person, it is hoped that each patient wouldnt need vessels produced from their own cells.

Once the yarn is ready, its time to get sewing. By weaving, braiding or knitting, the team can form tubes of collagen to replace the synthetic structures that are traditionally used in cardiovascular surgery.

We tend to use weaving because it makes a really nice tight wall which is really important if youre making a blood vessel, says LHeureux.

This is weaving as youve never seen it before, but it still requires a loom. The custom-made device has to be tiny so vessels of five millimetres in diameter can be produced. Its made out of stainless steel and plastic so it can be cleaned easily. And it is circular in shape to produce tubes from the collagen yarn.

How well these grafts will be tolerated by the body still needs to be tested though. The next step of the research is to see how the vessels perform in animals. Using genetically modified rodent models that dont reject human tissue, the team will be able to see if the biological textiles adapt well to the body environment.

But one problem with rats and mice is the small size of their blood vessels. So, the researchers are also working on producing similar medical textiles using sheep cells. Once animal model results prove promising, itll be time to think about transplanting the grafts into humans.

The sheep is about the same size as a human in terms of the blood vessels, so well be able to try surgeries that we would do in humans with vessels that would be the same size and using all the same instruments. So, its much more representative, LHeureux explains.

There are other research groups working on similar projects.The University of Minnesota Medical School recently grew human-derived blood vessels in a pig. While US company Humacyte is also trying to produce extracellular matrices for vascular and non-vascular applications. In the future, LHeureux hopes to collaborate with groups like these to find the best way of producing biological textiles at scale.

When we bring this material that is completely logical, completely human and integrates well inside the body to patients, well have a solution that weve never had before in medicine.

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China’s narrative about the origin of COVID-19 is starting to unravel – WION

§ May 11th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on China’s narrative about the origin of COVID-19 is starting to unravel – WION

The narrative promoted by China as to the origin of COVID-19 and the one quickly adopted by the scientific establishment and the media has always been that COVID-19, while circulating in a bat population, mutated, acquiring the ability to infect humans, which was then transmitted to people either visiting or working in the Wuhan Seafood Market

On February 3, 2020, Chinese researchers led by Zheng-Li Shi of the Wuhan Institute of Virology published an article in the prestigious journal Nature, which became the basis of the naturally-occurring narrative by identifying a previously unknown bat coronavirus, RaTg13, as a close relative to COVID-19.

A month later, using RaTG13 as a linchpin of its argument, Western scientists published The Proximal Origin of SAR-CoV-2, which became the single most widely-cited article by scientists and the media to support the contention that COVID-19 came from nature.

Thus, originated the wide scientific consensus claimed even by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the United States in its April 30, 2020 statement that COVID-19 was not manmade or genetically modified.

It did not take long for doubts about the validity of the RaTG13 argument or even its existence to appear, as the April 25, 2020 article Is Bat Coronavirus 4991 a Smoking Gun in Chinas COVID-19 Cover-up? will attest.

We have now learned that RaTG13 existed only on paper. RaTG13 and BtCoV/4991 are the same virus.

How long has this been known by the scientists involved and has it been part of a deliberate deception?

"Although sequenced earlier, the entire RaTG13 genome was later uploaded to the National Institutes of Health GenBank with an updated timestamp of March 24, 2020 and an accession number MN996532.1."

In that filing, there is no mention of BtCoV/4991.

Yet, in a Chinese virus database, dated March 7, 2020 in the source code, RaTG13 and BtCoV/4991 are listed as equivalent and links to the NIH GenBank.

What else has China been hiding?

The numerous inconsistencies in the theory that COVID-19 is naturally-occurring are well-documented.

A thorough, objective investigation of the true origin of COVID-19 is long overdue.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

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Study Illuminates the Role of Mitochondria in Neurodegeneration – UPMC

§ May 11th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Study Illuminates the Role of Mitochondria in Neurodegeneration – UPMC

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have found a way to observe how misbehaving mitochondria can lead to neurological problems resembling neurodegenerative diseases in humans.

The study, publishedrecently in eLife,uses genetically-modified zebrafish larvae, whose see-through bodies give researchers a chance to watch whats happening inside their nervous system when mitochondria break down, such as during Parkinsons, Alzheimers, Huntingtons and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Edward Burton, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Pitt, UPMC Endowed Chair of Movement Disorders and neurologist at UPMC, and colleagues caused mitochondrial damage in specific compartments of zebrafish neurons, using technology developed by Marcel Bruchez, Ph.D., at Carnegie Mellon University.

Normal mitochondria (left, green) and light-damaged mitochondria (right)

Burton and colleaguesgenetically-modified zebrafish to express a protein called dL5 in the mitochondria of their neurons. The dL5 protein acts as a receptor that binds fluorescent molecules, which emit harmful oxygen molecules when exposed to red light, causing oxidative damage to the mitochondria.

The really big first here is that weve got a way of targeting a one micrometer component of specific cells in a whole animal, with absolute precision in terms of where and when the damage happens and how much damage there is, Burton said. Compare that to coarser techniques, such as adding chemicals to the zebrafishs water theres no way to control which cells get damaged.

Zebrafish with damaged mitochondria in their nervous systems (left) dont move around like normal zebrafish (right).

The researchers found that zebrafish with damaged mitochondria in their nervous system had no motor responses to stimulation. The mitochondria of affected zebrafish were swollen, losing many of their signature folds, in which ATP production the main energy units used by cells takes place. Without ATP, the neurons lost their membrane stability and started to die about a day after the initial light-evoked damage.

Zebrafish and human brains share many of the same structures and neuronal populations affected in neurodegeneration, such as dopamine-producing neurons that die in Parkinsons disease. By causing damage to the mitochondria of living zebrafish and observing what happened next, Burton and his team were able to glean insights into what might happen in humans with damaged mitochondria.

I look after Parkinsons disease patients clinically at UPMC, and from a clinicians point of view its very frustrating because we can only treat their symptoms, Burton said. We know they have damaged mitochondria. What I really need is a treatment that targets downstream events, to prevent the pathogenic cascade and arrest or slow the progression of clinical symptoms.

Burton and his lab have now restricted the expression of dL5 to only dopaminergic neurons in the brains of their zebrafish. Over the next one to two years, they expect to create a timeline of the biochemical events underlying cell death that mimics the one found in human patients.

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COVID-19 blame game intensifies with online ad campaigns paid for by China and the U.S. –

§ May 11th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on COVID-19 blame game intensifies with online ad campaigns paid for by China and the U.S. –

U.S. President Donald Trump, shown here with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a 2017 press conference, has repeatedly blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic.

There is growing backlash toward China among some people in the U.S. for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and Chinese state media is pushing back with an aggressive propaganda campaign online.

Over the past few weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the pandemic, saying the country withheld informationand should have stopped the virus before it spread past its borders, but perhaps it "chose not to."And Chinaisincreasingly aimingat the U.S. for bunglingits own coronavirus response.

Now, the duelling campaigns are ramping up online with a series of paid adsby Chinesestatemedia and Republicans upfor election in November.

"At first, everyone was kind of scrambling to understand what was going on [with the virus] and what should be done," saidStanford researcher Vanessa Molter, who is studying China's online ad campaign.

"[But now], there is a move toward, 'Okay, this is the narrative wewant to promote. Let's put it out there.'"

And while scientists around the world rush to learn more about the virus and get the pandemic under control, somewarnthe escalating antagonism is making it harder for them to do their jobs.

Trump ramped up his rhetoric toward China this week, calling thepandemicthe "worst attack" ever on the United States.

"This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. There's never been an attack like this," hesaid toreporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

"And it should have never happened. It could have been stopped at the source. It could have been stopped in China. It should have been stopped right at the source, and it wasn't."

The White House isn't alone in pushing China for answers about its handling of coronavirus. Other countries, such asAustralia, arecalling for an independent investigation.

But according to a memo leaked to Politico from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate, it's also become a campaign strategyheading into November's presidential election.

Dozens of paid Republican ads blaming China for the coronavirus are flooding Facebook,often being used as a fundraising toolby candidates up for election, featuringlinks directing users todonate.

Republican Casey Askar, a Florida businessman running for Congress, released anad on Facebook that says China "lied about the coronavirus" and "unleashedthe Wuhan pandemic on the world."Texas Republican candidate Kathaleen Wall releaseda similar ad that begins, "China poisoned our people," and shows the virus flying across the ocean to the U.S.

In another election ad, incumbent New York Senator Anthony Palumbo suggestscharging Chinawitha terrorist offenceover its coronavirus response to help businessescollect damages and reparations.

On the other side of the world, China is fighting back with an aggressive propaganda campaign to paintits coronavirus response astransparent and effective, andto shift the blame back onto the United States.

"Cover-up, a label China shall return to the White House," reads one of the latest Facebook adsfrom Chinese state media outlet Xinhua.

Xinhuahas also been runningthis widely viewedanimatedvideo, which mocks theU.S. coronavirus response.There are dozens of other posts like it in Facebook's searchable ad library.

Watch Xinhua's video:

"At the same time that this positive image of China has been promoted, it's also that the United States might be at fault," said Molter of the Stanford Internet Observatory, whichstudies the negative impact of information technologies.

"But especially, that the pandemic is hitting the U.S. hard because the White House failed."

Molter says the Chinese propaganda effort has reached tens ofmillions of Facebook userssince mid-February, and that it's beginning to rival theRussian disinformation campaign during the last U.S.election.

Stanford estimates Russia's Internet Research Agency obtained around 40 million impressionsin its influence operations around the 2016 election.

"The impact is really wide reaching," she said.

It's also out in the open. Much of this propaganda is being broadcast by Chinese state mediawithverified accounts andmillions of followers.For example, CGTN, a Chinese state news agency running some of these ads, has 100 million likes on Facebook more than triple that of CNN.

Last summer, Twitterdecided to banall state media adsafter Chineseads against pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong caused a backlash. Molter argues that sites such asFacebook and YouTube should follow suit.

"I think it would be a clearfirst step to simply say, 'We're no longer taking money from Chinese state media to spread those ads.' But that's a policy decision," she said.

All of these ads and statements arebecoming even more influential as China cracks down on itsfree press, says Melissa Chan,an American journalist whoreports on Chinaand was Al Jazeera'sBeijing correspondent until her press credentials were revoked by the state in 2012.

In March, Beijingrevoked the credentials of journalists working in China for theNew York Times, theWashington Post, and theWall Street Journal.

"It's getting worse and worse," saidChan of the clampdown on the press.

Chanis carefulto distinguish between theemerging Republican narrative andstate-sponsored Chinese propaganda.

"There are some parallels, but they are fundamentally different," she said. "In the United States, you still get a variety of voices in terms of how they want to approach China. It's a messier landscape."

And while the White House messaging may seem co-ordinated, journalists and politicians still have the rightto criticize it, says Chan.

"People canbe taken to prison and jailed if they go against the Chinese state's message."

A big part of the blame game between the U.S. and China revolves around howand where the virus originated.Both sides are pointing fingers at each other.

During the Wuhan outbreak, a conspiracy theory emerged in China claiming an American woman was the source of the virus, contracting itafter she travelled there to compete in the 2019 Military World Games.

The theory was quickly dispelled by scientists and intelligence officialsaround the world, but that didn't stop some Chinese officials, such asForeign Ministry spokespersonLijian Zhao, from spreading it online.

This week, the Chinese state media organization CCTV started runningFacebookads promoting an interview with the Chinese ambassador to the United States,Cui Tiankai, whosuggested the virus may not have originated in Wuhan.

"It seems like both the United States and countries in Europe have found earlier cases than China did. We need scientists to figure that out."Cuitold CCTV.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence agencies areinvestigating whether the virus could have accidentally escaped from a lab used to study infectious diseases in Wuhan. And while Trump has said hehas a "high degree of confidence" the virus came from a Wuhan lab, hisintelligence agencies have not yet reached a conclusion.

Scientists have, however,rejected conspiracy theories that the virus was "engineered" by China. Researchers who have studieditsgenome have found the virus is likely the product of natural evolutionand made the leap from wild animals to humans just as both SARS and MERS coronaviruses did, probably as the result of close animal-human contact.

The U.S. national intelligence director's office says it "concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified." It did not, however, rule out the possibility of a leak or accident.

Indeed, scientists and public health officials are the ones caught in the middle of this war of words.

It affects the World Health Organization, in particular.Trump temporarily suspendedU.S.payments to the agencywhile a review of itsresponse to the pandemic is underway. He called the WHO "very China-centric."

"The WHO often gets caught up in geopolitical tensions," Keiji Fukuda, a former top official at the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with CBC News.

"But this time ... there's a corrosiveness that's not usually there."

Watch: Fukudaspeaks with CBC's Wendy Mesley about politics and thecoronavirus:

Fukuda says it's legitimate to question what happened in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, and that identifying the origin of the coronavirusis important. But he would prefer to see an investigationcome after the pandemic is under control.

If the U.S. and Chinese leaders are blaming each other to rally their bases and politicize the pandemic, it may help them, he says.

"But if the intent is really to deal with the outbreak, which is what the public should hold leaders accountable for, then it's not helping."

Fukuda saysscientists already have a tough enough job trying to get the facts right about a virus nobody's seen before.

"When you put the political overtones on top of that ... scientists around the world have to worry about what it is that they sayand how they present it," he said.

"We have a harder time doing our jobs, and that's to everybody's detriment."

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A brief overview of all the Covid-19 vaccines in the pipeline – Quartz

§ May 9th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on A brief overview of all the Covid-19 vaccines in the pipeline – Quartz

Right now, the best bridge to a new normal is a successful vaccine against Covid-19. Scientists are racing to develop one on an unprecedented timeline, but it could still take a year to 18 monthspossibly longer.

Vaccines are harder to make than ordinary pharmaceuticals. Typical drugs carry out a specific process in the body, and they only have to work only until the kidneys and liver filter them out. Vaccines, though, have to do a bit of biological catfishing: They dupe certain cells in our blood, called B-cells, into responding to a pathogenic threat that doesnt actually exist.

Tricking those cells into producing antibodies against a disease it hasnt yet faced is a difficult process. Scientists need help from benign viruses and bacteria, gene editing tools, and even copies of the infectious pathogen itselfand sometimes combinations of all three. And right now, scientists are throwing all of these strategies at Covid-19 to see what sticks.

At the time of writing, there are 123 vaccine candidates in various stages in the research pipeline. In a best-case scenario, multiple kinds of vaccines would be found safe and effective, so there would be several options for drug manufacturers and distributers to make and ship across the globe. Heres your guide to understanding the different approaches.

The most effective way (pdf) to generate antibodies against an infection is to actually get sick. The next best option? Show your B-cells a copy of the same pathogenbut genetically modified or kneecapped with a chemical like formaldehyde so it cant cause an infection. These vaccines cancause a minor infection if the virus is merely weakened and still capable of replicating, but its not nearly as dangerous as if it were at full-strength.

Scientists have developed inactivated or weakened vaccines for illnesses like measles, chicken pox, and polio. These vaccines are tried and true, but finding a new one requires a delicate balance: It has to be as close to the actual virus as possible, but not capable of replicating like it normally would.

If for some reason, the virus does start replicating, a perfectly healthy person would become sick. This is why safety testing is so critical for these vaccines. Currently, only two vaccine candidates in this category are in early clinical trials: one being developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, and one by Sinovac Biotech, which is also based in China.

Instead of showing B-cells the entire pathogen, protein subunit vaccines only show the body partsof the virus. For Covid-19, most developers are going after the spike protein that SARS-CoV-2 uses to enter our cells. The hope is that by showing B-cells that characteristic protein, theyll be able to recognize it on the pathogen itself, too. Itd be like showing your B-cells a novelty bedazzled bowling hat, and telling them to watch out for any invader wearing it in the future.

Protein subunits arent able to turn into a full-blown infection. But the immune responses they produce get weaker over time, which means that a person may require boosters throughout their life. Some annual flu vaccines take the form of protein subunits, as does the HPV vaccine. So far, none of the protein subunit vaccines have made it to testing in humans.

Protein subunit vaccines require manufacturers to genetically modify a microbe, like the bacteria E. coli, to produce the desired protein. Then these proteins have to be purified and mixed with adjuvants, which signal to B-cells to pay attention to them. So to speed up the process, scientists have worked out a way to get the body to produce these desired subunit proteins themselves.

Nucleic acid vaccines use either double-stranded DNA (the same genetic material stored in each of our cells nuclei), or messenger RNA (mRNA). These forms of genetic material contain the recipe for the desired proteins, just like our DNA does (mRNA is genetic material that is just a little farther along in the process). Cells within the body translate this foreign genetic material into target proteins, which B-cells then create antibodies against.

The advantage of this approach is that its relatively fast; once scientists have genetically sequenced a novel pathogen, they can isolate target proteins for the body to recreate. The challenge, though, is getting the body to actually respond to them.

Nucleic acid vaccines made with DNA have to get through the cell membrane and the cells nucleic membrane, which protects your DNA.Those with mRNA only have to get through the cell membrane, but theres still an additional hurdle: Even if the cells make the desired protein, they have to fold it into a shape that resembles the actual viral protein. Its like the difference between using a boxed cake mix to make 12 cupcakes versus two round cakes.

A nucleic acid vaccine has never been approved for use. But one of the leading vaccine candidates for Covid-19 uses this approach. Its an mRNA vaccine created by the Cambridge-based company Moderna, and the US government has already invested millions in it, even though its still in early clinical testing.

Another way to get around B-cells failure to respond to subunit vaccines or nucleic acid vaccinesis to try a hybrid approach: using otherweakened or inoculated viruses to transport genetic material that codes for bits of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The carrier virus can make its way into our cells like other infectious diseases wouldbut once it gets there, it produces SARS-CoV-2 proteins that generate the correct antibody response.

Some of these carrier viruses, called viral vectors, are capable of reproducing to a small degree, while others dont at all. Either way, they shouldnt cause an actual illness. The only reason these vaccines would be ineffective is if the recipient already has some form of immunity against the knocked-out vectormaking it impossible for the virus to enter our cells. One virus that scientists like to use is an adenovirus, for example, which often causes the common cold.

The newly-minted Ebola vaccine, which the US Food and Drug Administration approved in December 2019, is a viral vector vaccine. There are two promising vaccine approaches for Covid-19 using this platform, one by researchers at Oxford University, and one from the drug company Johnson and Johnson.

The last main tactic that developers are exploring is another variation of subunit vaccines. Instead of getting B-cells to recognize only certain viral proteins, virus-like particle vaccines introduce all the proteins on the outer shell of SARS-CoV-2. Its like showing B-cells only the menacing trench coat of a potential pathogen. Underneath the trench coat, though, theres nothingno genetic machinery to reproduce and destroy cells.

Currently, there are no virus-like particle vaccines in human trialsbut Medicago Inc., a company based in Quebec City in Canada, is hoping to start theirs in July.

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Wuhan market had a role to play in coronavirus outbreak, more research required: WHO – BusinessLine

§ May 9th, 2020 § Filed under Genetically Modified Humans Comments Off on Wuhan market had a role to play in coronavirus outbreak, more research required: WHO – BusinessLine

The World Health Organization on Friday said that a wholesale market in Wuhan, China had played a role in the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in 2019, calling for more research, Reuters reported.

Dr Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO expert on food safety and zoonotic viruses that cross the species barrier from animals to humans said that the market had a role to play in the coronavirus outbreak.

However, whether it was a source or a possibly amplifying setting for the outbreak is yet to be determined. Embarek called for more research as it was not clear whether it was just a coincidence that more cases were detected around the market or if animals or infected vendors or shoppers had brought the virus into the market, the report said.

Recently, the United States President Donald Trump and US Secretary Mike Pompeo have voiced their criticism of China alleging that the virus had originated in a lab in Wuhan.

The claims of the virus being man-made have been refuted by the WHO as well as the US intelligence community who believe that according to the evidence so far, the virus seems to have originated in nature rather than being genetically modified or manmade.

Embarek further said that the most important aspect of understanding how the virus evolved and how it adapted to humans was to get hold of the virus before it adapted to humans.

China probably had the expertise needed to conduct the investigations, he further said.

China had shut its Wuhan wet market in January owing to the surging number of Covid-19 cases putting a temporary ban on the trade of wildlife meat.

Embarek said that markets across the globe selling such meat should be regulated. Last month, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity had called for a global ban on wildlife markets, The Guardian reported.

The UN biodiversity chief urged countries to ban such markets in a bid to curb future pandemics.

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