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Monsanto leaks suggest it tried to ‘kill’ cancer research about weed killer (baumhedlundlaw.com)
353 points by givan on Aug 3, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments

Isn't this right out of the Big Tobacco playbook when they "scientists" in lab coats producing studies that smoking was healthy?

The Tobacco Industry: The Pioneer of Fake News


Is there a scientific consensus (or at least majority) as to the carcinogenic effect of the Roundup product?

There isn't. Glyphosate is well studied, and all evidence exonerate it. The constituent chemicals of Roundup may interact with each other to render the cocktail toxic. But that's not equivalent to carcinogenicity. And it's not well studied as yet.

>Glyphosate is well studied,

No. That is false.


The studies on glyphosate are plenty, but most are inadequate.

This led me to a WHO FAQ, which I was hoping would answer all my questions. http://www.who.int/foodsafety/faq/en/

The only answer I have so far is that we need to fund our research institutes better to get more studies faster. I do appreciate though that glyphosate has replaced many less safe herbicides.

I think even going off of the WHO FAQ, the comparison of the situation to one the tobacco industry faced is not the correct one.

It is a real shame not to be able to trust "science" anymore. We'll have to come up with a new word for what we used to call science because I don't think corporations and media set on manipulating public opinion and laws will give it back.

It's not like it was hard to figure out what was going on.

On one hand you have scientists publishing letters of concern regarding glyphosate arguing for more studies to be done because of hints of carcinogenic properties.

On the other hand you have a full blown shill campaign on Reddit and other website, being all like, "there is absolutely nothing to worry about, why do you hate science!". And lobbyists bullying the EFSA into publishing a statement in support of glyphosate so that it could be relicense for further use within Europe.

You can trust science. You just have to be aware of the conflicts of interests. Monsanto hasn't bought every single scientist out there.


Seriously. Whenever I see stuff like this on Reddit or the like I always challenge it because the anti-Monsanto attitude is so easy to buy into - it's the classic corporate bully, storybook Goliath caricature - and so many claims are unsubstantiated.

Skimming this link definitely raises some serious red flags for me with Monsanto, but there's also some very stupid shit in there, e.g. the highlighted "you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen" - hell, I bet the same is true of most foods in the freezer aisle.

Pfft. You want a citation, go make a vaguely anti-GMO comment on a major sub. Include keywords. See what happens.

Having a lot of people disagree with you does not necessarily prove there is a "shill campaign". That's conspiracist thinking.

The funniest/saddest part of this is that even the people that catch on to the probable poison that is glyphosate and the shill campaign behind it will still angrily defend the safety and efficacy of IG Farben vaccines while happily eating Monsanto GM Frankencorn grown with glyphosate.

Depopulation is necessary and luckily it's also fairly easy.

Science is a process and is close to an infallible thing as we have created as humans. There is no problem with science.

What is happening here is "lying". The people creating false and misleading scientific results are liars and it becomes a question of taking skeptical views towards sources and knowing who to trust.

> Science is a process and is close to an infallible thing as we have created as humans. There is no problem with science.

Wouldn't you say mathmatics is the most infallible thing human's have come to creating? The level of rigor in mathematics is much higher and there aren't as many repeatability issues.

I would say mathematics is the language of science. Science is the process of extending knowledge; logic provides the tools for inference, and number allow experimentation/reproduction to be quantifiable. I also subscribe to the idea that mathematics exists independently and is discovered.

Christianity is belief in Christ and is close to an infallible thing as we have as humans. There is no problem with Christianity.

What is happening here is "corruption". The people using Christianity to further their own egos and desires are liars and it becomes a question of taking skeptical views towards authoritative figures and knowing who to trust.

Be careful about making Science™ a religion.

Nothing in this world is infallible.

I believe Christ is infallible.

God is not in this world. This is the creation.

It may take a shift in how we share information and perform science before we find a way to trust as much again.

Beyond the existing standing question of why more science papers don't publish information like the computer code they used, I've wondered why there isn't a push for "science-as-code". For example, if there was a common DSL that describes science lab automation, then a futuristic science paper would come with some a package that would drive another lab's robots and equipment to do the exact same experiment with the same steps, and let other labs alter the steps as they see fit once they reproduce the same results to toy with the experiment's findings.

Then all the calibration steps of each piece of equipment, all the sampling steps, all the measurement steps, etc. are all completely reproduced as code. Steps only expressible as "human hands do [insert-motions-here]" are translated to waldo motions, pressure sensing, etc.

Then a lab notebook would be filled with human interpretations of what scientists are seeing, hypotheses, etc., alongside a time-series recording of every step taken, environmental metrics measured, expressed in that DSL.

Scientists should publish more detail about methods in general, but we're a long way from the kind of precision that would enable robots to duplicate everything. A good deal of science happens with graduate students literally building their own apparatus.

> It is a real shame not to be able to trust "science" anymore.

I agree. My brother (Aerospace Eng.) and I (Software Eng.) talk often about this with our Dad (Electrical Eng.).

Given that big business and BIG money has now been proven to have hidden the truth about Monsanto Chemicals, sugar and many other things, how many other things in our would would big business pay billions or even trillions to cover up if they had a study that showed it was somehow harmful?

Just to throw out some ideas, how many trillions would they spend to hide that cell phones are bad, or TVs or "new car smell", or plastic containers for food.

It's quite clear that almost everything in our society that is sold for profit is now backed by trillions and trillions of dollars, and they would hide any ill effects if they could.

It's not that "science" failed us, it's that we let money buy it out, much like democracies too (i.e. unlimited campaign contributions)

So basically, it's becoming harder to know which science to trust ?

I don't think the problem is with Science or rather the scientific method. Instead it is largely a problem of how scientific data is published and then ultimately presented to the public.

In order for science to truly work in advancing our understanding of a given problem all studies both with positive and negative results need to be published. However, that is often not what happens. In academia often only the 'interesting' results end up getting submitted to journals and published. In the private sector the problem is even more pronounced because there is a vested interest in only publishing results with a certain outcome.

I work in R&D and we often do scientific studies that don't get published because they don't advance our companies viewpoint or could harm sales. And of course that makes perfect sense when you are not required to do so. So in the end you have to take that into account when evaluating a study, especially when coming from industry. There could be contradictory results that never saw the light of day.

Now there is a very simple fix to this which would greatly alleviate this problem: Have a requirement for publishing that forces the researcher to submit the scientific hypothesis, planed research methods, and variables to be studied before submitting the final results, no matter what they may be. This also prevents a researcher from cherry picking results after the fact and leaving out variables that cast doubt on the original hypothesis.

It's weed killer. Literally poison. Can we just curb our faith in science just a little bit and use some common sense. It's incredibly likely that ingesting poison is bad for you. Let's leave open the possibility that it isn't, but I personally require that people prove it's safe rather than continuing to ingest it until proven otherwise.

It's honestly just baffling to me that people find it surprising that consistent, low doses of poison may cause cancer.

Just because something is poisonous to the biology of plants, in doses typically used as a weed killer, doesn't make it toxic to humans.

That's not to say this doesn't cause cancer. Whether or not it does is irrelevant to the point that plant biology is not human biology — hell, other mammals' biology isn't human biology (see: cats and chocolate, grapes, macadamia nuts, and onions) — and making inferences based upon this hypothesis is not particularly likely to result in correct assessments.

Further, "the dose makes the poison". Alcohol is a poison. Oxygen is a poison in high enough doses. Is weed killer a poison? In some arbitrarily high dose, certainly. In some arbitrarily small dose, no. In the dose you're likely to encounter on the surface of produce? Possibly, perhaps even probably. But again, making inferences based on the fact that it kills weeds is faulty thinking. By that logic, one would be forgiven for avoiding onions at all cost; after all, they're cat poison.

If my cat is poisoned I would definitely avoid what it ate until there's overwhelming evidence that it's not harmful for me.


> "the ambivalent quality of pharmakon is more than purely a matter of ‘wrong drug, wrong dose, wrong route of administration, wrong patient’. Drugs, as is the case with anti-retroviral therapy, have the capacity to be beneficial and detrimental to the same person at the same time."

I don't know what Monsanto did or didn't do and don't have any particular rooting interest for Monsanto, but I think it's worth noting that the published science for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate (the "weed killer" we're talking about here) is extremely flimsy.

Most publicity about "cancer" and "Monsanto" is traceable back to an IARC report that the World Health Organization (IARC's parent) essentially retracted. The report itself concerned dozens of different pesticides and herbicides and mentioned glyphosate only in passing. The studies it referred to equivocated about any link between glyphosate and human cancer.

(I'm going from memory here and someone will probably correct me on this, which will be great!)

It would be surprising if glyphosate turned out to be toxic, because it straightforwardly targets a metabolic pathway that plants have and the entire kingdom of Animalia lacks.

California recently added glyphosate to its list of chemicals that it's required to alert consumers about. But of course, that list is long and includes substances that virtually nobody controls their own exposure to, such as acrylamide --- a known human carcinogen --- which is universally present in cooked foods.

Finally, and this is obvious, but we're reading articles on a plaintiff lawyer's website. That's fine, but you're clearly not going to get the whole story from them. For instance, the lawyers are happy to leave you with a headline about Monsanto trying to "retract a cancer study". But they're of course going to leave out the fact that the study in question was the Séralini study, of "Séralini affair" fame; you can look this up in Wikipedia to see what I'm referring to.

While glyphosate is only questionable, Round Up itself, which includes a variety of surfactants, seems to have a more pronounced effect - both cytotoxic and mutagenic.

Many of the later documents in this dump center around formulated Round-Up's unexplained toxicity when compared to the survey of glyphosate studies in the literature, and a variety of understudied surfactants in the formulation.

Ex (ignoring sensationalized document titles):




There's a video where a Monsanto lobbyist spouts circular talking-points about how glyphosate was safe to drink, offered either Round Up or glyphosate and refused to drink it.


It's irrelevant if glyphosate alone is cancerous or not, because 99.9999% of deployment is via sprays like Round Up. The combined product, in both animal and human models, need thorough mutagenic research. It's just news shows don't want to give Monsanto free advertising or face libel laws, so they conflate the generic compound with the product.

I think you'll find if someone who thinks you are evil offers you a glass of liquid of unknown providence you to would decline it as well.

This presents an interesting conundrum. Monsanto doesn't trust anyone who proposes a Monsanto employee drink a cup of Roundup because ostensibly they're afraid the cup is something other than Roundup. People who want to propose this "prove it" don't trust Monsanto to supply the cup of Roundup because they're afraid Monsanto will just give some colored, scented water that only looks like Roundup.

The actual Roundup product toxicity is from the inactive ingredients used as a carrier for the glyphosate [1]. Supposedly pure glyphosate itself is low toxicity. If (and this is a big if) the LD50 for humans follows mice models [2], at the highest amount of glyphosate required of 10,000 mg/kg, then the average human at 70 kg would require 700,000 mg of glyphosate to incur a 50% chance of a lethal dose. That is 0.7 kg solid form glyphosate, well over what we might find in a cup that is roughly diluted to the concentration levels one finds in the least concentrated form of Roundup. The lower end of the animal models is rabbits, acute dermal LD50, at 2,000 mg/kg, five times lower, 0.14 kg solid form glyphosate for that average human.

If there are 540 grams glyphosate per liter of Roundup R/T 540 Liquid Herbicide (the term of art is "540 grams acid equivalent per litre", please, some chemistry hacker out there correct my quantities, I'm sure I'm getting this wrong), then a US customary cup of this kind of Roundup contains 127.76 g glyphosate. I chose this kind of Roundup because it looks like the least concentrated. The rabbit LD50 toxicity translated to a 70 kg human is 140 grams. The mouse LD50 toxicity translated to a 70 kg human is 700 grams. That cup is uncomfortably close to those levels for me, if my numbers are close to the ballpark; I sure as hell wouldn't drink that cup if my numbers are correct. I welcome corrections.

[1] http://www.roundup.ca/_uploads/documents/RT540_label_Mar2014...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate#Humans

> I think you'll find if someone who thinks you are evil offers you a glass of liquid of unknown providence you to would decline it as well.

This goes both ways - shouldn't we decline Monsanto's products, because they've shown they value profit over safety, and corporate control over farmer independence?

Indeed - if I were sincere about my claims, I would go to a store of my choice, purchase a bottle off the shelf, and drink from that.

>There's a video where a Monsanto lobbyist spouts circular talking-points about how glyphosate was safe to drink, offered either Round Up or glyphosate and refused to drink it.

But, you can actually watch a video of someone else drinking some! (at about 8:00) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8sgEhpHM4k

Here's a comment on the video by the user K SA:

> The bar tender reaches down at 5:16 and brings up a different glass than the one he pours the chemicals in so this is a snow job. The two glasses have a different shape too and the new glass is greener. This is so fake. Why do the guys sprying this crap wear spacesuits if it is so safe?

> Why do the guys sprying this crap wear spacesuits if it is so safe?

The guy on the street outside wears thick waterproof pants and thick waterproof rubber boots when he cleans the street with a pressurized water hose.

Water is generally considered safe [citation needed], but you still don't want to get hosed in it for hours on a daily basis.

- Constantly wet feet catch fungus and foot rot.

- Water lowers your body temperature, making you more susceptible to infection from and outbreak of common cold.

- Containing water contamination to an surface - instead of your clothes and skin - makes it easier to rid yourself of surplus water when taking a break.

- Wet clothes are highly impractical because they are heavy and shed water everywhere you go for hours after.

TLDR; Protective clothing doesn't imply toxicity.

Same reason the doctor leaves the room when you take an X-ray. The issue isn’t one time exposure it’s repeated exposure.

The issue with roundup isn’t whether it’s safe if you drink it (most “safe” cleaners, etc will at least make you feel crappy if you just drink them - he’ll copper sulphate spray used for low level onset protection would send you straight to hospital if you drank it).

It’s a matter of cumulative exposure and time. Most cancers, even chemically induced ones take time to become large enough to be noticed and people get many different cancers naturally - if a small amount of roundup cause cancer immediately it would be gone already.

Much like Uber I take issue with the unethical behaviour of Monsanto in multiple areas. Maybe roundup is safe and could be used as icing at a five year olds birthday, but they shouldn’t be ghost writing papers for journals.

Also unethical is allowing someone to ghostwrite a paper for you and publishing it with your name.

> Why do the guys sprying this crap wear spacesuits if it is so safe

They are protecting against a lifetime of large exposures.

> They are protecting against a lifetime of large exposures

Would eating food products everyday be considered a "lifetime of large exposures"?

LOL. That's actually stupid or actually fake. :)

The thing is, glyphosate/roundup is still a toxin.

It may be safe in low doses but I wouldn't exactly try to drink large quantities of something that is made for the only purpose to kill some animal/plant.

Sure! And this is a really good point. But then, how many of those surfactants (and other additives) are unique to Monsanto, versus things that are present in lots of other herbicides?

Again: fuck Monsanto, I guess? My interest here is mostly in the notion that glyphosate is toxic, since that, along with "glyphosate is genetic engineering" and "Monsanto sues farmers for growing seeds that blow onto their fields" falls into the bucket of "things the Internet very strongly believes about Monsanto, despite being based on very incomplete information".

Thanks for that clarification.

I don't really understand why it's so hard for some "internet skeptics" to understand Monsanto is an awful corporation.

Every single time there's someone "reluctantly" doing overtime in their defense.

That's easy: the track record of claims against Monsanto is not great. When people proclaim very strong opinions about Monsanto, it's been a pretty reliable signal to me that they're basing their opinions off questionable sourcing.

Monsanto Manufactured both PCBs and DDT well after the point they where known to be harmful. So, they had a negative reputation well before getting into biotechnology. Though with constant spinoffs and acquisitions it's arguable how consistent their corporate culture really is.

Totally fair point! I'm only familiar with the Internet era of Monsanto complaints.

I'm sure Monsanto is not a great company.


Questioning people's motives is a big no-no on HN. We try to keep the place free of that.


It's covered by the guideline that says "Be civil". Insinuating that someone else is a shill (i.e. lying for money) is deeply uncivil.

It's impossible to make a list of all proscribed behaviors and if we tried, people would take it as a license to do anything not on the list. So that's not the way it works.

As for whether the 'don't insinuate astroturfing/shillage' bit is enforced, try scrolling through https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20astroturfing&sort=by... and you'll find dozens if not hundreds of cases. Actually I've posted so many of these that my body rejects writing them and I have to trick myself into doing it.

I have a suggestion: write it one more time, in the site guidelines. :)

It makes me wonder whether a lot of the more ridiculous arguments against Monsanto are actually just memes spread by Monsanto itself in order to discredit detractors.

The problem isn't pure glphosate, it's the complete mixture that is actually sprayed on crops that seems to be toxic to humans:


It took until 2014, but eight out of nine pesticide formulations tested were up to one thousand times more toxic than their so-called active ingredients. So, when we just test the isolated chemicals, we may not get the whole story. Roundup was found to be 100 times more toxic than glyphosate itself. Moreover, Roundup turned out to be among the most toxic pesticides they tested.

> It would be surprising if glyphosate turned out to be toxic, because it straightforwardly targets a metabolic pathway that plants have and the entire kingdom of Animalia lacks.

Don't be so high and mighty about the science against glyphosate being flimsy, then throw out your own pet theory in support of glyphosate without any scientific studies. It's hypocrisy. Either you only support theories backed by strong scientific evidence or you don't. You can't have it both ways.

My understanding is that the danger of glyphosate is one step removed from direct action on "human" cells, so bringing up metabolic pathways is a straw-man argument. The suspected danger is from disruption to the symbiosis of the entire human system, including the ~10x bacterial cells for every human cell that can be killed by glyphosate.



If this effect is real, can you link to animal studies conclusively demonstrating it? Because obviously we've been feeding a lot of rats a lot of glyphosate.

Well there's https://www.cornucopia.org/2017/01/glyphosate-harmful-rats-l... but I suppose fatty liver disease is not as serious as cancer...Wash your vegetables before eating.

EDIT: I think it's prudent to wash vegetables to clean off any herbicides and other chemicals even if they are "known" to be harmless.

You can't wash off chemicals that are absorbed by the plant systemically, like glysophate.

Note how the press release on this study, from Kings College London, done in 2017, calls it "the first to show a causative link between consumption of Roundup at a real-world environmental dose and a serious disease condition."

Regarding that Senneff cite:


Two ad hominems.

Here's a possibility. The scientific social networks consist of people who's research is paid for by the same corporations/government agencies with inherent conflicts of interest.

Yes. Every credentialed scientist in the field is bought and paid for by Monsanto. Only the computer scientists can be trusted. That sounds about right for HN logic.

> Yes. Every credentialed scientist in the field is bought and paid for by Monsanto.

I only raised a real possibility that is not factored in the two bullet points. Conflict of Interest. We assume that scientists are somehow immune & should not be questioned, particularly when there is evidence contracting their conclusions.

Nothing to do with HN logic. From what it looks like, you are far more of the HN maven than I am...

> I think it's prudent to wash vegetables to clean off any herbicides and other chemicals even if they are "known" to be harmless.

you're gonna have a real hard time getting all the chemicals off your veggies using dihydrogen monoxide, what with its high boiling point. i suggest using formaldehyde instead.

High boiling point of water is irrelevant for solubility of veggie chemicals. What matters is hydrophilic/hydrophobic qualities. My suggestion would be to start with water, GI through methanol, acetonitrile, chloroform and end up with a good fatty oil, maybe olive oil. Remember to rinse if the oil with soap as the final step.

Or maybe get some veggies that don't have the chemicals on them in the first place?

> It would be surprising if glyphosate turned out to be toxic, because it straightforwardly targets a metabolic pathway that plants have and the entire kingdom of Animalia lacks.

Biochemistry is not that simple. My favorite example is n-hexane, the linear hydrocarbon with 6 carbon atoms. It is more toxic than any of the other small alkanes; about 3 times as toxic as n-pentane, with 5 carbons, but also less toxic than n-heptane, with 7 [0]. Why? I don't know if anyone knows, but seems like it must have something to do with the exact size of the molecule. Maybe it's just short enough to fit someplace and just long enough to cause a problem when it's there.

The point is, so much of biochemistry is about how molecules fit together in 3-D space. This is not something that's easy to predict. Your line of reasoning here is just not valid.

[0] https://books.google.com/books?id=e4_S46UcI2AC&pg=PT286&lpg=...

So this seems like a deflection to me. As I've said before, my dad thought his non-hodgkins lymphoma was due to roundup and you shouted me down saying glyphosate hasn't been shown to cause cancer (though there are certainly a bunch of people who disagree with that).

The real point is that it is not glyphosate we're talking about, it's roundup. And it would appear that the cocktail of whatever makes up roundup may not be fine. So please address that, not glyphosate.

The fact that the metabolic pathway glyphosate mainly targets in plants doesn't exist in mammals does not preclude it being carcinogenic by other biochemical mechanisms.

Y'all should take this with a grain of salt. Monsanto is hated as a company; the media just loves to vilify them. I've been suspicious of any anti-Monsanto news since looking into their lawsuit[1] against a farmer who grew illegally obtained patented seeds. The media and commenters made a big deal about predatory behavior but they it was clearly the farmer being an asshole. Anti-science/GMO nuts just latch on to anything without a care where the evidence points.

[1] Monsanto Canada Inc v Schmeiser

Given the number of ghost written publications shouldn't there be a slew of retractions?

It's unethical, and generally a violation of journal rules to publish another's work listed with yourself as an author.

Then there's a journal editor that they pay, who they worked with to get a paper retracted, surely that should result in a re-review of everything involved there as well?

Has anyone done the work to determine which papers are involved and start the retraction notification process?

News-flash, company people have known was evil for ages, actually is still evil.

Here is a study of 12 diseases correlated with glyphosate, it is not official as in a published journal, but given that even pubmed states there are not enough toxicity studies, that most safety papers are not independently funded, and scientists who dare to say the contrary are shut down, I rather be more cautious than sorry: https://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/glyphosate/NancySwanson....

I see there is a few posts repeating the common interpretation that glyphosate is not dangerous because it only targets metabolic pathway only animals has, so for the sake of discussion here is another viewpoint: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVolljHmqEs (disregard the clickbait title), summary: Glyphosate is not bad for your body, but it does kill everything in your stomach, and that is not so awesome.

It's interesting how the discussion of Monsanto shifted. The discussion was about how Monsanto changed the seed/weed business from a buy model to a subscription/license model for farmers - which is a disruptive fundamental change. Now the discussion is mainly ab Glyphosate.

Walking by a Bayer - Monsanto owner pending regulatory approval - building every morning, with people streaming in and I'm reminded most people will work for anyone who pays them.

Michael Clayton anyone?

Yep, except he wouldve been taken care of by team B and even if he hadn't, the prosecuting DA would've been gotten to and dropped the case under prosecutorial discretion. The movie had to have a semi happy ending for the plots sake. Real life is much nastier.

Shouldn't this be illegal in some form? It is morally reprehensible to use "money as free speech" to suppress scientific truth.

yawn, oh no they wouldn't do that would they? sips coffee

Colour me surprised.

Of course they did. Anyone on the internet about a year - 2 years ago remembers every time you mentioned monsanto they would send shills in to defend them and call you a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist.

It's been really frustrating trying to have any nuanced stance on GMOs with proponents doing the "durr all modern crops are genetically modified by human selection" and such. Like no shit, it is still possible to acknowledge that and believe that there are legitimate concerns about intellectual property, or with modifying a crop to be resistant to a carcinogenic poison farmers are going to dump all over it.

A lot of the pro-GMO people seem to argue in really bad faith if they're not paid shills.

I'd probably blame the fanatic GMO opponents first, who can typically be refuted by the simple arguments you mock.

Unfortunately nuance and middle ground are hard to come by online. And it doesn't help when you dismiss all GMO proponents as paid shills.

The organic food industry is just as, if not more guilty of astroturfing, but in any case it's impossible to have a nuanced conversation with those whose level of argument never goes beyond "baa baa monsanto evil GM poison" It's quite telling that most of them have never even heard about Sygenta.

>modifying a crop to be resistant to a carcinogenic poison farmers are going to dump all over it

This is purely speculation at this point. I recognise the ecological harms of massive monoculture enabled by GM but again, opponents seems fixated on unproven health effects and miss the bigger picture.

> the ecological harms of massive monoculture enabled by GM

What is "monoculture" and why is it GM that enabled it? Didn't monoculture exist before GM? Could you describe to me a field where non-monoculture is used.

Exactly this. Every thread on GM quickly polarizes into useless for and against sides, when we need to be selective about it.

And I've never bought the characterization of breeding/selection as a form of GM. Breeding is selection of a pathetically tiny set of modifications, but GM is on a whole other level. With GM we can write arbitrary binary strings of code into any organism. That's simply not comparable with breeding -- the space of realizable phenotypes is orders of magnitude larger with GM.

Modern breeding involves actively mutating known species with DNA-altering chemical mutagen and ionising radiation. Think fuzzing vs. static code analysis, which one would you do first when it comes to debugging?

>Breeding is selection of a pathetically tiny set of modifications, but GM is on a whole other level.

The truth is probably closer to the opposite of this: most GM species in the pipeline are rather unimaginative ones improving one phenotype at a time, and the vast majority of them focus on pest or herbicide resistance. There is a couple of near commercial crops aimed at improving nutritional content such as golden rice and high-lysine corn, but they are more exceptions than the rule.

The kind of totally disruptive GM e.g. introduce C3 photosynthesis in C4 plants, has not left the drawing board yet for a good reason.

Your argument is that GM is less powerful than breeding because people have been "unimaginative" with it ?

OK if you wanted to create, say, a fluorescent horse, which technique would you use:

* GM

* breeding with radiation and chemical mutagens

You have one month.

Neither technique will work in the timeframe you specified because gestation time for horses are almost a year long.

On the other hand, one can slowly breed for desirable traits such as speed, endurance or disease resistance in horses, good luck doing that with GM.

The point wasn't how long it would take for the organism to gestate, it was how long it would take for the trait to be introduced into the organism.

We can do that precisely for fluorescence and many other traits with GM today, but good luck trying to breed a fluorescent horse, it could take millions of years if at all.

There is no reliable or efficient vector to introduce fluoresence to somatic cells in a horse-sized animal, so no, 1 month is still way too short. You seem to have a highly romanticised idea about the capability of GM but it is misguided.

Besides, GFP fluoresence is the proverbial low hanging fruit as it is robustly expressed in many cell types but has very little practical value. Inserting useful traits via GM is often no short cut because they are rarely determined by a single gene.

the point isn't about actually growing an adult fluorescent horse, it's about proving the principle in an embryo - which takes days. It's already been done with mice, but I agree it's a simple example.

Your point about multiple genes is a very good one but we have a good understanding of how some gene networks work already and the rest will follow.

The problem with embyros is that they can be inject with any DNA for a trasient positive result but these may well be discarded or inactivated during development. The recently debuked STAP cells used injected embyros as evidence and it turned out to be either a fluke or outright fraud. To prove the concept you really need a stable F1 generation to illustrate that the trait can be passed down in the germline.

I'd say that our ability to interact with the genome is still rather crude, else we'd have already cured cancer by now - we already have a pretty good understanding of the cellular biology of cancer but it only helps us so much.

I agree that the polarization is useless. However what you said about selective breeding vs GM is just wrong. Selective breeding introduces numerous mutations, including ones often not even related to the desired traits. In contrast human directed genetic modification often changes a single gene, the state of the art in research universities for specific modifications is only in the tens of genes. You can only say they are not comparable in the sense that selective breeding introduces far more changes than GM and also in the sense that with GM we know what changed where in selective breeding we do not necessarily know how the change was produced or what the extent of it was.

Also I understand that this is a computer centered site but thinking of DNA as binary is a often used but terrible analogy. Living organisms were designed through complete randomness, try refactoring that. If you wanted to turn teosinte into corn without any random mutations and selection I think that would be far beyond our abilities for 100 years at least.

Sorry but I didn't compare evolution with computer programming - it's very different to human code, but it is code and it is a computation.

In evolution there's no design, which implies prediction and a model of function. But evolution is far from "completely random". In fact evolution goes to great lengths to correct mutations and only allows mutation in certain carefully controlled sequences of the genome where variation is potentially useful. There are sequences in our genomes that are identical to those of yeast, having been faithfully copied, and error-corrected, for billions of years.

> In contrast human directed genetic modification often changes a single gene

Even CRISPR-CAS9 is not perfect and introduces a lot of unwanted genetic changes when used. Further the big advantage of GM compared with selective breeding is that you can inject Transgenes. This makes them totally incomparable.

give it a chance - it's early days, and there are many other techniques and more in the works

yes, it's absurd that they bucket artificial selection and gene transfer into the same category.

Guess I and most of the people in my department are "those people"!

Isn't your comment self-defeating? You have legitimate concerns about corporate abuse of IP law and a specific crop product- not with the scientific field of genetic modification. So why do you insist on villifying the term GMO instead of using accurate language to describe what you're talking about? From the other perspective, I cannot begin to understand how you are the one not acting in bad faith.

It's been really frustrating trying to have any scientific stance on GMOs with opponents doing the "durr all GMOs are bad and are going to kill us" and such. Like no shit, it is still possible to acknowledge gaps in research and believe that there are legitimate concerns about intellectual property, or with not modifying a crop to increase its nutritional content to save starving people.

A lot of the anti-GMO people seem to argue in really bad faith if they're not paid shills.

See, I can create straw man arguments too.

To be fair, I think a good portion of those 'shills' were organic (no pun intended). To this day, a lot of the popular "anti-monsanto", "anti-gmo" groups (e.g. David Avocado Wolfe) are pretty nutjob and have a large community of people who dislike them.

>lot of the popular "anti-monsanto", "anti-gmo" groups (e.g. David Avocado Wolfe) are pretty nutjob

It's worth noting that having such groups is a commonly used counter intelligence tactic: create a loud and incoherent pseudo-strawman opposition to distract from those who are actually asking legitimate questions.

An effective astroturf campaign calls for both pro-x and anti-x shills.

Wow, i never considered this but it makes sense and i imagine is very effective.

Do you know of any well documented cases of this (though by its nature, any case of this is probably not well documented)?

If anyone was in a place to make a Strawman, it would be Monsanto.

Sometime it feels like Monsanto is the strawman for the entire biotech industry.

> create a loud and incoherent pseudo-strawman opposition to distract from those who are actually asking legitimate questions.

See flat earth as an obvious example of this.

Who actually likes Monstanto? I imagine a vast majority of the American people would support an outright shutdown of their business.

Luckily we still have the rule of law, so the majority can't simply shut down a company they dislike based on an internet misinformation campaign.

Campaign implies organization. Who do you suppose is working to shut down Monsanto?

A mob can be stupid and dangerous without a sinister corporate backing.

Who is funding the anti-vaccine campaign? Nobody. It's stupid online bloggers and dishonest researchers egging each other on with fake news.

it's not a campaign then.

Big organic.

Seems that Monsanto is running the misinformation campaign.

They do create useful products so they cannot be shutdown. The problem is in doing so, we trust them with too much power. In this case we are trusting them, not to poison our children in the name of profit.

I like Monsanto and use roundup to spray weeds behind the house so I don't have to trim them. I would be very disappointed if I could not do this, because those weeds grow on a rather steep grade and trimming there is a nightmare. For the record, based on the science available to me (nut job tree hugger sites are not science), I consider roundup to be safe when used as intended.

You could at least buy generic glyphosate and not fund them. The generics tend not to have the modern cocktails of other chemicals that are suspect.

Uh... My grandpa used to use Roundup in order to kill weeds in his cultivation land.

Great. Whats your point?

Is he alive? Did he die of cancer?

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