Plushies have arrived!

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Hooray!

It’s the day we’ve all been waiting for. The Frank N. Foode™ and Lanakila Ā. Papaya™ plushies have arrived! I was just sending an email yesterday to get an update on the status of our shipping, and before the manufacturer could get back to me, I got a phone call from our mailbox. A pallet with our name on it showed up at their loading door. My wife and my plans for the evening changed immediately, and we took the truck out before dinner to fetch the boxes of plushies. It took two trips even with the truck to grab all 25 boxes of 50 plushies each. It would have taken only one trip if it weren’t for the generosity of all our Kickstarter backers who made all of these possible.

Loading and unloading the boxes was more fun than you might think, Continue reading.

What makes honeybee colonies Collapse?

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Frank explores a bee hive. Credit: KJHvM. See the whole album here.

Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder has always interested me, because I’m interested in insect pathology – and this is probably the most important insect-pathology related event we’ll see in our lifetimes. I’ve written about CCD here at Biofortified, first in my post Colony Collapse Disorder: an Introduction. I followed this up with Are Neonicotinoids the Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, where I talked about why the pesticide topic was a lot more complicated than neonicotinoid topic alone.

I’ve not been happy with media narratives which focus exclusively on neonicotinoids, because I think the picture is a lot more complicated than one group of pesticides. There are a lot of things which make bees sick, and a lot of these things change the social structure of bees in ways which are negative for the health of the colony. Honeybees also have problems finding food in many areas, which makes these problems worse. So, to restate something I’ve said in previous posts – I don’t think pesticides are entirely blameless, but I think many popular science articles on the topic lay too much blame on pesticides. CCD is multifactorial, with a lot of factors which interact to cause problems.

One question which I’ve had for awhile is: What happens when honeybee colonies Collapse*? In other words, why do the bees leave? A paper in PNAS, Rapid behavioral maturation accelerates failure of stressed honey bee colonies, seems to have answered the question, at least partially.

Continue reading.

Silencing Public Scientists

folta-badassLast week I received a FOIA request that all of my emails bearing certain terms were going to be obtained and turned over to an activist group.  US-RTK, a San Francisco-based activist group, namely Gary Ruskin, wanted to know my ties to Big Ag and their PR arm.

The first thing I did was pick up a phone, call Gary Ruskin, and say, “What can I tell you?”

We spoke for 10 minutes, he seems like a decent guy, but what’s the deal with assuming that I’m guilty of something before even talking?  I’m not one to do things the hard way, the expensive way.  I’m glad to talk openly about anything.

Those closer to the situation tell me I’m naive, and that US-RTK wants nothing more than to see me removed from the discussion on ag biotech.  In their estimation, US-RTK does not just want truth, they want words.  They want emails.  It is not about a scientists and what he or she does– it is how they can make public records into something they are not.

This is an expensive fishing trip to harm public science. Continue reading.

USRTK wants the Emails of Public Scientists

The logo of USRTK

The logo of USRTK

This is troubling news for academic scientists. An organization called “US Right to Know” has issued at least a dozen legal requests to the home universities of public scientists who have made efforts to educate the public about genetically engineered crops. Using the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state laws, they want access to all of the emails sent to and from the targeted scientists and a list of industry and industry-associated organizations. Claiming to only be interested to “understand the dynamics between the agrichemical industry’s PR efforts, and the public university faculty who sometimes are its public face”, these FOIA requests risk violating academic freedom and having a silencing effect on scientist-communicators who fear becoming political targets. Reminiscent of Climategate, the scientists who have been targeted fear that their correspondence will be twisted for political purposes.

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An excerpt of one of the FOIA requests

 

We will report more about this concerning issue as it evolves. Keith Kloor has the story at Science Magazine, and will be updating this post at Collide-A-Scape with additional details as he receives them.

The fierce public relations war over genetically modified (GM) food has a new front. A nonprofit group opposed to GM products filed a flurry of freedom of information requests late last month with at least four U.S. universities, asking administrators to turn over any correspondence between a dozen academic researchers and a handful of agricultural companies, trade groups, and PR firms. The scientists—many of whom have publicly supported agricultural biotechnologies—are debating how best to respond, and at least one university has already rejected the request.

Continue at Science Magazine.

Gene Editing and GMOs

Gene editing has been getting a lot of attention lately, with an increasing number of articles about this method in the media. In this post, I’ll provide a very high level overview of the method (please note that many molecules and enzymes will be omitted for the sake of simplicity). Most of the information here is from a 2014 review entitled “Development and Applications of CRISPR-Cas9 for Genome Engineering” from the journal Cell (unfortunately behind a paywall).

As you can imagine, gene editing is somewhat of a holy grail. To erase undesired mutations in DNA would be a dream for many clinicians/doctors. But there are many different applications besides erasing what we don’t want. We could introduce variations that we do want: creating an animal model for a disease, developing crops with desired traits, etc. Continue reading.