AntiFreeze Gene from Antarctic Grass

It is interesting that during this period of overwhelming concern about global warming, and given bans on GM food crops in all Australian states except Queensland, that Australian scientists should find an antifreeze gene in Antarctica and begin a discussion about crop losses due to frost.

Victorian Minister for Innovation, John Brumby, made the announcement at a biotechnology conference in Chicago, and The Age reported his comment that:

“Over the next few years, we should see the development and application of technologies for frost tolerance in crops based on the knowledge gained from the functional analysis of these antifreeze genes.”

So when will the Victorian government lift its ban on the commercial production of GM food crops? And why is there a ban in place anyway?

Even Bill Clinton is pro-GM food crops – at least that’s according to today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

I would like to know more about the Antarctic hairgrass, which has the antifreeze gene. It apparently grows on the Antarctic peninsula.

16 Responses to AntiFreeze Gene from Antarctic Grass

  1. joe April 13, 2006 at 11:54 am #

    Why no GM in Victoria
    It would be a good question to ask Bracks in the lead up to the elections.

    My take:

    The truth is that Greens don’t want to see little brown people eating more than one bowl of rice a day.

    Unless someone can show me where I’m wrong thinking like this, I’ll jus continue believing that to be the truth.

  2. joe April 13, 2006 at 12:12 pm #

    It truly amazes me in the left’s ability to both claim science and ignore it at the same time while pointing the finger at the right for being anti-science. It about the best snow job I have ever seen.

    On the one hand we are constantly being told that we’re destroying Gaia at the speed of light, eliminating natural flora and fauna at basically the same speed. Oh, and let’s not forget that the earth’s temp is increasing at 1 deg per hour.

    Yet we have science allowing us the potential to breed livestock more efficiently, produce crops that would use far less land. It would allow for agricultural intensity in addition to inserting supplements into crops for nutritional purposes. We have all this potential and we have leftist governments and their sidekick organizations placing restrictions on these wonderful improvements.

    Instead of celebrating corporations like Monsanto for displaying amazing creativity, they are monstered by lowlifes and have their creativity disparaged by lowlife scumbags.

    No wonder I despise them.

    However longer term they’ll get their just reward, as history will judge these people with total contempt.

    People who are skeptical of AGW are called deniers, yet those same name callers are given a clear road with GM food. Despicable!

  3. Louis Hissink April 13, 2006 at 9:58 pm #

    I agree with “Joe’s” take on this though I prefer a knobkerri instead of a “Nulla Nulla” as my weapon of choice.

    After all, genetic modification is the basis for evolution, is it not?

    We, according to presumtions, are the result of GM due to climate change?

  4. Phil April 13, 2006 at 10:34 pm #

    I would have to say Joe should stick to making vast quantities of money from trading. That little outburst above is the biggest load of quasi-political codswallop I have ever read. I would suggest that if Joe has a survey for inventiveness or intellectual ability that correlates with voting patterns and political preference in Australia he should table it.

    And as far as Monsanto being celebrated – I threw up – it’s about making money first and simple Joe. Personal experience with cotton industry – don’t kind yourself they’re crusading to save the world – it’s just dividends to shareholders – probably you (not necessarily a bad thing but let’s get all moralistic about it).

    Bowl of brown rice my foot – hope you’re investing heavily like Bill Gates in 3rd world self-help projects yourself.

    AGW and GMO issues DO NOT have to be linked. It’s a bullshit argument.

    And won’t the anti-freeze gene be useful as the place warms up and frost frequency declines like it’s already doing.

    And you do need some degree of prudence here – having a runaway gene interfering with natural vernalisation processes isn’t that smart if you have thought through the ramifications first.

    I’m not saying the AF gene may not have some merit – just don’t pop the bubbly too soon. High risk stuff.

    I also notice nobody has responded to the negative issues of GM cotton in India (which I must say being a prior fan of BT cotton took me by surprise).

  5. joe April 14, 2006 at 12:44 am #

    “And won’t the anti-freeze gene be useful as the place warms up and frost frequency declines like it’s already doing”.

    Phil last time I looked Canada and parts of the US ares still bloody freezing in the winter, which by looks of things is still going to continue for the next 100 years.

    Surely you’re not one of these people who believe in 1. deg per hour increase are you?

  6. coby April 14, 2006 at 5:19 am #

    I will admit upfront to being relatively new in terms of taking an interest in GMO issues. I do share some mild forms of the “Frankenfood” concerns but not alarm, I have not seen evidence of danger. But of course the burden of proof goes the other way, and frankly I do not trust industry and gov’t enforcement agencies to ensure that safety comes first.

    That said I have heard convincing arguments of the potential benefits of genetic engineering, and reasonable comparisons to the very same practices humans have been using since the dawn of agriculture, ie unnatural selection. But I find that to my mind the far and away greater danger lies in the legalities of patents and licensing. The idea of a corporate entity like Monsanto owning any organism anywhere that contains its patented genetic sequence regardless of how it got there or where it came form or how many generations ago it left Monsanto hands is frankly horrifying. The game plan is obvious: spread your patented genes world wide, stamp out traditional genes and/or competitors, control for profit the world’s food supply. That’s not evil, that’s just smart capitalism. But there are some things that really must be from protected monopolistic enterprise -cough- sorry, Free Enterprise, and genetic material is one of them. The others are water, basic health care and air.

    I understand people who fear extreme forms of socialism. But I don’t understand why many of these same people see no danger in extreme capitalism.

  7. rog April 14, 2006 at 6:37 am #

    Probably because it is too long a download (for rural folk) Phil.

    A quick skim through Monsanto, Indi and BT reveals claim and counter claim being made by primarily between Monsanto and the Indian Govt, claims which are impossible to evaluate at short notice. Where is the truth?

    Maybe in this link, they want to control their own GM

    India gets its own GM cotton
    G.S. MUDUR
    New Delhi, April 5: Cotton plants genetically modified by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and an Indian company are set to become India’s first homegrown GM crops approved for commercial release.

    The cotton, jointly developed by IIT Kharagpur and JK Agri Genetics in Hyderabad, is among GM crops approved yesterday by the government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), a top official said.

    “This will be the first GM crop technology from India for commercial release,” Desh Deepak Verma, co-chairman of the GEAC told The Telegraph.

    All genetically engineered varieties of cotton that have been under cultivation in India since 2000 are based on technology developed by the US biotechnology giant, Monsanto, and licensed or sublicensed to various seed companies in India, he said.

    All GM cotton approved for cultivation in India contains genes from the bacteria Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) that allow the crops to protect themselves from pests.

    “The technology was entirely generated here using Bt from India,” said Soumitra Sen, head of the Biotechnological Research and Extension Foundation at IIT Kharagpur.

    Sen and his colleagues have also been working on GM rice, brinjal and tomato. However, none of these plants is ready for commercial cultivation yet.

    “We’re also working on a new generation of GM cotton that could resist a wider range of caterpillar pests than the first-generation Bt cotton,” Sen said.

    The GEAC also approved today another cotton variety based on Chinese technology, Verma said.

    The latest approvals come amid what activists claim are “irregularities and violations of biosafety guidelines” during trials of cotton and other GM crops.

    Greenpeace had earlier this year organised a meeting where farmers admitted they had sold GM cotton from field trials that should have been destroyed at the end of the trials. Some farmers did not separate GM crop from other crops as required under safety rules.

    Activists said one farmer in Andhra Pradesh even admitted that he cooked and ate GM okra (bhindi). A senior member of the GEAC said field trial rules are supposed to be made clear to participating farmers, and allegations of violations will be investigated. “A few farmers might have become greedy, but a few isolated violations should not vitiate the entire process,” the member said.

    The indigenous GM cotton is based on joint research by IIT Kharagpur and JK Agri Genetics.

    “The IIT team incorporated genes into cotton lines provided by us,” a top company official said. “There’s been no foreign technology input,” he said. This cotton has been undergoing field trials for the past two years, he added.

    Biotechnology industry analysts expect that the entry of indigenous varieties of GM cotton will reduce the market prices of these products.

    Activists evaluating the performance of GM cotton that has been under cultivation have claimed that while the yields of non-Bt cotton are marginally lower than Bt-cotton, the cost of cultivation of Bt cotton is higher than that of non-Bt cotton.

  8. Pinxi April 14, 2006 at 8:53 am #

    Very well put thankyou coby, my thoughts exactly. However most people
    a) would rather that you can be clearly labelled as either ‘for’ or ‘against’ GM (otherwise both camps view you with suspicion);
    b) will here argue strongly against your burden of proof obligation;
    c)and refuse to consider your last sentence as you must be a pinko to make such a statement.

    How have we come to the present state where simply asking commonsense questions leads to one being branded an extreme activist/stupid greenie/commie/genocidal socialist/luddite, etc? Socrates must be turning in his grave.

  9. coby April 14, 2006 at 10:06 am #

    Hehe. You should have seen what I deleted!

    It’s very true that in these issues camps are set up too quickly. It is a big frustration for me to see the GM debate so focused on the IMO weaker health issues and not on the *very* insidious ownership of life issues. I have even read things that suggest it is possible/has been done to patent *natural* gene sequences. But I don’t know where I saw that or if it was reliable.

  10. Chris Preston April 14, 2006 at 12:03 pm #

    In answer to Phil, I have read this document. It is written in language that is designed to promote the moral vision of the writers rather than the more dispassionate language expected of a “scientific” study. Read page 34 as an example. On this page, the moral lesson of greed is illustrated. Those who opted to grow Bt cotton for higher yields are painted as greedy and get their righful comeupance when yields are not as high as expected.

    As a counterpoint, you might want to look at Bt Cotton Controversy: Some Paradoxes Explained by Gopal Naik, Matin Qaim, Arjunan Subramanian and David Zilberman in Economic and Political Weekly April 9 2005. Naik et al. conducted an indepth survey of Bt cotton growers in India across 4 states in 2003 and found yields were significantly higher in 3 out of 4 states. In the other, Andhara Pradesh, yields of Bt cotton were slightly, but not significantly lower. Naik et al. point out a number of factors contributing to this result including lack of well adapted Bt varieties for that region.

  11. Phil April 14, 2006 at 6:05 pm #

    Thanks Chris

    I understand BT cotton has been a success in Australia. Be good to get to the bottom of those regional Indian issues.

  12. detribe April 17, 2006 at 9:09 pm #

    Re India
    Why not start here
    and here

    As far as problems- see here

    Does the existence of some problems mean that Bt cotton is a failure in India:
    No. There have been always glitches during the first season’s introductions of GM traits, and the problems indicate a need to do things like intoduce stacked trait (double protected) varieties as has occured in Australia but not in India.
    One needs also to appreciate that cotton in undergoing a breeding revolution in India separately from introduction of GM traits, and that not all Bt traits are in the best adapted local varieties that are rapidly improving.

    In other words, there is learning from experience in the field going on.

  13. detribe April 17, 2006 at 9:12 pm #

    Re India
    Why not start here
    and here

    As far as problems- see here

    Does the existence of some problems mean that Bt cotton is a failure in India:
    No. There have been always glitches during the first season’s introductions of GM traits, and the problems indicate a need to do things like intoduce stacked trait (double protected) varieties as has occured in Australia but not in India.
    One needs also to appreciate that cotton in undergoing a breeding revolution in India separately from introduction of GM traits, and that not all Bt traits are in the best adapted local varieties that are rapidly improving.

    In other words, there is learning from experience in the field going on.

  14. Roger Kalla April 18, 2006 at 4:59 pm #

    It is interesting to note that the first Australian BT cotton crop in 1996 did not yield spectacular results. The below par results formed the basis for the premature paper below written by two anti GM activists claiming that BT cotton would not work in Australia (nor in the US).

    Bt cotton fiascoes in the US and Australia. Doreen Stabinsky and Bob Phelps. BWG Briefing Paper 2, Ad-hoc Working Group on Biosafety, Montréal, Canada. May 1997.

    If BT cotton had been judged after the first year of introduction it would probably not have been the success story it is today.

    The learnings from the experience in the field are indeed crucially importnat for the development of any new technology.

  15. Chris Preston April 18, 2006 at 8:38 pm #

    Roger, it is a little more complicated than this. Growers adopting new technologies are often conservative about how they change management, until they have established how well the new technology works. We saw this in Australia with the introduction of both Bt cotton and Roundup Ready cotton. Growers tended to continue to use insect and weed control that was not essential. As they become more familiar with the technology, they trust it more.

    The other factor that has a significant effect on yield and profitability of these GM cotton varieties is pest pressure. The higher the pest pressure, the better the yield and profitability of Bt cotton as non-Bt varieties suffer more damage. The same is true of Roundup Ready varieties. These perform better in weedier paddocks. So seasonal conditions also play a part.

  16. detribe April 19, 2006 at 2:44 pm #

    Roger and Chris
    I came across a similar story talking to GM corn breeders in South Africa – the first season was a little patchy, but the following seasons, with re-bred varieties, were better performing over-all. Because the repeated seasons of “back-crossing” to restore good germplasm to the plants into which new traits are first added takes so long, and costs a lot, there are cost pressures to go to market earlier that optimum, before the varieties are completely up to speed compared the best non GM varieties.

    This makes nonsense of any claims that GM displaces conventional breeding or encourages monocultures any more that conventional breeding does.

    New traits and good germplasm are both needed, and the traditional breeding currently is the most well-tried way to get the good germplasm. Marker assisted fast breeding is probably speeding this up now though.
    I mention this because in India there a lot of gerplasm improvement going on in addition to GM traits, as you likely know, and against this background, some imperfections in performance are expected, as I mentioned previously. Knowing that the problems are common puts it in context though.

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