de Vos: Feel the eel
The Friday Report
The World’s Greatest Swordsman was being interviewed. The skeptical host asked for a demonstration, so the swordsman pointed at a fly buzzing around the ceiling. After a blur of motion too fast for the eye, he sheathed his sword.
The host stared up at the fly, circling overhead, “It’s still there.”
“Yes,” said the swordsman with a twirl of his mustache, “but he will never reproduce.”
Scientists have invented a teensy pair of tinsnips that lets them cut and paste genetic material like preschoolers in art class. It’s called Crispr which stands for clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats. If you want to try it on your cat, you should read about it on Wikipedia first because it sounds really hard.
Using Crispr, lab-coats can pop a gene out of anything and slip it into some DNA that theoretically benefits. They’re able to swap these snippets amongst plants, animals, insects, bacteria, any living thing. The results are GMO’s, Genetically Modified Organisms, living things you’ll never find in nature, like glow-in-the-dark cabbage, giant salmon and creamy low-fat ice cream.
Creamy, low-fat ice cream has eluded food makers due to ice crystals that remain when the fat is removed, causing a grainy texture. Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch giant, dove deep into the Atlantic to find an eel that thrived in freezing water. They nicked a gene from its unusual ice-structuring blood protein, which dramatically lowers the eel’s thermometer, then spliced it into wheat DNA to make it cheaper. Finally, they removed the protein from the wheat and added it into their Breyer’s Light Double-Churned ice cream bars to inhibit the ice crystal formation for a smooth mouth-eel . . . um, no, that should be mouth-feel.
Now, if GMO’s taste too much like gluten or spotted owl for you, just spit them out. But you’ll be spitting a lot. GMO’s are on the table in 80 percent of the packaged food we eat. Pizza, ice cream, corn syrup, baking powder and hundreds upon hundreds of others are made from engineered grains.
Past starvation, eating organic is the only way to avoid GMO’s and only if you think you should. Monsanto points out that every one of their GMO’s are blessed by the FDA.
The Zika virus is sweeping South America and buzzing northward relentlessly. As of last week, the US had over 350 confirmed cases including 31 pregnant women for whom Zika carries the known threat of birth defects. Brazil mothers have birthed over 5,000 microcephalic babies since the outbreak started. There are no vaccines.
If there is good news, it’s that GMO’s may hold the key to eradicating not just Zika, but a host of other mosquito-borne miseries.
Oxitec, a small British start-up, has created a designer male mosquito that carries a self-destructive gene that causes larva to die after birth. Releasing them in the wild, Oxitec claims, will end the scourge.
It’s been done before. In the 1950’s, the aptly-named screwworm was devastating the table meat industry in the Americas. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture exposed male screwworm flies to radiation, sterilizing them. The sterile flies mated but produced no offspring. After successful trials on infested islands, they were ready.
A government-funded eradication program lasted 30 years, releasing up to 300 million radiated male screwworm flies weekly throughout the southwest and on into Mexico and Central America. Today? No screwworms.
Oxitec goes it one better. Radiation exposure damaged many of the flies which impaired successful mating. Gene-splicing has no negative effects on mosquitos’ health, only the fertility of the males. The offspring quickly die, leaving little chance of passing on any Franken-gene that would allow a narcissistic variant to dabble in real estate and run for president.
Congress, meanwhile, is paralyzed at the difficult choice between a science-based attack on the mosquito or which donor to sit beside at the convention.
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