Patenting Pot, GMO Seeds and Along Came a Spider

If you follow agribusiness, and you should, you would know that there are major issues regarding the use of Genetically Modified Organisms in plants that produce deliverables that we consume and feed to our animals. There are a great number of external costs paid by industrialized farming for the benefits gained by monocropping – most notably in petroleum and soil loss – but one of the most interesting challenges of the industry has come from the concept of PATENTING LIFE.

 

Patenting Pot

Mapping the DNA strains of plants has created a unique opportunity to exchange genomes in a highly engineered and unnatural hybridization process, and allows the engineers to place markers in the genomes so they can identify the plant and prosecute farmers for copyright infringement (growing the seed without paying for the seed). Monsanto has done this with their “roundup ready” seed strain, they have a patent on a gene. Farmers argue that patenting life should be illegal and GMOs discontinued because nature will always intervene, and cross pollination is inevitable. Resulting in some innocent farmers being found guilty of growing patented seeds as a result of mother nature.

In a similar way that Monsanto, Corp. invented the Roundup Gene, and implanted it into their pesticide ready soy beans. Now the soy beans seeds must be bought every year, because Monsanto does not allow seed cleaning or collection based on Intellectual Property Laws. They send PIs after farmers just doing what has been done for centuries, site specific seed propagation. This is why humans exist, after years of cycles seed that thrive under those conditions have their seeds replanted and genetic variation is specified to an “nth” degree. 90% of the soy bean seed market is caught up in these patent laws, so even when seeds drift on to neighboring properties, a farmer can be fined and banned from using Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy beans, which dominates the market, while non-GMO seeds go rare and scarcer. Storing theses seeds is big money, primarily on the bet of the patent that Monsanto holds will run out.

The start up company that completed the DNA sequencing in 2011 (Full Article Below). Not really a start up. This company has ties. The company founder, Kevin McKernan, worked on the Human Genome Project from 1996 to 2000, and started a commercial laboratory with his two brothers called Agencourt Bioscience, which was sold to Beckman Coulter Inc. in 2005. A spin-out of Agencourt that made sequencing technology, called Agencourt Personal Genomics, was acquired by Applied Biosystems Inc., which combined with Invitrogen Corp. in 2008 to become Carlsbad, California-based Life Technologies. Life Technologies bought Ion Torrent last year for $375 million in cash and stock.

[TWB 2011 commentary: “…more to come on GW pharm, GW Pharmaceutical and other manufacturers want to take over the marijuana market with products like Sativex, a liquid extract of cannabis that contains both THC and CBD. I could totally see the gov’t “contracting” a company to insert a gene into the seed supply and then make it illegal to use that seed/gene, implementing a genetic ban, similar to the tax ban of 1937. Its all about control and money. Why the fuck do you want to stop me from getting high? Fuck.”]

Aside from the unintended fallouts of patenting life, the original intention of mapping the Sativa DNA structure, like in any GMO process, is to attempt to gain full control over the genetic output of the plants to reach desired effects. NPR (full article below) reported McKernan saw a future of weed that won’t get you high: the company hopes the data will help scientists breed pot plants without much THC, the mind-altering chemical in the plant. The goal is instead to maximize other compounds that may have therapeutic benefits. A Cannabis-derived drug developed by a German pharmaceutical company, GW Pharmaceutical, to treat muscle stiffness. Sativex contains THC and another cannabanoid called CBD, which the company says keeps the psychoactive effects of THC in check.

Pill Form: Marinol or synthetic THC is Tetrahydrocannabinol . It is the principal psychoactive constituent (or cannabinoid) of the cannabis plant. It seems unlikely that removing the “high” from the plant to maximize the cannabinoid properties is counter-intuitive to how the plant works. This is a major warning flag to people trying to genetically engineer the plant for desired traits.

Sequencing the Cannabis Genome: Impact, History, and Future. Spanish scientist Manuel Guzmán’s research documenting that cannabinoids, some of the biologically active compounds in cannabis, have a favorable therapeutic index in cancerous cell cultures and animal models. The sequence bases of C. sativa were made available on August 18th on Amazon EC2—a public cloud computing service—via Nimbus Informatics, an open source data management website. A data assembly is also available for download.

In late 2013, New drug Epidolex by GW Pharmaceuticals gets FDA cinical trial approval for pediatric epilepsy. Epidolex, is a cannabis extract comprising of 98% purified CBD that is administered by syringe. The new drug initially dubbed GWP42006, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid extracted from specific chemotypes of the cannabis plant which has shown the ability to treat seizures in pre-clinical models of epilepsy with significantly fewer side effects than currently approved anti-epileptic drugs. Also, GW Pharmaceuticals Patenting THC and CBD for Brain Cancer. Drug company GW Pharmaceuticals recently announced that the U.S. Patent Office has issued it a Notice of Allowance for a patent application involving the use of two main marijuana chemicals, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) for treating gliomas.

It is AMAZING that scientits have been able to prove that compounds in Mariajuana cure terreible diseases. The next section is pointing out the dangers of Genetic Engineering, and in no way intends to detract from the amazing proof that Marijuana is truly a plant with great potential that needs to be cultivated and studied.

As research and development continue, mysteries of how the marijuana plant interacts with the body’s receptors will lead to medical breakthroughs. Through genetic mapping, cannabinoid profiling and clinical trials performed in the finest US scientific laboratories and universities, we will begin to understand why this plant is so beneficial. Patients will benefit from the growing specialization in the areas of symptom control and condition-based treatment determined by using specific genetic profiles and different qualities of the countless strains of marijuana available We will gain a greater understanding of the properties of cannabinoids and terpenes. Many scientists are already exploring the possibilities in this uncharted territory. With more research, medical marijuana may become a key that unlocks the door to the comfort and wellness of humankind. [source: Medical Marijuana 101 by Mickey Martin]

Mapping the DNA structure and identifying the physical traits associated with each gene are essential and beneficial scientific goals and accomplishments. Refining how traits are described and differentiated, and then documenting these differences as related to specific genomes is imperative. What we do with that information is the big question.

 

GMO Seeds

How can we say that Genetic Engineering (GE) is bad if we have success stories like curing child epilepsy and brain tumors resulting from GE methods? The answer is simply that there are specific and unforeseen risks that need to be well known and heeded when the potential costs (external, not just monetary) become too great. GE cannot be given full liberty and leeway. It must be regulated and monitored. When companies get too big, they tend to find ways around regulations.

Especially as there are alternate methods to GE in deriving medicines and hybrids with desired traits related to specific cures – just like the techniques designed by Rick Simpson. GE is much more extreme than hybridizing through natural methods, or using techniques to use the plant in its naturally hybridized form to get desired results.

A great example of an unforeseen risk of GE is the one expected in the effort to create a strain of the plant that will have the amazing healing properties without any of the high. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the principal psychoactive constituent (or cannabinoid) of the cannabis plant. It seems unlikely that removing the “high” from the plant to maximize the cannabinoid properties is counter-intuitive to how the plant works.

Another pervasive problem is the very basic fact that GE manipulates genomes in an unnatural way. Hybridization through plant mating and allowing for phenotypes (the physical representation of a genetic trait) to be reflected physically in offspring is an essential cost (time, labor, materials) to pay to ensure that the genetic manipulation results in desired phenotypes without CREATING ANY UNINTENDED SECONDARY PHENOTYPES. Just like the FDA requires thorough testing of drugs for the pharmaceutical market, so too should Genetic Engineers be required to grow multiple generations of the crops they engineer and test them to assure they have the desired traits without any undesired ‘tag along’ traits.

Genetic Engineering Risks and Impacts: We do know of ways in which genetically engineered crops could cause health problems. For instance, genes from an allergenic plant could transfer this unwanted trait to the target plant. This phenomenon was documented in 1996, as soybeans with a Brazil nut gene—added to improve their value as animal feed—produced an allergic response in test subjects with Brazil nut allergies. Unintended consequences like these underscore the need for effective regulation of GE products. In the absence of a rigorous approval process, there is nothing to ensure that GE crops that cause health problems will always be identified and kept off the market. Genetically engineered crops can potentially cause environmental problems that result directly from the engineered traits. For instance, an engineered gene may cause a GE crop (or a wild relative of that crop) to become invasive or toxic to wildlife. But the most damaging impact of GE in agriculture so far is the phenomenon of pesticide resistance. Millions of acres of U.S. farmland are now infested by weeds that have become resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. Overuse of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” trait, which is engineered to tolerate the herbicide, has promoted the accelerated development of resistance in several weed species. As the superweed crisis illustrates, current applications of genetic engineering have become a key component of an unsustainable approach to food production: industrial agriculture, with its dependence on monoculture—supported by costly chemical inputs—at the expense of the long-term health and productivity of the farm. A different approach to farming is available—what UCS calls “healthy farms.” This approach is not only more sustainable than industrial agriculture, but often more cost-effective. Yet as long as the marketplace of agricultural products and policies is dominated by the industrial model, prioritizing expensive products over knowledge-based agroecological approaches, healthy farm solutions face an uphill battle. In the case of GE, better solutions include crop breeding (often assisted by molecular biology techniques) and agro-ecological practices such as crop rotation, cover crops, and integrated crop/livestock management.

The US Supreme Court upheld biotech giant Monsanto’s claims on genetically-engineered seed patents and the company’s ability to sue farmers whose fields are inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto materials.

Ultimately, the biggest gamble to the use of GE is a loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity and quantifying and qualifying the differences between species and traits

This is the importance of biodiversity and having seed banks that seek to be all encompassing in their collection of genetic variations.

What is the connection between GE and patenting? Why does the use of GE preclude the depletion of seed banks? Can’t we just do both?

Saving seeds does not erase the risks associated with such direct manipulation of genomes outside of natural methods. And the direct correlation of this negative impact, like many other examples, can be shown through looking at cases in industrialized agriculture. The fallout of patent wars is the loss of national seed banks.

Seed Diversity in Trouble-Monsanto Dominates Global Seed Supply

How Monsanto Endangers Heirlooms

Control by Seed: Modern Iraq is part of the ‘fertile crescent’ of Mesopotamia where man first domesticated wheat between 8,000 and 13,000 years ago, and home to several thousand varieties of local wheat. As soon as the US took over Iraq, it became clear its interests were not limited to oil. Order 81wipe out Iraq’s traditional, sustainable agriculture and replace it with oil-chemical-genetically-modified-seed-based industrial agriculture.henceforth, plant forms could be patented — which was never allowed before — while genetically-modified organisms were to be introduced. Farmers were strictly banned from saving their own seeds: this, in a country where, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 97 per cent of Iraqi farmers planted only their own saved seeds. It meant that the majority of farmers who had never spent money on seed and inputs that came free from nature, would henceforth have to heavily invest in corporate inputs and equipment — or go into debt to obtain them, or accept lowered profits, or give up farming altogether.

So you can not save seeds, you HAVE to buy new seeds. TWB advises saving seeds if you don’t already, and never use any GMO seeds. As well as encourage everyone you know to never use GMO seeds, even if they are free–because there is a big catch to it.

The future not through taxes or laws because corporations want to make money off o them. Just like soy beans and corn,. they regulate it through copyrights and patents and patent law. Protect yourself: organize and care for your seeds.

Here’s some great info on how to be a pro seed banker.

Seed Savers Exchange

 Build your seed catalog through purchase of known and reputable strains

Amongst the 7 things you should know at start up is the strain of seeds and clones makes a huge difference. Starting from seeds on occasion will help to keep your whole operation running smoothly, because mothers will never get too old.

Take it from Organic Gardening on the top 10 tips for storing your seeds.

The Spider

The spider is the super computer crawling over and identifying the marijuana genome.

 

DNA ‘Spiderbot’ Crawls into Action

DNA robots get sophisticated

Marijuana DNA Sequenced by Startup in Search for Medical Uses

By Meg Tirrell Aug 18, 2011

Kevin McKernan was leading Life Technologies Corp. (LIFE)’s Ion Torrent DNA-sequencing research when a new business opportunity caught his eye: marijuana. A year later, McKernan, 38, has quit his job, formed a startup run from his house in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and announced today that the company had sequenced the entire genome of the cannabis plant. The project, which cost about $200,000, may lead to the development of treatments for cancer, pain and inflammatory diseases, he said. McKernan’s company, Medicinal Genomics, is making the data public using Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN)’s EC2 cloud- computing system. McKernan called the work a “draft assembly,” and it hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. “This is the beginning of a more scientific approach to the genetics of the species,” Richard Gibbs, director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “This is not really about marijuana; it’s about pharmacology.” An important step to find a species’ potential utility is to map its DNA, the building block of life, according to Gibbs, who said he has known McKernan for more than 15 years. McKernan worked on the Human Genome Project from 1996 to 2000, and started a commercial laboratory with his two brothers called Agencourt Bioscience, which was sold to Beckman Coulter Inc. in 2005. A spin-out of Agencourt that made sequencing technology, called Agencourt Personal Genomics, was acquired by Applied Biosystems Inc., which combined with Invitrogen Corp. in 2008 to become Carlsbad, California-based Life Technologies. Life Technologies bought Ion Torrent last year for $375 million in cash and stock. Open Access: McKernan said his company’s goal is to allow researchers to find ways to maximize the cannabis plant’s therapeutic benefits and minimize its psychoactive effects. “These pathways can be optimized in the plant or cloned into other hosts for more efficient biologic production,” Medicinal Genomics said in a statement. “It may be possible through genome directed breeding to attenuate the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while enhancing the medicinal aspects.” The plant makes chemical compounds called cannabinoids, a class that includes tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive substance in marijuana. Another such compound called cannabidiol, or CBD, has shown promise in shrinking tumors in rats without the psychoactive effects, McKernan said. Medical Uses: “That one has been predominantly bred out of the plant as it’s been bred for recreational use,” he said. His company’s business model is to develop assays to enable regulators, government agencies or pharmaceutical companies to research cannabis’s gene pathways. Donald Abrams, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who has done research into medical cannabis since 1997, said scientists have been able to study the plant without knowing the genome. “We know what the active ingredients of the plant are already,” Abrams, chief of oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, said in a telephone interview. “You don’t need the genome; you need the plant.” Companies such as GW Pharmaceuticals Plc (GWP), based in Salisbury, England, have developed cannabis-based medicines. GW sells Sativex for muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis, using THC and CBD. McKernan said he was initially convinced to pursue the research after seeing papers published in academic journals including Nature on the plant’s tumor-shrinking effects in rats. “One in three people are going to get cancer, and one in four are going to die with it or from it,” he said. “So any compound, as preliminary as this may be, that’s nontoxic and shows hope there, we should be all over. “The only way I knew how to do that was to sequence the genome.”

Buzz Kill: Marijuana Genome Sequenced For Health, Not Highs
Control by Seed

To the rest of the world, Abu Ghraib is associated with inhuman torture, incarceration without trial and arrogant US unilateralism. To the farmers of Iraq, Abu Ghraib was better known for the national seed gene bank, started in the early 70s. In fact, Iraq’s most well-known wheat variety is known as ‘Abu Ghraib’. The country precious heritage is now all but lost. Facing the same unsolicited adversary, Syria is under a similar threat. The Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) is situated there and still holds remaining samples of Iraq’s threatened seeds. It is worrying because the planned destruction of Iraq’s agriculture is not widely known. Modern Iraq is part of the ‘fertile crescent’ of Mesopotamia where man first domesticated wheat between 8,000 and 13,000 years ago, and home to several thousand varieties of local wheat. As soon as the US took over Iraq, it became clear its interests were not limited to oil. In 2004, Paul Bremer, the then military head of the Provisional Authority imposed as many as a hundred laws which made short work of Iraq’s sovereignty. The most crippling for the people and the economy of Iraq was Order 81 which deals, among other things, with plant varieties and patents. The goal was brutally clear-cut and sweeping — to wipe out Iraq’s traditional, sustainable agriculture and replace it with oil-chemical-genetically-modified-seed-based industrial agriculture. There was no public or parliamentary debate for the conquered people who never sought war. The conquerors made unilateral changes in Iraq’s 1970 patent law: henceforth, plant forms could be patented — which was never allowed before — while genetically-modified organisms were to be introduced. Farmers were strictly banned from saving their own seeds: this, in a country where, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 97 per cent of Iraqi farmers planted only their own saved seeds. With a single stroke of the pen, Iraq’s agriculture was axed, while Order 81 facilitated the introduction and domination of imported, high-priced corporate seeds, mainly from the US — which neither reproduce, nor give yields without their prescribed chemical fertiliser and pesticide inputs. It meant that the majority of farmers who had never spent money on seed and inputs that came free from nature, would henceforth have to heavily invest in corporate inputs and equipment — or go into debt to obtain them, or accept lowered profits, or give up farming altogether. The US has now completely revamped Iraq’s agriculture, uninvited and against the will of local farmers. It’s not for nothing international researchers have termed the deliberate annihilation of Iraqi agriculture the ‘ultimate war crime’. It was in the early seventies that Henry Kissinger devised the chilling plan to control countries by replacing their self-sufficiency with food and seed dependency. A cartel controlled by the leading financial families of Britain, US, Holland and Australia, began to buy up all the world’s major sources of food and seed. The six leading grain companies — Cargill, Continental, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and Born, Andre, and Archer Daniel Midlands/Topfer — completely dominate the world’s grain and cereals supplies. They include wheat, corn, oats, barley, sorghum and rye; also a strong grip on meat and dairy, fruits and vegetables, edible oils and fats, spices and sugar. It was something that agricultural countries already arm-twisted by World Bank/IMF conditions, should have worried about. But most governments were ignorant or indifferent to ecology and biodiversity to realise how survival was being threatened. Alarmed by the inexorable onslaught of the agro-chemical multinationals, Indian activist Vandana Shiva began creating indigenous seed banks in 1987 and challenging seed patents, monopolies and genetically-modified seeds — so far she has created 60 such seed banks in India. So have many other groups in India. Similarly, Nayakrishi in Bangladesh is rediscovering food plants that were thought lost forever. In the fore is Via Campesina, the global, million-strong peasant movement for land, seed and food sovereignty, particularly in the Latin American countries. Only a few small, scattered efforts exist in Pakistan. And even though farmers have demonstrated over and over again that biodiverse ecological agriculture produces more and healthier food per acre than monocultures, tens of times more cheaply, concentrated wealth and power continues to move the food and seed system out of the hands of peasants and villages and into the hands of a few corporations. Monoculture — the planting of a single crop variety over thousands or millions of acres — has been systematically eliminating biodiversity all over the world, without many plants ever being documented. Despite the assault on them, there are still over 200,000 varieties of wheat left in the world today, thanks only to the world’s unheralded small farmers and movements. But it’s hard to tell for how long, since these and other plants varieties are being constantly wiped out by industrial agriculture. Mexico, the historical cradle of corn, has already had its maize varieties decimated during the development and implementation of the dubious ‘Green Revolution’ by US interests. Eighty per cent of Mexico’s corn varieties have been lost since the early 20th century. Almost throughout Pakistan’s history, uninformed or indifferent governments coupled with feudal domination of farmlands have maintained the newly-entrenched system of dependant agriculture. But the final threat to our indigenous seeds came a decade ago, in the form of a globally-discredited chemical-turned-seed corporation that was given virtually open house to take over Pakistan’s agriculture, even sitting in as unofficial adviser in ministry meetings. The Punjab provincial government’s recent rejection of Monsanto was not for ecological reasons and the dangers that genetically-engineered seeds posed for human health, livelihoods and agriculture at large, but because the terms were too steep — which still gives Monsanto a chance to renegotiate itself back into the fold. The blind adoption of unproven or failing agricultural technologies on the unproven grounds that American scientists can always improve on nature, could leave Pakistan as devastated as Iraq without even needing an Order 81. Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2012.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Tim Andrus April 21, 2015, 1:27 am

    when am I going to get the info I paid for

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