New Safety Switch Built For Genetically Modified Bacteria

by Michael Keller

Engineers making a nip here and a tuck there to the genes of bacteria are domesticating the microbes to do our bidding. Over recent years, genetic modification has tallied successes from making electricity-eating bacteria produce liquid biofuels to altering gut microbes to battle metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity. Researchers are coaxing common species like E. coli and more exotic ones to convert harmful pollutants to benign compounds and to produce next-generation pharmaceuticals and chemical feedstock for industry.

Tangling with the blueprints of life is no simple task, though, and even successes in the lab demand serious considerations about unintended consequences in the field. What happens if a bacterium designed to work in an isolated system, say a drug-producing fermentation tank, gets out into the wild? And what is the impact when you employ bacteria modified to consume a cancer-causing pollutant that has leaked into a wetland?

Bioengineers looking to improve the safety of modified microbes are working on a number of routes. One of these reprograms a bacterial cell to need a certain nutrient to live; without it, the organism dies. Another buries a self-destruct sequence in the genes that stops them from making proteins when exposed to chemical signals.

Now, two papers published recently in the journal Nature take safety mechanisms built into altered bacteria a step further. Harvard and Yale researchers say they have successfully made organisms that can only survive when they have access to synthetic amino acids that don’t exist in nature. Their test bacteria were reprogrammed at multiple points along their genome to need the synthetic food, making them unable to mutate to live on naturally occurring amino acids.

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Owens “Lake”

15,000 years ago, huge glaciers carved great valleys through California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Moisture from the Pacific Ocean is rung out of the air as snow that falls at the range’s peak, causing glaciers to flow both east and west from the crest of the range.

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If you have not already, please consider purchasing beauty products that DO NOT contain exfoliating microbeads. These tiny beads are plastic — they will never break down naturally — and they are damaging to marine life. They are not filtered out during sewage treatment processes and hence, they are released into water ecosystems. Fish and other marine organisms mistake the tiny beads for food, and suffer DNA damage or death as a result. There are many natural exfoliation alternatives that are better for both your skin and the earth.

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Lake Urmia

This doesn’t look much like a lake, but it used to be. Iran’s Lake Urmia used to be one of the largest saltwater lakes in the world. A couple decades ago, this lake was the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East and the 6th largest in the world. Today it is a shell of its former self.

The lake has lost a whopping 88% of its volume in the last 2 decades almost entirely due to diversions of the water for use by Iranian society. The streams that used to feed into the lake are now diverted and as a consequence the lake is just evaporating.

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It’s really depressing that a species as intelligent and advanced as we are is going to drive ourselves into extinction through greed and exploitation. Animal consumption needs to stop, pollution needs to stop, resource depletion needs to stop. We’re going to destroy life as we know it, if it continues. And rather than try to work together to fix it, people would rather fight over the last scraps of resources. 

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UnMask

Theoretical art project from Simone Rebaudengo and Paul Adams places an LED matrix onto a pollution mask to visualize expressions of the wearer - video embedded below:

For environmental and social reasons, mask are more and more common in many parts of our world.

As we believe in the value of some random emotional exchange in the streets, How would you read someone else’s subtle facial reaction to your words? How would you have a conversation when you barley can see each other?  How would the simple act of exchanging a smile happen between two people crossing paths? 

The Unmask is a possible answer to this. It’s a mask that allows to read your facial expressions and unmask your “emotion” hidden underneath.

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It may look beautiful, but that glowing water means disaster for China’s waters 

Look at this stuff — isn’t it neat?

Behold the wonders of Noctiluca scintillans, also known as the Sea Sparkle, a type of single-cell life that eats plankton and fish eggs, and, most importantly, produces an eerily beautiful glow when disturbed. 

Breathtaking — and, also terrifying.

Giant food corporations work hand-in-glove with corrupt government agencies to dish up cheap, unhealthy food

February 27, 2013 - The Independent reports that food companies are becoming insanely concentrated: ”Increasingly, a handful of multinationals are tightening their grip on the commodity markets, with potentially dramatic effects for consumers and food producers alike. Three companies now account for more than 40% of global coffee sales, 8 companies control the supply of cocoa and chocolate, 7 control 85% of tea production, 5 account for 75% of the world banana trade, and the largest 6 sugar traders account for about 2/3rds of world trade, according to the new publication from the Fairtrade Foundation. This is the year “to put the politics of food on the public agenda and find better solutions to the insanity of our broken food system”. More people may be shopping ethically - sales of Fairtrade cocoa grew by more than 20% last year to £153m - but, according to the report, the world’s food system is “dangerously out of control.”

How is that effecting the safety of our food supply? Reuters notes: ”Multinational food, drink and alcohol companies are using strategies similar to those employed by the tobacco industry to undermine public health policies, health experts said on Tuesday. In an international analysis of involvement by so-called “unhealthy commodity” companies in health policy-making, researchers from Australia, Britain, Brazil and elsewhere said that through the aggressive marketing of ultra-processed food and drink, multinational companies were now major drivers of the world’s growing epidemic of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Writing in The Lancet medical journal, the researchers cited industry documents they said revealed how companies seek to shape health legislation and avoid regulation. This is done by “building financial and institutional relations” with health professionals, non-governmental organizations and health agencies, distorting research findings, and lobbying politicians to oppose health reforms, they said. They cited analysis of published research which found systematic bias from industry funding: articles sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies were between four and eight times more likely to have conclusions that favored the companies than those not sponsored by them.”

How are giant food manufacturers trying to influence legislation?

As Waking Times reports, they’re trying to gag all reporting: States are adopting laws meant to keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from. ”Do you have a right to know where that steak on your plate came from? Should it be legal to photograph chicken farms and dairy cowsBig Agriculture says you don’t and it shouldn’t. Armies of Big Ag lobbyists are pushing for new state-level laws across the country to keep us all in the dark. Less restrictive versions have been law in some states since the 1980s, but the meat industry has ratcheted up a radical new campaign. This wave of “ag-gag” bills would criminalize whistleblowers, investigators, and journalists who expose animal welfare abuses at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Ten states considered “ag-gag” bills last year, and Iowa, Missouri, and Utah approved them. Even more are soon to follow. Had these laws been in force, the Humane Society might have been prosecuted for documenting repeated animal welfare and food safety violations at Hallmark/Westland, formerly the second-largest supplier of beef to the National School Lunch Program. Cows too sick to walk were being slaughtered and that meat was shipped to our schools, endangering our kids. The investigation led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history. Big Ag wants to silence whistleblowers rather than clean up its act. Ag-gag bills are now pending in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and New Hampshire. Similar legislation may crop up in North Carolina and Minnesota. The bills aren’t identical, but they share common language - sometimes even word-for-word. Some criminalize anyone who even “records an image or sound” from a factory farm. Others mandate that witnesses report abuses within a few hours, which would make it impossible for whistleblowers to secure advice and protection, or for them to document a pattern of abuses. Indiana’s version of this cookie-cutter legislation ominously begins with the statement that farmers have the right to “engage in agricultural operations free from the threat of terrorism and interference from unauthorized third persons.” [The Feds are treating people who expose abuse in factory farms as potential terrorists and the states want the same power.] Yet these bills aren’t about violence or terrorism. They’re about truth-telling that’s bad for branding. For these corporations, a “terrorist” is anyone who threatens their profits by exposing inhumane practices that jeopardize consumer health. Ag-gag bills aren’t about silencing journalists and whistleblowers. They’re about curbing consumer access to information at a time when more and more Americans want to know where our food comes from and how it’s produced. The problem for corporations is that when people have information, they act on it. During a recent ag-gag hearing in Indiana, one of the nation’s largest egg producers told lawmakers about a recent investigation. After an undercover video was posted online, 50 customers quickly called and stopped buying their eggs. An informed public is the biggest threat to business as usual. An informed public is also the biggest threat to these ag-gag bills. In Wyoming, one of the bills has already failed. According to sponsors, it was abandoned in part because of negative publicity. By shining a light on these attempts, we can make sure that the rest fail as well, while protecting the right of consumers to know what they’re buying.”

So what - exactly - are the giant food corporations trying to hide? They are fraudulently substituting cheaper - less healthy - food for high-quality food. And see this. Indeed, the dairy industry wants to add sweeteners - such as aspartame - to milk without any labeling. Food fraud is rampant..including huge proportions of fish and meat. The bottom line is that collusion between government and big business is dishing up cheap, unhealthy food..just like collusion between D.C. and giant corporations caused the financial crisis, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the Gulf oil spill and other major disasters (and see this; and take a peek at number 9).

For example, the FDA:

The Department of Agriculture:

An official U.S. government report finds that Americans ‘are sicker and die younger’ than people in other wealthy nations. There are a number of factors making us sick..but unhealthy, cheap food is part of it. One solution: buy from local farmers and ranchers..or grow your own as much as possible.

[Washington’s Blog]