Wednesday, 25 November 2015
News that BoyaLife, a £20m company, is being created outside Beijing to develop mass cloning of animals (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/24/worlds-largest-animal-cloning-factory-can-save-species-says-chinese-founder. The prime intention seems to be to clone cows to fuel a Chinese demand for beef but it is claimed that the company could also clone a) winning race-horses; b) effective sniffer dogs and c) even 'endangered' species (such as the Giant panda). I suspect that anything for which there is a demand will be cloned (pets and athletes?). I am not certain whether cloning cows is a great idea in terms of concerns about global warming (cattle are major generators of 'greenhouse gases') and some endangered species (e.g. elephant, rhinoceros and tiger) might be better helped by reducing their use in ivory carving and Chinese medicine. It does suggest that cloning is moving to a factory-style level of activity, making it very difficult to regulate.
Tuesday, 24 November 2015
The story of GM mosquitoes continues with an account of using a technology called 'gene drive' (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/nov/23/anti-malarial-mosquitoes-created-using-controversial-genetic-technology). This technique can apparently be used introduce a gene for producing human antibodies against the malarial parasite to the biting fly and most of the offspring of such flies would also be unable to pass Plasmodium on to their human host. Some people feel, however, that gene drive has to be used with great care because of the possibility of unintended environmental consequences.
A debate is developing about whether it would be a good idea to impose a tax on meat consumption (http://debatewise.org/debates/1178-the-eu-should-impose-a-special-europe-wide-tax-on-meat-consumption-to-help-save-the-planet/). Certainly, the numbers of animals being reared for meat production is said to be increasing at a rate of 2.4% per annum (compared to the human population said to be 'rocketing' at 1.2%). Meat is increasingly on the menu of most folk. Meat production animals are, however, major sources of 'greenhouse gases' (carbon dioxide and methane) and water course contamination but also 'waste' some of the energy from the grain they consume (energy is lost at each trophic level). Add to this, the fact that consumption of too much meat clearly has negative effects on human health (e.g. increasing the risk of heart disease) and it is not too surprising that Sweden is currently advocating a tax to reduce the amounts of this food in the diet. Somewhat counter-intuitively, many people (but not, perhaps, the politicians who may see this in terms of votes by interest groups?) apparently can see some logic in taxing things that are 'bad for us'. The money could be used to a) reduce greenhouse gas emissions and b) to treat the consequences of excess meat consumption. It would put meat on a similar basis to tobacco and alcohol. Personally, I like meat but do appreciate the need for moderation.
Sunday, 22 November 2015
Some actually encouraging news from the 'super-bugs'/antibiotic resistance front (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/20/antibiotics-apocalypse-research-resistance-threat-breakthrough) in that bacteriocins appear to have medical possibilities. Most antibiotics are 'wide spectrum' meaning that they are initially active (until resistance is acquired) against a range of bacteria (including those living symbiotically in our guts). This means that current antibiotics produce collateral damage to our overall health as well as potentially producing 'wide-spectrum' resistance in lots of microbes. Bacteriocins are much more specific in that they are produced by bacteria to suppress only one competitor species. Until recently, it was suspected that they could not be given to patients as these foreign proteins would cause an immune response. Recently reported research suggests that the body is much more tolerant to them than was thought. Perhaps bacteriocins specific to Staphylococcus aureus and other problem infectives can be developed?
Thursday, 19 November 2015
Disturbing news (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34857015) that several species of bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic of last resort (the agent-Colistin- is given when all other available antibiotics have failed) in livestock, fresh meat and human patients in studies carried out in China. It appears that the gene for this attribute can be passed between bacterial species, meaning that there is no way of knowing where it will subsequently appear. In deed, there are also indications that some of these 'super-bugs' have already spread to Malaysia. What people don't seem to realise is that around 2/3rds of antibiotics are used in farming as growth enhancers in a wide variety of livestock, providing perfect conditions for developing antibiotic resistance. This development could eventually mean that we would have no effective treatments for bacterial infections (even minor surgery, including tooth extraction, would be hazardous).