Australian tarantula venom contains novel insecticide against agricultural pests

Date: September 11, 2013
Source: Public Library of Science

Spider venoms are usually toxic when injected into prey, but a new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can also kill prey insects that consume the venom orally. The protein is strongly insecticidal to the cotton bollworm, an important agricultural pest, according to research published September 11 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Glenn King and Maggie Hardy from the Institute of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, Australia, and colleagues from other institutions.

The small protein, named orally active insecticidal peptide-1 (OAIP-1), was found to be highly toxic to insects that consumed it, with potency similar to that of the synthetic insecticide imidacloprid. Cotton bollworm, a pest that attacks crop plants, was more sensitive to OAIP-1 than termites and mealworms, which attack stored grains.

These and other insect pests reduce global crop yields by 10-14% annually and damage 9-20% of stored food crops, and several species are resistant to available insecticides. Isolated peptides from the venom of spiders or other venomous insectivorous animals, such as centipedes and scorpions, may have the potential to serve as bioinsecticides. Alternately, the authors suggest the genes encoding these peptides could be used to engineer insect-resistant plants or enhance the efficacy of microbes that attack insect pests. King elaborates, “The breakthrough discovery that spider toxins can have oral activity has implications not only for their use as bioinsecticides, but also for spider-venom peptides that are being considered for therapeutic use.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Margaret C. Hardy, Norelle L. Daly, Mehdi Mobli, Rodrigo A. V. Morales, Glenn F. King. Isolation of an Orally Active Insecticidal Toxin from the Venom of an Australian Tarantula. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (9): e73136 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073136

The GMO Cover-Up

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was getting lots of appreciative applause and head nods from the packed hall at the Community Food Security Coalition conference today, held in Des Moines, Iowa. He described the USDA’s plans to improve school nutrition, support local food systems, and work with the Justice Department to review the impact of corporate agribusiness on small farmers. But then, with time for only one more question, I was handed the microphone.

“Mr. Secretary, may I ask a tough question on GMOs?”

He said yes.

“The American Academy of Environmental Medicine this year said that genetically modified foods, according to animal studies, are causally linked to accelerated aging, dysfunctional immune regulation, organ damage, gastrointestinal distress, and immune system damage. A study came out by the Union of Concerned Scientists confirming what we all know, that genetically modified crops, on average, reduce yield. A USDA report from 2006 showed that farmers don’t actually increase income from GMOs, but many actually lose income. And for the last several years, the United States has been forced to spend $3-$5 billion per year to prop up the prices of the GM crops no one wants.
“When you were appointed Secretary of Agriculture, many of our mutual friends—I live in Iowa and was proud to have you as our governor—assured me that you have an open mind and are very reasonable and forward thinking. And so I was very excited that you had taken this position as Secretary of Agriculture. And I’m wondering, have you ever heard this information? Where do you get your information about GMOs? And are you willing to take a delegation in D.C. to give you this hard evidence about how GMOs have actually failed us, that they’ve been put onto the market long before the science is ready, and it’s time to put it back into the laboratory until they’ve done their homework.”

Read entire article here.

The GE Process

What is a GMO?

A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Because this involves the transfer of genes, GMOs are also known as “transgenic” organisms.

This process may be called either Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM); they are one and the same.

What is a gene?

Every plant and animal is made of cells, each of which has a center called a nucleus. Inside every nucleus there are strings of DNA, half of which is normally inherited from the mother and half from the father. Short sequences of DNA are called genes. These genes operate in complex networks that are finely regulated to enable the processes of living organisms to happen in the right place and at the right time. 

How is genetic engineering done?

Because living organisms have natural barriers to protect themselves against the introduction of DNA from a different species, genetic engineers must force the DNA from one organism into another. Their methods include:

  • Using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with the new DNA.
  • Coating DNA onto tiny metal pellets, and firing it with a special gun into the cells.
  • Injecting the new DNA into fertilized eggs with a very fine needle.
  • Using electric shocks to create holes in the membrane covering sperm, and then forcing the new DNA into the sperm through these holes.

Is genetic engineering precise?

The technology of genetic engineering is currently very crude. It is not possible to insert a new gene with any accuracy, and the transfer of new genes can disrupt the finely controlled network of DNA in an organism.

Current understanding of the way in which DNA works is extremely limited, and any change to the DNA of an organism at any point can have side effects that are impossible to predict or control. The new gene could, for example, alter chemical reactions within the cell or disturb cell functions. This could lead to instability, the creation of new toxins or allergens, and changes in nutritional value.

But haven’t growers been grafting trees, breeding animals, and hybridizing seeds for years?

Genetic engineering is completely different from traditional breeding and carries unique risks.

In traditional breeding it is possible to mate a pig with another pig to get a new variety, but is not possible to mate a pig with a potato or a mouse. Even when species that may seem to be closely related do succeed in breeding, the offspring are usually infertile—a horse, for example, can mate with a donkey, but the offspring (a mule) is sterile.

With genetic engineering, scientists can breach species barriers set up by nature. For example, they have spliced fish genes into tomatoes. The results are plants (or animals) with traits that would be virtually impossible to obtain with natural processes, such as crossbreeding or grafting.

What combinations have been tried?

It is now possible for plants to be engineered with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Scientists have worked on some interesting combinations:

  • Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests.
  • Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.
  • Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.
  • Artic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.

Field trials have included:

  • Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
  • Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center)
  • Corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University)
  • Tobacco engineered with lettuce genes (University of Hawaii)
  • Rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics)
  • Corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene)
  • Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering.
  • Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.

Does the biotech industry hold any promise?

Genetic modification of plants is not the only biotechnology. The study of DNA does hold promise for many potential applications, including medicine. However, the current technology of GM foods is based on obsolete information and theory, and is prone to dangerous side effects. Economic interests have pushed it onto the market too soon.

Moreover, molecular marker technologies – so called Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) used with conventional breeding – show much promise for developing improved crop varieties, without the potentially dangerous side effects of direct genetic modification.

Source

India files biopiracy lawsuit against Monsanto, says biotech giant is stealing nature for corporate gain

By Jonathan Benson on Global Research, September 28, 2011

Representing one of the most agriculturally bio-diverse nations in the world, India has become a primary target for biotechnology companies like Monsanto and Cargill to spread their genetically-modified (GM) crops into new markets. However, a recent France 24 report explains that the Indian government has decided to take an offensive approach against this attempted agricultural takeover by suing Monsanto for “biopiracy,” accusing the company of stealing India’s indigenous plants in order to re-engineer them into patented varieties.

Brinjal, also known in Western nations as eggplant, is a native Indian crop for which there are roughly 2,500 different unique varieties. Millions of Indian farmers grow brinjal, which is used in a variety of Indian food dishes, and the country grows more than a quarter of the world’s overall supply of the vegetable.

And in an attempt to capitalize on this popular crop, Monsanto has repeatedly tried to commercially market its own GM variety of brinjal called Bt brinjal. But massive public outcry against planned commercial approval of Monsanto’s “frankencrop” variety in 2010 led to the government banning it for an indefinite period of time.

But Monsanto is still stealing native crops, including brinjal, and quietly working on GM varieties of them in test fields, which is a clear violation of India’s Biological Diversity Act (BDA). So at the prompting of various farmers and activists in India, the Indian government, representing the first time in history a nation that has taken such action, has decided to sue Monsanto.

“This can send a different message to the big companies for violating the laws of the nation,” said K.S. Sugara, Member Secretary of the Karnataka Biodiversity Board, to France 24 concerning the lawsuit. “It is not acceptable … that the farmers in our communities are robbed of the advantage they should get from the indigenous varieties.”

You can watch the full France 24 video report of India’s lawsuit against Monsanto here:
http://www.france24.com/en/20110921

Farmers and active members of the public in India have been some of the world’s most outspoken opponents of Monsanto’s attempted GM takeover of agriculture. Besides successfully overturning the attempted approval of Bt brinjal, these freedom fighters have also successfully destroyed several attempted Monsanto GM test fields.

 

10 Ways to Start Eating Local Foods

By Molly Watson, About.com Guide
Eating locally has many benefits. But how can you get started? Here are 10 ways to get started buying and eating locally.

1. Learn What’s In Season

Knowing what’s in season in your region will help you know what to expect at farmers markets and help you know which items at other markets and stores might be from local or regional sources (and which ones most definitely are not!).

  • Regional Seasonality Guides
  • Produce Seasons

2. Shop at Farmers Markets

Shopping at farmers markets that feature locally grown products is a fun, easy way to increase the amount of local foods you purchase and eat. Not all farmers markets have the same guidelines, so check to see if stands are required to sell products grown or produced on local or regional farms. Be very suspicious of any market that features bananas – unless you’re in Hawaii or Florida!

  • Farmers Market Tips
  • How to Save Money at Farmers Markets
  • Find a Local Farmers Market

3. Join Community Supported Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) connects participants to a specific farm (or, sometimes, group of farms). You buy a share in a farm and, in return, you get a share of the harvest. You get the freshest, best produce the farm has to offer; the farm has a set of guaranteed sales and money up-front for seasonal expenses.

  • What Is CSA?
  • Benefits of Joining a CSA
  • Things to Consider When Choosing a CSA
  • Sources for Finding a Local CSA

4. Shop at Stores That Label Food Origins

If you have a choice of markets, chose one that notes where it sources its products. In particular, look for signs marking the source of seafood, meat, poultry, and produce. Co-ops and health food stores are more likely to clearly denote the origins of the foods they carry, but conventional grocery stores are increasingly labeling their produce sections and meat and seafood counters.No signs at your local market? Speak to the manager or section managers. Express your interest in locally grown and produced foods. Ask that any locally or regionally grown items at the store be so noted. You’ll be surprised at how much good will rises up to meet genuine interest.

5. Shop the Perimeter of Grocery Stores

The aisles around the perimeter of grocery stores contain more ingredients than processed foods. Shop these perimeters for fresh produce, meats, and dairy–precisely those items that you can ask about their source and hopefully find some from near-by sources. Pay particular attention to the produce aisle: if you know your seasons, you may be able to find some locally or regionally grown items.

6. Get Ultra-Local: Plant a Garden

Growing your own food is the ultimate way to eat local. From a simple herb garden to prolific raised beds designed to feed a family, there are lots of ways to grow your own food.

  • Container Vegetable Gardens
  • Growing Heirloom Vegetables
  • Growing Kitchen Herbs
  • Miniatures and Dwarf Fruit Trees

7. Visit U-Picks & Farm Stands

For most city-dwellers, farm stands aren’t an everyday food gathering solution. But when the opportunity presents itself, u-picks (where you go to a farm and pick your own produce) are a great source for large quantities of super-fresh produce.

  • Sources for Finding U-Picks & Farm Stands

8. Choose Restaurants That Source Locally

Frequent restaurants that buy from local and regional farms, growers, and purveyors and continue your support of local farmers and producers even when you eat out.

9. Frequent Locally-Owned Food Producers

Continue your support of a local food system by buying from artisans and locally-owned food producers such as bakeries, butchers, and coffee roasters for foods you don’t cook at home or which aren’t grown locally.

10. Buy Family Farmed or Fair Trade Products When Local Is Unavailable

Don’t live near dairy cows? Buy milk from dairies that buy from family-owned farms. Live in the contiguous 48 states of the U.S. but find yourself unwilling to give up coffee? Buy coffee grown in sustainable ways by people who pay workers fairly.Eating local foods is certainly about eating food grown closer to home, but it is also about being more aware of your food and how it gets to you.