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US News and World Report: High-tech chestnuts: US to consider genetically altered tree

On 07, Nov 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, Featured Articles, Future of Ag | By Admin

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Chestnuts harvested from high branches on a chilly fall morning look typical: they’re marble sized, russet colored and nestled in prickly burs. But many are like no other nuts in nature.

In a feat of genetic engineering, about half the chestnuts collected at this college experiment station feature a gene that provides resistance to blight that virtually wiped out the American chestnut tree generations ago.

Read more here: 

Bangor Daily News: Local pesticide bans are a mistake

On 28, Jun 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, Future of Ag, News | By Admin

By Dean Cray, opinion guest column. • June 26, 2019 11:03 am

For centuries, physicians have been controlling human diseases using all the tools available to them: proper nutrition of patients, sanitation, early disease diagnosis and intervention through medicines, including those derived from natural sources, chemicals and with more recent innovations, such as gene editing.

Likewise, farmers also control plant and animal diseases using the same approaches — proper plant and animal nutrition, sanitation, early disease diagnosis and intervention through natural, chemical and genetic sources.

The terms vary, but the products used to control diseases are analogous. If the affected organism is a human, the common term is medicine. If it’s an animal, the term is veterinary medicine. If it’s a plant, the term is pesticide. The word pesticide doesn’t sound as soothing or healing, but pesticides are indeed plant medicines. And there are several kinds of pesticides.

Many of the stressors plaguing these different fields of work are the same — bacteria, insects, fungi, viruses, etc. And they all have an equivalent objective: effective human, plant and animal health management.

To achieve that, each relies on a known set of approaches: identify the problem, quarantine the impacted areas so that the disease doesn’t spread, and implement evidenced-based strategies to ensure a healthy result. In farming and land management, that includes techniques such as crop rotation, use of more tolerant varieties of plants, targeted soil nutrition and manipulation of harvest dates to avoid blight or insect infestations.

It’s only when other approaches don’t provide adequate control that other scientifically-proven interventions are brought into the picture such as chemical and gene editing treatments.

Indeed, these are the principles that form the basis of integrated pest management, where several approaches are incorporated into a holistic, comprehensive and sustainable treatment plan that is environmentally sound and cost effective.

Simply stated, integrated pest management is the most effective tool we have available to protect our health and that of crops and the environment. For the eight years that I served as a state representative on the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, integrated pest management was by statute and I believe still is the policy of the state of Maine. But several towns and cities are attempting to take away a key element of integrated pest management by passing or voting on municipal ordinances that preclude the use of synthetic pesticide applications not just on town owned property, but also on privately owned residential lawns and lawns and gardens.

This is a misguided solution in search of a problem and an infringement on our private property rights. When used following the directions, these applications aren’t harmful. To quote the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, integrated pest management “is a comprehensive, decision-making process for solving pest problems in both agricultural and non-agricultural settings,” and by using it, “informed decisions can be implemented to achieve optimum results in ways that minimize economic, health, and environmental risks.” And the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Pesticide Data Program annual survey corroborates that integrated pest management is working.

We can all relate to wanting our families to live in a non-toxic environment, but banning the use of synthetic pesticides will simply mean residents will lose the ability to choose how to protect their properties.

Often a treatment plan involves several strategies. The same goes for a healthy garden and backyard. Just as physicians cannot always effectively protect us from human maladies without chemical interventions, neither can farmers, foresters, landscapers nor passionate gardeners when disease or insect outbreaks strike. Think browntail moths, West Nile virus, avian flu, poison ivy or encephalitis.

These problems impact not just vegetation, but humans as well. That’s why integrated pest management is the most effective tool we have to protect our health, crops and environment. Towns and cities should not be precluding its use.

Dean Cray is a Somerset County commissioner and former state representative who served on the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

https://bangordailynews.com/2019/06/26/opinion/contributors/local-pesticide-bans-are-a-mistake/?amp

Portland Press Herald: Maine company partnering with Clinton dairy farms to produce cow-powered biogas

On 29, May 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, Featured Articles, Future of Ag | By Admin

Summit Natural Gas is working with 5 farms in ‘Maine’s dairy capital’ to build and operate a digester that will create renewable natural gas aimed at supporting the local economy.

CLINTON — Call it cow power.

Gas from cow manure would help heat Maine homes and businesses starting in 2021 under a plan announced Thursday by Summit Utilities aimed at supporting the local economy and fighting climate change.

Summit, the parent company of Summit Natural Gas of Maine, is proposing to construct a $20 million anaerobic digestion facility in Clinton, which bills itself as “Maine’s dairy capital” because its five dairy farms make up 17 percent of the state’s dairy production.

The digester will heat the manure, speeding its decomposition and creating biogas. The gas will be cleaned to remove impurities and piped into Summit’s system. Renewable natural gas is nearly identical to traditional natural gas and can be used for heating, cooking and other processes. The renewable attributes from the digester will be sold to third parties to help them meet their emissions reduction goals.

Summit anticipates that the digester will supply about 45 percent of the company’s annual Maine residential gas demand, or about 125,000 MMBtus of gas, to its customers in the Kennebec Valley, and in Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth.

The Flood Brothers Farm on River Road in Clinton is one of the dairy farms that will be providing manure for the proposed digester.

“Anytime you talk about options and opportunities for dairy farmers, I get very excited,” Jenni Tilton-Flood, a family member at the Flood Brothers Farm, said Thursday. “We are challenged every day by things we cannot control. We have no options when it comes to weather; we have no opportunity when it comes to milk prices.”

“When it comes to having the ability to monetize and capitalize on the richness that these cows have and their abilities, that’s great. So I am very excited.”

Tilton-Flood said that of the roughly 225 commercial dairy farms in Maine that are spread across 15 of the state’s 16 counties, the Flood Brothers Farm is the largest.

“We have 3,400 animals we’re taking care of,” she said. “We milk 1,800 of those animals every day, producing 17,000 gallons of fresh Maine high-quality milk for our neighbors.”

There’s also a lot of manure and a lot of potential power.

Tilton-Flood said Summit will take “the energy” from the manure, giving the farm back the nutrient-rich, liquid effluent for the farm fields, and dry matter for compost and bedding.

“Right now we reuse our manure and recycle it to fertilize and feed our soil, and so we can feed our cows, and we find great uses for that; but there’s even more uses to unlock,” Tilton-Flood said. “Even though Summit is going to be taking the manure, we’re going to be getting the most valuable part of the manure back on our farm. We’re actually enhancing it. This is really a good benefit for our farm. This will be felt by us financially in a very, very positive manner.”

Besides the Flood Brothers Farm, Summit also is partnering with Caverly Farms, Misty Meadows Farm, Wright Place Farm, Taylor Dairy Farm, Veazland Farm, Simpson View Farm and Gold-Top Farm to obtain organic waste for its facility.

Jessika Hall milks cows Thursday on a circular 100-stall milking parlor at the Flood Brothers dairy farm in Clinton. The cows are expected to  become even more productive when their waste is used to create biogas in a partnership with Summit Natural Gas of Maine. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

The gas company expects the digester will be commissioned and producing gas by the first quarter of 2021, pending approval and permitting from regulatory bodies.

Tilton-Flood said the collection process will involve scooping up the manure with heavy equipment from holding pits and storage space on the farm and transporting it to the Summit digester for processing.

Summit spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said the price of natural gas is not expected to change with the new process in place and there will be no “cow pie” smell to the product.

“We don’t expect this project will have any impact on the cost of gas,” Reinholt said Thursday. “Like traditional natural gas, the renewable gas created from this facility will be odorless. We put odorants in our pipes – it’s required – because methane has no smell. That way, if there is a leak, customers can smell it.”

Tilton-Flood noted that the aroma around the farm might even improve.

“The products we farmers get back will also probably have less of a ‘dairy air’ than the manure we are usually handling,” she said. “I believe that in some applications, digesters are utilized specifically to help reduce odors.”

Darci Owens bottle-feeds a newborn calf Thursday at the Flood Brothers dairy farm in Clinton. Cows there are expected to become even more productive when their waste is used to create biogas in a partnership with Summit Natural Gas of Maine. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Kurt Adams, Summit’s president and CEO, said the project is the next step in the company’s ongoing effort to build a sustainable energy future by investing in innovative technologies that mitigate climate change.

“Since coming to Maine in 2013, we’ve been able to reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 69,000 metric tons a year through conversions to natural gas and energy efficiency upgrades,” Adams said in a statement. “That’s like taking 15,000 cars off the road forever. Our renewable program is the next step in our ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas. It’s simply the right thing to do for our customers, our business and our children.”

In Maine, more than 60 percent of homes heat with oil, which makes it possible for Summit to enhance its sustainability efforts in an attempt to lure more customers, Adams said.

“We know our cows are amazing and we’re so excited about this partnership that unlocks the potential of our farms, our farmers, and our cows to play a role in generating a clean, renewable energy source,” Adams said.

Tilton-Flood, a mother of two, said her family and farm – producing milk commercially since 1927 – also are excited about the planned project. They produce 1,900 acres of corn and about 2,500 to 3,000 acres of grass to feed the cows. There are 43 people on the farm payroll, including 11 family members.

“We’re hoping to be able to make this work for us to be a financial benefit for us,” Tilton-Flood said. “This is just another way for us to be environmental stewards. This is our job. It’s what we’ve done. Sustainability is all about taking yesterday, doing stuff today to make sure we get to tomorrow. That’s sustainability. We’re able to do that now, and we’re going to be able to do it even more and even better with this partnership with Summit.”

In Maine, more than 60 percent of homes heat with oil, which makes it possible for Summit to enhance its sustainability efforts, Adams said.

“We know our cows are amazing and we’re so excited about this partnership that unlocks the potential of our farms, our farmers, and our cows to play a role in generating a clean, renewable energy source,” he said.

Tilton-Flood, a mother of two, said her family and farm — producing milk commercially since 1927 — also are excited about the planned project. They produce 1,900 acres of corn to feed the cows and about 2,500 to 3,000 acres of grass to feed them as well. There are 43 people on the farm payroll, including 11 family members.

“Anytime you talk about options and opportunities for dairy farmers, I get very excited,” she said. “We are challenged every day by things we cannot control. We have no options when it comes to weather; we have no opportunity when it comes to milk prices. When it comes to having the ability to monetize and capitalize on the richness that these cows have and their abilities, that’s great. So I am very excited.

“We’re hoping to be able to make this work for us to be a financial benefit for us. This is just another way for us to be environmental stewards. This is our job. It’s what we’ve done. Sustainability is all about taking yesterday, doing stuff today to make sure we get to tomorrow. That’s sustainability. We’re able to do that now, and we’re going to be able to do it even more and even better with this partnership with Summit.”

Press Herald Staff Writer Tux Turkel contributed to this report.

https://www.pressherald.com/2019/05/23/cow-power-maine-natural-gas-company-partnering-with-clinton-dairy-farms-to-convert-manure-to-biogas-for-heating-cooking/

Farm to Food Gene Editing: The Future of Agriculture

On 25, Apr 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, Featured Articles, Future of Ag | By Admin

Curious about what gene editing is? Watch this video to learn how CRISPR is helping farmers grow better crops to feed our growing population.

USA Today: Earth Day for a dairy farmer: Thinking decades down the line

On 23, Apr 2019 | No Comments | In Future of Ag, Uncategorized | By Admin

April 22, 2019

What U.S. dairy farmers of today are doing to preserve our environment

I’ve had the honor of working with dairy farmers for years, and a lot of what you think about them is true. They’re modest. They’re connected to the earth. And they work incredibly hard. Every day, they’re up before dawn, working 12 and 14-hour days, whether it’s 90 degrees out or 50 degrees below zero.
 
They choose this hard work because they believe in the importance of providing nutritious, great-tasting food, like the milk in your child’s glass or the slice of cheese on her favorite sandwich.

What you might not know is that dairy farmers are working just as hard to ensure our children inherit a healthy planet. They know it’s the right thing to do. And when 95% of dairy farms are family-owned, they do it to ensure the land is there for their children. 

But the issues facing our planet require more than just individual action, which is why the U.S. dairy community has made sustainability an industry-wide priority. Years’ worth of investments, research — and, yes, hard work — have allowed us to address critical environmental issues, like climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Dairy farmer and environmental scientist Tara Vander Dussen with her family on their farm, Rajen Dairy.

Dairy farmer and environmental scientist Tara Vander Dussen with her family on their farm, Rajen Dairy. (Photo: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy)

Ten years ago, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — created by dairy farmers to identify best practices and unite around common goals — established a voluntary yet aggressive goal for the industry. The U.S. dairy community would reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity 25% by 2020. 

Today, we are on track to meet that goal. 

In making the investments necessary to meet the goal set, U.S. dairy farmers have become global leaders in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report earlier this year from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Climate Change and the Global Dairy Cattle Sector, North American dairy farmers are the only ones who have reduced both total GHG emissions and intensity over the last decade.

Dairy farmer and nutritionist Rosemarie Burgos-Zimbelman, who has dedicated her life to dairy nutrition.

Dairy farmer and nutritionist Rosemarie Burgos-Zimbelman, who has dedicated her life to dairy nutrition. (Photo: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy)

It’s not just greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. dairy farmers work more closely with animals than just about anyone, and they know that while they are taking care of the cows, the cows are taking care of them. That’s why they created the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program, the first internationally-certified animal welfare program in the world.

The U.S. dairy community’s commitment to sustainability isn’t new. It has been going on for generations. Indeed, producing milk now uses fewer natural resources than it ever has before. Over the course of the lifetime of today’s average dairy farmer, producing a gallon of milk now requires 65% less water, 90% less land and 63% less carbon emissions. 

While progress has been made, there is still a lot to be done. That’s why the U.S. dairy community and dairy farmers are committed to identifying new solutions, technologies and partnerships that will continue to advance our commitment to sustainability.  

So why do America’s dairy farmers work so hard to farm more sustainably? Why spend countless hours looking for innovative ways to be more efficient when they’ve already put in a 14-hour day?

It’s not because anyone told them to, or because regulation forced them to. It’s because so many of them are farming land their families have been farming for generations. They know they’re just the latest people entrusted as stewards of the earth. Farmers came before them, and farmers will come after them. Sure, they have more information than any of their predecessors did, and they are now tackling challenges, from climate change to global trade, that their forefathers could scarcely dream of. But the responsibility of today’s dairy farmer — leaving the planet better than they found it — is no different. 

This Earth Day, and every day, America’s dairy farmers are living up to that responsibility. May they never tire.

Vilsack is the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the current president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sponsor-story/innovation-center-for-us-dairy/2019/04/22/earth-day-dairy-farmer-thinking-decades-down-line/3521007002/?mvt=i&mvn=400ecb525a984b48bdeecbe607c274e8&mvp=NA-GANNLOCASITEMANA-11238693&mvl=Size-2×3+%5BDigital+Front+Redesign+Tile%5D

Science makes bread taste better

On 27, Nov 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, Featured Articles, Future of Ag | By Admin

Renegade bakers and geneticists develop whole-wheat loaves you’ll want to eat

Boston Globe: 3 policies for the future

Food is going high-tech — policy needs to catch up with it

60 Minutes: CRISPR: The gene-editing tool revolutionizing biomedical research

On 04, May 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Featured, Featured Articles, Future of Ag | By Admin

A new tool could be the key to treating genetic diseases and may be the most consequential discovery in biomedicine this century.

It’s challenging to tell a story about something that’s invisible to the naked eye and tricky to explain. But it’s one we undertook, because rarely does a discovery come along that could revolutionize medicine.  It’s called CRISPR and it stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPR sounds more like a refrigerator compartment than a gene-editing tool, but it’s giving scientists power they could only imagine before – to easily edit DNA – allowing them to reprogram the genetic code of living things. That’s opening up the possibility of curing genetic diseases. Some researchers are even using it to try to prevent disease entirely by correcting defective genes in human embryos. We wanted to see for ourselves, so we went to meet a scientist at the center of the CRISPR craze.

“There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.”

Bill Whitaker: This is CRISPR?

Feng Zhang: This has CRISPR in it.

Bill Whitaker: So– this is what’s revolutionizing science and biomedicine?

Feng Zhang: This is what many people are using– in research — and trying to develop treatments.

Bill Whitaker: That’s wild.

Feng Zhang: Yeah.

That little vial is igniting a big revolution that is likely to change the way doctors treat disease in the future. One of the brains behind it, is baby-faced Feng Zhang.

crisprpreview.jpg

Feng Zhang speaks with correspondent Bill Whitaker

 CBS NEWS

At 36, he’s already a tenured professor at MIT and a scientific celebrity because he figured out a way to override human genetic instructions using CRISPR.

Bill Whitaker: So, the CRISPR is not the liquid, the CRISPR is in the–

Feng Zhang: It’s dissolved in the liquid. There are probably billions of molecules of CRISPR…

Bill Whitaker: Billions?

BOTH: In here.

Feng Zhang: That’s right. And the way we use it is we take the liquid and apply it to cells.

For the last seven years, Zhang has been working on CRISPR at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a research mecca brimming with some of the brightest scientific minds from Harvard and MIT on a mission to fight disease. CRISPR is making medical research faster, cheaper, easier. Zhang’s colleagues predict it will help them tackle diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.  

Bill Whitaker: How many diseases are we talking about that this could be used to treat?

Feng Zhang: There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.

Bill Whitaker: Most if not all of them?

Feng Zhang: That’s the long-term hope.

Bill Whitaker: So we’re talking diseases like Huntington’s—

Feng Zhang: Uh-huh.

Bill Whitaker: Sickle Cell.

Feng Zhang: Yup. ALS—hemophilia.

Eric Lander: I think CRISPR, it’s fair to say, is perhaps the most surprising discovery and maybe most consequential discovery in this century so far.

lander-walk-talk-2.jpg

Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute, speaks with correspondent Bill Whitaker

 CBS NEWS

To understand exactly what CRISPR is, we went to Eric Lander for a quick science lesson. He’s director of the Broad and Zhang’s mentor. He’s best known for being a leader of the Human Genome Project that mapped out all of our DNA, which is like a recurring sequence of letters.

Eric Lander: During the Human Genome Project, we could read out all the human DNA, and then, in the years afterwards, find the misspellings that caused human diseases. But we had no way to think about how to fix ’em. And then, pretty much on schedule, this mind-blowing discovery that bacteria have a way to fix those misspellings, appears.

Bill Whitaker: This comes from bacteria?

Eric Lander: This comes from bacteria.  Bacteria, you know, they have a problem. And they came up with a real clever solution. When they get infected by viruses, they keep a little bit of DNA, and they use it as a reminder. And they have this system called CRISPR that grabs those reminders and searches around and says, “If I ever see that again, I am gonna cut it.”

Zhang used that same bacterial system to edit DNA in human cells. Our DNA is made up of chemical bases abbreviated by the letters A, T, C, and G. As you can see in this animation from Zhang’s lab at MIT, a mutation that causes disease reads like a typo in those genetic instructions. If scientists can identify the typo, they can program CRISPR to find it and try to correct it.

Bill Whitaker: You program it? You say–

Feng Zhang: That’s right.

Bill Whitaker:  “I’m looking for this string of letters.”

Feng Zhang: Uh-huh.

Bill Whitaker: And the CRISPR will go in, and out of all of the billions and billions and billions of– of letters on your DNA, find the exact ones that you have programmed?

Feng Zhang: That’s right. CRISPR will allow you to– do many different things. You can cut it– to edit it.

Bill Whitaker: So you can snip out the bad part and you can add something that you want as well?

Feng Zhang: That’s right. You can give the cell a new piece of DNA that carries the sequence you want to incorporate into the genome.

Bill Whitaker: You say this so matter of factly. This is amazing.

Feng Zhang: It is pretty cool.

Bill Whitaker: How many other labs around the world are working with CRISPR like this?

Feng Zhang: Many. One of the things that we have been doing is to make the tool available to researchers. To date I think we have gotten it out over– 45,000 times, to 2,200 labs, in 61 countries.

Bill Whitaker: What are they doing with it?

Feng Zhang: They are using it to do everything.  A lot of applications of CRISPR. It’s really a Swiss army knife.

Cue the worldwide CRISPR frenzy. At the University of California, scientists used a form of CRISPR to edit mosquitos so they can’t transmit malaria. Their colleagues are modifying rice to better withstand floods and drought. In China, scientists tweaked a gene in beagles to make them more muscular.

crispr-full.jpg

A CRISPR vial from Zhang’s lab made its way to Dr. Kang Zhang. He is an ophthalmologist and a professor at the University of California, San Diego and wanted to see what all the hype was about.

Bill Whitaker: What did you think when you first heard of CRISPR?

Kang Zhang: I was a little bit skeptical.

Bill Whitaker: Why skeptical?

Kang Zhang: It worked so well. Too well to be believable.

He decided to experiment on mice with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic form of blindness. He conducted a vision test using a mouse with the disease.

Bill Whitaker: This is the blind mouse?

Kang Zhang: This is the blind mouse. And– obviously, you can see that he is ignoring the rotating stripes.

His researchers injected CRISPR into the eye of another blind mouse. The CRISPR was programmed to find the main gene associated with the disease and turn it off. It takes three months to see the results.

Kang Zhang: Now, let’s see how he’s responding to the light.

Bill Whitaker: He’s following it around.

Kang Zhang: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: Look at that. You’re sure that he is seeing these lights?

Kang Zhang: This is actually a very commonly used test for vision.

Bill Whitaker: How much of their sight do they recover?

Kang Zhang: About 30, sometimes even 50% of the sight for– for mice.

The next phase of Dr. Zhang’s research is to see how CRISPR works on one of our closer relatives. He sent us this video from his lab in China where he’s studying monkeys with retinitis pigmentosa. The blind monkey ignores the food. He says this monkey was treated with CRISPR and it’s easy to see the difference. Dr. Zhang hopes to try this on humans soon.

If CRISPR is used to treat disease or make a drug it could mean big bucks. The Broad and Feng Zhang hold a primary patent for CRISPR’s use in human cells in the United States. But no technology is developed in a vacuum. Biochemist Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley and her team made landmark CRISPR discoveries.

This week, they are challenging Zhang and the Broad in court for the rights arguing in part that Zhang’s advance was derived from her team’s breakthrough. It’s a high stakes battle. CRISPR is projected to be a multi-billion dollar market in a decade.

Bill Whitaker: Does that mean big business for you?

Feng Zhang: I think we’re– we’re still– quite a ways away from developing– CRISPR into a real therapeutic.

Bill Whitaker: I think you’re being a little bit modest. I mean this is sparking an incredible boom in biomedicine. And you’re in the center of it.

Feng Zhang: I think there is still really a lot of work that still needs to be done,  developing the systems so that they are efficient enough, making sure that they are safe enough, but these are things that– that we’re working hard to– to make possible.

“While it’s not gonna affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is gonna have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades.”

But, what if it were possible to stop disease from even occurring? That sounds like science fiction, but a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon say with CRISPR, it’s now a reality.

Bill Whitaker: You correct it at the very, very earliest stages of life.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Right.

Bill Whitaker: In the womb.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Even before the womb.

Manipulating embryos has been the focus of Shoukhrat Mitalipov’s career. He runs the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health and Science University. Mitalipov is a maverick. He regularly makes headlines with his innovative, sometimes controversial methods to prevent genetic disease.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Preventing is always more effective– so there would be no– no recurrence of new disease. Particularly when we’re talking about heritable– diseases that parents pass to children.

So Mitalipov and an international team of scientists decided to use CRISPR on human embryos to correct a single genetic mutation that causes a deadly heart disease called hypertropic cardiomyopathy.

They got healthy eggs from donors and sperm from a man who carries the disease. At the same time the eggs are fertilized, they also get an injection of CRISPR. Mitalipov enlarged the microscopic procedure over three hundred times so we could see it.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Here we have our pipette with sperm inside, which has been already exposed to CRISPR.  And this is a egg. And so what we need to do is pierce through, and then we break membrane. And now –

Bill Whitaker: Release the sperm into the egg.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yeah. And now this is the sperm coming in.

Bill Whitaker: Wow.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Now it’s inside there.

Bill Whitaker: Just like that, that egg has been CRISPRed?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: CRISPRed, fertilized.

Bill Whitaker: And you have changed the genetic destiny of that embryo.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yes, we believe so.

These embryos will never be implanted, but they are grown in an incubator for three days and then checked to see if they carry the disease mutation.

Normally, 50 percent would. Mitalipov says with CRISPR, 72 percent were free of the mutation that would cause the heart disease.

Bill Whitaker: This is a huge– advance in science and medicine.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: We hope so. I think we– we’re still kind of in the early stages. I wouldn’t say that we are ready to– to go to clinics now.

He knows his results have to be replicated by an outside lab before they’re accepted by the scientific community. But if they hold up, one day CRISPR could be used to help families that have been plagued by inherited disease for generations.

Bill Whitaker: Is that what drives you?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yes. Of course, it’s a suffering of children, but also the guilt the parents have at saying, “I passed it to my child.” So it’s like, “I caused this disease.” And I think now, we have a tool where we could help these families.

Mitalipov wants to use CRISPR to eliminate disease, but the concern is his research has created a blueprint for less scrupulous doctors to design human beings – to edit embryos to make babies that are smarter, taller, stronger. Mitalipov says that’s not even possible right now.

Bill Whitaker: Your critics say that you’re playing God.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: I think– you could say to– to every treatment that they– humans and doctors develop that– we– we’re playing God. God gave us brains so we could find a way to eliminate suffering of human beings. And if that’s– you know, playing God, I guess that’s the way it is.

Bill Whitaker: So what do you think about editing an embryo to prevent disease?

Feng Zhang: We don’t really understand how complicated biology is. There’s a gene called PCSK9. If you remove PCSK9, you can reduce cardiovascular disease, heart attack– risks significantly. But it also has been shown recently to increase risk for diabetes. So how do you make the judgment call between these tradeoffs? And there will likely be other—impacts we haven’t yet identified. So I think we need to wait and be more cautious.

Eric Lander: I don’t think we’re close to ready to use it to go edit the human population. I think we’ve gotta use it for medicine for a while. I think those are the urgent questions. That’s what people want right now, is they want cures for disease.

Those urgent questions might soon be answered. A small clinical trial, the first in the U.S. using CRISPR to target certain types of cancer, is now enrolling patients.

Eric Lander: I wanna always balance hope versus hype here. While it’s not gonna affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is gonna have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades. And for the next generation, I think it’ll be transformative.

Produced by Nichole Marks. Associate producers, Kate Morris and Jaime Woods.

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2018

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Internet of Things? That’s old hat. How about an Internet of Tomatoes?

On 25, Jan 2018 | No Comments | In Featured, Future of Ag | By Admin

Concord Monitor

You’ve heard, of course, about the Internet of Things plenty of times in this column. Maybe it’s time for a different IoT: the Internet of Tomatoes.

“About 88 percent of farms around the U.S. are small and medium size, and of those, nearly 100 percent have no instrumentation,” said Erick Olsen, whose title is smart agriculture manager for Analog Devices, a Massachusetts-based data conversion and signal processing giant that is targeted toward farmers. “What we’re trying to do is not break the system, but show that by proper measurement, a new way to look at a crop and judge its quality … farms can benefit.”

Analog Devices is testing wireless in-field sensors in Peterborough, one of 19 sites in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with the goal of growing better-tasting tomatoes and other fruits or vegetables.

Tomatoes are an obvious first target, since modern agriculture has ruined their flavor in the name of storage and transportation. Even the tomatoes I grow myself, which aren’t doing too well, beat those billiard balls they sell in supermarkets.

The system Analog Devices has installed at the Cornucopia Project is a prototype, or “minimum viable product” in R&D-speak. It includes sensors that can be placed throughout a field, inside greenhouses or under high-hoops systems, and which measure the air temperature and humidity and the ambient light – crop-independent information of value no matter what you’re growing.

This isn’t quite Internet of Things, since they’re not gathering data from individual plants, but it’s a start. Plus, they send the signal continually to a communications gateway, which transmits it to farmers’ cellphones or computer using whatever schedule is set. Down the road, they hope to develop a smart-mesh IP network to handle the signals, which is very Internet-of-Things-ish.

It’s true that farmers have long collected some environmental data, at the very least from rain gauges as part of irrigation planning. Analog Devices thinks it can convince farmers to kick this up a notch, placing between one and five monitors per acre to watch for variations in conditions that can occur even on a small property and have a big effect on crop yields.

“They can keep track of growing-degree days, heat stress, things like that at a microclimate level, where most farmers don’t have any instrumentation,” Olsen said.

To folks in manufacturing, shipping or logistics, the idea of sprinkling sensors throughout the work area to keep on eye on individual products is old hat. They know that gathering the right data and acting on it properly can cut costs and increase productivity, as well as handle ever-more-complicated systems.

So it makes sense to apply this idea to agriculture, which can be thought of as a type of organic manufacturing.

The Peterborough project is installed with Farm to Fork, an educational component of the Cornucopia Project, where high-school fellows learn the intricacies of running a farm.

Very large-scale farms in the Midwest and other areas are starting to adopt the idea, but Analog Devices is targeting the sort of farms that fill New Hampshire, covering a few hundred acres at most. These places have smaller budgets to buy fancy new equipment, but on the plus side from a market point of view they really specialize – Olsen said one customer, Verrill Farm of Concord, Mass., grows 55 different varieties of tomatoes – which means they could benefit from more fine-grained data than a place that grows soybeans from horizon to horizon.

Analog Devices is also working on turning a handheld near-infrared spectroscopy tool, licensed from a company called Consumer Physics, into a specialized tomato-quality analyst. The idea is that a farmer or field hand could place the sensor alongside a tomato or any fruit with a skin thinner than, say, watermelons or pumpkins, and shoot it with light that has a wavelength around 400 nanometers.

The device would determine which types of molecules get energized inside the fruit, which sounds like an exercise from a physics lab. What it actually can reveal is the sugar and salt content and acidity level of the fruit without breaking the skin, helping move harvesting decisions from the purely qualitative, based on look and feel, to the quantitative, based on data.

“The path we’re taking is to take all this data, which farmers are too busy to look at it, (and) simplify it a bit with base levels of parameters to guide decisions,” he said, pointing to a theoretical example: “The last three days of environmental data combined with the forecast, compare to baseline … should you get the hay in?”

With data comes questions about privacy, of course.

Olsen said the farmers, not Analog Devices, will own any data collected by the equipment, and can share it if they wish.

Analog Devices plans to collect, anonymize and pool customer data and sell them for agricultural planning or research purposes, and maybe even sell them to seed and fertilizer companies who want to know what changes are coming to New Hampshire’s environment that might alter future sales. Analog Devices is joined in plans to develop farm-data management tools by a San Francisco company called Ripe.io, which is working to use its data analytics and processing expertise to create “the blockchain of food,” a distributed trust system for all things agricultural.

It that seems pretty geekish for down-in-the-dirt farmers – you can’t get much geekier than blockchain, the bitcoin backbone that shows signs of upending business processes in a host of industries – but Olsen thinks the benefits will outweigh any doubts.

“I gave a presentation at a conference … and at the start the audience was laid back, their arms crossed, legs crossed, a scowl on their faces: ‘What do you mean you’re going to instrument my farm?’ ” he recalled. “Before I was done they were leaning forward, asking questions, interrupting me.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

First genetically modified non-browning apples in Midwest stores by February

On 12, Jan 2017 | No Comments | In Featured Articles, Future of Ag, In The News | By Admin

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A small amount of Arctic brand sliced and packaged Golden Delicious, produced by Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Summerland, B.C., will be in 10 stores this February and March, said Neal Carter, the company’s founder and president. He would not identify the retailers, saying that’s up to them.

Carter reduced the enzyme polyphenol oxidase to prevent browning when apples are sliced, bitten or bruised. The apples match the industry norm of not browning for three weeks after slicing but without using flavor-altering, chemical additives that the rest of the fresh-sliced apple industry uses.

Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Fuji varieties have been approved by the USDA and Canada. An Arctic Gala could be approved in 2018. Only Goldens and Granny Smiths have been planted long enough to produce fruit in commercial quantities by next fall.

About 500, 40-pound boxes of sliced apples will be sold in grab-and-go pouch bags, he said.

A QR computer scan code on the packaging enables consumers to get information, including that the apple slices are genetically modified, but nothing directly on the packing identifies it.

The first commercial test marketing will provide the company with consumer preferences on packaging and price and other information including purchase motivations. Survey data will be used to help the company decide its fall 2017 commercial launch strategy.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: First GMO apple slices to go on sale in Midwest