Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hot off the Press: Genetics in the News

 Some recent genetics news:

  • Genetically modified crop growing increased by 10% worldwide in area last year, up to 148 million hectares.  This is equivalent to about 10% of the world's total cropland area.  The article, found here, also states several new GM crops will be approved for commercialization by 2015.  These include potatoes resistant to the disease causing the Irish famine in 1845, disease-resistant bananas, and insect resistant tomatoes, broccoli, and cabbage.

  • This article raises ethical questions about genetic predictors of disease and introduces a survivor of breast cancer.  About 10 years ago a genetic test had revealed her mother carried a mutation signaling a heightened risk for the disease.  Since learning of her high risk, she decided to be vigilant and opted for frequent mammograms.  Eventually she did develop breast cancer, but due to the frequent mammograms, it was diagnosed very early and was treatable.  Knowing in advance helped this patient, but some patients don't want to know about their susceptibility to diseases, as they feel it is "future-robbing" news.

  • Genetically modified fungus could be used to combat malaria carried by mosquitoes.  Instead of genetically modifying a new breed of mosquitoes, researchers at the University of Maryland have modified a fungus that usually attacks the mosquitoes.  Now, the fungus only delivers compounds that target the malaria parasite.  They believe that malaria transmission to humans could be reduced five-fold.  This is significant, as malaria deaths each year are estimated to be about 780,000 in the world.  The article may be found here.


  1. I really find it maddening that people want to hold us back from making such a difference. There are so many benefits as you have pointed out here, but people still want to say that it is not our place to play with nature like that. In my opinion, humanity has been molding nature to suit itself since its beginning. This is just the next step, so lets get rid of some mosquitoes!

  2. THere are definitely benefits, as Aaron notes, but also major potential consequences. I certainly don't think of myself as "anti-science," yet I think we do not in our country debate enough the potential risks of genetic research. Corporate culture is so dominant in the US, and I'm just wary of companies having so much information about me without my permission. GATTACA and all :). I think we should at least be having these debates, and I don't think we're really having them--things are just staying anti and pro without us really discussing how to regulate this stuff.