Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jurassic World: Mutant dinosaurs more likely related to technologies used in organic & conventional farming?

Jayson Lusk has an interesting take on Jurassic World:

"In many ways the new animal they created reminds me much more of what might happen from mutagenesis (a technique widely practice in plant breeding for many decades and is NOT regulated as biotechnology, in which seeds are exposed to radiation or chemicals to cause mutations).  The reason I say that is  mutagenesis could cause several possible (and unexpected) genetic changes, which is exactly what happened with the dinosaur.  By contrast,  transgenic (or intragenic) biotechnology typically involves moving one gene from one species (or within a species) to another, in cases where it is well understood what the particular gene does."

I have not seen the movie, but from what he describes in his full post, I am on the same page. He mentions there is some language in the movie that implies that these dinosaurs may have been developed using techniques related to plant or animal biotechnology, or extensions of practices we might be using today in modern agriculture. I would guess then it is based on some sort of embryo transfer and gene insertions related to frogs and some bit of dinosaur DNA based on the post.

But don't misinterpret the title of this post. I am not saying that embryo transfer/cloning/recombinant DNA techniques (or whatever are actually used in the movie I have not seen) are used in organic farming! But if we want to distinguish between technologies used in both organic and biotech crops, and ask among these, which are most likely to produce unexpected 'mutant' results or consequences, the evidence clearly points to organic, or conventional non-GMO methods.

In fact, in conventional and organic crop improvement programs, as Jayson mentions, chemicals and radiation are used specifically to create 'mutant' crops. But the hope is for 'superhero' type mutants not 'super villians.' The only problem is, research shows that these methods are very imprecise and impact thousands of genes in unknown and unpredictable ways compared to transgenic/gmo based approaches!

We also know that based on things like microarray analysis and other research, that even traditional plant breeding introduces greater and unpredictable genomic disruptions than transgenic techniques.

It has always been very interesting to me that despite these differences, there are no calls for labeling conventional or organic crops that use these techniques, but such a strong emphasis on the much more controlled and precise genetic changes brought about by GMOs! (interesting but not surprising for a number of reasons we could get into like rent seeking etc.) And, don't start talking about 'fat' tails or the precautionary principle etc. because fat tail  and precautionary principle arguments would equally apply to organic and conventional technologies if not be even more relevant.

If it comes down to what is more 'natural' we know that research has also shown that the kinds of genetic modifications used in modern agriculture based on specific gene insertions into plants has occurred naturally over time with positive benefits! Just like today's roundup resistant crops were produced using agrobacterium to insert the resistant genes into soybeans, and then the best hybrids containing the gene were selected by plant breeders and sold to farmers, our ancient ancestors selected sweet potatoes containing improved traits conferred by gene transfers from Agrobacterium and they didn't even need a lab to do it!

 See also:


For more references on plant breeding and crop improvement technologies and genomic disruptions see: Biotechnology and Genetic Disruptions

Fat Tails, the Precautionary Principle, and GMOs

Additional References:

The genome of cultivated sweet potato contains Agrobacterium
T-DNAs with expressed genes: An example of a naturally transgenic food crop
PNAS|May 5, 2015|vol. 112|no. 1

Batista R and others (2008). Microarray analyses reveal that plant mutagenesis may induce more transcriptomic changes than transgene insertion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105(9): 3640–3645

Baudo MM, Lyons R, Powers S, Pastori GM, Edwards KJ, Holdsworth MJ, Shewry PR. (2006). Transgenesis has less impact on the transcriptome of wheat grain than conventional breeding. Plant Biotechnol J. 2006 Jul;4(4):369-80

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