lunes, enero 21, 2008

Beware the New “Doubly Green Revolution”

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

The fake moral crusade to feed the world with genetically modified crops promoted as the second “Doubly Green Revolution” is doing even more damage than the first. The bad genetics involved in has failed the test in science and in the real world.


When James Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for the double-helix structure of DNA, came to the UK in October 2007 to promote his new book and autobiography, Avoid Boring People: Lessons From A Life In Science, he sparked outrage among fellow scientists. He said to a newspaper reporter that [1] he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africans” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really.” That was not the first time Watson abused his position to promote what the Federation of American Scientists condemned as “personal prejudices that are racist, vicious and unsupported by science” [2]. On a previous occasion, he suggested that people with low IQ had genes for stupidity, and he would like to prevent them from being born or give them gene therapy [3] (Why Genomics Won't Deliver, SiS 26).

Within a week of this latest transgression, Watson was suspended, and subsequently resigned, from his post as chancellor of the prestigious Cold Spring Harbour Molecular Biology Laboratory.

Nonetheless, it was precisely such eugenicist, genetic determinist propaganda that Watson had used so effectively in promoting the Human Genome Project in the 1980s. And if anything significant had come out of sequencing the human and other genomes, it was to explode the myth of genetic determinism once and for all [4] (see Living with the Fluid Genome, ISIS publication). Some of us had been arguing all along that genes and environment are inseparable well before the Human Genome Project was conceived. The surprise is how readily the environment could specifically mark and change genes and genomes to influence later generations. ‘The inheritance of acquired characters’ is nowhere as evident as in molecular genetics [5] (see Life After the Central Dogma series, SiS 24). It is part of the ecological genetics of the ‘fluid genome’ emerging since the 1980s that has made genetic determinism obsolete [4]. Unfortunately, our political leaders are still being ill advised by famous scientists adhering to the old discredited paradigm.

Another Nobel laureate (Nobel Peace Price 1970) who should know his genetics better is Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution was a reductionist approach to agriculture based on using genetics to breed genetically uniform high yielding varieties (HYVs), which has brought short-term increases in crop yields, but at tremendous environmental and social costs.

Borlaug has persisted in promoting this failed approach, especially in its later incarnation of genetically modified (GM) crops, as made clear in a Nature editorial published in October 2007, “Feeding a hungry world” [6].

Far from suffering disgrace, Borlaug is showered with awards, the most recent being the US Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian honour [7]. At the presentation event, M.S. Swaminathan, father of the Green Revolution in India, gave the keynote address.

India, meanwhile, is caught in a worsening epidemic of farmers’ suicide. Its agricultural minister acknowledged in the Indian Parliament that an estimated 100 000 farmers have taken their own lives between 1993 and 2003. The introduction GM crops to the country has escalated the suicides to 16 000 a year [7] (Stem Farmers’ Suicides with Organic Farming, SiS 32).

Borlaug is doing a great deal more damage to the world than Watson based on their bad genetics. The difference is that while Watson is now a liability in attracting grants and investments for genomics and related post-human genome endeavours, Borlaug serves as the ideal mouthpiece for the biotech industry’s fake moral crusade of feeding the world under the banner of the second, “doubly-green” revolution of genetically modified crops.