Ten years after Dolly the cloned sheep made her stunning debut, the J. Craig Venter Institute is applying for a patent on a new biological bombshell - the world's first-ever human-made species. The novel bacterium is made entirely with synthetic DNA in the laboratory.
Despite the fact that governments re-affirmed and strengthened the United Nations’ moratorium on Terminator technology (a.k.a. genetic use restriction technology [GURTs]) in March 2006, public and private sector researchers are developing a new generation of suicide seeds – using chemically induced “switches” to turn a genetically modified (GM) plant’s fertility on or off.
Issue: Under the guise of biosafety, the European Union’s 3-year Transcontainer Project is investing millions of euros in strategies that cannot promise fail-safe containment of transgenes from GM crops, but could nonetheless function as Terminator, posing unacceptable threats to farmers, biodiversity and food sovereignty. Terminator technology – genetic seed sterilization – was initially developed by the multinational seed/agrochemical industry and the US government to maximize seed industry profits by preventing farmers from re-planting harvested seed. Researchers are also developing new techniques to excise transgenes from GM plants at a specific time in the plant’s development, and methods to kill a plant with “conditionally lethal” genes. This new generation of GURTs will shift the burden of trait control to the farmer. Under some scenarios, farmers will be obliged to pay for the privilege of restoring seed fertility every year – a new form of perpetual monopoly for the seed industry.
This time the “silver bullet” has a gun
Issue: Everybody’s trying to jump-start science – and, especially, agricultural science – in Africa. Starting with the G8 meeting in Canada five years ago – and pledges by four of its members to build new centers of scientific excellence in Africa – the Syngenta Foundation, CGIAR, Jeffrey Sachs’s Earth Institute, and now, Google, Gates, and Rockefeller are all pushing new initiatives for the continent. While there is no denying that Africans deserve support in their struggle to address hunger, disease and climate change, science and technology are no “silver bullet” to resolve Africa’s problems. Yet, when the G8 meets this June in Germany they are expected to announce a new research agenda that will again propose scientific solutions to the world’s – and, particularly Africa’s – social problems.
With hopes for Kyoto dimming, some governments may conclude that massive earth restructuring is the only feasible way out
Issue: Kyoto is fading and carbon trading is a farce. Recognizing this, OECD states can either “bite the bullet” and adopt socially-responsible policies to dramatically cut fossil fuel use and useless consumption or, they can hope for a “silver bullet” – some new techno-fix that might let them have their cake and eat it too. The silver bullet may be winning. At the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the US government is lobbying for “geoengineering” activities such as deliberately polluting the stratosphere to deflect sunlight and lower temperatures. At least 9 national governments and the European Union have supported experiments to spread iron filings on the ocean surface to nurture plankton and sequester carbon dioxide. At least a dozen additional countries are involved in stratospheric weather/climate modification. Commercial carbon traders are engaging in ocean fertilization as well. The scientific debate and the government/commercial experimentation is taking place, once again, in the absence of public discussion.
On the shortest day of the year [in the North] – ETC Group provides a brief update on one of the longest-running patent challenges
The Enola bean patent case demonstrates that intellectual property challenges are not a viable means of “correcting” abuses in the patent system. Just about everyone agrees that the Enola bean patent is technically invalid – the bean, in fact, is genetically identical to a pre-existing Mexican bean variety that was previously known and grown in the United States.
In Oligopoly, Inc. 2005 ETC Group finds that corporate concentration -- not only in food and agriculture, but in all sectors related to the products and processes of life -- has increased remarkably since ETC's last review two years ago. The report also reveals that a subterranean struggle is underway at the nano-scale to control the fundamental building blocks of life and nature. Corporate investment in nanobiotechnology (or, synthetic biology) could give ultimate control to a very different set of corporate actors.
According to ETC Group, the top 10 multinational seed firms control half of the world's commercial seed sales (a total worldwide market of approximately US$21,000 million per annum). Corporate control and ownership of seeds - the first link in the food chain - has far-reaching implications for global food security. With control of seeds and agricultural research held in fewer hands, the world's food supply is increasingly vulnerable to the whims of market maneuvers.
ETC Group reports on trends in intellectual property relating to nano-scale technologies. With nanotechnology, the reach of exclusive monopoly patents is not just on life, but all of nature. Accordingly, ETC Group refers to nanotech's "second nature" patents.