Golden Rice and GM Modified Foods

Hello everybody,

Today is the first time I blog to you guys for over 4 months, and I deeply apologize, I have not found any time to blog for ages, and with it being summer down under, the nights just fly away, when I usually do my blogging.

But recently, I have been re-inspired to resume blogging frequently, by a science camp named The Science Experience (TSE), a 3 day camp run by the Young Scientists of Australia (YSA, check out their website, www.ysa.org.au). TSE brings together senior high school students from around Brisbane and beyond, to University campuses all over Brisbane for 3 days, to hear lectures and do science. Amongst other fascinating lectures which I may talk about later, and a brilliant keynote speech by Joel Gilmore (follow him on twitter @joelgilmore ), I listened to a lecture by Neal Menzies. He discussed food for the world in the future, agriculture and its impact on global warming (not so much cow farts, but the extra nitrogen in the nitrogen cycle thanks to commercially produced fertiliser, and GM modified food.

Tonight I wish to talk about GM food, and specifically golden rice, a genetically modified rice variety created for use by farmers in areas where there is a Vitamin A shortage in the population. Golden rice, so-called due to its golden colour, was created by Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and University of Freiburg, respectively. By inserting two genes responsible for the biosynthesis of beta-carotene, the researchers where able to create rice which contained a precursor of vitamin A. Deficiency in Vitamin A is responsible for the death of over 670 000 children under the age of 5, each year. Science published the scientific details of the rice in 2000.

At the time it was published, golden rice was considered a significant breakthrough in biotech, as it was the first time that researchers had engineered an entire process and placed it in a species. It is known of as the first genetically modified plant to have no known negative side effects, and to be fully beneficial.

Golden rice is one of many genetically modified foods to have been created by scientists which have been beneficial to society. Round-up ready varieties of crops, which are resistant to a cheap and effective weed killing spray named round-up, allowing for entire fields to be sprayed with no effect to the crops, while eradicating all weeds in the field, are one very successful variety of genetically modified crops.

One GM crop which may become very useful going into the future is a genetically modified variety of Sorghum which is about 30% easier to digest than current varieties of Sorghum. This is important for two reasons, one being the fact that Sorghum is harder to digest than other grains which are main staples of all people’s diets, rice, wheat, barley and corn. The other is that Sorghum is different to other grains in that it grows better in tropical and subtropical climates, as opposed to grains which grow better in dry, mild climates. If a more digestible variety of Sorghum can be produced, and the widespread use of GM crops in subtropical areas such as Australia becomes accepted, this would result in food able to be grown in places other grains could not.

The use of GM crops going into the future will increase, and once the majority of people grow out of their fear of GM food, it will increase dramatically. It will result in the decrease of various agricultural impacts on the environment, such as the use of herbicide, pesticide and fertilizers, and allow for greater amounts of crops to be grown in an area, more efficient varieties and in places recently considered not fit for food production.

New Health Problems Found for Astronauts

Hello there, skeptical Bros.,

I was logged onto the computer at school yesterday (we had a computer lesson), and because there was nothing else to be done in class, I was reading through the abc.net.au news section, and I came across a new study in Astronauts. Because my immediate reaction to anything with space or astronauts is “READ READ READ!”, I read it, and it turns out that there could be new health risks for astronauts who spend long amounts of time in micro-gravity. The title here –>http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-13/study-finds-eye-problems-common-for-astronauts/3886698, Reads ‘Study finds eye problems common for astronauts’ and my heart sunk.

It turns out that this latest study have found yet another thing which astronauts have to worry about. It has been known for a long time that there would be long-term health effects for people who live in micro-gravity, but these were thought to be things like hearts and muscles loosing their strength. This study has shown that the brain and eyes have been effected, because of an unexplained pressure in the head, which causes excess cerebral-spinal fluid around the optic-nerve, and a flattening of the eyeball and bulging of the optic nerve, in roughly one-fifth of astronauts who spent more than a month on space-shuttle or ISS flights. But I’m not going to talk about the physiology, that’s not my niche, read that in the link above, I’m going to talk about what it means for longer term flights to Mars.

The solution for things like weak hearts and muscles was simple, exercise the heart and muscles by jogging for a while every day. But the solution to this problem is not so apparent, we can’t exercise our optical nerve.
We can’t fight the effect of micro-gravity, so we have to fight the cause. NASA scientists need to find a way to stop this unknown pressure, and the first thing we need to do is find out what this pressure is. A bit of study on the ISS should definitely be done.

I’m really disappointed because of what this means for Mars trips in the future. This is just one more item on NASA’s list of “Things we have to figure out before we fly to Mars”, along with radiation, water, food, power, shelter etc., all major problems to humans. Space Shuttle flights went for about a month or so, ISS shifts go for about 6 months, but a trip to Mars would take in excess of two years, so the effects we see here, could be greatly magnified. But you know what, I’m confident that science will find a solution to this problem, and then we will go to Mars, but this problem should be one of the first things worried about, because humans health are of the top priority.

That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a quote from Stephen Hawking, “Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”, Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist, author, lecturer and Science Popularizer of some note.