Category Archives: Global Corporate U.

When a GMO bacterium almost killed the planet


We have long maintained that genetically modified organisms may be the most dangerous of all human creations, dwarfing in potential nuclear weapons, overpopulation, and all the other sundry horrors that haunt our nightmares.

And we’ve already come perilously close.

From The Big Picture:

How One GMO Plant Nearly Took Down the Planet…

Program notes:

The very same day that President Obama signed the DARK Act into law – the USDA confirmed that 22 of Monsanto’s unapproved GMO wheat plants were growing in a field in Washington State. No one knows how it got there – and that should raise alarm bells.

The universe beneath out feet

Stephen Nottingham is a biologist and writer. He has a doctorate in the field of agricultural entomology and is one of Britain’s most ardent advocates of agroecology [previously], the science of working with rather than against nature to produce the food and other plant and animal products that keep us and our civilization alive.

The fundamental element of agroecology is the earth itself, the soil that gives rise to most of those foods and goods, and if it is anything else, the soil beneath our feet is a vast and complex ecosystem, and must be considered whenever we release new genetic creations into our environment..

In his book Genescapes: The Ecology of Genetic Engineering, Nottingham writes:

Agricultural soil typically contains around 600 million bacteria, approximately three miles of mycorrhizal fungal hyphae, about 10,000 protozoa, and between 20 and 30 beneficial nematodes, in a teasponful. . .Elaine Ingham, author of the Oregon Klebsiella sstudy, has critized tests routinely performed by the EPA to evaluate genetically engineered microorganisms for environmental release, in which they use microcosms containing sterile soil. The results cannot provide any information about how the GMO will behave in the field, in terms of effects on soil ecology or on other organisms. In addition, no realistic data on exchange of genetic information between different bacteria can be obtained in sterilized soils.

Genetic exchange with GMOs is now a given

The genetically engineered organisms do exchange their artically manipulated genes with other organisms is a given, though one mightily resisted by the corporations which sell them.

UC Berkeley’s Ignacio Chapela, a friend of the blog, was fired because of his research showing that genes from Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant corn had infected the native corn varieties of Mexico, the nation which gave the world one of its major staple food crops.

His ouster followed a well-financed campaign by the company, using false fronts and academic shills.

It took a lawsuit to win Chapela tenure, and subsequent research has confirmed his findings.

Herbicide-resistant genes have also jumped into weeds, creating new breeds of so-called superweeds and prompting a search for ever more powerful plant killers.

Given that nature had countless billions of ready recruits, we can be certain of one thing: The arms race will never end as corporations seek to maintain their exorbitant profits and maintain their deadly grip on the planet’s food supplies.

Back to that Klebsiella planticola experiment

Dr. Ingham, a soil micobiologist and author of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Biology Primer, was a professor at Oregon State University in 1992 when she supervised the experiments that discovered the deadly nature of the microbe just weeks before it was scheduled for approval for release.

Here’s what she wrote about the discovery, via San Francisco State University:

Field burning of plant residues to prevent disease is a serious cause of air pollution throughout the US. In Oregon, people have been killed because the cloud from burning fields drifted across the highways and caused massive multi-car crashes. A different way was needed to get rid of crop residues. If we had an organism that could decompose the plant material and produce alcohol from it; then we’d have a win-win situation. A sellable product and get rid of plant residues without burning. We could add it to gasoline. We could cook with it. We could drink grass wine-although whether that would taste very good is anyone’s guess. Regardless, there are many uses for alcohol.

So, genes were taken out of another bacterium, and put into Klebsiella planticola in the right place to result in alcohol production. Once that was done, the plan was to rake the plant residue from the fields, gather it into containers, and allow it to be decomposed by Klebsiella planticola. But, Klebsiella would produce alcohol, which it normally does not do. The alcohol production would be performed in a bucket in the barn. But what would you do with the sludge left at the bottom of the bucket once the plant material was decomposed? Think about a wine barrel or beer barrel after the wine or beer has been produced? There is a good thick layer of sludge left at the bottom. After Klebsiella planticola has decomposed plant material, the sludge left at the bottom would be high in nitrogen and phosphorus and sulfur and magnesium and calcium-all of those materials that make a perfectly wonderful fertilizer. This material could be spread as a fertilizer then, and there wouldn’t be a waste product in this system at all. A win-win-win situation.

But my colleagues and I asked the question: What is the effect of the sludge when put on fields? Would it contain live Klebsiella planticola engineered to produce alcohol? Yes, it would. Once the sludge was spread it onto fields in the form of fertilizer, would the Klebsiella planticola get into root systems? Would it have an effect on ecological balance; on the biological integrity of the ecosystem; or on the agricultural soil that the fertilizer would be spread on?

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Charts of the day II: The Amyris debacle continues


Amyris [previously and extensively], the company the University of California, Berkeley held up as a shining example of a campus-spawned startup and founded by a prof who was once the darling of the financial press, continues its descent into financial oblivion, with the stock selling for a mere 34 cents today, just one percent of its post-IPO high $33.85 on 28 February 2011.

Two charts track the stock’s plunge [which is bad news for French oil giant Total and the Singapore government’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, the company’s largest shareholders].

The first chart comes from NASDAQ, the exchange which had listed the stock until the company filed a Notice of Delisting after shares plunged below the $1 level and turned the company’s offering into a so-called penny stock, presents the most genteel look at the plunge by using an algorithmic scale to tone down the bad news:

blog aMYRIS

The second chart, from the Financial Times, uses the more common sensical arithmetic scale:

BLOG Amyris 2

Either way, it’s bad news — for Amyris, for its shareholders, and for the University of California officials who are hell-bent on turning the greatest university system in the country into a tool of the corporation.

Amyris plunges to new record low, recovers


Amyris Inc. [previously], the UC Berkeley-spawned GMO start-up bankrolled by Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Arab oil sheikhs plunged to less than three shares for a buck before adding on six cents a share by the close of market Tuesday.

The record low of thirty-one cents a share was more than a hundred times below the post-IPO high of $33.85 less than five years ago.

The modest recovery was spawned by news that the company, which abandoned its goal of producing cheap fuel from plant cellulose in favor of turning out basic oils and compounds for cosmetics, had signed a new deal with perfume and flavor firm Givaudan to produce scents for perfumes.

The stock woes haven’t hut company founder and UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling, who sold his stock soon after the IPO, pocketing a eight-figure payoff, a sum that would be worth in the low six figures if he’d held on to his stock.

UC Berkeley-spawned Amyris shares collapse


The decline and fall of Amyris share prices, via NASDAQ.

The decline and fall of Amyris share prices, via NASDAQ.

Amyris Inc. [previously], the company started by UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling to create affordable fuels from using technology created to genetically engineer yeast to produce the most widely used antimalarial drug, hit an all-time low of forty-one cents per share today, down from the post-IPO high of $33.85.

Part of the reason is contained in a 20 June filing lodged by the company with the Security and Exchange Commission:

On June 14, 2016, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) received a letter from The NASDAQ Stock Market LLC (“NASDAQ”) notifying the Company that it is not in compliance with the requirement of NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1) for continued listing on the NASDAQ Global Select Market as a result of the closing bid price of the Company’s common stock being below $1.00 for 30 consecutive business days. This notification has no effect on the listing of the Company’s common stock at this time.

In accordance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5810(c)(3)(A), the Company has 180 calendar days, or until December 12, 2016, to regain compliance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1). To regain compliance, the closing bid price of the Company’s common stock must be at least $1.00 for a minimum of 10 consecutive business. If the Company does not regain compliance during such period, it may be eligible for an additional compliance period of 180 calendar days, provided that the Company meets NASDAQ’s continued listing requirement for market value of publicly held shares and all other initial listing standards for the NASDAQ Capital Market, other than the minimum bid price requirement, and provides written notice to NASDAQ of its intention to cure the deficiency during the second compliance period. If the Company does not regain compliance during the initial compliance period and is not eligible for an additional compliance period, NASDAQ will provide notice that the Company’s common stock will be subject to delisting from the NASDAQ Capital Market. In that event, the Company may appeal such determination to a hearings panel.

The Company is currently evaluating its available options to resolve the deficiency and regain compliance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1).

In other words, Amyris is now officially what’s called a “penny stock,” and stock valued at under a buck and restricted to trade on minor markets.

And while Amyris has promised and failed to deliver on its cheap fuel promises and shifted its development aims to tweaking its yeast to produce genetically engineered cosmetic chemicals, Bill Gates, an original investor from the company’s earliest days, gave Amyris $5 million in April to help cut costs on production of the drug for which he originally bankrolled Keasling and his students.

The drug is produced in Europe and Amyris realizes no profits from its sale.

But now comes more bad news and a possible reason for the continuing decline of the price of Amyris shares.

From the University of British Columbia:

The rapid decline in effectiveness of a widely used anti-malaria drug treatment on the Thailand-Myanmar border is linked to the increasing prevalence of specific mutations in the malaria parasite itself, according to a paper published in The Clinical infectious Disease Journal.

The mutations in specific regions of the parasite’s kelch gene – which are genetic markers of artemisinin resistance – were the decisive factor, the authors say, in the selection of parasites that are also resistant to mefloquine. This resulted in growing failure of the widely-used anti-malaria drug combination of mefloquine and artesunate, the first artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Led by Dr. Aung Pyae Phyo of SMRU, the study used data from a 10-year study of 1,005 patients with uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria at Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) clinics on the Thai-Myanmar border in northwest Thailand.

“This study demonstrates for the first time that artemisinin resistance leads to failure of the artemisinin partner drug, in this case, mefloquine. This means that the first line artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) introduced here in 1994 has finally fallen to resistance,” says François Nosten, Director of SMRU.

Resistance to artemisinin combination therapy drugs (ACTs) – the frontline treatments against malaria infection – poses a serious threat to the global control and eradication of malaria. If drug resistance spreads from Asia to the African sub-continent, or emerges in Africa independently, as has happened several times before, millions of lives, most of them children under the age of 5 in Africa, will be at risk.

The study shows that, contrary to the view sometimes expressed that resistance to artemisinin is not a direct threat, it is in fact responsible for the rapid demise of the partner drug and the failure of the drug combination, resulting in patients not being cured and further transmission of the malaria parasite.

“The evidence is clear: Artemisinin resistance leads to partner drug resistance and thereby the failure of artemisinin combination treatments,” said Oxford Professor Nicholas White, Chairman of the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) and chair of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN).

From the paper, a graph describes the rise of artemisinin-resistant genetic variants.

From the paper, a graph describes the rise of artemisinin-resistant genetic variants.

Given the very limited number of effective drugs, it is urgent to eliminate P. falciparum from the areas where it has developed resistance to the artemisinins, said Prof. White: “The spread of artemisinin resistant Plasmodium falciparum is perhaps the greatest threat to our current hopes of eliminating malaria from the world.”

A unit of the Bangkok-based MORU, SMRU is based in the refugee camps and migrant communities along the Thai-Myanmar border. Led by researchers based at SMRU (Thailand), the study was funded with the support of the Wellcome Trust (UK).

Reference:

Pyae Phyo A et al, Declining efficacy of artemisinin combination therapy against P. falciparum malaria on the Thai-Myanmar border (2003-2013): the role of parasite genetic factors [open access], Clinical Infectious Diseases, published online 16 June 2016.

Headline of the day: Crying foul at UC Berkeley


From the Guardian:

‘Honey bear’: Berkeley student details alleged sexual advances by professor

Exclusive: Nicole Hemenway describes how repeated harassment by her thesis adviser derailed her studies – and how the school system failed to protect her

Alcohol treatment doesn’t work for frat members


Google the words university Berkeley fraternity party alcohol complaints and you get 185,000 hits.

During our six years reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we fielded quite a few calls from angry neighbors, complaining about parties getting out of hand, and the callers weren’t always the grumpy “get off my lawn” senior types, either.

It’s hard to imagine fraternities and sororities without thinking of the word party, and when you think of party, you also think booze, and at least two Cal frat house members have died as a result of drinking in the last two years, one from alcohol poisoning, the other from a fall.

Here’s the University’s official position statement on alcohol:

The University of California Berkeley was established as a public institution and is intrinsically devoted to the health, safety, and well-being of every individual in the campus community. Every member of the UC Berkeley community has a role in sustaining a safe, caring, and humane environment. Students, faculty, and staff are therefore responsible for fostering a healthy environment free of alcohol misuse. Toward that end, the campus provides education, prevention, and support services to minimize alcohol misuse; encourages treatment for members of the campus community who misuse alcohol; and sets expectations for conduct with respect to the use and misuse of alcohol in accordance with applicable laws, University policies, and campus regulations.

Note that word treatment.

Sounds like a good thing, right?

You have a problem, you get treatment?

But there’s a dirty little secret here.

Alcohol treatment programs don’t work, at least when it comes to the denizens of frat houses.

From the American Psychological Association:

Interventions designed to reduce alcohol use among fraternity members are no more effective than no intervention at all, according to an analysis of 25 years of research involving over 6,000 university students published by the American Psychological Association.

“Current intervention methods appear to have limited effectiveness in reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems among fraternity and possibly sorority members,” said lead researcher Lori Scott-Sheldon, PhD, of The Miriam Hospital and Brown University. “Stronger interventions may need to be developed for student members of Greek letter organizations.”

The study [open access, PDF] appears in the journal Health Psychology, which is published by APA.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies looking at 21 different interventions involving 6,026 total participants (18 percent women) who were members of fraternities and sororities. They found no significant difference between students who received an intervention and those who did not for alcohol consumption per week or month, frequency of heavy drinking, frequency of drinking days or alcohol-related problems. In some cases, alcohol consumption even increased after an intervention.

Lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Amyris Inc. sinks to all-time low, 61 cents a share


Once hailed by UC Berkeley brass as the preeminent startup, founded by the university’s genetic engineering rock star, and on course to save the world from depleted oil reserves by turning plants into transportation fuel, Amyris Inc. [previously] plunged to a record low this week of 61 cents a share, down from an all-time high of $33.85.

From NASDQ:

BLOG Amyris

Amyris was founded by UC Berkeley genetic “engineer” Jay Keasling who with and his students had engineered yeast to produce an anti-malarial drug, and declared they would used the same technology to produce low carbon fuels from cellulose.

Shortly after the IPO Keasling sold his stock, pocketing a ten-figure paycheck and heading back to campus. Investors, including Bill Gates [who had funded the anti-malarial research], a venture capital firm that numbered Al Gore among its principals, Mideastern royals and a Southeast Asian government, plus the oil giant Total and sundry investments piled on.

But the fuels never materialized, at least at anything approaching commercial prices, and the company wound up selling “all natural” cosmetics made from the excrement of those GMO yeast.

First quarter adjusted net losses losses for 2016, announced Tuesday, totaled $32.7 million.

Shares bounced back somewhat Friday, closing at two centers higher than the record low, perhaps on this news, filed with the SEC:

As previously reported, on April 8, 2016, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the “Gates Foundation”) entered into (i) a Securities Purchase Agreement (the “Purchase Agreement”), pursuant to which the Company agreed to sell and issue 4,385,964 shares of its common stock (the “Shares”) to the Gates Foundation at a purchase price per share equal to $1.14 (the “Gates Foundation Investment”) and (ii) a Charitable Purposes Letter Agreement (the “Letter Agreement”), pursuant to which the Company agreed to use the proceeds from the Gates Foundation Investment to develop a yeast strain that produces artemisinic acid and/or amorphadiene at a low cost and to supply such artemisinic acid and amorphadiene to companies qualified to convert artemisinic acid and amorphadiene to artemisinin for inclusion in artemisinin combination therapies used to treat malaria. The entry into the Purchase Agreement and the Letter Agreement was previously reported in the Company’s Current Report on Form 8-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 11, 2016, which is incorporated herein by reference.

On May 10, 2016, the Company and the Gates Foundation closed the Gates Foundation Investment, resulting in the issuance of 4,385,964 Shares to the Gates Foundation for proceeds to the Company of approximately $5.0 million.

In other words, Gates is paying the company to deliver the same product he originally funded Keasling and his students to develop.