Archive for March, 2019

Mar 08 2019

Golden Rice Finally Released in Bangladesh

Published by under Science Denial

Bangladesh has cleared the way for the cultivation of golden rice, with the first plantings 2-3 months away. This is great news. Golden rice is genetically modified to have higher levels of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Bangladesh is a perfect country for use of this crop because of high levels of vitamin A deficiency, and rice is a staple crop.

According to the WHO:

An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.

That is a huge health burden, mostly on poor children. In response to this, an international consortium has been working on potential solutions using biotechnology.

Rice is the primary food staple for over half of the world’s population, but it is also a very poor source of essential micronutrients and protein. Accordingly, human micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent in many rice-consuming regions, especially throughout the developing world where poverty exacerbates the problem of insufficient intake of animal products and other nutrient-dense foods. To reduce the global incidence of these nutritional disorders, a transgenic approach will be applied to improve the nutritional value of rice, with a specific focus on combining provitamin A and vitamin E in the rice grain and to increase the protein content to achieve a balanced composition of essential amino acids. Golden Rice will be combined with high iron lines. In addition, the knowledge necessary to enhance the bioavailability of iron and zinc in target crops will be generated. This will be achieved by identifying the corresponding QTLs in the model plant ArabidopsisGolden Rice and other engineered rice lines with stacked traits will be incorporated into ongoing breeding and seed delivery programmes for developing countries. The products generated will be made freely available to low-income farmers to address these deficiencies inherent to rice-based diets on a global scale.

Sounds like a solid plan – fortify staple crops with needed micronutrients and make them freely available to poor farmers. No reasonable person could have a problem with that. But of course ideologues are rarely reasonable, almost by definition. And the propaganda they spread can be very effective at misinformation.

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Mar 05 2019

Study – Still No Link Between Autism and MMR Vaccine

Published by under autism,Science Denial

I know this is old news – or at least it should be – but it bears repeating, especially as we are in the midst of a resurgence of measles. There is no link between the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism, or any neurological disorder. A new study confirms this lack of association. This should go a long way to reassure the vaccine hesitant that the MMR vaccine at least is safe and should not be avoided.

This is a Danish study, and the largest study of the MMR vaccine and autism to date – “657,461 children born in Denmark from 1999 through 31 December 2010, with follow-up from 1 year of age and through 31 August 2013.” They found:

During 5,025,754 person-years of follow-up, 6517 children were diagnosed with autism (incidence rate, 129.7 per 100,000 person-years). Comparing MMR-vaccinated with MMR-unvaccinated children yielded a fully adjusted autism hazard ratio of 0.93 (95% CI, 0.85 to 1.02). Similarly, no increased risk for autism after MMR vaccination was consistently observed in subgroups of children defined according to sibling history of autism, autism risk factors (based on a disease risk score) or other childhood vaccinations, or during specified time periods after vaccination.

Overall there was no association between getting the MMR vaccine and later being diagnosed with autism. Further, there was no correlation when looking specifically at children who have a sibling with autism, and therefore might constitute a susceptible subpopulation. Further still, there was no clustering of autism diagnosis following the MMR vaccine administration, as might be expected if there was a causal link. This is a very large study with an adequate study design, so that if there were any increased risk of developing autism from the MMR vaccine we should be seeing it in this data – and we don’t.

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Mar 04 2019

Is There a Role for Renewables?

Published by under Technology

Michael Shellenberger has a provocative editorial in which he makes the case against renewables and for nuclear energy. At first you might think you are reading global-warming denial propaganda, but that’s not what it is. Shellenberger is a self-described ecomodernist who simply thinks that, if you look at the numbers, there is a strong case to be made for nuclear energy as the most practical solution to global warming.

I half-buy his editorial. I agree with everything he says about nuclear power, and have made the same points myself. Nuclear is the safest form of energy by far, and has the lowest environmental impact. It is also the only solution that will enable us to replace our existing fossil fuel infrastructure anytime soon. The alleged problems with nuclear are also overblown.

The typical points raised against nuclear are topped by – how to deal with the nuclear waste. There are two answers to this concern, however. The first is to simply deal with it. Approve waste disposal sites like Yucca Mountain and safely store the waste. The second solution, however, is even better – modern reactors can burn much of what is now considered waste, including waste from older reactors.

In fact, the definition of nuclear “waste” is flexible. It is simply nuclear material that we currently do not use as fuel in reactors. But it can be used as fuel – nuclear “waste” is just another form of nuclear fuel. We already have designs for nuclear reactors that can minimize waste, and even reduce existing waste, and what remains can easily be dealt with.

Another concern is that nuclear reactors are used to feed the production of weaponized fissible material. But this also does not have to be the case. In fact, this point and the previous one are related. It is true that current nuclear power plants were designed to produce “waste” that could then be used by the military to ultimately produce material for nuclear weapons. However, we can design plants as purely civilian, with a nuclear cycle that burns more of the nuclear material and does not create any weaponized material.

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