By: Valerie Miller, Ph.D.
US government approves (drug-producing) transgenic chicken
On December 8th, 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Kanuma (sebelipase alfa), a recombinant enzyme marketed by Alexion Pharmaceuticals, which is meant to treat patients with a rare inherited enzyme disorder known as lysosomal acid lipase (LAL) deficiency. LAL deficiency prevents the breakdown of fatty molecules in the body, leading to fat accumulation in the liver, spleen and vasculature. Kanuma was given priority review, and the FDA moved quickly for its approval, due to Kanuma’s orphan-drug status and designation as a break-through therapy, as there were no therapies available for LAL prior to Kanuma’s approval. Kanuma is unique because it’s made by genetically engineered chickens, which produce the drug in their eggs. Several other ‘farmaceuticals’ have entered the US market ahead of Kanuma, including genetically modified goats that produce the anticoagulant antithrombin in their milk, as well as a drug produced in the milk of transgenic rabbits that treats hereditary angioedema. The FDA regulates the entire chicken, not just the eggs, because all of the chickens’ cells contain modified DNA. Part of this regulation asserts that the altered DNA is not harmful to the chickens nor will these chickens adversely affect the environment. Additionally, unlike the recently approved, genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon, Kanuma-producing chickens will not enter the food supply. (Rachel Becker, Nature News)
Nuclear power must make a comeback for climate’s sake
In wake of the landmark climate agreement reached during the COP21 Paris climate negotiations, four prominent climate scientists are advocating for the use of nuclear energy in order to help reduce carbon emissions. James Hansen, former NASA climate scientist; Tom Wigley, climate scientist at the University of Adelaide; Ken Caldeira, climate scientist at Carnegie Institution for Science; and Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at MIT, argue that nuclear energy has great potential to be part of the climate change solution and energy system transformation, especially for large countries like China. As the goal of nations is to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 450 parts per million and limit the global rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, the scientists contend that all carbon-reducing energy options need to be considered, including the use of nuclear energy. However, they note that very few nations have discussed the potential of nuclear in their carbon emission reduction pledges, and given the time needed to build nuclear power plants, nations should look into this option immediately.
Other scientists, such as Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, are concerned that using nuclear energy would create more pollution, because the mining of uranium for use in nuclear reactors is carbon-emitting, and because of the possibility of taking several decades to get nuclear power plants up and running. Instead, he believes that the world can meet the temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide parts per mission goal using only renewable energy, because the technology to harness wind, water and solar energy already exists. Jacobson calculates that developing renewable energy would net 22 million jobs while ensuring energy security, and that the current fossil fuel-based energy system could be replaced entirely by 2050 worldwide. (Gayathri Vaidyanathan, Scientific American)
The more humanely a fish is killed, the better it tastes
Many people are concerned about consuming sustainable seafood, but few ask about the way in which the fish they eat are killed. In a new study to appear in the January 1st, 2016 edition of Food Science, a team of researchers showed that meat from rainbow trout stressfully-slaughtered by asphyxiation above water tasted worse and had a shorter shelf-life than rainbow trout slaughtered with a swift strike to the head, which is considered to be a more humane method of slaughter. Researchers detected break-down of fatty acids, such as omega-3s, in the fillets of stressfully-slaughtered fish after 75 days in the freezer. By day 135, twice as many fatty acid break-down products were detected in the asphyxiated fish. To determine differences in taste, the team asked four experts in detecting “marine off-flavors” to judge the samples. By day 105, the judges reported a rancid smell and bitter taste in the fillets from asphyxiated fish, but detected no off-flavors or smells in swiftly-killed fish. The researchers speculated that a higher concentration of hydroperoxides that accumulate during stress may have caused the asphyxiated fish fillets to go bad more quickly. They hope that their study will encourage fishers to employ a swifter method of slaughter. (Brendan Bane, Science Shot)
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