Quantcast
GMO
Wikimedia Commons

Field Test of GMO Algae Sparks Outrage

Scientists from the University of California at San Diego and Sapphire Energy released results Thursday from the first open-pond trials of genetically engineered microalgae.


The study, along with research and development of genetically modified (GMO) algae for biofuels, is occurring ahead of adequate regulatory oversight, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's process to establish and update regulations for genetically engineered algae to protect human health and the environment.

"This study confirmed that genetically engineered microalgae grown in open ponds will escape and spread into the environment. Once this genie is out of the bottle, there is no way to put it back," said Dana Perls, senior campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

"Not only is it impossible to contain GE algae in open air production, but there are currently no adequate regulations which fully address its risks to our environment, from lab to final product. Without this essential oversight, there should be no environmental release or commercial uses of GE algae and other synthetic biology organisms."

Microalgae are essential ecosystem regulators. They provide more than half of the oxygen in our atmosphere and are the base of aquatic food chains. Microalgae reproduce rapidly and are capable of horizontal gene transfer, meaning that engineered traits can quickly spread, even to unrelated species. There is concern that engineered traits may not remain stable over time. All of these characteristics suggest introduced genes could spread rapidly out of control and change over time in unpredictable ways. In addition, microalgae have produced toxic algae blooms and GE microalgae may be more harmful and difficult to control.

"We are told that GE microalgae will not likely survive in the wild, but there is absolutely no basis for that assumption. In fact, many of the traits that are desirable for fuel and chemical production and industrial cultivation are precisely the traits that would lend a competitive advantage in nature," said Dr. Rachel Smolker, director of Biofuelwatch.

"Those include traits like 'improved' photosynthesis, resistance to predators and pests, hardiness and resilience that make them tolerant of industrial cultivation, or the ability to more effectively access and convert available nutrients."

Billions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in developing algae biofuels that have yet to be commercially viable. Genetically engineered microalgae research is now focused on producing chemicals for consumer products like cosmetics and food ingredients. Sapphire Energy has received vast amounts of taxpayer dollars for biofuels production, but is apparently marketing algae derived surfboards. Solazyme, now known as Terravia, was another recipient of funding to produce biofuels, which focused on products like anti-wrinkle face cream.

"The tests performed by UCSD scientists were of very limited scope and little assurance that GMO microalgae are 'safe,'" continued Smolker. "Meanwhile, we need to ask ourselves: are these products worth the money and worth the risks to our health and environment?"

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
Mom and baby West Indian manatees in Three Sisters Springs, Florida. James R.D. Scott / Getty Images

Florida Manatee: 10% of Population Could Be Wiped Out This Year

2018 has not been a good year for Florida's iconic manatees. A total of 540 sea cows have died in the last eight months, surpassing last year's total of 538 deaths, according to figures posted Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The figure will likely climb higher before the year's end amid the state's ongoing toxic algae crisis. The red tide in the state's southwest is the known or suspected cause of death for 97 manatees as of Aug. 12, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission recently reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
SOPA Images / Getty Images

Walmart Joins Ranks of Retailers Pulling Toxic Paint Strippers From Shelves – When Will EPA Follow Suit?

By Sarah Vogel

Monday, Walmart announced that it will stop selling paint strippers containing methylene chloride or N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in stores by February 2019—making it the first general merchandise retailer to take such action. Walmart's announcement follows the strong leadership demonstrated by Lowes, Home Depot and Sherwin Williams, all of which have committed not to sell methylene chloride- and NMP-based paint stripping products by the end of the year. Importantly, Walmart's action goes beyond its U.S. stores, including those in Mexico, Canada and Central America, as well as their online store.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Seal #108, left, and a small pup named "Premie" swim up to the edge of their pool for their 3 p.m. feeding at the Marine Mammals of Maine rehabilitation center on Aug. 14. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

New England Seal Die-Off Could be Linked to Chemical Pollution

Researchers think a mysterious die-off of seals along the Maine coast could be linked to chemical pollution, the Portland Press Herald reported Sunday.

More than 400 dead or stranded seals have washed up on the Maine coast so far this year, more than in any of the past seven years, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statistics.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Looking towards Livadia harbour on the Greek island of Tilos. Getty Images

Greek Island to Be First in Mediterranean to Power Itself With Only Wind and Solar

The Greek island of Tilos is set to be the first in the Mediterranean to power itself entirely with wind and solar power, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

The final tests of a new system that will allow the island to power itself with batteries recharged by a solar park and 800-kilowatt wind turbine are taking place this summer, and the system is expected to go live later this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans
Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Please Stop Flushing Your Contact Lenses

Contact lenses may appear harmlessly soft and small, but a big chunk of American users are improperly disposing their used lenses and adding to the planet's microplastic problem, Arizona State University researchers found.

In a survey of 409 wearers, about 1 in 5 responded that they flushed their used lenses down the toilet or sink instead of throwing them in the trash, according to a new study presented at the American Chemical Society's National Meeting and Exposition.

Keep reading... Show less
Health

Cell Phones in Schools? France Says No, San Francisco Educators Urge Caution

By Olga Naidenko

As the school year begins, the movement to exercise caution in students' use of cell phones and other wireless devices is gaining international momentum.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Breakthrough

'We Are Climbing Rapidly Out of Humankind's Safe Zone': New Report Warns Dire Climate Warnings Not Dire Enough

By Jon Queally

Offering a stark warning to the world, a new report out Monday argues that the reticence of the world's scientific community—trapped in otherwise healthy habits of caution and due diligence—to downplay the potentially irreversible and cataclysmic impacts of climate change is itself a threat that should no longer be tolerated if humanity is to be motivated to make the rapid and far-reaching transition away from fossil fuels and other emissions-generating industries.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Pxhere

Trump Power Plant Plan Will Significantly Increase CO2 Pollution

The Trump administration is expected on Tuesday to propose a major rollback of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama's signature climate policy.

The replacement will relax rules for coal-fired plants and will very likely increase air pollution and planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!