USDA Deregulates Two Lines of Genetically Engineered Corn From Monsanto, Syngenta
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said last week it will allow farmers to plant two new strains of genetically modified (GMO) corn, one created by Monsanto and the other by Syngenta, without government oversight. The new strains are tolerant of the weed killers dicamba and glufosinate.
The decision is likely to lead to ever-greater use of these and other pesticides to grow genetically engineered crops, giving consumers yet another reason to want food products containing GMO ingredients to be labeled accordingly.
Like earlier GMO crops that were modified to be herbicide-tolerant, the new GMO corn is designed to survive being blanketed with toxic chemicals that kill weeds and other plant life on the field.
Reuters reported that Monsanto created the new corn strain in response to growing competition facing its signature Roundup herbicide from generic alternatives to glyphosate, Roundup’s key ingredient. But perhaps more notably, Monsanto wants to diversify its herbicide portfolio because more and more weeds have evolved into so-called superweeds that can withstand glyphosate.
This news is the latest illustration of the chemical treadmill created by genetically modified crops. Once one herbicide stops working, manufacturers come up with a new set of chemicals.
We don’t always know the health effects of the increased use of these herbicides, especially in combination with other environmental contaminants, but we do know that the massive expansion of GMO crops has led to an explosion in herbicide use, specifically glyphosate, by U.S. farms.
American consumers, however, have no way to know whether the food they’re eating was produced with GMOs and thus likely to have been doused with chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other diseases.
Now that USDA has abdicated responsibility for regulating where and how much of this new GMO corn will be planted, it is more critical than ever that Congress pass a mandatory GMO-labeling law to give consumers the information that 9 out of every 10 Americans want.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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