Innovations unlikely to happen here

By Eric Crampton 09/04/2015 2


There’s just so much promise in GE research. A 2012 paper showing longevity benefits in mice subsequent to gene modification has led to experimental trials on people – in South America. They use genetically modified viruses to spread genes for longer telomeres to reduce ageing.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the Greens’ Steffan Browning is angry that some schools are ordering a $354 biochemistry set that lets them run small in-class GE experiments: introducing a bioluminescence gene from jellyfish into bacteria. From the product website:

Genetic engineering is the process of manipulating the genetic material of an organism — often to include the DNA from a foreign organism. Using the classic pGLO Bacterial Transformation Kit, students transform bacteria by introducing a gene from the bioluminescent jellyfish Aequorea victoria. The same procedure has been used to create “designer proteins” which have led to the explosion of new health treatments, agricultural applications, and environmental solutions.

Features and Benefits

  • Aligns with AP Biology Big Idea 3, Lab 8
  • Transforms bacteria with a jellyfish gene
  • Turns the gene on and off for the study of gene regulation

I wonder how many fewer chemists we’d have if we’d banned chemistry sets. While the set here isn’t banned, using it looks to be:

According to Bio-Rad’s website, the kits allow students to transform bacteria by introducing a gene from the bioluminescent jellyfish, Aequorea victoria, making them glow fluorescent green under ultra-violet light.
“The same procedure has been used to create ‘designer proteins’ which have led to the explosion of new health treatments, agricultural applications, and environmental solutions,” the United States-based company says.
According to MPI’s investigation, there was nothing wrong with importing the kits.
But they contained materials that, when put together correctly, produced a modified strain of E coli.
This counted as new organism under New Zealand’s Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, MPI said.
It was illegal to produce a new organism without a containment facility and approvals from MPI and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

We have endless handwringing from government about how the economy isn’t as diversified as they’d like and how there isn’t enough R&D relative to somebody’s preferred amount of it. Then the government makes it too hard to do IT research in New Zealand that might require GCSB approval under TICS, and requires MPI approval for any new organism, hindering GE research.

But Otago University microbiology and immunology professor Clive Ronson said the base E coli strain involved was “very benign” and even scientists would find it impossible to create a dangerous strain with the kits.
New Zealand was out of step with the rest of the world because it insisted that anything altered through DNA manipulation was a new organism and needed approval.
According to the EPA, all known kits were traced and destroyed.
“It is unlikely that such a lab-adapted strain would be able to survive outside laboratory conditions.”
MPI wouldn’t name the educational institutes that had “inadvertently” broken the law.

They hunted down and destroyed classroom chemistry sets. And Kiwis make fun of Kansas classroom creationists.

It really doesn’t bother me if Steffan Browning doesn’t want the life-extension therapy. I’m young enough (for now) to be able to wait a bit to see how the South American trials pan out. If I were in my 70s, I’d be a lot angrier about policies blocking this kind of research.

And do see Siouxsie’s excellent discussion of the kit. She notes that all of us are likely carrying illegal DNA. Why? Because anything that isn’t explicitly allowed is forbidden, and anything that can’t be proven to have been in the country prior to 1998 needs approval, and nobody’s mapped the genomes of all the bacteria in everyone’s guts.


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