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Biotech Technology

Cyanide-Producing GM Grass Linked To Texas Cattle Deaths 305

Posted by timothy
from the now-that's-just-creepy dept.
Peristaltic writes "Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are trying to determine if an unexpected mutation in a popular GM grass, Tifton 85, is responsible for the sudden deaths of a small herd of cattle in Elgin, Texas three weeks ago. The grass has been used for grazing since 1992 without incident, however after a severe drought last year in Texas, the grass started producing cyanide in sufficient quantities to kill a small herd of cattle in Elgin, Texas. Testing has found the cyanide-producing grass in nearby fields as well." Update: 06/23 22:59 GMT by T : Reader Jon Cousins writes with a correction that means the headline above is inaccurate for including "GM." Tifton 85, he writes, is "absolutely not genetically modified. It's a conventionally bred hybrid."
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Cyanide-Producing GM Grass Linked To Texas Cattle Deaths

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 23, 2012 @06:24PM (#40423809)

    Too bad it's not actually fiction, because right now it's just terrifying, but still cool at the same time.

    Also, if this turns out to be true maaaaaybe all those non GMO quacks aren't such, quacks.

  • Except that.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 23, 2012 @06:35PM (#40423927)

    These two grasses likely would have never been close enough in nature to influence each other. While genetically modified doesn't technically include selective breeding, I would argue that we are still screwing with nature and creating something that wouldn't have otherwise occurred naturally. That's how we should be defining 'Genetically Modified.'

  • by flibbidyfloo (451053) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @06:38PM (#40423951)

    Something deadly like this could never naturally evolve in plants! This must be the work of unnatural, man-driven processes! Stop all science now! Anthropocentrism at its finest.

  • Well, knowing how plants do spread over time, this could be catastrophic unless it is quarantined. We've already seen what happens with an invasive plant species. [wikipedia.org]

    This could be an ecological disaster. The grass isn't "new", and this wasn't a test case. It's been sold to farmers since 1991. https://www.google.com/#hl=en&safe=off&sclient=psy-ab&q=Tifton+85+bermudagrass [google.com]

    It's clearly for farming, but I wonder how much has ended up around residences also. In any case, this could be really bad. Looking around, it's most likely in too many areas, so it cannot be quarantined and destroyed. ... and I'm not a anti-GM nut.

  • Re:Except that.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 23, 2012 @06:47PM (#40424025)

    Then virtually every single crop cultivated would then be defined as "Genetically Modified" if we went along with that logic. It astonishes me that people actually think this way and it scares the shit out of me that they could ever be in a position to make policy.

  • Good plan. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daninaustin (985354) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @06:58PM (#40424095)
    Let's get rid of all those awful hybrid plants and let most of the people in the world starve. We should be thankful for all the wonderful discoveries that saved billions of lives. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:BS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jamesh (87723) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @07:10PM (#40424171)

    Lets hope Monsanto can quickly genetically engineer this dangerous hybrid grass to something safer before it destroys the world!!

    Realistically though, their business model would be more likely to come up with cyanide resistant cows as a more marketable solution...

  • Re:BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yndrd1984 (730475) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @07:19PM (#40424243)

    --Tifton 85 is a conventionally bred grass.

    -Monsanto's team of hired spin doctors are working some overtime this weekend.

    How is correcting a major factual mistake in a story "spinning" anything?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 23, 2012 @07:20PM (#40424257)

    No, we're all commenting on a story about how grass has always done this and still does, but farmers don't pay attention in school and journalists think boring stories are more interesting if they make up a few facts like "this is GM grass and it has mutated" rather than asking a scientist who would say "Yeah, grass does that, fascinating isn't it?"

    The same is sadly true for human food. If you tell average people that the sausages have a perfectly safe GM ingredient, they freak out and won't eat them. Those sausages would be perfectly safe, but they're imagining they'll grow an extra head. But drop the sausages on the floor, or let uncooked pieces of chicken drip onto them, and they're fine with that, because that's just normal everyday danger that actually exists, nothing to get freaked out about.

  • by yndrd1984 (730475) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @07:30PM (#40424349)

    GM, in effect, is this process on steroids. - "BUT IT'S NOT ACTUALLY GM!!!!111" exit is just grasping for straws.

    What about the "lots of naturally occurring grasses do this, it just doesn't make the news" argument?

  • by EdIII (1114411) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @08:05PM (#40424587)

    It does not make anybody "nuts". The information was corrected, and you can change your position after the fact.

    I'm anti-GM, and this is apparently just hybridization gone wrong. If anything, this shows how careful we have to be and not proceed with such a cavalier attitude towards research and implementation. This was 20 years. Keeping this in mind, the short term gains demanded by capitalism gone wrong make it seem pretty damn unreasonable and dangerous to not test the crap out of something like this for an extended period of time.

    For the record, my biggest gripe with GM is what I see as dangerously performed research (practically no containment of any kind), dangerous precedents in patent law (owning genetic sequences), using it as an excuse to saturate farms with pesticides (bad for environment, bad for food, and allows for rapid evolution of countermeasures in affected species), and its affect (by use) on seed diversity.

    Not to mention the logistical nightmare of recouping research and working out ownership of something that, by its very nature, can move and "infect" other crops. Monsanto deserves to burn in hell for all the grief they have given farmers simply because of the fucking wind acting as a ninja-like salesman.

  • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @08:55PM (#40424973)

    Damn. I was just pulling my pitchfork and torch out of the shed.

    That right there sums up the problem with the GMO debate (well, one of them). Caring about the process, not the product. You can bet your ass that none of the anti-GMO groups out there are going to see this and other problems [nap.edu] that have arisen from breeding (like the Lenape potato and high psoralens celery) are going to take this story and call for more stringent research of conventionally bred crops where heaven only known how many genetic changes may be happening. No one is going to say that breeding is unpredictable with dangerous results,or that is should be labeled, or that it should be banned until the precautionary principle proves a negative, or anything else people say about GMOs, but if this really were the product of biotechnology, you know damned well that is exactly what they, and many others, would be saying.

  • by sjames (1099) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @09:06PM (#40425055) Homepage

    Actually, it can and has produced roundup resistant plants, both through deliberate breeding programs and through basic natural selection in the fields.

    GM can do things that wouldn't happen in nature and it can be a problem. That just isn't an example of it.

  • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @09:07PM (#40425059)

    Since this was not a GMO at all, I expect this will be a big blow to conventional hybridization, right? Or are we going to apply a double standard and act as if dangers produced via hybridization should be ignored while dangers form GE (real or imaginary) are cause for panic?

    Meddle with nature and suffer the concequences you say? Enjoy your teosinte and goatgrass, and your poisonous potatoes, tomatoes, and beans. Enjoy your seedy bananas.and grapes, your small sour apples, your gritty pears, and the little flower heads on the wild mustard plants broccoli and cauliflower came from.. Because to do otherwise would be messing with nature. Hope those chemical defenses that were bred out of all our crop plants don't give you cancer.

  • It does not make anybody "nuts". The information was corrected, and you can change your position after the fact.

    I'm anti-GM, and this is apparently just hybridization gone wrong. If anything, this shows how careful we have to be and not proceed with such a cavalier attitude towards research and implementation.

    It still makes you anti-science. If anything, this event shows the advantages of genetic modification: we aren't relying on the random shuffling of genes that can produce unintended side effects such as here. We can, instead, craft the genes to our need with surgical precision, inserting exactly the genes we need and only those.

    Keeping this in mind, the short term gains demanded by capitalism gone wrong make it seem pretty damn unreasonable and dangerous to not test the crap out of something like this for an extended period of time.

    GM organisms are highly tested, moreso than any other foods and to date have been shown to be just as safe if not more than conventionally bred foods. Despite claims by the anti-GM crowd that little or no testing occurs on these foods, see this list of over 400 different safety assessment studies. [blogspot.com] Nothing can ever be proven to be 100% safe 100% of the time, even conventional foods as perfectly evidenced by this incident.

    For the record, my biggest gripe with GM is what I see as dangerously performed research (practically no containment of any kind)

    Can you give examples of this "dangerously performed research" or is that just the way you imagine it happens? I'm genuinely curious what you know about the process that I don't.

    ...dangerous precedents in patent law (owning genetic sequences)

    This reservation I'm actually still on the fence about. There are logical reasons for and against, but I haven't yet spent the brainpower thinking both sides through so I'm currently undecided here.

    ...using it as an excuse to saturate farms with pesticides (bad for environment, bad for food, and allows for rapid evolution of countermeasures in affected species)

    You think farmers want to saturate their farms with pesticide? GM crops require fewer pesticides due to their natural resistance. You could argue that this natural resistance itself could have bad side effects on us, but again that's exactly the kinds of things that are extensively tested for. No one is going to want to put out and be liable for a product that causes more harm than good (well, cigarette companies notwithstanding).

    Not to mention the logistical nightmare of recouping research and working out ownership of something that, by its very nature, can move and "infect" other crops. Monsanto deserves to burn in hell for all the grief they have given farmers simply because of the fucking wind acting as a ninja-like salesman.

    I agree with you here, but Monsanto isn't the only GM crop company, and you shouldn't be anti-science and anti-GM because of the questionable business practices of one company any more than you should reject computer technology because Windows gets viruses.

  • by X0563511 (793323) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @02:07AM (#40426747) Homepage Journal

    I'd say GM is less likely to cause such things. Why?

    Well, when you hybridize you're "patching in" shitloads of other genes in an attempt to get the trait you want. GM is much more targeted, therefore much less chances of something you didn't want coming over.

    Of course, in both cases you'll still have the problems that might come up because of a lack of understanding in the trait you are after. If a gene that makes wheat grow faster makes it build up toxins, it doesn't really matter how you got the trait in there, because it's the trait itself that is at fault!

  • by Soralin (2437154) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @05:49AM (#40427609)

    OK, You tell me the procedure for mating a cucumber with a salmon.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endogenous_retrovirus [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_gene_transfer [wikipedia.org]

    Virus infects salmon, new virus being produced ends up incorporating part of salmon DNA, virus gets passed to cucumber, virus inserts salmon DNA into cucumber and it ends up incorporated into it's genome, new offspring has genetic material from both cucumber and salmon. In practice, there may have to be a number of intermediaries there, but that's the idea, and it's 100% natural, and has happened numerous times before, and the results of such can be seen in the DNA of a number of living things.

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