“I can tell you the exact date that I began to think of myself in the first-person plural — as a superorganism, that is, rather than a plain old individual human being. It happened on March 7. That’s when I opened my e-mail to find a huge, processor-choking file of charts and raw data from a laboratory located at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As part of a new citizen-science initiative called the American Gut project, the lab sequenced my microbiome — that is, the genes not of “me,” exactly, but of the several hundred microbial species with whom I share this body. These bacteria, which number around 100 trillion, are living (and dying) right now on the surface of my skin, on my tongue and deep in the coils of my intestines, where the largest contingent of them will be found, a pound or two of microbes together forming a vast, largely uncharted interior wilderness that scientists are just beginning to map. Continue reading →
“During last week’s oral testimonies before the United States Supreme Court, a 75-year-old soybean farmer from Indiana faced down Monsanto, as he challenged the biotech giant’s aggressive and frequently criticised pursuit of patent infringement cases. Continue reading →
“…The industry’s strategy is to lobby Congress to cut off money for the Report on Carcinogens, a 500-page consensus document published every two years by the National Institutes of Health, containing the best information about what agents cause cancer. If that sounds like shooting the messenger, well, it is.
“The way the free market is supposed to work is that you have information,” said Lynn Goldman, dean of the school of public health at George Washington University. “They’re trying to squelch that information.”
The larger issue is whether the federal government should be a watchdog for public health, or a lap dog for industry. When Mitt Romney denounces President Obama for excessive regulation, these are the kinds of issues at stake. Continue reading →
One of the arguments for raw milk is that bacteria are not all bad, as some germ theorists might seem to imply. It’s about time science took note of the role of beneficial bacteria in maintaining and enhancing bodily health.
“For a century, doctors have waged war against bacteria, using antibiotics as their weapons. But that relationship is changing as scientists become more familiar with the 100 trillion microbes that call us home — collectively known as the microbiome.
“I would like to lose the language of warfare,” said Julie Segre, a senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute. “It does a disservice to all the bacteria that have co-evolved with us and are maintaining the health of our bodies.”
This new approach to health is known as medical ecology. Rather than conducting indiscriminate slaughter, Dr. Segre and like-minded scientists want to be microbial wildlife managers. Continue reading →
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Jimi Sitko gets up at 4 most mornings, works out two to four hours a day and can bench-press nearly twice his weight. He has a shaved head and a brightly colored tattoo on his left arm, and he can easily be mistaken for a Marine separated from his platoon.
Competitors like Jimi Sitko are forging a distinctive subculture of antibeef beefcakes who hope to change more of their competitors’ eating habits.
His apartment is filled with medals and trophies from bodybuilding competitions, snapshots of his tanned, rippled physique in full flex. His uniform is an assortment of sweat pants and hoodies, which he occasionally lifts when his abs look particularly fierce. Continue reading →
“PAPAYE, Haiti — For months after the earthquake that struck the capital, Manel Laurore pulled shattered bodies from his neighbors’ homes, hunkered in fetid refugee camps and scrounged for food and water.
“I will never go back to Port-au-Prince,” said Mr. Laurore, 32, a former shopkeeper who was sifting soil to plant a tomato garden, referring to the capital. “It left a strong pain inside. Here the work is hard, but you live in total peace.”
His work, on a 15-acre cooperative farm in Papaye, represents a small but promising success for an ambitious program being promoted by aid workers, government officials and international donors: saving the country by developing the countryside. Continue reading →
Demonstrators and media representatives focus on a speaker at a rally outside the Los Angeles courthouse Thursday where two Rawesome associates were later arraigned on charges related to illiegal sale of raw milk. About 100 people demonstrated on behalf of Rawesome. (Photo by Andrew Ward, via David E. Gumpert's The Complete Patient blog, click on image above to go there)
“LOS ANGELES — Raw food enthusiasts fit right in here, in the earthy, health-conscious beach communities of Venice and Santa Monica, along with the farmers’ markets, health food stores and vegan restaurants.
But this week, the police cleared the shelves of Rawesome, an establishment in Venice Beach, loading $70,000 of raw, organic produce and dairy products on the back of a flatbed truck. Continue reading →
“After the E. coli outbreak in Europe last month — which sickened more than 3000 people and killed at least 50 — it was impossible not to think about irradiation. “What if,” I asked myself, “those little fenugreek seeds had been irradiated?” Might there have been fewer deaths, fewer cases of hemolytic-uremic syndrome (essentially, kidney failure; there were 900), fewer tragic stories?
The answer is “yes.” But it’s not the only question.
When it comes to irradiation, you might need a primer. (I did.) Simply put, irradiation — first approved by the FDA in 1963 to control insects in wheat and flour — kills pathogens in food by passing radiation through it. It doesn’t make the food radioactive any more than passing X-rays through your body makes you radioactive; it just causes changes in the food. Proponents say those changes are beneficial: like killing E. coli or salmonella bacteria. Opponents say they’re harmful: like destroying nutrients or creating damaging free radicals. Continue reading →
“A few years back, several New Zealand scientists began tinkering with petunias, the elegant flowers blooming in many gardens. Playing with pigment genes, they developed biotech varieties with lush dark leaves, their funnel-shaped flowers popping against a midnight backdrop.
The Kiwis wondered if they could sell their flowers. They wrote to regulators in the United States, the country most open to genetic engineering. The Agriculture Department responded, saying the petunias, because of the technology used, did not require its oversight — a promising decision.
Before the biologists went further, however, the work fell to a reorganization. Everyone moved on. Continue reading →
“A Bayer AG unit will pay $750 million to settle claims with about 11,000 United States farmers who said a strain of the company’s genetically modified rice tainted crops and ruined their export value.
The settlement, announced on Friday, ends scores of lawsuits filed against the Bayer CropScience unit of the company by farmers in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi.
The Agriculture Department said in August 2006 that trace amounts of the company’s experimental LibertyLink strain were found in long-grain rice. Within four days, declining rice futures cost growers about $150 million, according to a complaint filed by the farmers. News of the contamination caused futures prices to fall about 14 percent. Continue reading →
"Bernard is right; the pathogen is nothing; the terrain is everything."
-- Louis Pasteur's deathbed words
"One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all'." (Martin Luther King - Letter from Birmingham Prison, Alabama)