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Mosquito-borne diseases are a major concern

Mosquito attacks its own problem Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK

By BBC News Online's Jonathan Amos

Genetic engineers have found a way to limit the ability of the mosquito to transmit disease by boosting the insect's immune system.

Researchers from the US and Taiwan have modified the yellow-fever mosquito to make it produce a powerful antibacterial protein called defensin in its body.

The release of the protein, which is triggered by the mosquito taking a blood meal, may make it impossible for the insect to carry a pathogen such as the malaria parasite.

The incidence of mosquito-borne diseases is increasing at an alarming rate around the world and scientists are looking at a number of novel solutions to the problem.

But commentators say genetically modifying mosquitoes is only a first step; the next, and perhaps more difficult, task will be getting sufficient numbers of the new insects out into the field to supplant infected natural populations.

Vladimir Kokoza and Alexander Raikhel from Michigan State University, and colleagues, constructed a unique two-part gene and spliced it into the DNA of the yellow-fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti)

Less disease - fewer deaths

One component contained the code for defensin which was produced in an organ called the "fat body", which is not unlike the liver and lymph nodes in vertebrates. The second component drove the production of the protein specifically when the insect ingested a blood meal, the usual source from which the mosquito picks up the pathogen - a parasite or virus.

The researchers found high levels of defensin in the bloodstream of genetically altered female mosquitoes that persisted for 20 to 22 days after a single feeding.

Professor Anthony James, of the University of California-Irvine, one of the co-researchers involved in the study, told the BBC: "The general hypothesis of this work is that it should be possible to put genes into mosquito populations that normally transmit and turn them into ones that don't transmit. This, ultimately, would result in less disease and fewer deaths."

But Dr Jo Lines, a senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said this would not be easy.

Apart from the difficulties of breeding up millions of insects for release, he said previous work had shown that such animals were frequently less fit than the populations they were intended to replace.

Insecticide-resistant mosquitoes

He told BBC News Online: "You would end up with insects that are highly inbred and devoid of genetic variability - the modified strain of Aedes aegypti would come from a single egg, and that is bound to affect its competitiveness.

"And, of course, even if you get your mechanism out there, there is always the possibility that the pathogen can evolve to overcome it. It is by no means a permanent solution."

Dr Lines, who has worked to promote the distribution and use of treated nets to fight malaria, said the current emphasis on genetic approaches to the mosquito problem, whilst very worthy, should not distract from "what will work this year, next year and in five year's time - never mind in 20 year's time."

Professor James conceded there were difficulties in pushing genes out into wild insect populations. Asked which strategy would eventually beat mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, he said: "The only winner so far has been the parasite.

"There are actually places in the world now where we have insecticide-resistant mosquitoes and drug-resistant parasites. What this genetic strategy does is put another technique at our disposal for circumstances where other techniques may not work.

"It's not a question of which one is going to win, but a question of: 'In a particular environment, what's the best strategy to use'."

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

New pig clones born Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 18:54 GMT

The five cloned pigs: Noel, Angel, Star, Joy and Mary A biopharmaceutical company that helped clone Dolly the Sheep has produced new cloned pigs.

PPL Therapeutics says the pigs, which partially lack a specific gene, are a major step towards using animal organs for human transplants.

The female piglets were born on Christmas Day in the United States.

They have been named Noel, Angel, Star, Joy and Mary.

The pigs are not the first to be cloned.

But PPL, a commercial offshoot of the Roslin Institute in Scotland, says the pigs are the first to be engineered in a way that should prevent their tissues being rejected by the human body.

The animals' biological make-up is slightly different from ordinary pigs.

'Near term' solution

A specific gene, which makes the human body reject pig organs, has been knocked out.

PPL says that it intends to use the pigs as part of its programme to seek a cure for humans suffering from diabetes.

Dr David Ayares, Vice-President of Research at PPL's US division said the birth of the pigs was a critical milestone in the company's xenograft programme.

"This advance provides a near term solution for overcoming the shortage of human organs for transplants as well as insulin-producing cells to cure diabetes," Dr Ayares said in a statement.

The news was given a cautious welcome by the Society, Religion and Technology Project of the Church of Scotland.

Safety concerns

Dr Donald Bruce said the disabling of a gene that would otherwise cause the rejection of a pig organ by the human body might, potentially, be ethically acceptable in the context of xenotransplantation but only if a number of conditions were fulfilled.

"The prospect of using pig organs to save many human lives, or to improve substantially the quality of life of dialysis patients or diabetics, is attractive from the viewpoint of human medicine," he said.

"But it raises serious ethical issues over the use of animals and a major question of safety."

PPL was the first to clone pigs in spring 2000. In April 2001, PPL said that it had produced gene-altered, or transgenic, pig clones.

The pigs had had a foreign gene added to the cells from which they were developed.

A month later an Australian company, BresaGen Ltd, said it had also produced a cloned pig using a different technology.

Potential obstacles

Pigs are thought to be the most suitable animals for providing organs for transplant into humans.

A pig's heart is about the same size and has about the same power output as a human heart.

Furthermore, scientists understand the steps they need to take to genetically modify pig tissue so that it will not be rejected by the human immune system.

However, there are a number of major problems to be overcome.

They include the theoretical risk that pig viruses might jump into humans and cause new diseases.

Dolly's arthritis sparks cloning row Friday, 4 January, 2002, 16:51 GMT

Dolly the Sheep is five and a half years old Animal rights campaigners are calling for stricter controls on cloning following the news that Dolly the sheep has arthritis.

There are fears that the condition may have arisen because of genetic defects caused by the cloning process.

Professor Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, which cloned Dolly, has called for a research programme to establish the impact cloning has on animal health.

But animal welfare groups have called on scientists to halt their experiments.

They say the revelation proves cloning is harmful to animals - and have raised fresh doubts about cloning animals for use in human transplants.

'Innocent animals'

Sarah Kite, research and information director at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) said: "Scientists seem to think that they can mix and match animals' genes in a controlled way, but actually the control is an illusion.

"No-one yet understands exactly how genes work or what the effects will be on the innocent animals who are subjected to biotechnology."

The animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming has also called for a halt to cloning.

Its director, Joyce D'Silva, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I think of the hundreds and hundreds of other cloned lambs who have been born and had malformed hearts, lungs or kidneys.

"They have struggled to survive for a few days and then had their lungs filled with fluid and gasped their way to death or had to be put our of their misery by their creators.

"That is the real story of cloning."

Share results

Professor Wilmut revealed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Dolly, the first cloned sheep, had developed arthritis in her left hind leg.

He said: "There is no way of knowing if this is down to cloning or whether it is a coincidence.

"We will never know the answer to that question."

He said that there needed to be a systematic assessment of the health of cloned animals.

And he accepted that scientists may be too commercially motivated.

But he continued: "This is a very young technique.

"It has great potential. As well as studying the animals that are there already we have to continue with the process to improve and use the technology."

It is unusual but not unknown for a relatively young sheep to develop arthritis.

This has raised the question of whether the cloning process led to Dolly's problem and whether cloning always gives rise to unhealthy animals.

Many cloning companies have reported that their animals are healthy.

But there has been no independent assessment of the long term health of cloned animals.

And there is anecdotal evidence of animals being born overweight, malformed and with damaged immune systems.

Pig cloning race

The news came as rival teams announced the birth of cloned, genetically engineered pigs that may be suitable for animal-to-human organ transplants.

One litter of pigs was born on Christmas Day at the US research division of PPL Therapeutics Plc, a commercial offshoot of the Roslin Institute.

Another team, a joint venture between Novartis AG and BioTransplant Inc, revealed that similar cloned pigs had been born several months before.

The move towards breeding animals for organs has been condemned by animal rights campaigners.

But others argue that the research could lead to a supply of organs to help patients on the transplant list.

GM 'solution' to over-fishing Friday, 29 September, 2000, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK

70% of the world's fisheries are threatened by over-fishing Genetically modified farmed-fish will feed the world by the year 2025 as global catches decline, predicts a US scientist.

GM fish farms will be the only way to supply enough seafood amid the continuing collapse of commercial marine fisheries, believes Professor Yonathan Zohar, of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

He says biotechnology will lead to stronger, faster-growing, more nutritious fish that can reproduce all year round.

But critics argue that GM fish may offer a temporary solution to providing food but will not address the problem of over-exploitation of our seas and oceans.

Declining stocks

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation reports that 60% to 70% of fisheries in the world's oceans are threatened by over-fishing.

The agency estimates that at some point between 2015 and 2025, half of all fish consumed in the world will be farmed.

New molecular and biotechnology tools will be required to bring fish farming on a par with farming of other livestock, says Professor Zohar.

Whereas people have improved the genetics, health, nutrition and reproduction of other livestock through centuries of husbandry and science, time may be far shorter for improving seafood crops, he told the International Marine Biotechnology Conference in Queensland, Australia.

'Unproven science'

But environmental campaign group World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, says GM fish are a distraction from the pressing issues that face our oceans today.

"GM fish may offer a solution to fish as a food resource, though the science is far from certain on this matter, but it will not address the unsustainable and catastrophic exploitation of our seas and oceans," said a spokesperson.

WWF says it is working on solutions that, in 20 years' time, will see wild fish stocks rising, bringing benefits to communities dependent on the marine environment.

"Now everyone can see the problems facing our seas it's a question of getting the political will to enact legislation providing the protection they need to ensure the recovery and improvement of fisheries," the spokesperson added.

GM salmon

The first genetically modified fish, salmon that grow up to 10 times faster than normal, could be cleared for human consumption within a year.

A US firm - AF Protein - is developing the GM fish on Prince Edward Island, Canada.

The Massachusetts-based company has inserted two sets of fish genes into Atlantic salmon.

The first are growth hormone genes and the second, from a different fish, activate them.

Cows make cloning seem easy Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 19:30 GMT

Four fifths of the cloned cows reached maturity By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble

A study of 30 cow clones in the United States has found none of the drastic abnormalities which have been seen in other cloning trials.

Animal clones often have genetic defects, problems with their immune systems, and weight problems.

The US group, however, had no such trouble and two of the cattle clones have even had apparently normal offspring.

The study's authors warn against seeing the results as an encouragement for the handful of people who want to clone a human being.

'No abnormalities'

Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts, and colleagues looked at a cow cloning experiment which led to 110 pregnancies.

Almost three-quarters of the pregnancies aborted spontaneously, far more than with IVF treatment, where a quarter are expected to end before term.

But of the 30 calves that made it to birth, 24 lived to maturity, a figure which compares well with what happens to cows born after conventional reproduction.

"Results of general health screens, physical examination, and immune function were normal for all of the animals, including laboratory analysis of blood and urine, and we haven't observed any of the genetic defects or abnormalities reported in the popular or scientific press," Dr Lanza told the BBC.

Encouraging results

"All of the data collected reinforce the view that these animals are clinically and phenotypically normal," he said.

Dr Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, UK, and co-creator of Dolly the sheep, describes the study as "encouraging" but says that it needs to be seen alongside other studies which did observe unusual deaths.

"These include the calf that failed to develop an immune system and died when just over seven weeks of age, described by Renard and his colleagues.

"Given that 73% of pregnancies ended in abortion and 20% of the calves died soon after birth, this paper surely confirms that it would be irresponsible to attempt to clone a person," he said.

"It also raises the question of whether there should be widespread use in livestock production until the technique is more efficient," he added.

The cow clone study appears in the journal Science.

Stem cells may help cure a wide range of diseases

Embryo cloning breakthrough Sunday, 25 November, 2001, 17:54 GMT

A United States company says it has cloned a human embryo in a breakthrough experiment.

It is the first time anyone has reported successfully carrying out the procedure.

The company, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) is stressing that its aim is to use the embryo as a source of stem cells - not to create a human being.

"Scientifically, biologically, the entities we are creating are not individuals. They're only cellular life. They're not human life," said Michael West, ACT chief executive officer.

ACT, based in Worcester Massachusetts, says the cloning technology will be used to grow a tiny ball of cells which can be used to produce stem cells.

These, it is hoped, could be used to cure diseases ranging from diabetes to Aids.

US Federal law prohibits the use of taxpayers' money for the cloning of human beings, but ACT, as a privately-funded company, is not affected by the ban.

'Master cells'

Embryonic stem cells are the "master cells" that have the potential to develop into virtually every other type of cell in the body.

These could then be used to cure degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

Another potential use would be to grow replacement healthy organs instead of having to rely on transplants, which might be rejected.

"This is indeed a milestone in therapeutic cloning," Mary Ann Liebert, publisher of the online journal e-biomed, which carried the report, said in a statement.

Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at ACT and an author on the paper, said the results were very exciting.

"Our intention is not to create cloned human beings but rather to make lifesaving therapies for a wide range of human disease conditions, including diabetes, strokes, cancer, Aids, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease."

Political hostility

But, while many scientists welcomed the announcement, politicians in the US have warned that they plan to outlaw all human cloning.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he did not yet quite understand what ACT had done. "But it's disconcerting, frankly. I think it's going in the wrong direction."

Republican Senator Richard Shelby told NBC's Meet the Press: "I believe it will be a big debate, but at the end of the day, I don't think we're going to let the cloning of human embryos go on."

Monday, 26 November, 2001, 19:06 GMT Bush calls for cloning ban

The embryo would be "used for treating illnesses" President George W Bush has condemned the announcement by a US research company that it has cloned the first human embryo, and urged the US Congress to ban the technology.

The president told reporters during an appearance at the White House that the breakthrough by the Massachusetts-based company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) was "morally wrong, in my opinion".

ACT said the single, six-celled embryo it had created was aimed at treating illnesses such as cancer and Aids - and not for the creation of human beings.

Mr Bush is opposed to all forms of cloning and recently supported moves in the House of Representatives to outlaw both reproductive and therapeutic cloning.

The Vatican and the European Commission have also condemned ACT's research project.

'Morally wrong'

Mr Bush has urged the US Senate to act on legislation passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year which would ban the sort of procedure used by ACT.

"The president hopes that as a result of this first crossing of the line and this first step into the morally consequential realm of creating a life to take a life in the name of science, that the Senate will act," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

A Vatican official, Monsignor Tarcisio Bertone, told Italian television that therapeutic aims may be praiseworthy, but did not justify the production and destruction of human beings.

"Notwithstanding the humanistic intents... this calls for a calm but resolute appraisal which shows the moral gravity of this project and calls for unequivocal condemnation," the Vatican said in a statement.

"What we have before us are human embryos and not cells... life which must preserve its dignity like every other human life," it said.

The European Commission said it opposed the research and would not finance any similar projects.

"Not everything scientifically possible and technologically feasible is necessarily desirable or admissible," European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said in a statement.

ACT Vice-President Dr Robert Lanza said people should concentrate on the medical benefits that will come from being able to copy cells.

"Our intention is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to make life-saving therapies for a wide range of human disease conditions, including diabetes, strokes, cancer, Aids, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease."

Scientists create embryo without sperm 4-12-01 NZ Herald

Scientists who created a furore by cloning human embryos say they have made monkey eggs grow into embryos without the benefit of sperm, in a process known as parthenogenesis. Michael West, chief executive offcer of Advanced Cell Technology, said his company hoped to use such experiments to find ways to rejuvenate human tissues and treat disease. West has emphasised that his company's aim is not to breed babies but to use the embryos as a source of stem cells.

Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 11:07
GMT Cloning paper prompts more resignations

Ciparelli ACT

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Are they really human embryo clones?

Two more scientists have resigned from the editorial board of the online science journal e-biomed, criticising its highly publicised and controversial publication of a paper on human cloning last November.

The electronic paper, heralded by the worldwide media as a scientific landmark, claimed to describe the first ever human embryo clone.

The scientists stepping down are Robin Lovell-Badge, of Britain's National Institute for Medical Research, and Davor Solter, director of the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology, Germany. They follow the departure of American John Gearhart, a pioneer in the field of stem cell research.

Dr Lovell-Badge told BBC News Online: "The [e-biomed cloning] paper was of little or no scientific value."

'Scientific flaws'

In e-biomed, the American biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) claimed to be the first to create a human embryo clone. When its paper was posted on the electronic journal's website, the publication was picked up by news organisations and the details despatched around the world.

But while the media heralded the crossing of the human cloning Rubicon, senior scientists began to declare their unease with both the quality of the research and the way it was announced.

First to leave e-biomed's editorial board was Professor John Gearhart, one of the first scientists ever to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells in the lab. He said he was embarrassed and chagrined by the paper, which he claimed contained fundamental scientific flaws.

He stepped down after being refused, he claimed, information about the referees who peer-reviewed ACT's paper.

Not informed

The departure now of two more scientists from e-biomed will cast fresh doubt on whether ACT actually produced a human embryo clone at all.

Dr Robin Lovell-Badge is one of the leading scientists in this field, yet he said he was not informed or consulted at all prior to the publication of the controversial paper.

"I think the three of us all felt that the editor and/or publishers should have consulted at least one of the experts on their editorial board about a paper that might be contentious. Any of us would have counselled against publication."

He added: "It seems that the only reason our names were on the editorial board was to try to give the journal some status that it clearly does not deserve. I had not been consulted once since the journal was established over any paper or matter of editorial policy, etc."

'Not a success'

Critics of ACT's cloning procedure point to the short development of the most advanced embryo mentioned in the paper; it had divided to just six cells after five days. If it had developed normally it should have had 50 to 100 cells, commentators have said.

"This is clearly not a success," Dr Lovell-Badge told BBC News Online. "In fact, it was no advance on work done in Korea a couple of years ago, which was reported in newspapers, but was not published."

"Looking at the paper in e-biomed, it was not possible to see in the figures whether the six cells each had a nucleus. If they did not then it would have been a fragmented embryo and therefore no evidence of any normal development."

Quiet departure

A fragmented embryo is quite common with human eggs. Concerned scientists also point out that ACT could have stained the embryo to reveal its nuclei, but did not.

If it really were an embryo clone then each cell would have had DNA identical to the donor. But such confirmation was not available because ACT did not look.

John Gearhart's resignation from e-biomed was a very public affair. A little later Drs Lovell-Badge and Solter have left a little more quietly, believing the journal has already had enough publicity.

Mary-Ann Leibert, the publisher of e-biomed, has said that she is surprised about the fuss the paper generated.

Move to block human cloning in UK Saturday, 17 November, 2001, 11:35 GMT

UK law intended to ban cloning of human embryos The government is to appeal against a court ruling effectively allowing human cloning - and will introduce legislation on the matter next week.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn said a bill making human cloning a specific criminal offence will be introduced in the House of Lords.

It follows a High Court ruling upholding a claim that human embryos generated by cell nuclear replacement (CNR) fell outside the protection of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

Mr Justice Crane ruled that an organism created by CNR - the process used to produce Dolly the sheep - is not an embryo and therefore not covered by the act.

The ruling meant that the cloning of humans by this method is no longer illegal.

Anti-abortion campaigners the Pro-Life Alliance had brought their case to the High Court to point out the loophole.

In a statement, Mr Milburn said the government would appeal against the High Court decision and also introduce the new legislation.

But some opposition MPs are voicing concern that the government is over-reacting and should wait until the appeal is heard and enact a new law at the normal pace.

UK law was intended to ban reproductive cloning - the creation of human babies by cloning - but permit strictly licensed experiments on cloned cells to develop treatments for degenerative diseases.

Since the court ruling, controversial Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori has already said he is making plans to come to Britain to start cloning embryos.

Total opposition

He has said that even if emergency legislation is brought in to reinstate the ban, he hoped there would be enough time for him to create cloned embryos and implant them in the meantime.

The government has consistently outlined its total opposition to human reproductive cloning.

And Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, has described Dr Antinori's claims of imminent human cloning as "not credible".

"It is almost impossible that Dr Antinori would find collaborators, eggs, embryos and women willing to be implanted in the time available before the legal situation is clarified," he has said.

"On safety grounds alone, any doctor attempting to create a pregnancy using a cloned embryo would not be acting ethically and would be liable for GMC censure and possibly even charges of assault."

Test tube holds a trillion computers Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 19:01 GMT DNA is a natural carrier of information By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble

A computer so small that a trillion of its kind fit into a test tube has been developed by researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.

The nanocomputer consists of DNA and DNA-processing enzymes, both dissolved in a liquid.

The inventors believe it could ultimately lead to a device capable of processing DNA inside the human body, finding abnormalities and creating healing drugs.

In the medium term, it could be turned into a tool capable of speeding up the currently labour intensive job of DNA sequencing.

From salesmen to genomes

DNA sequencing is part of the task of cracking the genetic code of interesting organisms as diverse as the pneumonia bug, the tomato and the human body to discover more about the way they function.

Professor Ehud Shapiro, head of the Weizmann team, says the DNA computer is an automaton, completing its work without human intervention at each stage of processing.

"Today it is limited to processing DNA which is synthetically designed. In the future it could process any DNA molecules," he told BBC News Online.

The machine's input, output and software program are all DNA molecules.

The Israeli team reads the output of the computer by running the liquid through an electrophoretic gel - the same process that produces the characteristic black and white bands of a DNA fingerprint.

Previous efforts

DNA computing took a leap forwards in 1994 when Leonard Adleman of the University of Southern California used DNA to solve a problem commonly known as the travelling salesman problem.

This problem sets the goal of working out the fastest way of visiting a given set of destinations.

Professor Adleman, co-inventor of the RSA encryption scheme which protects most secure transactions on the internet today, was exploiting the advantages of DNA computing over conventional silicon.

DNA stores a massive amount of data in a small space. Its effective density is roughly 100,000 times greater than modern hard disks. And while a desktop PC concentrates on doing one task at a time very quickly, billions of DNA molecules in a jar will attack the same problem billions of times over.

Professor Shapiro and his team have taken a different approach.

Their goal was not to harness the power of biological computing to solve weighty mathematical problems, but to build a nanoscale computer which takes naturally occurring information-bearing biological molecules such as DNA as an input.

Their success in creating a nanomachine that works on synthetically produced short DNA strands is a huge step towards this goal.

Mathematical inspiration

DNA computing research was inspired by the similarity between the way DNA works and the operation of a theoretical device known as a Turing machine and named after the British mathematician Alan Turing.

"Turing machines process information and store them as a sequence, or list of symbols, which is very naturally related to the way biological machinery works," Professor Shapiro said.

The nanomachine devised by his team is a special case of the Turing machine: a two-state, two-symbol automaton.

It distinguishes between two symbols, like the zeroes and ones of a conventional electronic computer.

The Israeli team's DNA computer is described in more detail in the journal Nature.

Traces of GM Crop found in Wild Maize NZ Herald 30 Nov 2001

Scientists from the US have found that wild maize grown in a remote area of Mexico has been contaminated by GM corn.

Environmentalists called for an immediate global moratorium on growing GM crops in other countries.

Mexico banned planting transgenic maize in 1998 but it is still imported from the US. The closest area with GM corn to the contaminated crop is 100 km away.

The scientists from the University of California at Berkeley said in the journal Nature that the contamination could have occurred before the moratorium.

Huge rise in Caesarean births Friday, 26 October, 2001, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK

Many obstetricians think the Caesarean rate is too high The largest and most comprehensive study into Caesarean births in the UK has revealed that one in five are by Caesarean section.

It also highlighted a wide variety in the rate of Caesarean births throughout the UK.

The study, carried out by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on behalf of the Department of Health, involved an audit of every maternity unit in England and Wales over a three-month period between May and July of this year.


The results will be used by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) to devise clinical guidelines on Caesarean deliveries and to develop the National Service Framework for Children.

Thirty years ago just 3% of babies were born by Caesarean section in the UK.

The World Health Organisation recommends a Caesarean rate of between 10% and 15%.

Of all Caesareans carried out in England and Wales the main reasons included fetal distress (22%), lack of progression during labour (20%), previous Caesarean (14%) and a breech baby (11%).

More than 60% of all Caesarean sections carried out in England and Wales were classed as an emergency procedure.

Up to 7% of all Caesareans were performed for no specific medical reason, so raising fears that many women are opting for the surgical procedure to fit in with busy lifestyles.

Health minister Jacqui Smith welcomed the report: "The audit shows that there are significant variations in the Caesarean section rate in different parts of the country and among different sections of the population.

"Some of these variations may be due to women having more choice about their maternity care and childbirth but many are too great to be explained by choice alone and we need to know more.

"The next stage of the research will look at why these variations exist and will assess the best way to tackle inequalities in the system."

'Informed decisions'

Obstetricians are concerned at the high rate of Caesareans and want to raise awareness among women about the risks.

Professor Bill Dunlop, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians, said: "We know the Caesarean rate has been on the increase over the last decade and we all need to understand the implications of this.

"Women, midwives and doctors still need more information about the chance of complications arising from this major abdominal surgery so that women can make informed decisions about their delivery."

Complications include hysterectomy, post-natal depression and even death.

Other factors contributing to the high increase in the number of Caesarean births included the size of the hospital, the availability of a neo-natal intensive care unit and the number of midwives on duty.

The audit showed that while the majority of units provided one midwife per woman in labour, in 5% of units only one midwife was allocated for up to three women.

Earlier this year the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called for the number of Caesarean births to be cut, after it was revealed that in some UK hospitals the rate of Caesarean births was as high as 40%.


The National Childbirth Trust (NCT), which participated in the study, believes the reasons for the increase in the number of Caesarean births are complicated.

But Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the NCT, said there was no evidence to suggest that a Caesarean section rate above 8% did anything more for neo-natal survival.

Her colleague Mary Newburn said: "Having a Caesarean section does not mean a painfree birth.

"One of the things that is often said is that if you have a vaginal birth you have the pain before the baby, and if you surgery you have the pain afterwards.

"If you have major abdominal surgery there can be complications, and that is not something that people should discount lightly."

Monsanto antibiotic resistance marker patent Nov 2001

[email protected]

Since September 11, with public attention focused on terror attacks and the war in Afghanistan, White House operatives have done their best to: - sabotage stringent safety testing of genetically engineered (GE) foods and crops in the WTO Codex Alimentarius negotiations in Vancouver; - pressed Congress forward for "Fast Track" Presidential negotiating authority to enable Bush to expand the power of the WTO and spread Free Trade fundamentalism throughout the Americas; - inserted language into the Fast Track bill that would ban mandatory labeling of gene-altered foods and the use of the precautionary principle; - increased pressure on the EU to lift its moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs); - and threatened Thailand and other nations seeking to ban or label GE crops. (See OCA's website for details on these stories and other news items referred to in this issue).

Monsanto, meanwhile, has tightened its stranglehold over the agbiotech and seed sector. The company in April was awarded a wide-ranging, controversial patent from the US Patent office on all antibiotic resistant marker genes (found in nearly all GMO crops), and continues to move forward to gain a similar monopoly patent on Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a vector (sort of a cellular taxi) used widely in gene-splicing. Monsanto is also requiring strict licensing and royalty agreements for scientists carrying out research on the genetic structure or genome of rice-for which the company holds a patent. (See

On the intimidation front, Monsanto continues to press legal charges against several hundred North American farmers for the "crime" of saving their seeds without paying a royalty payment to Monsanto. After gaining a precedent setting court conviction against Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser in March, unjustly accused of growing Roundup Ready canola which had actually drifted onto his fields from adjoining farms growing GE crops, Monsanto set up a toll-free "snitch line" in Canada, advertised on radio stations, for farmers to "turn in" their seed-saving neighbors. After protests the snitch line was disconnected. A similar snitch line was set up in the US several years ago.

Greenpeace attacks Monsanto's Biopiracy Plans

From: "Patricia Cuonzo" <[email protected]

Bonn/London, 22 Oct. 2001 ã Greenpeace today accused the agribusiness giant Monsanto of seeking to monopolise one of the worldôs main food crops, soya (wild and cultivated varieties) which originates from China. China is regarded as the centre of diversity for soya with more 6000 existing wild varieties.

At the start of the United Nations (U.N.) Conference on Biodiversity this week in Bonn, Germany, Greenpeace revealed Monsantoôs application for a patent, which would grant the company an exclusive right on soy plants, their seeds and progeny with high yield traits. Monsanto claims rights to a natural gene sequence discovered in wild plants originating from China. This sequence is directly linked to yield characteristics of the soybeans. The patent application (1) was filed simultaneously in over a hundred countries, including the US and countries in Europe.

"Monsanto is a ruthless biopirate. The company tries to hijack the genetic resources of a major food crop - basing their claim on a discovery of a gene sequence found in nature. Once this gene sequence is identified even in wild plant, Monsanto has an exclusive right to profit from it," said Sze Ping Lo, Genetic Engineering campaigner for Greenpeace China. õAs 90% of the worldôs wild soya is growing in China, the patent would have large scale consequences. Chinese scientists were shocked when Greenpeace informed them of the applications.æ

The patent, blocking both farmers and researchers from freely accessing the soy with the high yield trait, has not yet been approved. The European Patent Office in Munich has raised doubts about the patent in its initial evaluation. However, both in Europe and in the USA numerous patents, regarded as cases of biopiracy by Greenpeace, have been granted.

"This case demonstrates how corporations like Monsanto are plundering nature," said Christoph Then, Greenpeace expert on patents. "Patent law is privatising the foundations of life on this planet. As soon as genes are identified and described they can be declared 'inventions' by the companies. We are urging the delegates of the UN Conference to send a clear signal opposing industry-controlled monopolies on biodiversity.æ

The UN Conference participants are aiming to agree on a system of fair access and benefit sharing arrangements regarding the use of biological diversity. Participating delegations represent more than 180 member countries of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, one of the main achievements of the U.N. Earth Summit of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

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(1) Patent WO 00/18963 was registered in 1999 with the Patent Cooperation Treaty in Geneva

FEATURE-Bio-pirates stalk Borneo tribes' treasure trove By Patrick Chalmers

NIAH, Malaysia, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Abang Anak Raba never went to medical school. He never even went to school. But what he knows about Sarawak's plants could be a worth a fortune to Western drugs firms.

Walking in hot, humid forest near his Iban longhouse south of Niah, Abang stops often to slice off tree bark or pick a leaf, detailing native cures for high blood pressure, diarrhea and childhood bed-wetting with the nonchalance of a family doctor.

"If you were sick in the jungle in the old days, there was no hospital, no clinic, only the traditional ways," said the 70-year-old father of four, whose longhouse lies 440 km (270 miles) northeast of Kuching, capital of Malaysia's Sarawak state on Borneo island.

"During those times, I actually liked to follow the old people. That's why when I was sick and in pain, I knew which medicine was for what," he said, his leathery features crinkling at the memory.

Widespread attention to Sarawak's bintangor tree, a derivative of which has been used to prepare an anti-HIV/AIDS treatment undergoing U.S. clinical trials, has prompted non-governmental organisations to sound the alarm.

Mark Bujang of the Borneo Resources Institute says the East Malaysian state's natives are in danger of having their indigenous savvy ripped off by so-called "bio-pirates".

"It's not easy for the people to understand all this. The concept of bio-piracy is very vague to them," he said.


"For local people, the resources are shared among them. If you want a medicine, then it's freely given."

He says his institute wants Sarawak's multitude of native groups to share in the benefits of any treatments born from what they have known for generations.

Eileen Yen Ee Lee, assistant CEO of the state-led Sarawak Biodiversity Centre, accepts the concerns but adds they may be premature given patchy records of local knowledge.

She points to a 1998 law passed by the richly rain-forested state requiring permits to collect or export plant and animal specimens on pain of fines or imprisonment.

An SBC brochure mentions Sarawak's more than 8,000 types of flowering plants, 2,000 vertebrates and 10,000 invertebrates in 12.3 million hectares (30 million acres) of land.

On the coast, mangrove swamps are busy with crustaceans, plants and insects. Inland, rich rainforests harbour orangutans, giant rafflesia flowers and the malachite green and black Rajah Brooke's Birdwing butterfly.

More important now, Lee said, was writing down just what was known before those who know it have died.

In her experience of visiting Sarawak longhouse communities, young people might identify 10 to 20 trees while their parents' generation often named several hundred.

Knowledge not only of plants and animals but also their medicinal uses was disappearing fast.

"We are looking at the very beginning of a big job."

The SBC has begun its own pilot project to log medical knowledge among the Bidayuh Dayaks whose land surrounds its new offices, 12 miles (20 km) outside the state capital Kuching.

Findings will help Malaysia's efforts to implement the International Convention of Biological Diversity, a pact requiring countries to ensure fair sharing of benefits derived from research and development of genetic resources.

Lee said local populations who chose to record what they knew would be free to keep the data to themselves while boosting their case for any financial or other rewards in the future.

"You have a chip to negotiate. That's about it. The immediate benefit is that you have something to pass to the next generations."

Robert Stuebing, research associate at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, has long researched the wildlife in Borneo's rainforests.


The biologist recalls his own experiences in rainforest species classification, the science of taxonomy, with tales of the bright green, poisonous rock or Rana Hosie frog.

"If you are collecting frogs for a taxonomic survey, you quickly find that unless you put them in separate bags, you'll end up with a lot of dead frogs, except one.

"And you learn that you don't rub your eyes."

He said any one of these animals' various attack and defence mechanisms, be they snake venom or the poisonous skin of an amphibian, might yet yield clues to future medicinal products.

But Stuebing added that biologists, himself included, had been guilty of getting carried away in their claims for rainforests' billion-dollar biotechnology harvest.

That had meant overblown expectations of wealth and a threat to basic research as people retained data they thought might make them millionaires.

"It turned out to be kind of a red herring, not nearly as big a thing as they had everyone believe.

"We're still hearing about the bintangor tree but we are not hearing about the cure."

Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism Tel: 001 (775) 835-6932 PO Box 818 Fax: 001 (775) 835-6934
Wadsworth, NV 89442 Email: [email protected]
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