Friday, September 30, 2016

CRISPR: The kinder, safer, risk-proof version of GMO ?

Hashtag Alerts:  #SmokeScreening  -  #MarketingPloys -   #UnintendedConsequences - #Bioethics - #ArcticApples            #UnregulatedMushrooms - #PolyphenolOxidase - #Fungi - #CRISPR                      

Well, it seems more controversy is brewing over other varieties of Apples by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Company by introducing other varieties as GMO. My point here is not whether the fruit is safe or not, but rather focus on the not so well thought out consequences of editing out the gene which produces something called, "Polyphenol Oxidases" or (PPOs). This is the enzyme which causes browning when you bite into it. Same thing with potatoes or bananas. But while this has been marketed as yucky and disgusting by their own advertising on their website, is this browning really all that bad ? Frankly, humans seem to have an aversion to things being brown. Other consumable products like Sugar or Flour have been promoted with idea that they are only good when they are white (bleached). It would seem this is mostly some sort of handed down cultural flaw humans have invented. Look how humans view each other. I don't really want to go here, but you understand what I mean. It has gone as far as to effect some people of darker colour (whom I admire & jealous of their darker brown skin tone) who go as far as to look more white, even to the point of commercial bleaching products. But let's get back to something important that Okanagan Specialty Fruit Company says about "Polyphenol Oxidase" on their very own website. They admited the benefits of Polyphenol Oxidase in apples. Please take note of the very last two paragraphs of their page which is titled:
"How’d we “make” a nonbrowning apple?"
"What role does PPO play in the plant, you might ask? In some plants, PPO plays a defensive role – for example, tomatoes produce high levels of PPO when attacked by pests or pathogens. In contrast, apples produce very low levels of PPO, and only in very young fruit.  Its presence is probably left over from apples of ages ago, playing no role in today’s apples."   
"I always close my talk with friends with this intriguing sidebar to the story: When eaten by humans, polyphenolics may have health-promoting benefits. For example, phenolics are believed to act as antioxidants, fighting the well-documented damaging effects that oxidation can have on the heart, other organs and throughout the body. Not enough is known yet about phenolics for the health community to suggest a recommended intake amount, as for other vitamins and nutrients such as Vitamin C (the best-known antioxidant), fiber and so on – but they are certainly worth watching!"
There was an article today EcoWatch called, Third GMO Arctic Apple Gets USDA Approval which fired up controversy from many readers who really missed the main point there. This is really all about companies indoctrinating and marketing by further exacerbating the ignorance of the consumer. People creeped out by brown spots on any produce. This was Not about higher yields or built in pesticides. This had zero to do with inserting foreign genes, but rather using a technology called CRISPR which recently Monsanto has acquired the license for. Many mistakenly accused Monsanto as being behind this GMO apple and that is wrong. This admittedly incredible technological tool can be used to either edited out a specific gene or switch it off. In this case the gene that produces Polyphenol Oxidase which cause things to turn brown. But as the Okanagan's website admits, there are potential consequences. This was also brought out by Mycologist, Paul Stamets, who wrote a short article about the article published in Nature where they had published an article titled, "Gene-edited CRISPR mushroom escapes US regulation." The point of the article was that White Button Mushrooms could be engineered with the CRISPR–Cas9 technique, cultivated and sold without any further government oversight. They basically were given a "Get out of Jail Free Card" which allows them to "Pass 'Go' and collect $200." That's monopoly lingo for legal loophole. Not one word on Nature's article on the unintended consequences of this stuff causing an increase with regards pesticides or what would happen in nature if similar species acquired this trait in their own genomes where loss of information would make wild plants vulnerable to disease, infection and insect pests. In other words, we'd see defenseless plants and total collapse of whole plant ecosystems. Not one word. Below is what Mycologist Paul Stamets had to say on this subject.

Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Common white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus)
has been modified to resist browning.
"Note: Although heralded by some scientists as a breakthrough, re: “The research community will be very happy with the news,” says Caixia Gao, a plant biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Institute of ‪#‎Genetics‬ and Developmental ‪#‎Biology‬ in Beijing."  "I am one researcher who does not agree. I strongly recommend caution. Using ‪#‎Crispr‬ gene editing, scientists interfered with polyphenol oxidase (tyrosinase) production to produce a button (Agaricus bisporus) strain that does not brown. What these researchers apparently did not know is that my research has found that this pathway is responsible for many novel antivirals."  
"Mushrooms‬ have developed novel antivirals that protect them, and by extrapolation us. By interfering with this polyphenol pathway, I am concerned that they have defeated the endogenous natural antiviral defenses. What does this mean? Time will tell. I hope this does not lead to new reservoirs of hyper-viruses that can now emerge unchecked by the natural genome. In scientific terms, this could be a big "OOPS" ! The hubris of scientists playing with such powerful technology without consideration of downstream consequences is potentially dangerous. Genes code for many activities. Defeating them for one purpose may cause unforeseen consequences far more important than creating cosmetically beautiful mushrooms that will sell longer in the grocery stores."
These unforeseen consequences have never really seriously be dealt with nor considered when it comes to this irresponsible, "WE aren't going to regulate CRISPR Technology," push which itself is as much based on lack of information as much as the genomes of organisms being edited. But this doesn't seem to bother anybody or at least very few because they basically have little understanding of how seriously complex and sophisticated DNA is in all life forms. As long as it is not a foreign gene being inserted into another organisms, people are willing to give this a pass. Follow any of the comments section under these topics and gross ignorance is on both sides when it comes to knowledge on the potential for harm. Here is a quick video on how CRISPR is supposed to work and potential for mistakes as a result of lack of bioethics.

In an article titled, "Understanding the Unintended Effects of Genetic Manipulation," the online journal 'Nature Institute' gave a number of examples worthy of consideration. Whether it's called genetic engineering or genetic modification or CRISPR gene editing to change an organism, they generally have a specific objective or goal in mind. Often times this involves the motivation of profit which can effect something what we call Bioethics. Monetary motivate always colours everything. Here are a couple of important paragraphs from the Nature Institute's article:
Unintended (or, as I will sometimes say here, "nontarget") effects are those experimental results that appear in addition to or, in some cases, instead of the intended results. Within the scientific literature a variety of virtually synonymous terms and expressions point to such unintended effects of genetic manipulation. Scientists speak of nontarget effects, unexpected effects, unintended consequences, or the pleiotropic effect of the gene. (Pleiotropy means that a gene affects more than one characteristic.) Sometimes a research report will signal unintended effects with a phrase such as, "Surprisingly, we found . . " or "Unexpectedly, the plants . . " An instructive analogy is the common occurrence of drug "side effects." Here, too, the intended effect of the drug is often accompanied by numerous, sometimes harmful, effects arising from the drug's unanticipated action on nontarget tissues or processes.
Seriosuly, many science journals or research papers use such phrases irrespective of the topic or subject matter which reveals a gross lack of understanding on the part of the researcher from the outset. Unfortunately, with such sensitive technology, we don't have the luxury for mistakes here. And I could careless about someone's pride or ambition for attaining celebrity status among this world's elites. The natural world can't afford serious mistakes.
Unintended Effects of Genetic Manipulation in the Scientific Literature
"Of course, such nontarget effects are not always reported in research reports. As Dougherty and Parks (1995) write, 'Organisms that do not perform as expected are discounted as defective or atypical in some way, are not the subject of study, and frequently are not reported in the literature. It is important, therefore, to recognize that most published works represent a selected subset of transgenic organisms that have been produced. These built-in biases have hindered our understanding of how transgene expression impacts the endogenous [host] gene' and, I would add, how the organism as a whole can be affected by the genetic manipulation." 
(Source: Nature Institute)
The other scary thing here is that with this new CRISPR technology, they often ignore epigenetic effects and eventual side effect consequences. I'll post some examples below which have already exposed the seriousness of this ignorance or deliberate turning of a blind eye. But on another positve note, many studies are coming out with information on how Polyphenols are really good and beneficial for people. More on this down below.

You should also know that Okanagan Specialty Fruit Company has provided some research data on testing results with regards their Arctic Apples. The part I was most interested in were effects of immune system mechanisms being shut down and attacked from diseases and insect pests. They claimed there were attacks, but they were negligible. But they also admitted the reason was that conventional Insecticide & Fungicide sprayings were employed. That to me that is still the problem as proper set up of other biological component mechanisms can be utilized to trigger immune responses of the tree's own defenses and encourage beneficial predator insects to control pests and create balance. More and more Vineyard & Winery owners are doing this all the time. With this Pholyphenol producing gene removed or shut down, there appears no way for soil micro-organism components to trigger positive epigenetic responses to the tree's immune system.
Okanagan Fruit Company - Petition for Determination of Nonregulated Status: ArcticTM Apple (Malus x domestica) Events GD743 and GS784
The Role & Purpose of  Polyphenol oxidase (PPO) as found in Nature

I appreciate ahead of time that many folks will take acception to the use of the term role or purpose, but there is no way to get around that. This browning effect is marketed from a big agribusiness viewpoint to the average consumer who generally does not do their own personal homework. This enzyme is advertised as an evil thing that simply makes some fruits and vegetables look Yucky. Seriously, many of the GMO proponents (including Okanagan) have actually used the word "Yucky"! The Arctic Apple folks themselves being the very one's in the promotion of this product on their own website. So to highlight, the message here once again is, "nature is flawed and Biotechs can fix the flaws." So how important exactly is Polyphenol oxidase (PPO) to the Earth's plant ecosystem world ? You'll be amazed and it will shine an unwelcomed spotlight on the CRISPR defense team.
Polyphenol oxidase as a biochemical seed defense mechanism
Abstract: "Seed dormancy and resistance to decay are fundamental survival strategies, which allow a population of seeds to germinate over long periods of time. Seeds have physical, chemical, and biological defense mechanisms that protect their food reserves from decay-inducing organisms and herbivores. Here, we hypothesize that seeds also possess enzyme-based biochemical defenses, based on induction of the plant defense enzyme, polyphenol oxidase (PPO), when wild oat (Avena fatua L.) caryopses and seeds were challenged with seed-decaying Fusarium fungi. These studies suggest that dormant seeds are capable of mounting a defense response to pathogens. The pathogen-induced PPO activity from wild oat was attributed to a soluble isoform of the enzyme that appeared to result, at least in part, from proteolytic activation of a latent PPO isoform. PPO activity was also induced in wild oat hulls (lemma and palea), non-living tissues that cover and protect the caryopsis. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that seeds possess inducible enzyme-based biochemical defenses arrayed on the exterior of seeds and these defenses represent a fundamental mechanism of seed survival and longevity in the soil. Enzyme-based biochemical defenses may have broader implications since they may apply to other defense enzymes as well as to a diversity of plant species and ecosystems."
Wow, how many of you knew this about seed dormancy and defense mechanisms still being activated even while the seed technically is asleep ? I didn't. Take away those valuable PPOs and clearly there is a significant reduction in length of dormancy or even viability. 

image -

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense L.)
Polyphenol oxidase affects normal nodule development in red clover
Conclusion: "All these data point to a major change in oxido-reduction status of plants lacking normal high level of PPO, resulting in destabilized redox pathways. Lack of PPO in red clover plants does not have an obvious effect on plants grown under optimal, stress-free N2-fixation conditions. However, the normal WT biochemistry, chemical composition, and developing morphology/anatomy of nodules were significantly altered."
Red Clover is a forage plant in the bean or legume family and very important in nitrogen fixation in soils. On the roots of such plants there are root nodules where beneficial bacteria help transfer atmospheric nitrogen into something solid and available to plants. So taking this into consideration that Polyphenol Oxidase (PPO)  belongs to the oxidoreductase class of enzymes, these researchers wanted to know exactly what effect, if any, would the lack of plant PPO have on the nodule’s redox potential, normal nodule development and ultimately on N2-fixation ? Take note of the term, "redox potential" and it's definition. This plant redox signaling is  the complex interface between the redox and hormone-signaling pathways that allow precise control of plant growth and immune system defense in response to metabolic triggers and environmental constraints and/or cues. These pathways contribute to specific signaling systems in plant cells that convey information to the nucleus to regulate gene expression. This was something I wrote about on the effects of root colonization by two different species of the same type of mycorrhizal fungi, Trichoderma virens & Trichoderma harzianum for which there are inumerable beneficial epigenetic triggers that can be signaled and switched on within their host plant's genes governing the immune system. To sum up, there were distinct changes to both wild type Red Clover and the low PPO, GM Red Clover with or without these PPOs.
Novel Roles for the Polyphenol Oxidase Enzyme in Secondary Metabolism and the Regulation of Cell Death in Walnuts
Take special note of how silencing the gene expression for PPO allows not only facilitated pathogen attacks but also cell death in the leaves of Black Walnut that has had it's Polyphenol Oxidase gene silenced.
Image - American Society of Plant Biologists

Silencing of jrppo1 induces a lesion mimic phenotype
A, Wild-type walnut leaf.
B, PPO-silenced line, early season (June). Inset, magnified view
 of necrotic lesions from abaxial side of leaf.

, PPO-silenced line, late season (September). The development
of the necrotic lesions was not associated with the presence
 of any detectable pathogen.
Walnut (Juglans regia) produces a rich array of phenolic compounds and possesses a single PPO enzyme, rendering it an ideal model to study PPO. We generated a series of PPO-silenced transgeni "c walnut lines that display less than 5% of wild-type PPO activity. Strikingly, the PPO-silenced plants developed spontaneous necrotic lesions on their leaves in the absence of pathogen challenge (i.e. a lesion mimic phenotype)."
Antisense downregulation of polyphenol oxidase results in enhanced disease susceptibility.
"As previously discussed, many PPO genes are up-regulated upon pathogen challenge, and overexpression of a potato (Solanum tuberosum) PPO in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) resulted in decreased susceptibility to Pseudomonas syringae pv tomato (Li and Steffens, 2002). Likewise, silencing of PPOs in tomato led to increased disease susceptibility (Thipyapong et al., 2004). Similarly, overexpression of PPO genes in tomato and hybrid aspen (Populus tremula × Populus alba) resulted in increased insect resistance, and silencing of PPOs resulted in increased susceptibility to insect herbivory."
 For the moment this is enough info on what happens when the gene expression is deliberately silenced or edited out of a plants genome and the consequences of potential increase of using both Insecticides & Fungicides in the absence of fully functional immune systems in plants. I'll post more as necessary in the future.
So what are Polyphenols and how they work us ? (Video only six minutes)
So why should human beings care whether or not apples have PPOs present in their DNA ? Because there are a number of health benefits to Polyphenol Oxidase or PPOs because they act as good antioxidants as even Okanagan Specialty Fruit Company admitted on their website. Take just one example of the GMO Arctic Granny Smith Apple they've created. Granny Smith Apples are excellent for gut health. Of all apples they are one of the longest keepers in storage. They mostly go through the small intestine undigested as far as fiber and other properties, but in the large intestine ferment and help produce many beneficial gut flora population increases.
"An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but – as an added bonus – Granny Smith apples will greet good gut bacteria with open arms. And, that’s because, researchers recently uncovered evidence that this tart green variety is superior to other types of apples in building a community of healthy bacteria in the colon. This is due to their high content of non-digestible compounds, including fiber and polyphenols." 
Granny Smith apples improve gut bacteria and reduce inflammation
Here is a list of other studies on the importance of Polyphenol Oxidase PPOs to human health benefits:

What's the best kind of Apple Juice or Cider you look for in the stores ? Is it not the brown cloudy variety (loaded with Polyphenols). Guess what, new research suggests that a daily glass of cloudy apple juice may decrease body fat in obese people, compared to another control beverage, with greater effects noted in individuals with certain genetic profiles. This is actually a win win for people interested not only in health, but a far better tasting product.
“This is the first intervention study that addressed the question whether a polyphenol-rich cloudy apple juice shows bioactivity on obesity-associated biomarkers also including the potential role of genetic polymorphisms regarding a potential diet–gene interaction,”   
“Although cloudy apple juice compared to the control beverage failed to modulate plasma parameters related to the obesity phenotype, cloudy apple juice induced a significant reduction in the percent body fat in obese men.” 

image - Naturopathic Currents

If you think CRISPR's usage will stop with plants, think again.
The video below reveals the goal of doing this with human beings

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Industrial Managed Synthetic Forests justified because Nature is flawed & poorly designed

Somewhere a Biomimeticist  just fell off a chair & it wasn't Janine Benyus

I'm totally convinced that if the biotechnology industry has its way,  millions of acres of native forests around the world will be bulldozed or steam rolled down and replaced with plantations of genetically engineered (GE) trees. Here in Sweden, the main leader in this backroom mandate is SweTree with it's governmental blessing.  Here in Sweden in these tree plantations, there are essentially no other understory plants (can't blame Earthworms), insects, birds, or wildlife, just sterile rows upon rows of cloned synthetic trees growing at accelerated rates in dead, lifeless soil. The typical reasons for genetically altering these trees with unnatural characteristics is to have the ability to kill insects, tolerate colder temperatures, resist toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and grow the trees at a much faster rate to be harvested in 20 years as opposed to 100 years. But what is really the purpose behind reingineering forest trees ? Well, the Biotechnology Industry wants to market these designer trees with a variety of traits that will increase their income-generating capacity (otherwise known as Patents) at least over the short-term. For the Timber Industry they want trees which have immediate commercial value with specific tailored characteristics, as well as speeding up the harvest process. Here in Sweden a landowner does not want to wait 100+ years to harvest big old growth trees. They want harvest in 20 years or less. 

The Biotech company SweTree in collusion with the paper industry in Sweden, are engineering trees to have lower lignin. This natural polymer must be removed from wood pulp before the pulp can be made into paper, which is an expensive part of the process. Ever drive past a paper mill ? The stench is horrible and results from the plethora of chemicals they use. The problem is, lignin is what gives trees their structural integrity and allows trees to withstand strong in wind storms and any other harsh weather conditions. Previously I wrote about one notorious hurricane type storm which hit Southern Sweden that the Swedes called Gudrun Storm in 2005 which blew down these trees everywhere by the millions. So these Low-lignin trees are weaker and less able to withstand these powerful environmental stresses. They also do not optimally nourish important fungi once they are inserted into the soil. Also when the tree dies, these low-lignin trees decompose faster, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere more quickly, which will also contribute further to climate change.

Image by Nicklas Elmrin (2005)
About a year and a half before I moved to Sweden and got married, my future wife was visiting me in San Diego California from Sweden when the Gudrun hurricane storm hit on January 8 & 9 2005. Thousands of hectares of industrial plantation trees were flattened much like the scenes at Mount St Helens in 1980 in Washington State. In the photograph below here you can see a hurried attempt to salvage log as many fallen trees as possible. Remember, these are not normal trees, they degrade much faster.
Images - VisionDivision

The Storm Gudrun 2005, Salvage logging, 
Byholma, Sweden

There are many other incredible reasons why GMO plantation Timber is a dumb worthless idea. One major scary thing is the ease with which these engineered unnatural flaws (inserted transgenic gene trait) could get out into the wild and forever effect forested ecosystems. These longer lived trees are not like the conventional annual GMO crops which only live a few months. These forest trees live for years and despite the propaganda out there that nothing will go wrong or escape into the wild, you cannot control where these tree's manufactured pollen and seeds end up outdoors. It's impossible. But there is more to this subject and it has to do with money. When money is the underlying motivation, it will always colour the scientific research. Recently an article came out in the online journal, "The Register Guard" on the subject where Industrial Forestry claim to have the science behind their logging. No surprising, but then all corporate entities, biotechnology included, claim science is on their side. Actually they do have a science on their side. Anybody can purchase and pay for any type of scientist to back their claims. The tobacco industry has always done this in the past as well as other industries. Many pro-science types have a hard time differentiating between good and bad science. To many folks belonging to the "culture of science" gang, putting down any science makes you anti-science. Not true, but let's get back to this article. Here is the first paragraph and the link:
"Recent commentaries on public forest management in The Register-Guard by timber industry lobbyists say our forests should be managed with “science.” Their “science” comes from colleges of forestry influenced by timber corporations’ donations to see forests primarily as money, emphasizing clearcut logging and replanting, riparian logging, salvage logging, wildlife logging, fire prevention logging, forest health logging, restoration logging and — the latest forest science scam — logging for water."
Forest industry’s ‘science’ means more logging
I love the last science justification used for the need of increased logging, " . . and the latest forest science scam — logging for water." Somewhere, (UC Merced Hydrological Engineer, Roger C. Bales), just fell off a chair. What actually got me really rolling on this subject in the first place was a debate over at the California Chaparral Institute's Facebook page where this linked article on industrial timber influencing forest management policies was being discussed. Many of the Timber Industry's ideas go in direct conflict with how nature wants to be managed. The industrial side claims they have science behind them. Disagree and you are labeled anti-science. All sides [industrial & environmental] insist only they have the claimed science, but not all science is good and much of it is bad. Seriously, look at the sad state of our planet. We wouldn't be having these discussions if science actually worked the way the definitions we are force fed say it works. Science working responsibly and effectively is dependent on either the right or wrong people and what motivates them. It's called bias. 

image -
But take my example of a court trial once again and people's definition of 'evidence'. When a defendant in a court trial loses his/her case, many commenters will insist it was because the defendent's side had no evidence. Absolutely not true. When a court case begins, both prosecution and defense lawyers come in with their briefcases full of evidence. During the court trial process both sides present their evidence. But what caused the guy to lose his case is that the evidence presented by his legal team to the jury was not compelling. Same exact thing with Science. There is a lot of good science out there that does not have a bank vault behind it or the dirty backroom political deals to push it through. But there are many Scientists who truly do know and have a grasp on how a forest should be managed and that the potential for profit is still there if properly managed. The problem for concept of ecology management is that the wealth gets redistributed and put another way, the prevailing business orthodoxy which presently monopolizes the industry doesn't like it. What got me interested in finishing this post was a comment by a Forester who is a regular commenter over there on the Chaparral Institute's pages. He is almost always at odds with many of the environmental issues brought up and discussed. Logically & not surprisingly he takes sides with the industrial worldview which supports his bread and butter needs. I get that. But here is what he said, btw, his name is irrevelvant.
"Different people have different definitions of what a healthy forest and or eco system is....."
Supervisory Natural Resource Specialist at USDA Forest Service, Weiser, Idaho
Yeah, there sure is. Remember the infamous lawyered legal excuse, "It depends on what your definition of "Is" is" ? We live in a time where definition shell games are a strategy for debate. For some people forests are a raw canvas to re-engineer for pure short term profit and for others the same forests are a biodiverse ecosystem which is a long term complex part of what keeps life on the Earth functioning like a well oiled machine. I'll give just one industrial example of massive land restoration which fails big time. China for some time has spent a lot of time, money, and manpower effort to reforest many remote western areas, but under an industrial monoculture business model. It's the business motivation that dooms the projects from the start. Chinese culture is obsessed with business. Here in Göteborg Sweden the Chinese tourism is huge. Tour buses all summer long. What I found comical last week were a large group of Chinese tourists walking through central Göteborg and taking many many photographs before reaching the bus. But these were not normal tourist photos, they were photographing store front businesses and how the Swedish businesses arrange their merchandise display. Restoring nature should not be about making money, that will eventually come, but patience is required and that's where the problems lay. And that is where the big business Biotechs believe they can provide answers. For business short term yes, but for nature long term no. Without explaining much more, you can read about the challenges of monculture forestry below.
Forests from an Industrial Perspective -> China
(Photos by Fangyuan Hua, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs)

"China’s Grain-for-Green Program, the world’s largest reforestation effort, has converted 69.2 million acres of cropland and barren scrubland back to forest. Yet, the program overwhelmingly leads to the planting of monoculture forests, falling short of restoring the biodiversity of native forests — and can even harm existing wildlife. The graphic above shows the composition of (clockwise from upper left) a mixed forest, a native forest, a eucalyptus forest, cropland, a bamboo forest and a Japanese cedar forest."
Princeton University: Seeing the forest for the trees: World's largest reforestation program overlooks wildlife 
Good Responsible Scientists have found out how the Natural World wants to be managed
Keep in mind that these things you can click on and read below have been known for years and they've been rejected by industrial science. Biodiversity is the key.
Higher levels of multiple ecosystem services are found in forests with more tree species
Photo: P. Turander/Azote

A new study shows that mixed forests compared to monocultures provide higher levels of multiple ecosystem services, including timber production.  (August 2013)
Abstract: "Forests are of major importance to human society, contributing several crucial ecosystem services. Biodiversity is suggested to positively influence multiple services but evidence from natural systems at scales relevant to management is scarce. Here, across a scale of 400,000 km2, we report that tree species richness in production forests shows positive to positively hump-shaped relationships with multiple ecosystem services. These include production of tree biomass, soil carbon storage, berry production and game production potential. For example, biomass production was approximately 50% greater with five than with one tree species. In addition, we show positive relationships between tree species richness and proxies for other biodiversity components. Importantly, no single tree species was able to promote all services, and some services were negatively correlated to each other. Management of production forests will therefore benefit from considering multiple tree species to sustain the full range of benefits that the society obtains from forests." - Forestry and nature conservation can benefit from higher tree species diversity 
It's incredible. Much of this information has been known for some years now, but Corporate Business utilizing industrial technological innovation has taken the science of discovery, manipulating it, abusing it and misusing it for profit. And Why ? Impatience. Take a look at what one of the co-authors says here: 
"Different tree species provide different services. For example, the amount of spruce trees was linked to high growth rates, the amount of pine to berry production, while higher carbon storage was found in areas with high abundance of birch" 
Fredrik Moberg, co-author (August 2013)
Astonishing. Of all the places in the world, this research was done in the country of Sweden in SweTree's backyard by Stockholm University along with the University, Forestry Research Institute and the Swedish Forestry. Corporate Business interests will always trump evidence for scientific sustainable ecology. But here's the real killer and what prevents industrial science and politician bedfellows from grasping onto this:
"Ecosystems provide a wealth of benefits to human society, and the provision of such ecosystem services depends fundamentally on functions performed by organisms. This has led scientists to enquire how the diversity and composition of communities may regulate ecosystem functions. A large body of evidence has established that species diversity promotes ecosystem functions under experimental conditions. There are, however, many exceptions to the positive diversity–function relationship. In addition, most experiments have been conducted at limited temporal or spatial scales."
And pay real particular attention now to this last sentence. It references those who actually make the forest managment policies and what a valuable tool this research could be. Unfortunately if scientists aren't talking short term $ or £ or €, they're most often going to be ignored by policy makers. But still the research here is invaluable for decision making when it comes to forest management policies.
 "It is thus uncertain if conclusions based on results from these studies can be extended to the scales relevant to policy makers"
Are Mixed Tropical Tree Plantations More Resistant to Drought than Monocultures?

Schematic animation - MDPI, Basel, Switzerland  (2015)
"Schematic profile diagram of trees growing in (a) monoculture (Cedrela odorata) and (b) mixed species plots (from left to right, Luehea seemannii, Anacardium excelsum, Cedrela odorata and Tabebuia rosea). The trees are drawn accounting for their species specific natural canopy and root structure in scale of the height and rooting depth as measured in the plantation in Sardinilla, Panama. The better canopy stratification and root niche differentiation is visible in the mixed species stands (b) compared to the uniformity in monoculture (a)." 
(June 2015) (Source)
 Remember when several Researchers revealed to us how Trees - Shrubs & other Plants Talk (communicate) ???
Illustration - - Science & Technology
The online journal, "The Scientist" headline read:
"Plant Talk: Plants communicate and interact with each other, both above ground and below, in surprisingly subtle and sophisticated ways."
"Researchers are unearthing evidence that, far from being unresponsive and uncommunicative organisms, plants engage in regular conversation. In addition to warning neighbors of herbivore attacks, they alert each other to threatening pathogens and impending droughts, and even recognize kin, continually adapting to the information they receive from plants growing around them. Moreover, plants can “talk” in several different ways: via airborne chemicals, soluble compounds exchanged by roots and networks of threadlike fungi, and perhaps even ultrasonic sounds. Plants, it seems, have a social life that scientists are just beginning to understand."  
So an ecosystem is an interdependent communal group of living cooperating organisms ??? I've always liked the network concept that Dr. Simard described, an “internet” of roots. Hence, the name "Earth's Internet" as I've titled this blog. Now notice below here that maple trees ability to communicate has been known for decades, but the teachings of the prevailing industrial scientific orthodoxy got in the way.
"In 1983, plant scientists Jack Schultz and Ian Baldwin reported that intact maple tree saplings ramped up their defense systems when exposed to herbivore-damaged maples. The injured trees, they suggested, were alerting neighbors to the presence of a predator by releasing chemical signals into the air. But the plant research community didn’t buy it. The results were difficult to replicate, critics pointed out, and many questioned how a trait that benefits neighboring plants but not the emitter could be evolutionarily stable. By the late 1980s, “most ecologists felt these ideas had been debunked and that it was time to move on,” says Karban."
 Wow, isn't this wonderful and aren't you grateful that these responsible Scientists didn't cave in to the critics ? Apparently the responsible research persisted despite the fact that, “researchers who doubt that plants would have evolved to be altruistic have ruminated on the old question of the evolutionary origins of the phenomenon” (translation =  Industrial ideologically driven Scientific Orthodoxy stood in the way and wasted valuable time in our understanding of how forests really work which in turn put on hold viable forest management strategies) and “the evolutionary explanation for volatile communication among plants remains open to debate” which basically means that if the Industrial Scientific Orthodoxy is not a happy camper on this, then responsible scientific research hits a road block. Frankly, there is no reason for either side of these origins debates to bicker over how it evolved or how it was created. The fact is, people should simply observe the phenomenon for what it is and jump head first into biomimetics in formulating a schematic blueprint on how you can more easily and efficiently manage a forested or any other plant community ecosystem. But wait there is more:
"Individual compounds are the words," says Jarmo Holopainen, an ecologist at the University of Eastern Finland, "and these words are combined to make specific sentences." Unfortunately, he adds, researchers know little about what these volatile signals mean to a plant and how they are perceived. "We’ve made very little progress in deciphering this chemical code." 
Source: The Scientist - "Plant Talk"
Wow, I love the references here to the informational content of the chemical compounds being likened to words, then individual chemicals working together being likened to sentences, etc. Like the concept of plants talking (which ticked off the ideologues), so too does the subject of Epigenetic Mechanisms. Epigenetics where geneticists often refer not only to whole sentences, but also paragraphs and epigenetic switches in genes which can be either turned 'on' or 'off' which themselves are being likened to punctuation within whole paragraphs. Whole paragraphs themselves being likened to a specific gene working within the context of other deliberately selected non-coding genes (formerly 'Junk DNA' which itself was a label to smokescreen scientific ignorance of their function and purpose within the genome). Punctuation (genetic switches in genes being turned 'on' or 'off') can dictate how the meaning of informational content in the sentences within the paragraph can be altered to have completely different meaning. Hence the term gene expression comes into play. This is nothing more than a living organisms DNA & sensory mechanisms responding to environmental cues.

Illustrative animation from
I love the illustration above. For me it represents how environmental cues can influence how the genetic make up of any living organism's genome will respond accordingly to changes in the environment. This has zero to do with random mutations being acted upon by Tinker Bell's magic wand, otherwise known as natural selection. This infection of most of DNA being junk has held back science for years when things could have gone forward. It becomes understandable why Geneticist David Suzuki's colleagues blasted him because of his cautious stand on genetic engineering. Here is what David Suzuki said regarding his colleagues mind set: 
In discussions I’ve had with my fellow geneticists, they often say “listen Suzuki we are only talking about DNA; DNA is DNA, what difference does it make what organism it comes from. We pull it out of this organism put it into another, it’s just DNA”.
 Then back in December 2014, we were all treated to those stupid silly Intelligence Squared Debates: Genetically Modified Foods - Winners & Losers Where UC Davis GMO defender Alison Van Eenennaam used the same primative worldview of DNA being basically nothing more than Legos or Tinker Toys. Tell me Biotech geneticists and engineers aren't influenced the DNA being mostly Junk Dogma ?:
"We're just talking about genes, genes are genes, you take one gene one thing and you put it with some other genes"
What a pity epigenetics isn't being taken more seriously. Pity that these Biotech scientists don't have the same worldview on the amazing complexity and sophistication of the genome as Scott Rothbart, Ph.D., assistant professor at Van Andel Research Institute:                       
           “Many of the key players orchestrating DNA methylation had previously been characterized, but what we didn’t fully realize before this study is that they all work together in an elegant way,”
For those who are disturbed by this idea of an irresponsible worldview of nature being flawed and badly design in need of intellectual human intervention, Carl Sagan had a great description about the practice of astrology when compared to astronomy. I'll change the words a bit, but you can see what he said from the link in his name above from YouTube:
"There are two ways to view the natural world. The way it really is or the way we might wish it to be."
The statement applies equally well for both sides of the worldview debate who incessantly fight & bicker about each side's religious and political ideology which results in nothing getting absolutely being accomplished but wasted time. Such bickering does nothing but throw up road blocks to real sustainable technologies and policies innovated by means of Biomimetics or Biomimicry. Nature is not flawed, it's not badly designed. But it is off track and humans derailed it. This epigenetic change can be either a positive or a negative. Fortunately humans have the ability to control the positive. Sadly, thus far Humans have refused to do so. Below is a nice interview with Forest Ecologist Suzanne Simard who has shown how trees use a network of soil fungi to communicate their needs and in coming to the aid of neighboring plants. Now she’s warning that threats like clear-cutting and climate change could disrupt these critical networks. No kidding!
Yale Environment 360: Exploring How and Why Trees ‘Talk’ to Each Other
But now finally, what about the later part of my post's title ? What about Nature being flawed & poorly designed ???
I may have placed those words in the title, but it's certainly not my belief. For decades now, Academia has had those well known celebrity types who have claimed to represent and speak for Science utilizing an irresponsible evolutionary argument against rightwing Fundies called, (click link: "Argument from Poor Design") which has done more to harm nature than it has in hammering fundies. The flaw itself with this irresponsible argument has been to instill in many a college student over the decades a worldview of designs found in nature as inept, inefficient and terribly designed. Hence whatever field they later entered especially in science or engineering provided them with an unconscious belief that what they need to do is improve upon nature's flaws. Journalist everywhere have also fallen for this scam often publishing numerous articles exploiting this worldview. But unwittingly, many who have promoted this idea have also been many of the ecology types. They've actually demonized the very things they claim to champion to save as an activist. Is it any wonder that company scientists from a Monsanto or SweTree believe they are improving upon Nature's flaw in design ? What about Climate Change or Global Warming ? Who took the lead in bringing this about ? Of course all humans bear a measure of guilt, but the Scientists themselves took the lead in ignoring designs found in nature and believed they were taking superior shortcuts in innovation and advancing humanity. Look where we are today. These same scientists have invented a word called Smithsonian Magazine: Anthropocene. As the article states, not all scientists are in agreement. But science itself, under the influence of ieology helped accelerate this anthropocene. Now suddenly, in a turn around to make a correction, some scientists are claiming to be champions of something else called Biomimicry or Biomimetics. This would be the turn around science discipline of copying designs found out in nature. It's certainly a refreshing start, but is it too late. Unfortunately researchers like, Janine Benyus, make an attempt to highlight that science has been on board with this all along and that is flat out untrue. To be effective, she needs to first backtrack and apologize to her TedTalk audiences for scientists putting nature down and creating this climate change anthropocene mess that 100+ years of enlightenment have dumped on mankind and Nature. She has never done this in any talk I've ever seen.
(TedTalk; Biomimicry in Action)
Final Conclusion
Ultimately there is no easy answer for repairing the damage done to our Earth by Industrial Corporate entities who misuse and abuse science for the production of a product and the average human being who buys into the propaganda of equating what defines a 'happy life' with consummerism (or the acquiring of many material things). People should know and understand the huge differences in the neutral real science of discovering how things in the natural world work and the science practiced by corporate industrial entities who hire engineers to manipulate scientific research for pure profit at environmental cost. Mankind as they stand will never self-correct. Not when the present Human leadership (Political, Religious & Business) stands in the way of a more ecological direction. Therefore it would appear that a forcible removal would be needed. Incredibly this appears to be happening very soon and when it happens, it won't be so much the "End of an Era" as it'll be the "End of an Error."

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tunnel Vision Science demonizing Earthworms again for Forest Decline

Contain those Crawlers! Invasive Earthworms in Our Forests - What's the big deal about earthworms again?

Beneficial here – detrimental there: European earthworms decrease species diversity in North America

Another study on invasive earthworms has been released and this time from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research. What's interesting is that they use the same tunnel vision narrowed focus on just one simple subject without using peripheral view of other related contributors or lack of them within the forest biodiversity. This has been done in the other studies where researchers failed to even consider the lack of other biological controls which may have been missing in those specific study areas. I've written about this previously in the two articles before where the presence of earthworm predators such as hedgehogs, moles, various birds, etc might be missing. 
I really do not need a lot of time here rehashing old news and points I made in previous posts, but some points made in the published report were puzzling. For example take this bit in their third paragraph. After explaining the myth of Ice Age extinction of earthworms in North America and how earthworms should be there period, they go on to explain their effect on the Native Plants. 
Many native plants cannot thrive under these unusual circumstances, which is why the species diversity of the forest understory is decreasing. Wherever the worm creeps, the goblin fern (Botrychium mormo), for example, has become rare. Other plants are also threatened by the earthworm invasion, such as the largeflower bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), the Japanese Angelica Tree (Aralia elata), . . . . . "
Image: Invasive Species of sussex County, New Jersey

Japanese Angelica Tree (Aralia elata)

Image: CalFlora
Wo there, wait a minute. Back up the Biodiversity Train for a minute. Japanese Angelica Tree ???That's not even a native plant in North America. In fact it's a horrible invasive in many places back east and up north. It looks very reminiscent of the invader out west called Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) also from Asia - China to be exact. This non-native tree easily invades many native chaparral plant community & forest locations in the western USA. But this Japanese Angelica tree is like a Tree of Heaven on Steroids. Take a look at that spiny truck and branch from the CalPhoto picture to the right here. If these earthworms are harming this invader, then wouldn't that be a good thing ? This is really a case of where the researchers didn't do their homework and have all their facts straight. Perhaps it's because their from Germany. Still, I think the common name containing "Japanese" would have been an easy clue. Even a Kindergartener would have gotten that one. Past articles have mentioned that Hardwood forest regions which are mainly Sugar Maples, Oaks, etc are said to be hurting the most and in decline because of Earthworms or Night Crawlers. Funny, in the late 1960s and early 70s when I use to visit several of our famil's farms back in Northeastern Iowa each summer, there were tonnes of nightcrawlers everywhere we hunted at night for fishing the next day, Our older generation family memebers said that they had always been there. There were no understory problems back then in forests that I personally ever saw. But why now ? It has been mentioned that these earthworms are killing Sugar Maples because these maples need an understory forest floor leaf liter for germination media. Yet, take a close look at two photos they reference below. There is no mention of where the these photos were taken, except from someone named Scott L. Loss of Oklahoma and Paul Ojanen of Minnesota.

Photo by Paul Ojanen (University of Minnesota)

Zoom in Link of Green Forest Understory

Photo by Scott L. Loss (Oklahoma State University)

Zoom in Link to bare Forest Understory

I first have to question the two radically different locations taken by one guy from Oklahoma in the south and the other guy's photo presumably in Minnesota in the north. How can you make a comparison ? The forest tree and plant diversity could be completely different. Also interesting is when you click on the zoom link of the supposedly bare forest understory in the bottom photo which magnifies the situation greatly, you see that this is actually Springtime. Not Fall or Winter. There is indeed leaves and other forest liter and numerous maples seedling are popping up everywhere. It just doesn't flow with their written narrative. They also mentioned how earthworm infested forests hurt the understory plants during summer or even drought periods. But that doesn't even jive with what Todd E. Dawson, formerly an associate professor at Cornell found when researching a natural phenomena called "Hydrailic Lift & Redistribution" of water from deeply rooted Sugar Maples to other smaller plants in the forest understory. It just seems to me lately that much of science is dropping the ball in research when they practice a narrowed worldview of tunnel vision on a specific subject. Ecosystems are driven by multiple factors, not just one. Here is the Cornell study:
Cornell University: Mother Nature's Irrigators* Plants Share Water With Their Neighbors
The other thing that doesn't fit their narrative of the disappearance of Sugar Maples in many areas are that they are being replaced by another invasive, Norway Maples (Acer platanoides). Norway Maple is extremely tolerant of shade and therefore thrives and out competes wonderfully with Sugar Maple. But they don't even attempt to reference this and they should have. For example, here is a Wikepedia piece on Norway Maple's invasiveness and how it can be a major cause of depleted forest understories. 
"The roots of Norway maples grow very close to the ground surface, starving other plants of moisture. For example, lawn grass (and even weeds) will usually not grow well beneath a Norway maple, but English Ivy, with its minimal rooting needs, may thrive. In addition, the dense canopy of Norway maples can inhibit understory growth. Some have suggested Norway maples may also release chemicals to discourage undergrowth, although this is controversial. Acer platanoides has been shown to inhibit the growth of native saplings as a canopy tree or as a sapling. The Norway maple also suffers less herbivory than the sugar maple, allowing it to gain a competitive advantage against the latter species." 
Did you notice that Norway Maple is very shallow rooted and outcompetes other plants for moisture ? Do you know why ? Like other trees here in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries where I live, they are all often shallow rooted because it rains incessantly here. If there is a month or so of no rain, it is very common to see these shallow rooted trees turn brown and eventually die if they don't receive moisture quickly. The often easily tumble over n a bad windstorm. So it makes sense that because of centuries of such habitat where constant rain is the norm, these trees have developed specific epigenetic induced characteristics which allow them to succeed in there particular Scandinavian and Siberian environment. Therefore in another foreign environment, their shallow roots desperately suck up as much water as possible in their new less wet environment. They have not had as much time to engineer themselves the way Sugar Maple also has an extensive spreading root system, but has numerous sinker roots for which it can tap into deeper subsoil layers for moisture capture. In the Oklahoma photo above which shows the supposedly bare understory, you can also see grasses in the background and they explain this in the report.
Grasses also grow well in invaded forests because their fine roots can quickly absorb soil nutrients, particularly nitrogen, and can tolerate summer droughts. Moreover, earthworms eat small seeds of certain plant species and thus directly influence the composition of the forest understory.
Yes I'm sure earthworms eat seeds, but it's doubtful they'd be capable of eating a large furry spiky Maple Seed with it's wing still attached. Another article tried to explain that they eat all the microbial community, but this seems to be nonsense since worm castings are loaded with rich microbial flora. People are going to have to look at every single science report and judge them accordingly. Not everything should ever be taken as sacred gospel. These researchers are as human as anyone else and they are therefore prone to error. Although researchers often hold themselves above the average person on the street and would probably disagree with me on that. But I have the historical record of 100+ years of know it all enlightenment which has brought the Earth and it's ecosystems to it's knees, so I think I'm still safe.
Something Else of Important Note on the two Photos above - They've recycle from another article back in 2012
Back in 2012 in the Smithsonian Blog, they were blaming Earthworms for the decline in Ovenbirds. Birds from the Midwest who make nests on the ground with twigs which create an over-like structure. I've never seen Earthworms devour twigs and sticks, but that's what they say. Take a look below of the photos by Scott L. Loss again.

Images by Scott L. Loss
You can read it and decide for yourself. Take any of these sensationistic story with a grain of salt. The are not necessarily truth just because scientific researchers say so. Frankly I see the nest is built within a clump of grass which according to the other article shouldn't be in a healthy understory. Interestingly, Ovenbirds eat earthworms as part of their diet.

One last puzzling photograph from the article
(photo: Simone Cesarz)

European earthworms of the species Lumbricus terrestris

This picture above was a pazzle to me. It looked staged. Someone took a handful of earthworms and dumped them on top of some forst litter. But the idea was that the earthworms were removing the forest litter completely. I would have muched rather seen a photograph inside the forest canopy which they said had no understory plants because of earthworms, then digging a hole in this bare canopy to reveal all those earthworms. At the same time, show a photo of a hole being dug within a forest rich in understory plants and the lack of any earthworms. Does that make sense to anyone else ? 
And yet another important dilemma. Migration of all lifeforms [not just earthworms] northward because of  Climate Change
Image - University of Washington

interactive map shows where animals will move under climate change
They said the earthworms are moving northwards because of climate change. In fact scientists have said many things will move northward because of habitat disruption in the south. But there are some very important questions we should ask: Will these lifeforms be able to find their required unique foods along these routes ? And how much of that food will there actually be if those routes become, as they've projected, high traffic areas for their species? Given altitudes and weather, can they fatten up enough and hibernate safely to survive winter through their migrations ? Also, keep in mind that there are a great lack wildlife corridors for safe travel with barriers such as highways and ever present danger from hunters as well. They will need all kinds of help from conservationists and the public in general to survive in sufficient numbers for healthy breeding populations. Is there any historical precendent that tells us this will work out okay, or are we relying on small pockets of successful experimental pilot projects which have never been tested on a massive scale ? What about testing these pilot program successes on a grand scale ? Not likely.

Image - AllPESTS.ORG
Here is a great link on Moles. This is one subject I've never seen in any of these studies regarding possible absence of moles in these supposedly infested earthworm forest locations. Many gardeners mistakenly believe moles eat and kill their precious vegetables and plants. This is false, they are after grubs and especially fond of earthworms. Unfortunately there are numerous chemical and other pest control companies who are only too happy to provide a means of killing these animals. Moles are actually in decline in many areas and little is done to see the impact this may have on increased earthworm populations. This is what tunnel vision does to real scientific research. Anyway, here is the link:
I suppose what puzzled me most was the absence of any talk about lack of earthworm predators in general. Many creatures eat earthworms. Small snakes, moles, toads, numerous birds, ants, mites, centipedes, etc, etc, etc. But again, no mention of whether or not they even bothered to look for these and if absent, why ? Were any of the earthworm infested locations ever improved by the reintroduction of any of these predators ? We'll never know. Almost every negative research paper I've ever read never once addresses these major topics. Here are a couple more interesting links for reading.