Wednesday, October 19, 2016

“Nature is not competitive. It is ruthlessly collaborative” - Spencer Smith

How can responsible land stewards teach people how much more complex and sophisticated the designs found in Nature are compared to our own ?
Kew Royal Bontanic Gardens - Rhizotron Tree Museum

(Project grade 11)
Unfortunately, it's tough teaching new things to adults who have already been through an educational system where the green revolution industrial complex as mandated by the State has indoctrinated & moulded them into obedient little Soylent cracker eaters. Let's be honest, as you watch adults worldwide, they are having a tough time with the idea of "Multiculturalism" [even from it's supporters] let along understanding the true concept of biodiversity in Nature. You have to start with youth, who surprisingly grasp far more than adults give them credit for. I mean seriously, look how expert almost every child is using a computer as compared to adults ? Who are best at hacking these days ? Indeed, one of the biggest obstacles may well come from detaching kids from their electronic gadgets. But Children do love and thrive off challenges. So approaching things from a technological innovation viewpoint should help them visualize just how biological mechanisms found in the natural world actually work. Hopefully instead of hacking computer code, they won't try a hand at cracking the genetic code to find out what kind of mutated critters they can come up with. I can almost visualize the next #1 popular gift showing up under Christmas trees being a Bio-Rad GMO Starter kit. Ah yes, but I'm sure it'll be something that'll be fun for the whole family.

Image - Bio-Rad
If we look at things from a agricultural  standpoint with older generation farmers, they are old school and the saying which goes, "cannot teach an old Dog new tricks" is certainly accurate for the most part. Not too many older farmers around like Joel Salatin or Gabe Brown who actually get to change later in life and become successful. Something else came out recently about how imperative it is to pursue biodiversity with regards to agriculture as compared to monoculture. Both the University of Californa Davis and Michigan State University came out yesterday with research on how crops grown as a monoculture attract a plethora of all kinds of pests. More pests mean more synthetic inputs into the farm field system. The only winners in that are Agro-Chemical companies. But I truly believe kids would all grasp the concepts of ecology and biodiversity if exposed to the right kind of education at a young age. Now both articles were extremely interesting and informative, aside from being logical. But how do parents and teachers communicate these important grownup things to kids ? Aside from dumping the usual intellect speak, use illustrations from familar situations common in every day life that can teach. Also, absolutely use Animation and videos

Animation - Mother Earth News

Braconid Wasp -- Caterpillar

Image - Julie Johnsen
Most of what nature does goes unseen to most people. Not just kids, but adults too. Take this Braconid Wasp in the animation above. These are not the common every day better known larger wasps we see building those paper or mud nests in the rafters of our cover porches or eaves of our homes. No, these wasp are so tiny, many of them would barely would fit on a U.S. dime. This tiny wasp at left is a Mason or Potter Wasp. Most of the beneficial work they do also goes unseen. Mason wasps are a predatory insect whose young feed on the larva of other pest insects and build nest with mud but at times will dwell in holes of wood for nesting purposes. They may capture and paralyze as many at 15+ caterpillars just to feed their egg or larva before they seal the chamber inside the wooden post or tree snag. They probably use preexisting holes for their nests, but they are not particularly harmful. Teach kids that they are beneficial as they prey on critters like tent caterpillars/army worms, and other problematic larva on your garden plants. Teach your kids how important it is for you to plant a variety of flowering plants to feed these tiny wasps. Explain that though the adults capture and sting other insects, they do not eat these as food, only their babies do that. Teach the kids that adult wasps need pollen or nectar from flowers to feed upon and benefit from a good diversity of wildflowers or flowering shrubs. Here is an excellent example by insct photographer, Marc Kummel, who photographed a mating pair of beneficial parasitic wasps on a California Fuschia (Epilobium canum aka Zauschneria californica)

Image - Marc Kummel (San Marcos Pass - Oct 2016)

Here is a mating pair of tiny "parasitic wasps" (Hymenoptera) on a new
flower of California Fuschia (Epilobium canum aka Zauschneria californica)
in the Onagraceae plant family.
Chaparral hedgerows are ideal in attracting all sorts of beneficial insect pollinators & predators. Replacing disturbed invasive non-native weedy fields with the original chaparral plant community will increase predators and decrease habitat for pests who thrive on weedy areas. Now let's focus on one particular chaparral shrub, California Coffeeberry, which is plant number one at beneficial insect attraction.

Image - Pete Veilleux (2008)

One of my native favourites for attracting beneficial insects is California Coffeeberry (Rhamnus [or Frangula - whatever] californica). Favourite cultivars are "eve Case" or "Mound San Bruno." In my personal experience, from a shrub satandpoint, this is the earliest bloomer of all the native california shrubs and mostly it goes unnoticed. Why ? Well, look below.

Image - Greg a. Monroe

Flowers of California Coffeeberry are admittedly not the most showy as compared to other well known popular garden variety flowers. So how does a parent or teacher instill appreciation for something considered, perhaps, even ugly (by flawed human standards) ? I've never considered these flowers ugly, just sort of neutral from an outward appearance standpoint. Humans by nature judge almost entirely by outward appearances first. They do this to each other starting as kids in school. But the teacher and parent has to counter this by demonstrating the Coffeeberry flower's main virtues. Unseen to us, these flowers manufacture a potent powerful cologne or perfume that only insects can sense. It's a pity that back in the late 1980s, I didn't document this more with photography.

image - Brian Marlow
 Insect Paparazzi
Of course, there were no digital cameras back then, everything was expernsive and old school compared to now. But gardeners planting and documenting this most beautiful feature of Coffeeberry's usefulness in Nature could be a fun thing when it comes to gardening photos. Planting a chaparral hedgerow, then documenting just how effective these coffeeberry flowers are at attracting mostly beneficial pollinators/predators into your landscape would not only be fun, but also provide something that even the researchers have yet to provide us with. Seriously, do a google and most references to this Coffeeberry insect relationship come from Master Gardener blogs or other private individuals. They do mention the chaparral plant's importance to wildlife & domestic animal browsing, but the importance of it as a pest control component is referenced only by a few. Usage in farm field hedgerows for pest control is being more researched, but it's not the kind of good science getting as much publicity as genetic engineering or other industrial versions of  agro-chemical advances in science.

Image- Town Mouse & Country Mouse

California Coffeeberry: Biodiverse Insect Magnet for Pollinators & Predators (Think Hedgerows)
I've created this link above to an article I finished yesterday which further illuminates California Coffeeberry's insect magnet attracting  abilities.. I've taken time to research as many beneficial insect photographs as possible linked to California Coffeeberry. I've also included some research being done by researchers from California State Berkerley's Kremen Lab Group on the potential for pest control by beneficial insects on a commercial farming scale by the creation of California Chaparral Hedgerows along all farm fields. Much like the one in the photo below.

Image - University of California - Agricultural Division & Natural Resources

This post and information above should go along well with the latest research news below on using biodiversity as an insect pest control. Children and all youth in general need to understand just how successful Nature has been for 10s of 1000s of years prior to humans coming along. Biomimicry should be considered a normal scientific pursuit. The articifical industrial conventional way of practicing agriculture with it's chemicals and genetic engineering should be the view as it truly is, abnormal. None of this junk was ever needed in the first place. Kids need to understand that and will with parent's and teacher's guidance.
BioDiversity as a Natural Pesticide
“Farm fields can create monocultures where pests may find the perfect nutrition to be healthy and reproduce,” said Wetzel, who conducted the research during his doctoral work at the University of California, Davis. “Planting fields with higher plant nutrient variability could contribute to sustainable pest control.”
Rather than my further elaborating on this subject at length, these two links below should be enough to get you started. Then in your mind's eye, simplfy the language to a point where a child would understand the biodiversity concept. It may be a challenge for you as most adults globally are often unaware themselves. If the majority were aware, our planet would look totally different.
Michigan State University: Plant Diversity could provide natural repellent for crop pests
UC Davis: Why Insect Pests Love Monocultures, and How Plant Diversity Could Change That
Teaching kids these days is always easiest with video animation. Seriously, since I was a kid in the 1960s, cartoons and animated films shown at elementary school always captured my attention. So such  animated video instructive technology can and should be used when teaching kids about the importance of biodiversity over the ecologically failed choice mankind's failed leadership has been mandating for over the past 50 years. Take a look below.

Actually photographs are yet another venue to provide good teaching points and should also be used. I've written about these Chaparral Hedgerow and Biodiverse pollinator/predator strategies previously in these three posts below. This first one deals with the reasons why planting a biodiverse flower presence is so important to honey bee health. All plants create different types of pollen with unique chemical properties. These differing pollens are used by specialized nurse bees in the hive who apparently have a built sense of what pollen medicine to feed the sick worker bees with specific illnesses. Can kids really comprehend such scientific findings ? Absolutely, if you make the right real world illustrative comparisons that we humans can relate to:
Diversity of Flowering Plants Imperative to Pollinator & Predator Health
This next link deals with actual planning, designs and construction of Chaparral Hedgerows along California's agricultural fields to provide habitat living quarters and variety of important food sources for pollinators/predators which would act an an important insurance policy against crop pests. The potential here is for greatly reduced or total elimination of synthetic (or so-called Organic) chemical pesticides. Could kids really grasp this reality ? Absolutely, especially with the beautiful colour photographs provided by the Xerces Society:

Image - Xerces Society
How to construct the best Insurance Policy for your Agricultural Business Venture
This final link deals with strategies in attracting good pollinators/predators to the landscape and commercial farming and how such strategies are not only a good business model, but also a good insurance policy. Can kids graps this concept of bugs being something good ? Absolutely, but then need adult attitudes to change and lead by example. Again the photos from the Xerces Society are very helpful in this learning process:

Image - Xerces Society
Attracting Wild Bees & Wasps to Landscapes & Farms is the best Insurance Policy

Aside from planting a diverse variety of  native shrubs & wildflowers, here is a project parents or teachers can do with kids. 
(This kind of stuff gets burned into young memories)

photo credit - Donald C. Drife (2016)
June 20-26, 2016 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Our yard is pollinator friendly. We use no insecticides. We provide plants that produce pollen and attract pollinators to our vegetable garden.   
This year, we put up a bee hotel now called the “Buzz Inn.”  Our plans came from a helpful guide, Managing Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers and Conservationists, SARE Handbook 11, NRAES-186 by Eric Mader, Marla Spivak, and Elaine Evans.
Donald C. Drife

Michigan Nature Guy's Blog: National Pollinator Week

"No one will protect what they don't care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced."
David Attenborough, conservationist 
One final teaching point from your friendly neighbourhood Home Depot
Image - Susan Harris of  Garden Rant

Home Depot front door display as you enter Garden Center

If you aren't teaching and illustrating at a hands on level with your children, then someone else will. The photograph above was take by Master Gardener author, Susan Harris, from the journal Garden Rant. The visual teaching going on here is their marketing strategy for indoctrinating their customers that for a beautiful successful garden, you need synthetic Chemical weed and insect killers to eliminate Nature's flaws. Here is what Susan Harris wrote about Home Depot's front entrance killer chemical display:
"The other day I walked into the Home Depot near me and noticed this enticement to enter the gardening part of the store – Kill, kill, kill those plants and bugs!  Not a plant in sight but plenty of plant-killers.  And this photo hardly conveys the impressive array of killing products extending as far as the eye could see."
(Source - Garden Rant) 
Pollinators - Beneficial Insects - Native Plants
Michigan State University: Native Plants and Ecosystem Services
Mother Earth News: Enlist Beneficial Insects for Natural Pest Control
University of Minnesota: Scholars team up to show forest biodiversity is green in more ways than one
See Google Images of Mason & Potter Wasps

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

California Coffeeberry: Biodiverse Insect Magnet for Pollinators & Predators (Think Hedgerows)

Image - Susan Leahy (Oct 2013)
I've been waiting for an opportunity to highlight the pollinator/predator attracting abilities of California Coffeeberry for a very long time. I have a sense of photographer's remorse for not documenting my own California Coffeeberry ("Eve Case" & "San Bruno") shrubs all those years in Anza California for their pollinator/predator attracting abilities. As reported previously, these plants do not have anything close to a showy display when it comes to flowering. Yet, it was always as if my California Coffeeberries had a sort of potent pheromone infused nectar for which every winged insect couldn't resist. There is almost nothing in the scientific literature about this important ability of Coffeeberry. As we understand with most of the science stories out there on many flowers, it's always the showy display, colour, fragrance etc that has some evolutionary advantage. The problem with their description is that the storytelling is done from a human perspective on what a human thinks, sees or smells. Do insects and other critters really think and feel about something as we do ? What about all those night pollinators ? Surely colour and looks don't come into play. California Coffeeberry breaks all the rules here. From a human perspective, there is nobody would ever  plant a California Coffeeberry for it's showy beautiful fragrant flowers. Because from a human viewpoint, none of those good qualities exist. In the photo above and below, take a real close look at those flower clusters. 

Image - Mother Nature's Backyard
Clearly we cannot simply judge which shrubs would be ideal for attracting beneficial insects to take control of pests based on mere outward appearance of flowers. The California Coffeeberry, while having gorgeous foliage and variability in fruit colour throughout the year, is definitely not high on anyone's list for it's flowering beauty contest awards. Judging by mere outward appearance would be a mistaken viewpoint with regards this plant and one based on ignorance of just what it's true potential really is and why. I'm not the only one to have noticed Coffeeberry's subtle unseen ability to cause a plethora of insects to go insane when it blooms. Actually, at my old place up in the San Jacinto Mountains, I would often see insects huddling around even immature flower clusters long before they opened. Two quotes below prove what I've been saying all this time. The first one is from a San Diego artist, photographer & garden enthusiast, James Soe Nyun. The second one comes from the University of California's Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources' author, Harold McDonald, avid native plant gardener. 
"The coffeeberry’s flowers are much more nondescript to humans. On the recent garden tour I spoke to a homeowner who was wishing that she hadn’t planted her coffeeberries so close to paths because the bugs seem to go crazy over its blooms, more so than just about any other native plant. Here we have the humble blooms of Frangula (Rhamnus) californica ‘Eve Case.’ "
"Coffeeberry is like some of the best kind of people: not particularly flashy, but always handsome, dependable and low maintenance. We appreciate the green it provides throughout the year. All manner of flies and bees appreciate the tiny white flowers (I hear a quiet roar each time I pass the ones by my back steps), and the berries all seem to disappear, so I assume the birds are enjoying them surreptitiously!"
My own personal experience with California Coffeeberry in Anza California
Image Mine (May 2013)

In the foreground below the Jeffrey Pine which was transplanted
from Garner Valley back in 1986, this Coffeeberry cultivator is
"Mound San Bruno" which was planted back in 1994. 

My own personal experience with the Coffeeberry's pollinator qualities came quite by accident. I selected California Coffeeberry for it's bright green foliage and multicoloured berries. I never gave a thought about the flowers. In the photograph above is a "Mound San Bruno" which is a lower growing small cultivator under that Jeffrey Pine. Up on the hill behind the Jeffrey is a California Holly (or Toyon) and behind that is my "Eve Case" cultivator of California Coffeeberry. That was the larger shrub and from it volunteers spread by means of Scrub Jays planting seeds were a common occurrence. But what caught my attention one day while I walked past the shrub in bloom (always the first shrub to bloom), was a fairly load humming or roaring sound as Harold McDonald made mention of in the second paragraph above. And as James Soe Nyun mention in his story, the bugs insects go crazy over the blooms. I had never seen so many diversified groups of insects scampering over each other for a fix of whatever it was making everyone high.
Bees, Wasps, Flies, Mosquitoes & Gnats, oh my
Of course the obvious critters that come to mind when you mention bees and wasps are Honey Bees and Yellow Jackets. But there are 100s or maybe 1000s of these types of creatures, the majority of which we've probably never seen, or if we do, we've never given a second thought other than, well it's just some other little bug. But these are the type of beneficial predators we want to attract. While the large ones will also often hunt prey and provide pollinator services, it's those smaller ones that really attack and kill the herbivore pest bugs which eat our garden and farm crops. This is where the plant's true purpose shine through.
Photo: Megan O’Donald

Honey Bees on California Coffeeberry
 (Frangula californica/Rhamnus californica)

Image - Marc Kummel (Oct 2013)

Tachinid Fly (Cylindromyia, Tachinidae, Diptera)
on native Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis, Asteraceae)

Image - Marc Kummel (July 2015)

Small bristly Tachinid Fly (Tachinidae, Diptera)
ovipositing on Coffeeberry
Adult Tachinid Flies visit flowers, but their larvae are parasitic on other insects out in the wilds like Scorpions, Centipedes many spiders and especially herbivore insects like caterpillars and help control them. They are beneficial insects - except for the insects they parasitize! Here is a good resource for Techinid Flies:
Overview of the Tachinidae (Diptera)
Image Marc Kummel (June 2015)

Bee Fly (Thevenetimyia, Bombyliidae, Diptera)

 on a flower of native Coffeeberry

Image - Marc Kummel (April 2015)

Crane Fly (Tipulidae, Diptera) 

 California Coffeeberry (Frangula californica, Rhamnaceae)
Butterflies & California Coffeeberry
The next group that were always obsessedly attracted to my California Coffeeberry shrubs were members of the butterfly family (Both Butterlies & Moths). Mostly they hovered and rarely landed. You could always tell that they wanted to though, but were intimidated by the mass of tiny flies, wasps, bees, mosquitoes, gnats and other things crawling all over each other on these flower clusters. Pale yellow Swallowtails were also a big draw to Coffeeberry, but they too didn't like the party animal house gang who showed up at the Flower Festival.
Image - Marc Kummel (May 2015)

American Lady and Lorquin's Admiral butterflies
 on Coffeeberry flowers

Image - Marc Kummel (May 2013)

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) butterfly on native
Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica, Rhamnaceae)

Image - Marc Kummel (May 2014)

Gold-Hunter's Hairstreak (Satyrium auretorum) butterfly
 on Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica, Frangula californica)

Other Critters who visit California Coffeeberry
Image Marc Kummel (July 2014)

Ants (Formicidae) tending aphids (Aphididae) on
 Coffeeberry (Frangula californica, Rhamnaceae)
One comment to note here on Aphids. I also had some Aphids and Ants on the Coffeeberry, but mainly on the tips of new leaf buds. Interestingly, my Coffeeberry "Eve Case," always had it's entire leaf canopy loaded with so many droplets of sticky honeydew that the leaves looked glossy wet. They were very sticky and many of the insects were as much attracted to the leaves as flowers. My smaller "Mound San Bruno" variety didn't have as much of a sticky leaf problem, but they still loved the blooms. In all those 20+ years of gardening, not once did I ever employ the use of synthetic science-based pesticides on my 3+ acres. Between all my chaparral hedges (Coffeeberry, Ceanothus, California Holly & Flannel Bush or Fremontodrendron), the insect pest control balanced the rest of the property. Oddly, numerous different kinds of beetles also climbed into the mixed orgy of insects climbing over one another on the flower clusters. 
Image - Marc Kummel (May 2015)

Lots of beautiful beetle butts on this native
Coffeeberry (Frangula californica, Rhamnaceae)

Image - Marc Kummel (June 2015)
Metallic Wood Boring Beetle (Acmaeodera, Buprestidae, Coleoptera)
 on native California Coffeeberry

“Nature is not competitive. It is ruthlessly collaborative” - Spencer Smith (rancher)
It's sad when you realize that it's mostly the common people who actually work & reside outside of mainstream Academia & the Scientific community who are the ones who have to pushed for a more biomimetic approach to caring for this planet. Spencer Smith is one of those as are Joel Salatin and Gabe Brown. But there are also many well known institutions who have taken the bold step of rejecting mainstream science-based methodologies with regards the usage of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. Unfortunately for all of us, their's is not the science that rules our world. At times many of these people who have chosen to pursue a course of holistic biomimicry have been criticized for their supposedly pseudoscientific course of action by the Scientific Orthodoxy of Academics who have prior industrial commitments. Nothing about biomimicry is anti-science, rather the so-called "Green Revolution" we have all been force fed since Elementary School is just plain bad science which is based on ignorance of how nature really works. But not all Academics and Scientific Researchers have bought into the conventional line of thought. One group I have followed is the Entomology Department at UC Berkeley along with the Kremen Lab Group. For me personally, I have a strong interest in California's Chaparral Plant Community and the potential for beneficial usage of such plants in attracting beneficial insects for pest control by means of hedgerows. I've written about this before with info from the Xerces Society. This group has achieved excellent results through real world plantings of chaparral hedgerows adjacent to agricultural farm fields in California's Central Valley. Yet very little discussion is found in mainstream Media journals. The group has also selected predetermined chaparral species which been proven to be the most effective in attracting the beneficial predators, along with providing the proper nesting habitat for their young. Consider this chart below which provides a list of the best chaparral species they have used along with the times of year they are most effective bloomers. 

Well, those are some of the most popular and I must say easiest shrubs to maintain. Many of the sites I have visited on this subject are recommending drip irrigation, but for me in the short term & long haul, it's initially expensive, needs maintenance of the head fittings because of poor water quality or insects invading looking for water and then wildlife in general (Coyotes, Rabbits, Ground Squirrels, etc) will chew into the soft pipe looking for water. So rather than wasting money on an expensive drip system which will need various replacements parts from damage and wear (not to mention keeping the shrubs on life-support forever, instead of maturing), I would recommend establishing the chaparral hedgerow by means of the Groasis Waterboxx Technology planting system which directs water downwards, encourages root growth straight down into subsoil layers and mycorrhizal blended mix within the soil at time of planting the seedlings. This has already been successfully done in numerous desert areas for windbreaks around the globe.

Image -

Image -
Take note of the photo on the right. Every 5 minutes a giant truck from Minera Cupa, Spain passes loaded with rocks that are replanted with biodegradable waterboxxes. These waterboxxes are being used all over the world for mine site reclamation projects and vegetative programs to green deserts around the Earth. This is where water savings comes into play, plus these boxes can be used over and over if they are not the biodegradable type. Mexico has purchase one million of these planting boxes with 80,000 going to desert restoration projects in Baja California. This would be the cheapest and most inefficient way of establishing chaparral hedgerows. Prior to planting however, farmers could install an underground out of sight simple deep pipe irrigation system infrastructure to be used maybe once or twice a year, perhaps not at all if rainfall totals ever normalize or chaparral root systems reached valley floor water tables. But it would always be available as a back up system.

Image - University California Davis

Can you identify some of the chaparral plants being used in the hedgerow above ? Mexican Elderberry, California Holly or Toyon, California Coffeeberry, Coyote Brush, California Buckwheat and California lilac or Ceanothus. Even a few native bunch grasses. Their purpose in the hedgerow as in the wild is to provide not only valuable food sources, but also a habitat for all beneficial pollinators and predators. Much like the larvae of this adult syrphid fly on the right, called hover fly, which will feed on aphids. The other important factor is maintaining a good soil and gravel mix which will provide good ground nesting habitat for many of these critters who dig burrows, capture and paralyze pest prey and stuff them down the hole for their young to feed on until they hatch.

Image - University California Davis

One of the more interesting facts I found in their research was that not just any plants will do for attracting those good pollinator/predator insects. In fact the wrong plants will be a magnet for the pest insects. Farm fields with weedy margins loaded with non-native annuals or ruderals are a haven for the bad bugs. This makes sense to me as most of those types of ruderal plants have no real defense mechanisms. Most of their resources go into offensive strategies. Like putting all energies into seed production to make more of themselves. Ever notice that many of these weeds are quite often loaded with pests ? They have no defenses. These Stinkbugs in the photo here on the right are some of the major pests that damage crops. Take a look at the weedy field margin above. Notice any familiar plants ? Black Mustard, Malva or Cheeseweed, Sow Thistle & Wild Radish all host plants to not only Stinkbugs, but also cucumber beetle, Lygus and Flea Beetles. Clearly another reason to plant chaparral hedgerows (which create mycorrhizal soil systems which outcompete weeds for nutrients) and removal of weedy margins. 
Other Hedgerow Components of Note: Baja Fairy Dusters, Gold Finches & other predator birds
Image - Horticulture Limited

Baja Fairy Duster (
Calliandra californica)

One important plant of note for many of the agricultural areas in the southwest's desert areas where much of the agriculture is performed. Baja Fairy Duster is an excellent pollinator and predator attractant shrub. Being a desert plant with deeper root systems and it's tolerance for high heat, it should make an excellent addition to a Hedgerow in desert environments. My mum's place in El Cajon California where I planted one in her front yard has a continuous 3 or 4 months long period of blooming during the hottest times of the year and attracts almost as many beneficial insects as California Coffeeberry. The other side benefits are all the predatory birds like finches and sparrows, etc. Don't forget many Hedgerow folks have also placed Owl & Kestrel nesting boxes on posts in Hedgerows. These birds are predators to rodents which are also crop pests. Pest birds on field crops were found to do the same amount of damage irrespective of type of plant communities or none at all. Hedgerows do not increase bird pests. I've provided a link below.
Chaparral Hedgerow establishment, Maintenace, & Irrigation
Hedgerow Establishment with Groasis Waterboxx
Maintaining Hedgerows with Deep Pipe Irrigation
Hedgerows enhance bird abundance and diversity on farms
Chaparral Hedgerows for Commercial Agriculture
California Agriculture: Hedgerows enhance beneficial insects on farms in California's Central Valley
Hedgerows for California Agriculture
Xerces Society: Conservation of Native Plant Pollinators in Organic Farm Systems
NATURE: Nature Doesn’t Hurt Farmers, It Helps
Further Reading & Photography References  
Marc Kummel's (Treebeard) Flickr Photostream

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals: RNAi Failure Could Catch Monsanto Investors Off Guard ?

Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Common white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus)
has been modified to resist browning.
Anyone Remember this article from the journal Nature ?
The article wasn't so much about how a fungus engineered with the CRISPR–Cas9 technique can now be cultivated as it was about the government allowing Biotechs to market their wares to be sold without any further regulation or oversight. 
“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, who was not involved in developing the mushroom. “I am confident we'll see more gene-edited crops falling outside of regulatory authority.”  
"The United States is revamping its rules for regulating GMOs, which collectively are known as the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology. To that end, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have convened a committee that is charged with predicting what advances will be made in biotechnology products over the next 5–10 years. It will hold its first meeting on 18 April. "Gene-edited CRISPR mushroom escapes US regulation"
Image - Alejandra Pales/Flickr
I touched on this same subject [gene editing, CRISPR, RNA interference, Arctic Apples etc] recently where a newer variety of apple [Arctic Granny Smith] will be introduced with the same CRISPR gene deletion or silencing technology and get that precious get out of jail free card, Pass Go and collect $200. Figuratively speaking of course. This technology being used in the apples is where the gene for the production of the very important immune system enzyme Polyphenol Oxidase [which also causes browning] is being silenced so that people can add another "White" marketed product to their daily modern diet. As you are aware, in our perverted warped modern enlightened world, white has always been promoted superior to anything brown in a number of ways. Yes, flour, sugar, potatoes, apples, etc we are told are superior quality if they are white. Unfortunately this bigotted view between brown and preference for white has it's roots dating back over 150 years ago during the Victorian Era and it's infected everything else humans have done since then. Without restating much more about what was written regarding Arctic Apples, this is what I wrote last week about the immune system importance of Polyphenol Oxodase. Not only for us and other living things, but also for the apple tree's immune system, which if hindered or not functioning properly requires more science-based synthetic pesticides:
CRISPR: The kinder, safer, risk-proof version of GMO ?
But the really important point to take note of here is the Biotechs once again establishing & dictating to the authorities just what the regulations or lack of laws and regulations will be with CRISPR Cas9 gene editing and RNAi technology. They are promoting this as fool proof or failsafe compared to earlier GMO technology. So much so that they wish to rename the technology and dump the term GMO. Something has happened recently which exposes the real dangers of even this technology irrespective of the proponent's  advertising it as safe. What I find interesting is that this news has to come from Financial and other online business journals as opposed to Science journals and other research publications which should have jumped on this first. The other technology besides CRISPR gene editing, which is the subject of this post is called RNAi technology. See link in references below as to the differences between CRISPR & RNAi technologies.

image -
Investors often associate biotech with healthcare, but biological technologies are applied across unrelated industries. This biopharma failure could have consequences for next-generation agricultural products from companies like Monsanto and Intrexon(of Arctic Apple fame)  - Motley Fool
Alarm Bells went off in the financial world just recently where a major failure has taken place in this RNAi technology and some people died as a result. Most investors are ignorant when it comes to understanding what the positives & negatives will be with the biotechnology industry and their inventment in them. Hence they rely on a stock broker hucksters to provide them the latest pitch from any Biotech public relations which promise fortunes to be made if they pour their money into A,B or C Biotech company. The investors are advised by their brokers that, "Hey, Biotechs are the new future. If I were you, I'd place a bet on Blue Note"(remember  movie, "The Sting"?)  Except when an inconvenient bomb shell truth comes along and ruins everyone's Wall Street day. 
On Wednesday evening Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY), a leading developer of RNAi drugs, announced that it had decided to discontinue the development of revusiran, its lead drug candidate, after an "imbalance" of deaths for patients receiving the experimental drug compared to placebo.
So something went horribly wrong, they don't really know what it was other than it failed, caused death of some patients and so they discontinued the experimental drug. This has an uncanny similarity to and is reminiscent of the Tryptophan disaster - GM Potato & Árpád Pusztai affair & the GM pea causes allergic reactions to name a few. Admittedly, these examples were transgenic in nature where a single foreign gene was taken from one organism and inserted into another entirely different organism. Bottomline though is they do not totally understand genetic information. So the original biotechnology way of doing things had problems. In the case of the Showa Denko, Tryptophan incident where 37 people died and 1,500 were permanantly disabled from 1989 to 1991, we'll never know the true reasons of what went wrong because Showa Denko ordered their staff to destroy all sampling and sanitized the lab. They then further concocted a phony cupcake story of it being a problem of the weaker charcoal filters they used which later turned out to be a fabricated lie exposed by a lawyer in the case who revealed that 100s of the mishaps were prior to this supposed change in filters. The two other examples also gave clues as to what went wrong. First the Australian researchers who took the bean gene for a protein capable of killing the pea weevil pests and transferred it into the pea. When extracted from the bean, this protein did not cause any allergic reactions in mice or people. However, this team found that when the bean gene for the manufacture of this protein is  epigenetically expressed within the pea genome, its structure is subtly different to the original structure within the bean. They concluded that this structural change could be to blame for the unexpected immune effects seen in the lab mice. Oddly enough this was the exact same observation and conclusion Dr Arpad Pusztai's own studies showed that purified Lectin from the Snowdrop plant wasn't toxic to rats. There are numerous forms of Lectin all of which help the immune systems of many organisms. This is why this particular form of Lectin from the Snowdrop plant was chosen  because of it's ability to disrupt the intestinal lining of the pest insects. The problem was when the gene was introduced into the genome of the potato, the instructions from the gene didn't jive with the new foreign instructions within the context of the new genes it would then be working with in a foreign organism (potato). What the researchers were ignorant of was the consequences for potential harmful epigenetic gene expression, much like that of the Bean protein gene inserted into the pea. 

This is certainly interesting and it appears biotechs have recognized this for a longer time than they'll admit. For example, it is fortunate for all of us that with the Bean/Pea study, that this was a publicly funded project or the results would have been shelved and locked away never to see the light of day. Being publicly funded, they were accountable to the public. One wonders how many other horror stories that may exist in the X-Files of Biotech basements around the globe. However, RNAi (RNA interference), like CRISPR was supposed to eliminate all those fears as it has been hailed as a more accurate precise sure-fire failsafe method where nothing can go wrong. Hence, the spin that no regulation is needed. One of the other major problems with the technicians using the earlier agro-bacterium was the random nature of where the gene ended up in the target organism's genome. This newer CRISPR Cas9 Technology has been developed with the  intent to target GM gene insertion or deletion to a predetermined site within the plant’s DNA in an effort to obtain a more predictable outcome and avoid the complications that can arise from random insertional mutagenesis. But take a look at some of the admitted challenges referenced in the same Motley Fool investors article with this new RNAi technology under this subheading:
Nobel Prize hype, real-world difficulty
What exactly is RNAi, anyway? RNAi stands for "RNA interference," a natural process that has shown promise in regulating gene expression in humans, plants, and other organisms in a controlled setting. In biopharma, researchers are exploring its ability to "turn off" or "turn down" the production of misfolded proteins that cause disease. In agricultural biotech, researchers have used the same technique in the lab to engineer better seed varieties: Monsanto has enhanced the oil profiles of soybeans, while Intrexon has made non-browning apples by reducing the amount of a protein that oxidizes (and turns the apple brown) when exposed to air.    
Researchers can target protein production with RNAi by knowing the sequence of the gene in question. But therein lies the problem: Two or more genes can have long stretches of similar sequences. That's a problem if, say, a disease-causing gene a compound is targeting shares a sequence with a gene essential to survival. A single off-target effect could have devastating -- even fatal -- consequences. 

RNAi pitfalls extend beyond biopharma 

But both Monsanto and Intrexon are looking to exploit the potential of RNAi technology in the field. It's difficult enough to minimize off-target effects and find the optimal delivery mechanism within the human body. Not to downplay the complexity of biology and human physiology, but these obstacles become orders of magnitude more difficult when the technology is released into the environment.  
In theory, RNAi represents a better approach to fighting agricultural pests than the current available solutions do. While pesticides can sometimes indiscriminately eliminate pests and other organisms caught in the crossfire, a highly specific RNAi product could eliminate only pests and have no effect on other organisms. Can these companies be sure that RNAi doesn't accidentally target one of the other hundreds of organisms in the field? It will be difficult to answer this question with absolute certainty, and the risks might outweigh the rewards.
(Source - Motley Fool)

There's clearly something fishy here with the ongoing Biotech smokescreening of potential for harm, but why would Scientists themselves with any sense of bioethics be hiding any negative data which would help expose the potential for harm to human & natural world health ?
Another recent article from yet another financial publication reveals what actually goes on in the corporate industrial world behind closed doors. The article illustrates the biases and motives behind a plethora of published possitive results for proving many hypothesis today which can mean financial fortunes.
Investors Buriness Daily: "Is Modern Science Polluted?"
"For years, scientists and non-scientists alike have complained that something is fundamentally wrong with the way we do this business. Something has corrupted the integrity of our science."   
"The things that scientists crave -- like tenure and research funding -- incentivize frequent publishing of massive numbers of academic papers. To publish that much, you need a tremendous amount of financial support.  And when it comes to scientific work that could have regulatory implications, almost all of the money comes from Washington."  
So we now get a sense here that motivation has everything to do with this need for positive results. Take note below why:
"What constitutes "bad science"?  It's the epidemic of positive results, in which a researcher reports that the data support his or her prior hypothesis.  Stanford's Daniele Fanelli has shown a distressing increase of positive results in recent decades, something that can't be true in the real world.  Think about it -- we are not suddenly becoming more intelligent and getting everything right. What's happening is that scientists are responding to incentives." 
"Usually, hypotheses are put forward in some grant proposal.  Financial backers don't like negative findings, because negative findings don't support the work that they've funded. Supervisors lose face and researchers can lose their funding."
So financial incentives for company managers and pressure from investors tend to hurry up results. Therefore embellishing, exaggerating and leaving out the negative findings are the norm in published results for obtaining investor interest or government grants or the funding dries up. Still, I found it odd in the beginning  that it was only the financial sector journals which broke this news story and not science publications. Since then after this story first broke, the science online journal Nature has published an article on this subject.
Chart from Investors flee as firm scraps RNA-interference drug candidate 
Struggling RNAi field faces another blow as its first treatments near the clinic 
But investors are worried about more than just the loss of one experimental drug, says analyst Alan Carr of the investment bank Needham & Company in New York City. “They’re concerned that this safety signal may be an issue for the rest of the platform,” he says. “That’s why we’ve had such a strong reaction.”    
And revusiran, Carr notes, used an older technology to stabilize the RNA in the body. As a result, it required higher and more frequent doses than would many of Alnylam’s newer drug candidates. “My view is that this reaction is overblown,” Alan Carr says. “But at this point, I’m obviously in the minority.”
Yes, but of course as Alan Carr says, the overblown reaction is just his opinion. So what about RNAi technologies, the Biotechs and the lack of regulation ? Back in 2013 & 2015 this subject (RNA based insecticidal soaps and sprays) was being discussed and debated. Monsanto was adamant that no regulation or rules on the subject were necessary. An article published in Technology Review by MIT Technology Review Editor, Antonio Regalado, had this to say about how the rules or no oversight would be set up by the FDA according to Monsanto:
"Deep inside its labs, Monsanto is learning how to modify crops by spraying them with RNA rather than tinkering with their genes"
"Monsanto has been laying groundwork for the inevitable safety debate. It sent staffers to grocery stores and farm stands to collect fruits and vegetables that appeared to be suffering from viral infections. Analyzing these, they found thousands of fragments of viral RNA, many of which closely matched human genes. Yet it’s not known that anyone has been harmed by RNA in produce. Given this “history of safe consumption,” the company concluded, mere matches between RNA triggers and human genes have “little biological relevance.”   
"Last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked a panel of experts to help it decide how to regulate RNA insecticides, including sprays as well as those incorporated into a plant’s genes. In an 81-page letter to the agency, Monsanto lobbied against any special rules. It said RNA products should actually be spared safety tests it called irrelevant, including those designed to assess whether they were toxic to rodents and whether they could cause allergies, as well as in-depth studies of what happens to the molecules in the environment. Only proteins cause allergies, Monsanto said. And when the company doused dirt with RNA, it degraded and was undetectable after 48 hours."
Technology Review - Biomedicine: The Next Great GMO Debate
If you've ever watched the documentary, "The World According to Monsanto," then you know at the very beginning how they helped dictate to the US Government just how their GMO technology should be regulated. Remember, their argument was that they are only using genes or DNA and everything humans eat has genes or DNA in it, so GMO technology should not have the same regulation as food additives. Many of the heavy hitter supporters and promoters like Robb Fraley & Alison Van Eenennaam used the same simplistic illustration in justifying gmo technologies. Genes are just genes and DNA is just DNA, what's the big deal. You take one gene from here and put it with other genes there. The description was always a dumb comparison to kid's Lego toys or Tinker Toys. No, the problem is both DNA and RNA are information. And that's where the problem comes in. Many scientists have hang ups about information being real intelligent complex sophisticated information. To many it's just nothing more than patterns of chemical molecules which just happen to accomplish some things. The facts are, they do not fully understand the informational content of DNA or even RNA. We are reading all the time where new discoveries are shedding light on the functionality of non-coding DNA. This was formerly labeled "Junk DNA" because these intellectuals had no clue decades ago what the non-coding genes did, hence they blindly asserted that these genes must be worthless junk left over from some evolutionary mistakes of the past. Now things have changed radically. They are finding that some genes have multiple layers of codes, codes within codes. The fact is, these people are incapable of admitting to the public that they really may not know everything and that would be bad business. There isn't a human alive who can accurately translate all the genetic information into understandable human language for better understanding. They are light years from that. I've given this illustration before. If we were to observe a pattern of Arabic &/or Chinese characters, does it mean that there is no real informational content there if we do not write, read or speak either of those languages ? Take a look:
ما هو تعريف المعلومات كلمة؟  or  信息的定義是什麼
Do you know what both lines of characters say ? Do a google translate, it asks the question, "What is the definition of information?" What now if the genetic code was actually an unknowable extraterrestrial language from outside of our solar system ? Because it was impossible to decifer, does that mean there is no real meaningful information in the genetic code ? The insaneness of some of the excuses and justifications here regarding no supervisional oversight or regulation on RNAi technology is asinine. It's clear from the mistakes above that they really do not know and fully understand everything there is to know about how the genetic code works and our increase understanding of epigenetic gene expression is proving that every single day. This has always been about corporate business interests first, with science being used as a crutch to lean on. The potential for serious problems regarding concerns about safety go way back with regards this RNAi technology which has actually been used in the past. I'll list them below.
Concerns over RNAi Technology not new
RNAi-Based Insecticidal Crops: Potential Effects on Nontarget Species
USDA researchers confirm Heinemann conclusions on RNA-interference risks
Dr Jonathan Lundgren, RE: Complaint of Violations of USDA Scientific Integrity Policy
So what's the differences between CRISPR & RNAi technologies ?
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News: Advertorial: Comparing RNAi and CRISPR Technology for Loss-of-Function Genetic Screens
What are the differences between gene knockout by CRISPR and by RNAi?
 Get Well in the RNAi Way-RNAi, A Billion Dollar Baby in Therapy
Important References to material above
Showa Denko Tryptophan Incident

World Renowed Scientist, Árpád Pusztai, loses job over GM Potato Warning
New Scientist: GM pea causes allergic damage in mice
What is the principle of "substantial equivalence" ???
Well, now you know why the article title in Motley Fool provided a warning shot across the bows of Monsanto and other biotechs who are pushing for unrestricted freedom. Now that Bayer has bought Monsanto and they want to change the name. You should also know that they also want to change the name of this technology to not reflect the initials GMO. See, GMO leaves a bad taste in folk's mouths. It's a P.R. marketing stunt. The problem is it is still genetic manipulation. Given that they have attempted to definition shell game what genetic modification means (equating traditional animal and plant breeding with Lab coats genetic manipulation as the same), why should people allow them to game the subject again and smokescreen another technique ? Think about it and if you have time read this on that very thing:
CRISPR and the Monsanto Problem (GMO, be some other name!)