In June 2016, BBC current affairs programme Panorama conducted a whistle-stop tour around potential applications of CRISPR, the emerging gene editing technology.
In Medicine’s Big Breakthrough… Editing Your Genes (30 mins), Fergus Walsh talks to a number of key players in the field. These include Jennifer Doudna, credited as one of the co-creators of CRISPR as an editing took, George Church who is looking to humanise pig organs to reduce the likelihood of rejection, and Fyodor Urnov (from Sangamo Biosciences) who is trying to use the technology to tackle diseases such as AIDS and haemophilia. Alison van Eenennaam discusses genetic approaches to making horn-less cattle (which, she argues, is more humane than the current methods for removing existing horns). Walsh also visits biohacking entrepreneur Josiah Zayner, and Kathy Niakan from the Crick Institute who has the UK’s first licence to use CRISPR with human embryos.
The video is good at raising ethical as well as scientific questions. I can see this episode either serving as a very nice introduction to the topic, which students could be asked to watch before a face-to-face teaching session, or alternatively one or more of the vignettes could be used as illustrative clip(s) within a lecture.
A transcript of the programme is available via this link.
There are a several introductory videos about CRISPR on YouTube. These include one produced by The Royal Society, available via this link. It starts from quite a low level, and so is probably most applicable for a school audience. A second, longer, video produced by Kurzgesagt (German for “in a nutshell”) is available via this link.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Full original programme URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0B9E458F?bcast=121120092
Review by June Adams
The current worldwide demand for meat is huge, and growing faster than production rates can keep up with. How will we stop our commercial supply of meat from running out?
One way that farmers have tried to tackle the beef shortage is by producing cows that give more meat. Belgian blues are a type of cow that has been specially bred to have 20% more muscle than the average cow, equating to 900 more quarter pounders. They can be reared to weigh up to one tonne! However, the extreme looking breed is controversial and difficult to farm. Belgian blue cows are unable to give birth naturally, and the calves often suffer from joint and heart problems. Is there a way to increase meat production without overburdening livestock?
In this five minute clip from the series Tomorrow’s Food, Professor Mark Post has managed to grow a burger in a lab by extracting stem cells from a tiny piece of meat, which then multiplied for 8 weeks in an incubator to make new muscle tissue. It takes 30 billion cells to make a single burger. The process is faster and may require less energy than rearing a whole cow, but it produces a very small amount of meat that costs a lot; a lab-grown burger costs over $200,000. In order to reduce costs to make the process viable on the market, production would need to be scaled up drastically – Olympic swimming pool sized incubation tanks! With some work, hopefully lab-grown burgers will become cheap enough to be sold commercially in less than 10 years.
World’s first lab-grown burger is eaten in London (5th August 2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23576143
Broadcaster: BBC News (and BBC 1)
There has been growing concern about antibiotic resistance over recent years. One alternative is to use bacteriophage (phage), viruses that attack bacteria. The idea is not new, it was actively pursued in the former Soviet Union, but is now being investigated in a rigorous way in western countries.
In this 2.5 minute news story, Martha Clokie from the University of Leicester discusses the potential to use freeze-dried phage in place of antibiotics. The initial trials are due to take place with farm pigs.
For more on this story follow this link.
For other programmes on phage therapy follow this link.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Part 1 – https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/86966 (3.32 mins)
Part 2 – https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/86968 (3:10 mins)
Original programme URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/95311 (60 mins)
Review by June Adams
Around one third of UK households already buy meat alternatives, and the market is still rising as meat becomes more expensive. Being a versatile, nutritional, and super efficient meat alternative, could Quorn be the food of the future?
In two short sections from the third episode of his series Tomorrow’s Food, comedian turned science presenter Dara Ó Briain walks us through the process.
Production of Quorn starts with a single speck of freeze-dried fungus (Fusarium venenatum), reawakened and grown in a sugar-nutrient solution. In less than a week, it will grow to fill two ten-storey towers with 45 thousand tonnes of mycoprotein. Producing Quorn is ten times more efficient than rearing animals for meat, and contains less than half the calories and fat of beef mince and 78 times less cholesterol.
Turning the raw protein into edible products means further processing to give it the flavour and texture of meat. Freezing changes texture from a dough-like consistency to fibrous, as the ice crystals create fibrous bundles. Ingredients mixed in with Quorn before it is frozen creates the different flavours, and recipes can be tailored to suit the tastes of different countries, making Quorn incredibly versatile.
This clip might be of interest to microbiology or food technology students.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Length: 6:53 mins
URL full original programme (60 mins): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0B9E458F
Review by June Adams
At the John Innes Centre in Norwich, a genetically modified “supertomato” has been produced which could help make us all healthier. Using genes from snapdragons, Professor Cathie Martin has genetically modified tomatoes to produce anthocyanins, making them appear bright purple. Anthocyanins are pigment compounds naturally produced in many plants, and in our diets are thought to help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and even cancer. Tomatoes were chosen to host these genes because they are the most consumed fruit in the word, are added as an ingredient to many other foods, and are accessible to people on a low income. Continue reading
URLs: (full episode) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0D9D7D7F
Clip 1 (6:43): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/23517
Clip2 (6:16): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/23518
The BBC’s rural affairs programme Countryfile (first broadcast on 9th October 2016) looked at ongoing issues with TB infection cattle populations. The topic was covered in two sections. The first focuses on the current tests for TB infection. The second looks more closely at the science being used to develop new tests and better vaccines against TB. Continue reading
Increasing global population and food demands drive the discovery for new food sources and imminent dietary change
Broadcaster: BBC TWO
Review by Ella Yabsley
This 4.5-minute clip from BBC Two’s Food & Drink could serve as a useful discussion-starter when considering the ethics of global meat consumption. The clip begins with the introduction of a new type of food source, cultured beef or in vitro meat (IVM). A team from Maastricht University (Holland) claim that IVM was produced for numerous reasons: IVM is more sustainable compared to traditional animal farming practices; it could solve the current (and future) food crisis; and it could also help to combat climate change. Regardless of your ethical standpoint, this clip highlights some of the ethical, economic and health-related tensions that the ‘Western World’ is facing with regards to animal agriculture. Continue reading
“Eat your Christmas dinner and don’t worry”
Broadcaster: BBC News
Review by Emma Sterling
Bacteria resistant to the “last resort” antibiotic colistin have been found in the UK. Public Health England says the threat to human health is low. Clive Myrie speaks to health correspondent James Gallagher in this 2 minute clip.
The colistin-resistant bacteria were first reported on a farm in China in November 2015 and have since been found in Africa and other parts of Europe. Chinese researchers have found the mcr-1 gene that is responsible for this resistance.
Gallagher stresses that this does not mean these bacteria are unbeatable or that a bacterial apocalypse is nigh (we hope his “Eat your Christmas dinner and don’t worry” does not become the antibacterial version of Michael Fish’s famous promise that a hurricane was not on the way). Those that are resistant to colistin are currently susceptible to other antibiotics, but the discovery raises the spectre of an entirely resistant infection. If this was to occur then routine surgery and cancer therapies might be rendered unsafe.
For more on the story see the BBC News website, and for more scientific detail this article from Nature.
The specialist “embryo flushing” team can implant up to 1500 surrogates in a year.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Genre: Documentary, Magazine
A seven-minute clip from the popular BBC rural affairs programme Countryfile, looking at “embryo flushing” a modern IVF-based method that is replacing traditional selective breeding on many farms.
Embryos are removed from a pedigree cow using a saline flush and she is later fertilised by a bull in the traditional manner. The quality of the harvested embryos can be examined at the on-farm laboratory and the best placed into other non-pedigree cows. In this way it becomes possible for the cow with desirable characteristics to be the biological mother of perhaps six calves at one time. As the technique gains in popularity, the specialist can transfer as many as 1500 embryos in a year.
Other applications of this approach include being able to breed using the best genetic stock from around the world, and allowing for deep freezing of embryos as a safeguard against some catastrophic outbreak. The approach was recently used to re-introduce 100 long-horn cattle into Australia.
Genetic modification of aubergine in Bangladesh has dramatically reduced the need to use pesticides
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Review by Prof John Bryant (University of Exeter)
Fierce opposition to the growth of GM crops, especially in the EU (including the UK), goes back to the late 1990s, shortly after the first successful commercialism of crops bred by these techniques. One of the most unfortunate casualties of this opposition is Golden Rice™, bred by GM techniques to provide extra vitamin-A. Its use in SE Asia would save the eyesight of tens of thousands of children and the lives of several thousand each year. However, its uptake into agriculture has been opposed by anti-GM activists at every step such that in 2015, 16 years after this development was announced to the world, the variety is still not available to Asian farmers. Nevertheless, GM-bred crops are now grown in 28 countries (the programme says 27, which was the total in 2013) on a total area of 182 million hectares and, as pointed out in the programme, the countries in which these crops are grown have not suffered environmental disasters nor have there been any detrimental effects on human or animal health.
This brief background leads us to the theme of the programme which asks whether two newer GM-bred crops may be ‘game-changers’ in respect of public attitudes. The first is insect-resistant aubergines which are now being grown in Bangladesh (where the local name for aubergine is brinjal). These plants carry the Bt-toxin gene, already widely used across the world in insect-resistant maize and cotton. Farmers growing Bt-brinjal are enthusiastic about it: the development reduces their costs, reduces crop losses and above all reduces the use of insecticides which, because of poor safety measures, cause harm to farmers’ health. Continue reading