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
A live pond-dip failed to locate a Great Crested Newt
Broadcaster: Channel 4
The conflict between housing and infrastructure development and protected species such as the Great Crested Newt are often mentioned in the news. On this occasion, C4 News correspondent Tom Clarke visits Dorset prompted by concerns that changes to the European Habitats Directive might be watering down protection of endangered species.
Migration of cuckoos has been tracked for four years
Broadcaster: Radio 4
Genre: Radio, interview
A four minute interview with Chris Hewson from the British Trust for Ornithology about satellite tracking of a cuckoo, also called “Chris”, over the past four years. Chris (the cuckoo) has visited 28 countries in that time and has made four journeys over the Sahara. Prior to this project, very little was known about the migration of cuckoos which are a species in serious decline. Cuckoos seem to all congregate in the Congo, but get there via two different routes – via Italy or via Spain. It appears that going via the Spanish route is much more perilous to the birds.
More details of the BTO project can be found on their website (this link).
British zoos have paid for GPS collars to learn more about leopards and cheetahs in Namibia
Broadcaster: BBC 1
This 3 minute package from BBC Breakfast (30th April 2015) looks at efforts to protect leopards and cheetahs in Namibia from farmers who consider their livestock to be under threat. Chester and Colchester Zoos have paid for GPS collars to track the big cats and learn more about their lifestyles. The research is uncovering the fact that some cattle DO get attacked, but in relatively small numbers. Farmers are (hopefully) being persuaded to stop shooting and trapping the big cats, and adopt other protective strategies instead – including “alarm donkeys”.
A version of this story is also currently on the BBC website.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Genre: Magazine, factual
This 7-minute clip from Countryfile looks at research into honeycomb worms (Sabellaria alveolata) being conducted by scientists from Bangor University. Would be of interest to students of marine ecology.
See this link from the Marine Reserves Coalition for more detail.
Britain’s most famous TV naturalist turns his attention to plants
Year: 2013 & 2014 (originally shown 1995)
The classic six-part series featuring David Attenborough – no notes yet, please feel free to offer recommendations for teaching using these programmes.
Episodes (50 mins each)
- Travelling http://bobnational.net/record/253535
- Growing http://bobnational.net/record/253536
- Flowering http://bobnational.net/record/289579
- The Social Struggle http://bobnational.net/record/289580
- Living Together http://bobnational.net/record/289581
- Surviving http://bobnational.net/record/289582
This programme focused on the emerging potential for 3D printing of organic material
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Genre: Radio, Documentary
Howard Stableford anchors this 30 minute documentary on the growing applications of 3D printing to bioscience.
As long ago as 2005, a bald eagle had a damaged beak repaired using 3D printing. Stableford talks to a team who are working on a 3D printed seawall and reef structures, that has nooks and crannies suitable for various organisms to live, in a way that is not possible with more typical engineered materials. It is like producing a city for the anticipated biolife likely to live in that area. The reefs have a natural appearance and replacing existing areas lost in previous developments. It may be possible to adapt existing processes to work with living tissue.
Bio-printing involves material that incorporate “viable living cells”. This is not about printing tissue directly, but is more an extension of existing tissue engineering approaches, in which cells are persuaded to develop into tissues. A temporary scaffold is used to direct the required shape. Currently a “soup” of cell suspension is introduced into a scaffold. 3D Bio-printing would incorporate cells into a scaffold in new orientations, rather than actually printing a tissue. The question is posed whether parallel advances in 3D printing and DNA manipulation techniques, might allow us to reach a point where we could print an organism.
Of course this would be far from trivial. If you knew the entire internal 3D layout of an organism you might be able to print this. This is unlikely. Making an egg instead, provided with the relevant genetic information and nutrients would be more feasible but even this is a long way off.
The strength of this programme is the enthusiasm for those willing to push boundaries, to see what is possible with these emerging technologies. However, although the programme overall was thought-provoking episode, floating possibilities, there was little solid content. In that sense it was rather reminiscent of an old episode of Tomorrow’s World, which – of course – Stableford also used to present.