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SMC Bulletin - Should we use GE in plants?

Should we use GE in plants?

A new discussion paper evaluates the potential uses and risks of gene editing for New Zealand’s primary industries.

New Zealand has historically had a conservative approach to gene editing, but embracing gene editing technology could allow us to create disease-resistant mānuka honey and remove certain allergens from milk, a new Royal Society Te Apārangi papersays.

This discussion paper – the third in a series from the Society's Gene Editing in Aotearoa project – states gene editing could bring a range of benefits for our agriculture, horticulture and forestry sectors, zoning in on apples, mānuka, ryegrass, wilding pines, and dairy cows.

Panel member Dr Phil Wilcox, a statistician from the University of Otago told Newstalk ZB's Kate Hawkesby "the whole point of this exercise was to... help inform public decision making about whether or not we should be using these technologies, and under what circumstances".

The scientists involved acknowledge that many members of the public are wary of genetic modification and Dr Tony Conner, science group leader at AgResearch, told Stuff: "The difficulty with public perceptions of any genetic technology is that it tends to be skewed in favour of the worst-case scenario, even when there is no real evidence of harm."

The Society is seeking public feedback on the paper and holding three workshops around the country this month to discuss the findings.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Quoted: Youtube
"We schemed a scheme in times gone by,

"When hopes were high and the climate worth saving."
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research policy fellow Catherine Leining sings a musical tribute to the first decade of NZ's Emissions Trading Scheme

Sulawesi struck by tsunami
On Friday evening, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Soon after, a five-metre high tsunami swept into the nearby city of Palu.

Early estimates suggested the quake and resulting tsunami killed at least 800 people and displaced more than 50,000, but by Thursday, the death toll had risen to at least 1,400 and as many as 1.6 million people affected.

The earthquake cut power to the town, limiting the local authority's ability to broadcast alerts, but after the mainshock on Friday night, a 0.5-3.0m tsunami alert was issued for the Makassar Strait (which separates Sulawesi from Indonesian Borneo) and a 0.5m alert for Palu. This alert was called off within an hour, but later a localised tsunami with waves 5-6m high swept into the city of Palu.

GNS Science seismologist John Ristau told Stuff that the type of earthquake (strike-slip) and the magnitude (M7.5) weren’t usually associated with causing tsunamis. While the exact source of the tsunami remains unknown, Dr Jose Borrero, Director eCoast Marine Consulting, told Stuff it was likely "some sort of submarine landslide, or a big cliff collapse, or just localised subsidence from the earthquake" may be to blame.

He told the SMC that the wave height was so much higher than expected because "Palu is located at the head of a long skinny bay, so any wave that is forced up the bay will be strongly amplified at the head of the bay."

Local researchers were in Palu as recently as March this year running earthquake resilience workshops on behalf of StIRRRD (Strengthened Indonesian Resilience – Reducing Risk from Disasters). Dr Michele Daly from GNS Science wrote on Sciblogs: "In the 7 years the StIRRRD team have been working with Palu, and more recently Donggala, the districts have been making steady progress in improving their resilience." However, she says "building resilience requires a sustained effort over generations" and that the devastating quake and tsunami will set these communities back significantly.

New approach to earthquake forecasting – study

In future, we might have more warning of such events, as a studypublished on Tuesday by Victoria University of Wellington Associate Professor Simon Lamb suggests a novel earthquake forecasting approach. Based on 20 years of data leading up to the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, the researchers say in most cases, earthquakes are triggered by quakes on other faults, as each quake releases stress from one spot, but puts more strain somewhere else.

Lamb wrote on The Conversation: “the Herculean task of identifying every fault and its past earthquake history may be of only limited use. In fact, it is becoming clear that earthquake ruptures on individual faults are far from regular. Big faults may never rupture in one go, but bit by bit together with many other faults.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the disaster.

State of snails in our rivers
A river quality report and interactive from Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) has measured the health of our rivers through data on 10-year trends from sites around the country.

The report assesses river water based on nine quality indicators and looks at the health of macroinvertebrates (snails, worms and insects) for the first time, concluding they may be struggling to thrive at some sites.

Professor Jenny Webster-Brown from the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management told the SMC the results won’t come as a surprise to most New Zealanders, with human activities reducing the quality of around one-third of our monitored waterways.

The report indicates that our rivers are showing signs of improvement with respect to nitrogen levels, turbidity and E.coli, but as Webster-Brown says, these are just "physical and chemical parameters which have the potential to affect ecosystems", and the new macroinvertebrate indicator allows us to measure the "direct response of those ecosystems to changing water quality".

These critters are a good yardstick for how the rivers are doing over time outside the monthly water quality measurements. Cawthron Institute’s Rob Holmes told Newsroom: “they are like a black box recorder for waterways,” as some thrive in polluted conditions, and others disappear rapidly.

Victoria University's Dr Mike Joy told RNZ the snapshot water samples taken by Councils can give the impression things are improving, "because the amount of nitrate is going down in the water, but what you haven't accounted for is the amount of algae that has gone up in the water... and that's why the invertebrates are telling the true story that the reduction in nitrates aren't showing".

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the report.

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