GM debate: scientists and protesters aren’t polar opposites

Written by Rebecca Nesbit

Editor’s note: Republished with permission from The Birds, the Bees, and Feeding the World.
My excitement of today was to attend the anti-GM protest organised by Take the Flour Back, joining the group of bystanders wearing ‘Don’t Destroy Research’ badges. Take the Flour Back (I don’t get the name – apparently it’s something to do with Rage Against the Machine) objects to a trial of GM wheat, and they organised a day to do some ‘decontamination’. That’s vandalism to you and me.
The trial at Rothamsted Research is of genetically-modified wheat which contains an aphid-repelling gene normally found in peppermint plants. The aim is to reduce the use of pesticides.
Take the Flour Back say it is too risky to do the trial in the great outdoors. However, trials in the lab have been very promising and the necessary lab tests have been completed to ensure it is ready to test in the field.
Take the Flour Back claim that there is the danger insects will carry the pollen to other fields and contaminate them. However, wheat is not insect-pollinated. Wheat flowers fertilise themselves before they open. Excess pollen, which is heavy and lives for only a few hours, then falls to the ground around the plant. There are obviously strict regulations for anyone applying for a permit for a field trial, and birds and small mammals are kept out of the trial.
The protest today was very calm. Around 200 protestors turned up, many of them from a French organisation who seem to be generally into protests. A bus load of people came from Bristol.
I spent some time listening to their talks, which were of varying quality. There were some outrageous claims that Sense About Science (who I was with and who have been working with Rothamsted) was acting in the interests only of big businesses and had infiltrated the government. We wish.
A conventional farmer stood up and spoke, acknowledging he may be unpopular in a gathering of organic supporters. He claimed that we didn’t need GM because we have pesticides. To me, reducing the need for pesticides is one of the main potential benefits of GM. The widespread use of pesticides also shows that agriculture is already very linked to capitalism. I spoke to some lovely girls from Take the Flour Back and it emerged that they were really anti-capitalism and anti-corporations more than anti-GM. It seemed a shame that a scientific trial with the overall aim of improving food security, funded by publc money, is a target for these views. I agree it’s an issue, but let’s address these problems not trash trials.
The politics have been interesting to say the least. A few days ago Jenny Jones from The Green Party announced her support for Take the Flour Back, though whether she supported the ‘decontamination’ is a bit hazier. Within hours of the link announcing her support appearing on the Green website it was removed and has now reappeared in a modified form. I was extremely disappointed that a politician would support activism rather than rational debate, even if she does have concerns about GM. She sounds a little more rational in this piece in the Telegraph. The Lib Dem’s Evan Harris was there today supporting the scientists, and was kind enough to give me an anti-histamine when the hay fever started, though I should also thank Take the Flour Back for their delicious pizza.
One of the things that struck me, and indeed all the protestors I spoke to, was how much we have in common. I was pleased to be interviewed by a journalist near a Take the Flour Back banner saying ‘Biodiversity not big corporations’ and was able to say ‘that’s what I think too’. The difference was that I’m not too keen on conspiracy theories, and that I want to keep an open mind about solutions to the extreme challenge of sustainably feeding billions of people in a changing climate.
Scientists have given lots of answers to questions about the safety of the trial and the commercial practicalities – it’s worth a read. Or you can hear them on a podcast with The Pod Delusion. Sadly, last weekend an intruder damaged the trial, but he didn’t destroy it and he has since been arrested. Two arrests were also made at today’s protest but no damage was done.
Personally, I thank the protesters for bringing the debate back into public consciousness. However, I hope we can keep it closer to evidence and further away from ‘evil scientists versus hippy environmentalists’. Whatever you think about the future of GM crops, you can help keep the debate based on evidence and sign the Sense About Science petition asking Take the Flour Back not to destroy research.
I have a more detailed summary of coverage here, though judging by the cameras and notepads I saw today there’s a lot more coming. The question now is – will the trial last unscathed until September? Who knows, but I’ll keep you updated.
Conservation and the environment have been Rebecca Nesbit’s passions from when she was far too young to know what it all meant. She studied biology at University of Durham and in 2010 was awarded an ecology PhD. Rebecca did her research at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire and spent her time chasing migrant butterflies – earning her the name “Butterfly Becky.” Rebecca now works as a PR consultant, and represents small companies with bright ideas in science and technology. She also blogs at The Birds, the Bees, and Feeding the World.

Written by Guest Expert

Rebecca Nesbit is author of the popular science book ‘Is that Fish in your Tomato?’ which explores the fact and fiction of GM foods. She studied butterfly migration for her PhD, then worked for a start-up company training honeybees to detect explosives. She now works in science communication and her projects have ranged from a citizen science flying ant survey to visiting universities around the world with Nobel Laureates. In her spare time she writes fiction – she has published a novel, and many short stories.

Guest Expert

Written by Guest Expert

The strength of the discussions on Biofortified depend on the diversity of expertise, perspectives, and backgrounds of our contributors and guest experts.

63 comments

  1. ‘Take the Flour Back claim that there is the danger insects will carry the pollen to other fields and contaminate them. However, wheat is not insect-pollinated. Wheat flowers fertilise themselves before they open. Excess pollen, which is heavy and lives for only a few hours, then falls to the ground around the plant.’
    Is wheat mostly not insect-pollinated? That aside, I would recommend you read Gene Flow in Wheat at the Field Scale:
    https://www.crops.org/publications/cs/articles/44/3/718
    Sample quote:
    ‘One case of long-distance intraspecific pollen-mediated gene flow was confirmed at a rate of 0.005% at a distance of 300 m to the NW of the 2000 pollinator block (Table 4). This gene flow event probably resulted from wind-mediated pollen movement promoted by strong and prevalent winds.’
    There was unconfirmed gene flow at 1210 metres (see Table 4). Its not clear whether the wind has been stronger at Harpenden.

  2. Something deeply concerning is the UK media (certainly The Telegraph and The Times) have been giving the public false information. I quote from Rothamsted Research:
    ‘The genes we inserted into the wheat plants were chemically synthesised and not taken from another plant or animal. The gene that makes (E)-B-farnesene, encodes a protein that is similar to that found in pepermint but versions of this gene are also present in many other plants. The other gene that is needed, the “farnysel pyrophosphate synthase gene”, is widespread in nature and can be found in most organisms.
    We used synthetic genes which is a standard procedure for modern molecular biology. The synthetic form of the farnysel pyrophosphate synthase gene we used encodes a protein that happens to be most similar to that found in a cow but is not significantly different to the versions found in nearly all other organisms. It is not a cow gene, it just looks like one. A bit like two unrelated individuals who bear an uncanny resemblance to each other.’
    http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/Content.php?Section=AphidWheat&Page=QA (click on Technical Questions)
    In my opinion, Britain is so creaked its not worth referring the issue to the Press Complaints Commission.

  3. Personally, I thank the protesters for bringing the debate back into public consciousness.

    Why? They’ve done so with the utmost stupidity and dishonesty. They’re weasels supportive of something only a few steps shy of terrorist in nature. The debate in the UK was an absolute shambles in the 80’s and 90’s (full of the same nonsense) and here we are 20 years later and suffering through the same crap. There isn’t a bloody thing to be thankful for here.
    Thank you protestors, for being too pig ignorant to do the vaguest bit of research, thanks for backing the hell down when offered an actual debate on the matter, thanks for reignighting public fears with your baseless lies and wild imaginations.
    I think not. I recognize that PR types have to be all happy and consilatory, but frankly such an approach makes me sick. These people have nothing to bring to the table and are essentially wandering up to the table and pissing in the soup, and what do they get in response? Politeness and thanks, yeah, that’ll work.

      1. I assume the laughs are at my pitiful ability to spell reigniting when off on a spit flecked rant.
        Painful.

  4. So tell use with honesty Ewan: Will a 20 meter barrier be sufficient when it is known a wind can blow wheat pollen at least 300 metres? Would you care to confirm with honesty the assertion in The Times editorial on Monday that the wheat being tested is natural? Would you share with honesty your humanitarian concern the starving with regard to the yeild from GM soya?

    1. Honestly, yes a 20 meter barrier is entirely sufficient, predominantly because concerns about a miniscule amount of gene flow are utterly stupid, the barrier has been put there to placate idiots. The idiots are not placated. Big. Fat. Hairy. Deal.
      I’m not confirming anything the Times said, I have no reason to say anything one way or the other about what the Times does or does not say, their opinion is about as meaningless to me as yours is.

      Would you share with honesty your humanitarian concern the starving with regard to the yeild from GM soya?

      Alas this question (I assume, but only because it starts with Would and ends with a question mark) is essentially unparsable, and as such I can not share anything whatsoever about it, honestly or dishonestly.

  5. Its worth noting that Table 4 merely measures the gene flow at specific distances. The article states:
    ‘In addition, random sampling was conducted in 2000 and 2001 from surrounding wheat fields to estimate gene flow rates over distances of 180 to 2760 m.’
    https://www.crops.org/publications/cs/articles/44/3/718
    It can reasonably be concluded that the gene flow was only miniscule when taken in isolation, and actually was large.

    1. No, it cannot be reasonably concluded that the gene flow was large.
      Table 4. figures show that there is a single case where confirmed gene flow is seen. At 300 meters a single seed out of 18983 is confirmed to be the result of cross pollination from the block, for the entire long distance experiment spanning 2 years over 1.4 Million seeds were screened – of these 1.4 million seeds a single seed was confirmed to have the phenotype indicative of gene flow.
      Clearly no reasonable person would conclude anything other than miniscule gene flow at distance from this data set.
      Carry on trolling and misrepresenting the literature however.

      1. Ewan, for those who adhere to a radical ‘genetic purity’ policy (reminiscent of a WWII effort), any gene flow at all is really large. No matter how small.

        1. Orphy appears to concede that in isolation this is small, so at least pretends to accept the idea that a small amount of gene flow is possible.
          Although given his vast intellectual dishonest, doublespeak and inability to communicate he may simply be ordering a chilled beverage.

  6. Rebacca, if you noticed someone asleep getting (mild) sunburn, that was likely me. I don’t know if you are based around that area. If you are you might like to have a look at the strange buttercups at the corner of Harpenden FC.

    1. I assume this is a joke not a ‘the presence of Rothamsted magically caused mutant buttercups’? Are you familiar with botany and all the buttercup species?
      I know what you mean about the sunburn though. And if you saw anyone crying it was me – from hay fever that is!

  7. I meant Rebecca. The corner I’m refering to: If you enter Rothamsted Park via the entrance by the Town Hall and walk up through the park, the nearest corner.

  8. The headline led me to scour the article in search of information on the similarities between scientists and activists. I found nothing.
    I was appalled to see in the picture the protective headgear the horses were wearing. These are not decorative items. The need for a police presence is bad enough.
    No, these people are not like scientists.

    1. The way they go about things may be different, but their ultimate goals are similar – feeding people in an environmentally-friendly way, not making lots of money.

  9. Some of the police who blocked the path were in tears and the others were clearly holding back tears. I think it encompassed them all.

      1. Well said Karl. I was really impressed by the Police who were polite and helpful. I did have a giggle with a couple of them during one of the Take the Flour Back talks – a conspiracy theory.

  10. I think I am correct to say there was no violence. The police were blocking the path, the protesters decided to link arms and walk to the path and sit down if the police wouldn’t let us through. I don’t know about the police elsewhere, but I can tell you the police who were blocking the path would have liked to have let us through and were visibly very upset at defending a field of GM.

  11. I wasn’t sure which discussion to raise this question in. As its about the police, I’ll put it here. I think its fair to say that we know from Gene Flow In Wheat At The Field Scale, that pollen from the GM wheat, with a wind, could easily reach the police guarding the field. It has been quite windy. There were still police guarding the field the day after the protest. Perhaps there still are.
    Would breathing in GM pollen offer a route into the blood?

    1. Someone asked me a similar question on Twitter – whether Bt expressed in pollen could be absorbed into the blood if inhaled. I honestly don’t know if anyone has done any studies on this particular issue, but we do know some things that can help us to make an hypothesis about whether such inhalation of pollen will be a problem for human health.
      Wheat is mostly self-pollinated, as has been discussed over and over again. The amount of pollen that is released by wheat flowers is very small. While pollen counts can get pretty high for wind-pollenated plants, I wouldn’t imagine that wheat pollen counts are very high even near the wheat field. So, any wheat pollen that might be inhaled would be in very small amounts.
      There is one protein expressed in this particular wheat pollen that is not expressed in other wheat pollens (assuming that the experiment doesn’t use a leaf-targeted protein, in which case there will be no protein difference between this pollen and other wheat pollen). This particular protein is already expressed in a variety of other plants, in various animals, and in humans. In other words, we eat this protein all the time and we produce the protein ourselves.
      That said, sure, it is possible in the strictest sense that even very unlikely things can be possible, that inhaling tiny amounts of this protein could be harmful – but to be honest I really doubt it.
      As for Bt, that is a slightly different situation because we don’t produce Bt in our bodies. However, Bt is a common protein found in soil in bacteria that we could potentially inhale in amounts equal to the amounts of pollen that we could potentially inhale. There is no indication from all sorts of studies (many of which can be found in the GENERA section of this site) that Bt is harmful to mammals.
      Long story short, it seems to me that there is no more risk from the proteins in either aphid repellent wheat pollen or Bt pollen compared to the regular exposure that we have to those proteins in the environment.

  12. Anastasia, a point you made is contradicted by Rothamsted Research:
    • The genes we inserted into the wheat plants were chemically synthesised and not taken from another plant or animal.The gene that makes (E)-β-farnesene, encodes a protein that is similar to that found in peppermint but versions of this gene are also present in many other plants. The other gene that is needed, the “farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase gene”, is widespread in nature and can be found in most organisms.
    • We used synthetic genes which is a standard procedure for modern molecular biology. The synthetic form of the farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase gene we used encodes a protein that happens to be most similar to that found in cow but is not significantly different to the versions found in nearly all other organisms. It is not a cow gene, it just looks like one. A bit like two unrelated individuals who have an uncanny resemblance to each other.
    http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/Content.php?Section=AphidWheat&Page=QA (click on Technical Questions

    1. I assume (because it unlear what exactly you’re point out) that the contradiction lies in Anastasia describing a single gene and Rothamsted describing 2.
      Anastasia’s points still stand, other than there being two proteins rather than one, both proteins exist in a variety of other animals and plants, yadda yadda.
      Oddly the one vs two mistake is one I’ve seen cropping up elsewhere, it surprises me because this makes the Rothamsted wheat, in my view, far cooler than if it were a single gene approach – they’re utilizing a pathway rather than a single gene to do cool stuff – either gene by itself wouldn’t have the desired phenotype.
      Therein lies the future.

  13. Is there an official policy of calling genes made by scientists and which do not appear in nature, natural genes?
    At the rally, although I prefer organic, the conventional farmer cut to the quick. He pointed out that aphids affected 1% of the crop, and there were various ways, organic or conventional, open to him should he choose. He pointed out that the GM wheat test was not for farmers.
    Lets face reality: You have toy and you want to play.

    1. Scientists do tend to differentiate between human-derived and natural forms of genes by using the term natural. Natural Antisense Transcripts (NATs) are the naturally-occurring form of RNAi, for instance. But if, say, a human-caused mutation leads to a new form of a gene, even if it was not directly made like a transgene, is it still a “natural” gene? The term is used (and should be used) with caution because essentially anything in human-modified plants may not be completely natural.
      As for your question about “natural genes”, I don’t recall any of the scientists calling the genes themselves “natural” but have referred to the approach as being akin to how nature evolves defenses against pests. Natural also means “nature-like” and could be used properly in that fashion.
      The conventional farmer showed just what was wrong with the Take the Flour Back group’s arguments – his argument for why he didn’t need a GE wheat like that was because he could just use pesticides to control the wheat. The TTFB people had dismissed the argument that pesticide sprays could be reduced, and yet put up an example of a farmer that wanted to use pesticides. That’s a complete face-plant.
      Of course it is not a field trial for the farmers – it is a proof-of-concept trial which may eventually lead to a crop trial that will test a cultivar that the farmers could choose to grow. As for your denigrating comment that it’s all about ‘playing with toys’ – people who say that pretty much don’t accept that there are legitimate reasons why the scientists are researching this. No one makes the “toy” comment (and I have heard it before) when it is a new trait being tested but was derived from a natural gene, or even an induced mutation. But when it’s a transgene, it’s just boys with toys? Please.

  14. I wrote that the conventional farmer stated there were already options, organic and conventional, available to him.
    I will add that I think I am correct to say he described 3 methods available for dealing with the minor problem, if he chose to deal with it.
    He very clearly stated that what that farmers want research on are not researched because the scientists prefer to do GM.

    1. There’s all sorts of research being done by all sorts of scientists.Some people just have a tendency to ignore everything else that is happening and instead focus on just the things they don’t like, but that doesn’t mean everything else isn’t happening.

  15. I’ve just done a bit of (crystal ball) allegedly flawed statistical research on the possibility of the the synthetic genes being transferred beyond the experiment perimeter. Its intended as a rough guide. I used:
    ‘One case of long-distance intraspecific pollen-mediated gene flow was confirmed at a rate of 0.005% at a distance of 300 m to the NW of the 2000 pollinator block (Table 4). This gene flow event probably resulted from wind-mediated pollen movement promoted by strong and prevalent winds.’
    https://www.crops.org/publications/cs/articles/44/3/718
    and:
    ‘It was found that the mean genetic distance between different wheat types (0.3115-0.3442) was obviously higher than that within common wheat (0.2743), spelt (0.2351), compactum (0.2622).’
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12043574
    While its a rough guide, using the figure for common wheat, I calculated that nearly 2% of the genetic differential was transfered in the one incidence at 300m.
    I therefor conclude, taking into account the recent winds, it is virtually guaranteed that Rothamsted’s genes have been transfered outside the perimeter. I believe there is a fairly strong likelyhood that those genes have been transfered to (I observed the wind in that general direction) the nearby Broadbalk experiment.

        1. To be fair, the figure for the difference between different types of common wheat was the maximum, and hence the percent of the difference that was transfered may have been considerably higher. Therefore it would have been more accurate to say that a minimum of 1.825% of the difference was transferred.

        2. No, sir, I am a statistician. I question your use of mumbo-jumbo words and hand waving with numbers made with a pseudo-authoritive flair that apparently is an attempt to impress others and sound smarter than the average bear. I’m sure it’s amusing and entertaining in the crunchy granola organo world, but it is just annoying noise in the world of reality.
          So it’s put up or shut up time Orphadeus. I second Anastasia’s call. Show us the math, the details of your computations. While you’re at it, please consider and state any and all assumptions/data behind your “guaranteed” transfer. We wait with anticipation….
          …. Don’t worry Anastasia. I’ll bring a shovel.

      1. Please define:-
        Genetic differential
        and explain it in the context of your comment.
        Then show your calculations, line by line.
        What are you multiplying by what to get to a figure of 2%.
        It’ll be interesting to compare the calculations you use to those in the canonical text “Proctological Numerology in Biotechnology, Third Edition” – I’m assuming they’ll be pretty similar.

      2. When you ask Orph to explain his math, what you get is his explanation that we were all taught arithmetic incorrectly in primary school and actually 16 x 50 = 50. Does anyone really want to see his calculations?

          1. Its a very slightly inaccurate (due to a round up during the calculation) calculation of the percentage of 0.2743 that is 0.005.
            Play to the gallery..

          2. … please consider and state any and all assumptions/data behind your “guaranteed” transfer.

            Then again, maybe you have….

          3. Talk about low caliber. If I had made an error of assumption, they could have explained the correct method of calculating the percent of the genetic difference that was transfered in the once incidence (of many) at 300 m.
            Assumption 1: The measured percent of gene flow from one type to another takes into account the genetic entirity. Hence in the case in question, it was 0.005% of the genetic make up in its entirity.
            Assumption 2: The vast similarity is not transfered.
            Assumption 3: ‘The mean genetic difference’ between different types of wheat was the percent of genetic difference. (I’ve spotted a minor skim reading error I made, by registering the word ‘mean’)
            Thats as far as the assumptions go with regard to the initial calculation. There was a little one that I’ve spotted, I don’t think there was any wild hypothesis there.
            Its quite easy to work out what percentage of 0.2743 is 0.005:
            100/0.2743 = 364.564345607
            364.564345607 x 0.005 = 1.823 (rounded up)
            As that was the mean, we can say that somewhere in the region of 1.823% of the genetic difference was (confirmed as) transfered at the incidence at 300m.
            I’ve spotted another error as the unconfirmed was 0.01%. That was to the north west, there was an unconfirmed 0.02% at 300 m to the west. There was an unconfirmed 0.02% at 670 m (its all at Table 4). Its unlikely as you’re a lot of clever clogs, but perhaps someone may care to explain the mechanics of ‘unexplained’. Is it the case that the unconfirmed gene flow was measured? If someone who is not a smarty could explain the procedure, it would be appreciated.
            Assumption 4: The figures at Table 4 are a drop in the ocean as to what actually happened. That it was just measurement at some positions at random distances is open to manipulation, but should be recognised for what it is. Taking that into account, along with the winds (regularly strong, including very strong) there have recently been at Harpenden, it is reasonable to conclude it is cast iron that Rothamsted’s synthetic genes have been transfered beyond the experiment perimeter.

          4. If I had made an error of assumption, they could have explained the correct method of calculating the percent of the genetic difference that was transfered in the once incidence (of many) at 300 m.

            I can’t comment on something that is unknown.

            Assumption 1: The measured percent of gene flow from one type to another takes into account the genetic entirity. Hence in the case in question, it was 0.005% of the genetic make up in its entirity.

            Wrong. The study measured the percentage of seeds downstream exhibiting the blue alueron trait. This was one trait, not the “genetic entirity”. Of the 8000 seeds tested, 0.005% showed the blue trait.

            Assumption 2: The vast similarity is not transfered.

            No idea what you are talking about here.

            ‘The mean genetic difference’ between different types of wheat was the percent of genetic difference. (I’ve spotted a minor skim reading error I made, by registering the word ‘mean’)

            As I understand this, and I may be wrong here, genetic distance (not difference) as described in your reference above refers to the negative log of the proportion of similar “products” measured (the reference states they measured 238 “products”). Working backwards from the distance 0.2743 you use, we get about 76% similarity. That is, of the 238 products examined, 181 were similar, 57 were not. It was not the “percent of genetic difference”.

            Its quite easy to work out what percentage of 0.2743 is 0.005:

            Yes it is, but given the definition above, it is meaningless. Even if we re-align definitions and assume transferability of products, we are still only saying 1 in 20,000 seeds may have cross pollinated. If that cross pollination has occurred, we have no idea how many traits have actually transferred. They may or may not be independent, linked, dominant or recessive. “Products” may, in fact, may not even correspond well to genetic codes. Given the novelty of the trait in question (it is the only wheat in the world to have it), we (the readers) don’t even know how transferable it is. Add to this that we have no information on the immediate climate at the time, other than the wind was blowing in your hair one day at Rothamsted, the 11 day window for pollination of wheat, the 30 minute max viability of wheat pollen, the differences between spring and winter wheat, etc, etc, it is anything but“guaranteed” or even “reasonable to conclude” that a transfer occurred.

  16. Thanks for the helpful reply. Another assumption: I assume we can interpret that at 300 m to the north west, 0.01% appeared to show the blue trait, and 0.005 were scientifically confirmed, etc. That raises the question as to whether they were all tested. Going by the appearance of the table, that appears unlikely. For example, at 670 m, double the amount appeared to show the blue trait – yet none of them were confirmed.
    If it is helpful to you, there has been regular wind of 20 – 30 mph and a day of 50mph. To translate, that would be regular winds of 32 kph – 48kph, and around a day of 80kph.

  17. If you have any comment with regard to the wind speed..
    Generally it has been dry when the wind has been blowing. Even with the up to around 80 kph, though it had been raining earlier it did become dry. I can tell you that as I was in Harpenden last Thursday.
    It appears the relevant question is: Would the wheat and relatives of wheat in the surrounding area reject Rothamsted’s genes?
    My assumptions: The plants can reject genes. At a cellular level, the plants know there is something wrong with the genes. However, I would assume that they are programmed to accept bundles from their relatives.

  18. Another assumption: I assume we can interpret that at 300 m to the north west, 0.01% appeared to show the blue trait, and 0.005 were scientifically confirmed, etc. That raises the question as to whether they were all tested.

    From what I read in Table 4, they examined 18,983 seeds at the 300m distance. That is presumably the total number of seeds harvested in the .5 x 4 m plot they sampled. Their table appears to be in conflict with the methods stated, however. In the Methods section they state that:
    Unconfirmed gene flow rates were calculated as follows: gene flow (%) = (total number of putative light blue seeds observed in si at dj/total number of seeds harvested of si at dj) x 100. Confirmed gene flow rates were calculated as follows: gene flow (%) = (total number of confirmed light blue seeds observed in si at dj/total number of seeds harvested of si at dj) x 100.
    .
    The 0.005 of Table 4, however, comes from 1/18,983, where the “1” is a putative blue seed, not a confirmed blue seed. The other computations for unconfirmed blues appear correct, although with poor rounding. My guess is the 0.01 in the table should be 0.005. That is, 1 putative blue was found and that 1 was confirmed.
    Interestingly, and damaging for your case, no other distance in either year demonstrated a confirmed blue seed, i.e. it is a very rare event.
    In the case of false positives, the seeds can appear blueish to the eye (the putative test) which is why they are grown out (the confirmed test). It is a dominant trait, so if it is there it will look blue and then grow out blue. The exception is a true blue putative which fails to grow out for some reason, hence, they report both unconfirmed and confirmed.

    If it is helpful to you, there has been regular wind of 20 – 30 mph and a day of 50mph. To translate, that would be regular winds of 32 kph – 48kph, and around a day of 80kph.

    I took a look at the Harpenden weather data that I could quickly find (wunderground.com) and noted that from April 1 to the current date, the average wind speeds at that station (IHERTFOR23) were below that reported in the reference all but three days. Those high days were also days with appreciable precipitation (very little occurred during the pollination windows in the reference). Granted, that is not “on-site” weather, but without knowing when the Rothamsted wheat pollinated and the hourly weather data for the site, it is hard to tell what wind effects were present. Does anyone have daily or hourly Rothamsted weather data or know when the pollination window would have been / will be?

    Would the wheat and relatives of wheat in the surrounding area reject Rothamsted’s genes?

    Probably if they are blooming at different times 🙂

  19. I can assure you it has been considerably more windy at Harpenden than in the study. I’ve generally been in London, its close to Harpenden, and have also been in Harpenden. The current weather forcast:
    ‘Winds gusting to 50 or 60mph are expected over south-west England during Thursday afternoon and evening, with the risk of winds up to 70mph in some exposed coastal areas.
    The gales are then expected to affect much of the south of both England and Wales during Friday with gusts of up to 60mph at times.’
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2012/stormy-june-weather
    Harpenden is south east.
    From what you have pointed out, I’m not keen on the testing method, particularly the little areas tested. Am I correct to say that if there had been gene flow, all the seeds from a particular plant would have it? If so, if they found 1 or 2 then presumably there would have been 50 – 75 nearby.

    1. Winds gusting to 50 or 60mph are expected over south-west England during Thursday afternoon and evening, with the risk of winds up to 70mph in some exposed coastal areas

      Max Gusts in Harpenden this month – 28.8MPH, max gusts in Harpenden this year 33.4MPH. (harpendenweatherstation.co.uk) Finally dug down to where you can get a day by day, end of May through start of June max gusts in Harpenden:-
      End of May – 16mph, 15mph, 24mph (max windspeeds always around 10mph)
      Start of June – 26, 25, 14 (max windspeeds 8 one day, 16 other 2 days)
      Noteworthy that the windspeeds fall right where the paper windspeeds do, one would assume that gusts follow a not dissimilar pattern.
      Your comments regarding the windspeed in Harpenden are clearly as erroneous as the rest of your thinking.

      From what you have pointed out, I’m not keen on the testing method

      You’re not overly keen on reality though, so your opinion here is meaningless.

      Am I correct to say that if there had been gene flow, all the seeds from a particular plant would have it?

      No, you aren’t.

      f so, if they found 1 or 2 then presumably there would have been 50 – 75 nearby

      No, if your assumption is correct then if they found 1 they would find approximately 49 on the same plant. Your assumption is wildly wrong though.

      Assumption 1: The measured percent of gene flow from one type to another takes into account the genetic entirity. Hence in the case in question, it was 0.005% of the genetic make up in its entirity.

      Assumption 1 is incorrect. Read the paper. Learn about sexual reroduction.

      Assumption 2: The vast similarity is not transfered

      Assumption 2 is incorrect. Learn about sexual reproduction.

      Assumption 3:

      astonishingly this appears to be a correct assumption. Whether this is down to stopped clock syndrome, or my own poor understanding of genetic distance is yet to be discovered.

      Thats as far as the assumptions go with regard to the initial calculation.

      And that is why the result of the calculation is meaningless bafflegab.

      don’t think there was any wild hypothesis there

      You’d be correct, but only because for it to be considered an hypothesis it’d have to be grounded in some sort of science, it isn’t, it’s wild speculation based on idiocy.

      Its unlikely as you’re a lot of clever clogs, but perhaps someone may care to explain the mechanics of ‘unexplained’

      Read the paper. (or even the exerpt Pdiff supplies) – unconfirmed (not unexplained, you disingenous sod) means that they saw a phenotype, tried to grow it up to see the phenotype in the offspring, and didn’t see it – they explain that they don’t throw out the data utterly because they didn’t get perfect germination and therefore cannot say for sure that in the ungerminated plants the trait was either there or not.

      Assumption 4: The figures at Table 4 are a drop in the ocean as to what actually happened.

      After you learn some basic biology I suggest perhaps learning some basic statistics.

      My assumptions: The plants can reject genes. At a cellular level, the plants know there is something wrong with the genes. However, I would assume that they are programmed to accept bundles from their relatives.

      This rather supports the stopped clock hypothesis. Your ignorance of biology is monumental.

      1. Could one of our genetics experts chime in here? This reference refers to Nei’s similarity index and the associated genetic distance. My understanding of this is that Nei’s is the proportion of measured things (products in this case) that are similar between two organisms. If this distance measure is called P, then the genetic distance is defined as -ln(P). Is this a correct understanding? I’m guessing this transformation comes about from viewing the problem in terms of odds ratios relative to exact identity, but that is only my speculation (see below). If correct, it is a relative measure to being identical on a log scale, not a percent difference. Genetic distance and similarity, however, are moving targets with many definitions, so I might be totally off base here.
        Derivation for those so inclined:
        If two organisms are identical, then the proportion matching will be 1.0 (the null hypothesis). With proportions, it is customary and useful to look at the “odds” related to the proportions. To examine the odds relative to this identical condition, we look at the ratio of a perfect match relative to the observed value of P, that is: 1.0/P. It is more mathematically tractable to work with the log of the odds, hence we get: ln(1.0/P) = ln(1.0) – ln(P). Because the ln(1.0) is 0.0, this reduces to -ln(P).

  20. I’d be surprised that when a plant produces 50 – 75 seeds, only one seed had the gene. I could believe some of them, just one is stretching credulity.
    Either a cat had a seed in its paw which came out there or there were a lot of the blue seeds nearby, in which case the plots must have been chosen with care.

    1. That is only because you are completely ignorant of plant biology. This is excusable in most circumstances, but when you’re discussing plant biology not so much.
      Wheat is largely self pollinated, so the vast majority of seeds on any given plant will be pollinated by the plant in question, each seed is the result of a single pollination event, one grain of foreign pollen getting in at the right time and managing to outcompete the native pollen will result in a single seed being a hybrid of maternal/paternal an all other seeds being inbreds of the maternal line. There is no reason to expect that just because a single seed wound up pollinated from an external source that any others would, your incredulity is misplaced (although understandable because your grasp on basic biology is non existent)

  21. Orph, you would surely agree that the Rothamsted researchers have made a significant effort to prevent the experimental wheat from pollinating other crops. You also clearly think that the possibility of gene flow still exists.
    Admit one more thing. There are other crops, developed by techniques other than recombinant DNA gene transfer, and some of them have genes that we would like to keep from pollinating other crops. (If you need an example, canola could be pollinated by a close relative, grown as a source of an industrial lubricant, which would make the canola oil very bitter.)
    Now tell me if you can give us an example of a regime for preventing cross pollination which is as thorough as the Rothampton regime?
    I think what you are doing is stigmatizing genes from GMO technology, and only those genes, by such a high level of concern that no preventative technology would satisfy you. For example, growing the plants indoors could fail because an earthquake might destroy the building.

    1. Private eye as a source of scientific information?
      Amusing considering your last post about Charles being satirical. (For those not familiar with press in the UK private eye is a satirical news magazine, soft on facts but hilarious)

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