Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Correlation between Autism and GMOs

The increase in the number of autism cases has been correlated to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and vaccines for long. While it is true autism cases has been in the rise in the past few decades, the spurious correlation to vaccines and GMOs does not hold any water or stand the security of science.

Arvind Suresh in an article written for Genetic Literacy Project says that researchers now believe that nothing is causing the rise of this disorder. It is merely a statistical mirage. Compared to about one out of every 2000 children who had autism in 1970s and 80s, the figure has skyrocketed to one in 150 among 8-year-olds in the USA, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the critics of GMOs and vaccination, it is a mighty easy task to speculate and do some armchair research – correlate the increase in vaccination and increase in the adoption of GM crops to the increase in autism cases over the years and drive home the point that autism is caused by GMOs and vaccination. Bear in mind the advocate for anti-vaccination, Jenny McCarthy proudly said in an Oprah interview, “The University of Google is where I got my degree from”.

If you want to have fun with statistics where one can correlate anything with similar trends and jump into a conclusion, visit this page: . Here you will see real spurious statistics – among others, age of Miss America correlates with murder by steam, hot vapours and hot objects, US crude oil imports from Norway correlates with drivers killed in collision with railway train, and number of people drowned by falling into a swimming pool (USA) correlates to number of films Nicolas cage appeared in.

If one were to do the same standard to research done by critics of GMOs and the pseudoscience, then increase in autism could also be correlated to increase in organic food sales – see figure below.

So why the increase? In fact evidence show that there is no dramatic increase in autism after all. 
The apparent increase is due to changes in the diagnostic criteria, increased screening and awareness of this disorder. Forbes reported that:
The way autism is defined in the U.S. has changed dramatically since 1980, when it first appeared in the DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as “Infantile Autism” and could only be diagnosed in children whose symptoms began before they were three years old. Autism spectrum disorders have expanded to include diagnosis without a specific age requirement beyond the “early developmental period” and without requiring significant language impairment in the recently revised DSM-5.
The vast majority of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders today would never have qualified under the 1980 classification, and no formal classification separate from schizophrenia existed before then. So it’s not surprising that numbers have increased in the U.S.

The definition of ASD has also been expanded to include a collection of brain development disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome. For example, Denmark expanded its diagnostic criteria in 1994.

Not only the diagnostic criteria was widened, the national data tracking in Denmark began to include diagnosis made from outpatient patient visits rather than just diagnosis of those admitted to a healthcare facility. This happened in every country where autism cases were soaring.

A paper published in JAMA Pediatrics (2015 Jan 1;169(1):56-62) concludes that the change in diagnostic criteria taken together along with the diagnoses made outside of a healthcare facility accounted for as much as 60 per cent of the increase in prevalence of autism spectrum disorders.
It is important to understand that with early screening programmes introduced by governments and newer diagnostic techniques coming into play, there will be a prevalence of certain diseases. The same case can also be argued for increase in certain types of cancers.

Whatever, it is cherry picking of data should be stopped and the public must be equipped with some knowledge to discriminate against pseudoscience. 

By Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan

The Rise and Rise of Biotech/GM Crops

While the critics of biotech/GM crops are busy trying to impede the approvals and commercial cultivation of the crops, farmers are happily increasing their hectarage.

A record 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops were grown globally last year - an increase of more than six million hectares from 2013.

This is according to a report released here today by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).

With the addition of Bangladesh, a total of 28 countries grew biotech crops during the year. The 20 developing and eight industrial countries where biotech crops are produced represent more than 60 percent of the world's population.

"The accumulated hectarage of biotech crops grown in 1996 to 2014 equals, roughly, 80 percent more than the total land mass of China," said Clive James, ISAAA Founder and report author.

"Global hectarage has increased more than 100-fold since the first plantings of biotech crops."
Since 1996, more than 10 food and fiber biotech crops have been approved and commercialized around the world. These range from major commodities such as maize, soybean and cotton, to fruits and vegetables like papaya, eggplant and, most recently, potato.

The traits of these crops address common issues affecting crop, benefits to the consumer and production rates for farmers, including drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance and increased nutrition and food quality.

Biotech crops contribute to more sustainable crop production systems and provide resilient responses to the challenges of climate change. 

Two apparent push for biotech crops were political will as exemplified by the Minister for Agriculture in Bangladesh by approving Bt brinjal and bringing it to the farms in less than 100 days of approval and the private-public partnerships as for drought-tolerant sugar cane (Indonesia) and drought-tolerant and insect-resistant maize (Africa) and herbicide-tolerant soybean (Brazil).

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Is this a form of Compulsive Disorder?

I read some time ago that people who have an aversion to math may be less able to understand topics linked to GMOs and other health-related information. This was revealed by researchers at Penn State University. It might be due to their lack of understanding of statistics.

I always felt that there are many reasons for being anti-GMO. Ignorance or lack of knowledge on science, driven by business motives (such as pro-organic, funding from chemical and pesticide companies), genuine concerns on food and environmental safety (though it is unfounded), influence from green NGOs (due to inability to distinguish between science and pseudoscience), and for some it is a cult/religion which they follow blindly.

Here I found a new reason – some sort of compulsive disorder. Just look at the pictures below.

These people need medical help….

By Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Because science has its ‘wow’ factors!

LAST month we launched a new-look The Petri Dish – with a refreshingly new masthead, layout and font types. This breezy new look is accompanied this month by the introduction of a special pull-out –  SCOPE.
So now, The Petri Dish comes in 20 full-colour pages. This is 67% increase in the number of pages since The Petri Dish was first launched in Feb 2011.
The SCOPE will feature the “wow” factors of science exploring the Why, What, When, Where, Who and How of Science. This is our offering to a wider range of readers, especially the school going intelligentsia and  younger readers to get them into the world of science.
We hope to have your continued support to bring science to the schools in a fun and breezy way. Share with us mind-blowing facts that you stumble upon and want others to know about it. Together let us make science infectious and enjoyable.
The latest statistics on the Global Status of Biotech/GM Crops was just released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA). We bring that to you in this issue. See lead story in the front page and in pages 6 &7.
To date there are 18 million farmers commercially growing 181.5 million hectares of biotech/GM crops in 28 countries. What drives this technology is the reduced use of chemical pesticides by 37%, increase in crop yield by 22 % and increase in farmer profits by 68%.
Three new crops approved in 2014 were Bt brinjal in Bangladesh (resistant against brinjal fruit borer), drought –tolerant sugar cane in Indonesia and potato in the USA with reduced acrylamide content when deep fried and resistant to browning upon peeling. 
The Bt brinjal and drought-tolerant sugar cane are products of public sector, much to the contrary of claims by anti-GM NGOs that GM crops are monopolised by big industry players. These are fruits of sheer determination and political will and evidence that developing countries can take the lead too.
Wishing all our Chinese readers, advertisers and subscribers a very prosperous Chinese New Year as the Year of the Goat bleats into 2015.    

By Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is DNA a bad word?

Americans have been voting in every States on whether they do or don’t support mandatory labeling of GM foods. While a majority supports labeling, how much of the decisions made at the ballot box are based on knowledge and understanding of biotech remains a question.

I came across two surveys which strengthen my observation that the public is not making a well-informed decision. It is just based on gut feeling, bad press on GMOs and influence from the scaremongers that GM is bad for us.

Watch this video
The summary of this video: I don’t know what are GMOs but all I know is it is bad for me.
My  question: Don’t we study the topic in hand a little before making a decision? What makes these people jump into conclusions?

 Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan discussing GM foods with members of Gardening Society in Kuala Lumpur who were predominantly anti-GM

Another survey done by Oklahoma State University:

86.5% of respondents support mandatory country of origin labels for meat. A large majority (82%) “support mandatory labels on GMOs”. But curiously, about the same amount (80%) also “support mandatory labels on foods containing DNA.”

It reveals that these people do not have any understanding of what DNA and GMOs are. And this is why the GMO critics have an upper hand with the public as it is easy to create scary looking foods and paint a negative picture about GM foods.

Second thoughts: The 80% who wants all foods containing DNA to be labeled might be right after all. All our foods are modified genetically anyways.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan