• Business
    The Conversation

    Genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in Florida and Texas beginning this summer – silver bullet or jumping the gun?

    This summer, for the first time, genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the U.S. On May 1, 2020, the company Oxitec received an experimental use permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to release millions of GM mosquitoes (labeled by Oxitec as OX5034) every week over the next two years in Florida and Texas. Females of this mosquito species, Aedes aegypti, transmit dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika viruses. When these lab-bred GM males are released and mate with wild females, their female offspring die. Continual, large-scale releases of these OX5034 GM males should eventually cause the temporary collapse of a wild population. However, as vector biologists, geneticists, policy experts and bioethicists, we are concerned that current government oversight and scientific evaluation of GM mosquitoes do not ensure their responsible deployment. Genetic engineering for disease controlCoral reefs that can withstand rising sea temperatures, American chestnut trees that can survive blight and mosquitoes that can’t spread disease are examples of how genetic engineering may transform the natural world. Genetic engineering offers an unprecedented opportunity for humans to reshape the fundamental structure of the biological world. Yet, as new advances in genetic decoding and gene editing emerge with speed and enthusiasm, the ecological systems they could alter remain enormously complex and understudied. Recently, no group of organisms has received more attention for genetic modification than mosquitoes – to yield inviable offspring or make them unsuitable for disease transmission. These strategies hold considerable potential benefits for the hundreds of millions of people impacted by mosquito-borne diseases each year. Although the EPA approved the permit for Oxitec, state approval is still required. A previously planned release in the Florida Keys of an earlier version of Oxitec’s GM mosquito (OX513) was withdrawn in 2016 after a referendum indicated significant opposition from local residents. Oxitec has field-trialed their GM mosquitoes in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Panama. The public forum on Oxitec’s recent permit application garnered 31,174 comments opposing release and 56 in support. The EPA considered these during their review process. Time to reassess risk assessment?However, it is difficult to assess how EPA regulators weighed and considered public comments and how much of the evidence used in final risk determinations was provided solely by the technology developers. The closed nature of this risk assessment process is concerning to us. There is a potential bias and conflict of interest when experimental trials and assessments of ecological risk lack political accountability and are performed by, or in close collaboration with, the technology developers. This scenario becomes more troubling with a for-profit technology company when cost- and risk-benefit analyses comparing GM mosquitoes to other approaches aren’t being conducted. Another concern is that risk assessments tend to focus on only a narrow set of biological parameters – such as the potential for the GM mosquito to transmit disease or the potential of the mosquitoes’ new proteins to trigger an allergic response in people – and neglect other important biological, ethical and social considerations. To address these shortcomings, the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign convened a “Critical Conversation” on GM mosquitoes. The discussion involved 35 participants from academic, government and nonprofit organizations from around the world with expertise in mosquito biology, community engagement and risk assessment. A primary takeaway from this conversation was an urgent need to make regulatory procedures more transparent, comprehensive and protected from biases and conflicts of interest. In short, we believe it is time to reassess risk assessment for GM mosquitoes. Here are some of the key elements we recommend. Steps to make risk assessment more open and comprehensiveFirst, an official, government-funded registry for GM organisms specifically designed to reproduce in the wild and intended for release in the U.S. would make risk assessments more transparent and accountable. Similar to the U.S. database that lists all human clinical trials, this field trial registry would require all technology developers to disclose intentions to release, information on their GM strategy, scale and location of release and intentions for data collection.This registry could be presented in a way that protects intellectual property rights, just as therapies entering clinical trials are patent-protected in their registry. The GM organism registry would be updated in real time and made fully available to the public. Second, a broader set of risks needs to be assessed and an evidence base needs to be generated by third-party researchers. Because each GM mosquito is released into a unique environment, risk assessments and experiments prior to and during trial releases should address local effects on the ecosystem and food webs. They should also probe the disease transmission potential of the mosquito’s wild counterparts and ecological competitors, examine evolutionary pressures on disease agents in the mosquito community and track the gene flow between GM and wild mosquitoes. To identify and assess risks, a commitment of funding is necessary. The U.S. EPA’s recent announcement that it would improve general risk assessment analysis for biotechnology products is a good start. But regulatory and funding support for an external advisory committee to review assessments for GM organisms released in the wild is also needed; diverse expertise and local community representation would secure a more fair and comprehensive assessment. Furthermore, independent researchers and advisers could help guide what data are collected during trials to reduce uncertainty and inform future large-scale releases and risk assessments.The objective to reduce or even eliminate mosquito-borne disease is laudable. GM mosquitoes could prove to be an important tool in alleviating global health burdens. However, to ensure their success, we believe that regulatory frameworks for open, comprehensive and participatory decision-making are urgently needed. [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.Read more: * Genetically modified mosquitoes may be best weapon for curbing disease transmission * Fighting malaria with fungi: biologists engineer a fungus to be deadlier to mosquitoesBrian Allan receives funding from the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment. Jennifer Kuzma receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Walton Family Foundation and National Science Foundation.. Natalie Kofler receives funding from the University of Illinois Institute for Sustainability, Energy and the Environment. She is an advisor for the Scientific Citizenship Initiative at Harvard Medical School and founder of Editing Nature. Chris Stone and Holly Tuten do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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  • Entertainment
    The Independent

    Dana White in foul-mouthed attack on ‘f****** nutbag’ Oscar De La Hoya and ‘f****** scumbag’ Bob Arum

    Dana White has taken aim at promotion rivals Oscar De La Hoya and Bob Arum once more in an expletive-ridden rant.The UFC president reignited the war of words between the American fight promoters on Talk the Talk featuring Eddie Hearn and Tony Bellew.De La Hoya upset White with his disparaging remarks during the build-up to Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor in 2017, actively encouraging fans not to buy the pay-per-view event.While White and Arum have long resented each other, though the legendary Top Rank boss intensified their feud most recently by admitting he has “very little respect” for White, as well as labelling him a “cowboy” for promoting UFC events during the coronavirus pandemic.The show included a discussion on the contrast between promoting in the UK and the United States before White bluntly outlined the differences between the Matchroom boss and his American rivals.“You’re not a f****** douchebag. That’s the difference between you and them,” White told Hearn on Talk the Talk featuring Eddie Hearn and Tony Bellew.“You’re actually a smart guy that’s built a business and can look at another guy’s business and appreciate it and say ‘look at what this guy’s built’. Those two don’t have that ability.“Oscar De La Hoya, let’s be honest. One of the weirdest f****** human beings to ever walk the face of the earth.The guy is a total f****** nutbag.“And Bob Arum is just a f****** scumbag.”

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  • U.S.
    The New York Times

    Another Man Who Said 'I Can't Breathe' Died in Custody. An Autopsy Calls It Homicide.

    SEATTLE -- A black man who called out "I can't breathe" before dying in police custody in Tacoma, Washington, was killed as a result of oxygen deprivation and the physical restraint that was used on him, according to details of a medical examiner's report released Wednesday.The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that the death of the man, Manuel Ellis, 33, was a homicide. Investigators with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department were in the process of preparing a report about the March death, which occurred shortly after an arrest by officers from the Tacoma Police Department, said the sheriff's spokesman, Ed Troyer."The information is all being put together," Troyer said. "We expect to present it to the prosecutor at the end of this week or early next week."Ellis's sister, Monet Carter-Mixon, called for action to bring accountability in the death and further scrutiny of both the Police Department's practices and how the investigation into his death has been handled."There's a lot of questions that still need to be answered," Carter-Mixon said.Ellis died from respiratory arrest, hypoxia and physical restraint, according to the medical examiner's office. The report listed methamphetamine intoxication and heart disease as contributing factors.Police officers encountered Ellis, a musician and father of two from Tacoma, on the night of March 3 as they were stopped at an intersection. They saw him banging on the window of another vehicle, Troyer said.Ellis approached the officers, Troyer said, and then threw an officer to the ground when the officer got out of the vehicle. The two officers and two backup officers who joined -- two of them white, one black and one Asian -- handcuffed him."Mr. Ellis was physically restrained as he continued to be combative," the Tacoma Police Department said in a statement Wednesday.Troyer said he did not know all the details of the restraint the officers used -- they were not wearing body cameras -- but said he did not believe they used a chokehold or a knee on Ellis' neck. They rolled him on his side after he called out, "I can't breathe.""The main reason why he was restrained was so he wouldn't hurt himself or them," Troyer said. "As soon as he said he couldn't breathe, they requested medical aid."Troyer said the call for aid came four minutes after the officers encountered Ellis.Ellis was still breathing when medical personnel arrived, Troyer said. He was removed from handcuffs while personnel worked on him for about 40 minutes, Troyer said. He was then pronounced dead.Family members said Ellis was the father of an 11-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter. He was a talented musician at his church. Carter-Mixon said Ellis was like a father figure to her boys, coaching them on things like how handle themselves to keep safe in a world of racial injustices."My heart literally hurts," she said. "It's painful. My brother was my best friend."On Wednesday night, she and others held a vigil in Tacoma.Brian Giordano, a close friend of Ellis, said that the two usually spoke several times a day and that Ellis had videochatted with him two hours before his death. He had been excited about a church service he had attended and proud of how he had played drums during the service, Giordano recalled.He said it would be uncharacteristic of Ellis to act in the violent way described by the police.He was living in a clean-and-sober house and was getting his life back together, he said. "He was always uplifting," Giordano said. "He was always on the up-and-up about taking care of people."The death comes as protests have spread around the nation over the case of George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police last week. Minnesota officials have charged all four officers in that case, including Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes during the arrest.Forensics experts who conducted a private autopsy for Floyd's family concluded that another officer's knees on Floyd's back contributed to making it impossible for his lungs to take in sufficient air.Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma said Wednesday that she would take appropriate steps based on the findings of the sheriff's investigation."We will learn the results of that investigation even as our country reels from the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others," Woodards said.Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said the issue was a top priority for him."We will be pushing to make sure there is a full and complete investigation of that incident," Inslee said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

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  • Business
    POPSUGAR

    My Girlfriend Moved In a Week Before the Pandemic Hit, and We Need a New Word For "U-Haul"

    Before my girlfriend moved in to my NYC apartment with me and my two roommates in March, there were lots of things to look forward to before finding our own place in July: eating our way through Brooklyn, galavanting along the Turquoise Coast, uncovering where each other stands on the issue of how to properly place toiler paper onto the holder. (The documented right answer being in the "over" position, obviously.) The logistics behind the move boiled down to basic lesbian math - two people in love x $1,600 monthly rent + one year together = perfectly reasonable grounds to cohabit - but I also knew her similar thirst for adventure meant we would spend the foreseeable future exploring the world around us, constantly learning about each other as we go.

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