Monday, September 21, 2015

Better Know a Scientist: Rice Research Scientist Dr Nir Oksenberg

In this month’s “Better Know a Scientist”, I’m interviewing Dr Nir Oksenberg. He works in a lab that actually makes transgenic crops!! Nir’s career seems to have taken a very windy road: he completed his PhD at UCSF studying a gene implicated in autism, but is doing his post-doc in Dr Pamela Ronald’s lab at UC Davis (if you aren’t familiar with Dr Pamela Ronald, please view her TED talk or her book “Tomorrow’s Table”. Her book is a fantastic read for anyone interested in learning about genetically modified crops and organic food). We “met” over the internet, when he kindly sent me an encouraging email on one of my articles. I have yet to take him up on his offer of visiting the lab in Davis, mostly because my kid would probably knock over someone’s research project or trample on a GMO that took a few years to make.

Q: Please explain what you’re currently working on (unless you will be assassinated for divulging it) and why it’s important?

A: My research focuses on how rice protects itself from environmental factors, which is particularly important in places in the world where people rely on rice for survival. Rice is a staple food for ½ the world’s population. However, 25% of rice is grown in flood prone areas. When rice is completely submerged in water due to floods, the plant will die after a few days, and the farmer will lose his or her crop. Pam Ronald and others were able to identify a gene that would cause rice to survive much better if completely submerged. Through breeding techniques (not GM technology), they were able to transfer this gene into strains of rice that farmers prefer and now millions of farmers in flood prone countries in mostly in South Asia are producing higher yields with the flood tolerant rice.
Test plots of rice that were flooded. Some plots are tolerant to flooding while some are intolerant and die. Credit Dave Mackill

Now, in the lab, we are asking: can we learn how to make rice or other plants resistant to other stresses, such as drought, or diseases like bacterial blight? I am focusing on drought tolerance and have identified a candidate gene that could protect rice from drought. We engineered rice in the laboratory to either silence the candidate gene, or express excess amounts of it. We are currently testing our genetically modified rice for its ability to survive drought conditions and have some promising preliminary data. If we are successful, it could lead to rice that requires less water to grow. The information we gain on how the rice survives drought can also be used to attempt to engineer drought tolerance in other crops.

I think it is important for people to understand that we are not just trying to make a bunch of GMOs and hope one works. We spend years, sometimes decades, studying these plants. We don’t just want to make a plant better and move on, we want to understand the biology of how it works.

[Biochica’s Note to Nir: After providing this detailed answer, you will probably have to move into a bunker for having provided information about your research, which we all know is sponsored by Big Ag, and is therefore considered a trade secret. Syngenta: if you’re reading this, we’ll know it was you if anything ever happens to Nir!]

Q: Like me, you did your PhD in human genetics (I was actually in a lab that studied the genetics of autism, too, although my thesis project wasn’t related to autism). Why did you decide to do a postdoc in plants? Was it a difficult switch?

A: In 2012, California Prop 37 was put on the ballot. Voters were being asked if California should mandate labels on all genetically engineered foods. At the time I was in grad school studying the role and regulation of the AUTS2 gene in autism. As the token scientist in my group of friends, and with contradictory commercials constantly airing on Prop 37, people would ask me all sorts of questions about GMOs. For the first time ever, I actually read the ballot measure. It made a lot of scientific claims such as genetically engineered foods “can lead to adverse health or environmental consequences” without any scientific references to back them up. The measure claimed that “Mandatory identification of foods produced through genetic engineering can provide a critical method for tracking the potential health effects of eating genetically engineered foods”, which is not true given the exemptions to certain interests such as alcohol. I found that I was really interested in the topic, and moreover, I enjoyed educating my friends about the science, helping them make informed decisions.

I also very much enjoy researching human genetics. The switch was hard, but I made it because I wanted to learn how genetically engineered foods are actually made and studied in the lab. I joined Dr. Ronald’s lab because of the research she does and her active role in biotechnology education.

[Biochica’s note to self: Phew! Sounds like my plan to move into plant research is feasible. POM: if you’re reading this, you’d better have a job opening for me in about 10 years time so that I can start working on a peelable pomegranate.]

Q: Why are you working on a technology that will make half of children autistic in just a few years, particularly after you spent so many years trying to understand autism?

A: If you were to believe the internet, you’d think that academic scientists are out to: 1) kill all the butterflies, 2) make everyone sick, 3) stuff our pockets with Monsanto cash. Finding information about genetic engineering online is ridiculously difficult. I would rather do my taxes while at the dentist than try to learn about genetic engineering by googling the term “GMO”. But, for the sake of science education, let’s dissect the article about autism which you’ve provided above.

The article is peppered with scientific red flags. The first thing you notice (not including the terrifying title) is a man in a mask and protective clothing pouring chemicals into something that is presumably used for agriculture. This picture (with no credit or reference) has one goal: to scare people. This red flag is known as “the scary science scenario” and is your first clue that you are about to dive into some less than reputable reporting. If you decide to keep reading, it starts with “A senior scientist at MIT”. BAM! Another red flag: stressing status and appealing to authority. If you move on, it talks about how the use of the herbicide known as glyphosate has doubled from 2001 and 2007 due to the introduction of engineered plants that can resist the herbicide. It is true that glyphosate use has increased, but the article cherry picked (red flag) this information. It left out that with the increase of glyphosate use, there was a dramatic decrease in the use of other, more toxic and persistent herbicides. It is a bad sign when an article spits out some hard facts with no sources to back them up. Keep an eye out for that!

The article goes on to accuse science writers that have “taken up the Monsanto banner”, a science red flag known as “charges of conspiracy”. But there is a glimmer of hope. The article mentions the biggest concern many people have with the conclusion that autism is connected with genetically modified crops: confusing correlation with causation. The claim that “half of all children may be autistic by 2025 due to Monsanto” is based on a graph that shows the increase use of glyphosate overlaps very well with the increase in autism diagnoses over the years. I have seen the exact same graph showing how the increase in organic sales correlates with increased cases of autism. Correlation does not mean causation.

I did end up making it to the end of the article. This is the last sentence: “Seneff’s predictions can only be ignored at grave risk to the human race.” The deafening irony! The real risk is if people reject a beneficial technology due to shoddy science. This is exactly what happened with autism and vaccines. Don’t let it happen with genetic engineering.

[Biochica’s Note to Nir: You, my friend, are an evil genius and I bow before you. This incredible answer goes to show that you have taken the Secret Oath of Scientists very seriously. By the way, I just sent you an email: could I borrow your apartment in Monaco during Thanksgiving weekend? If that doesn’t work, how about your yacht in Turks & Caicos?]

Q: What traits and crops would you like to work on in the future?

A: Good question! I would be interested in studying coffee. I love coffee. I love roasting it, brewing it, drinking it, talking about it, reading about it, and obviously, taking a break from work to get it. Figuratively, I rely on coffee to survive. Literally, millions do. Coffee is responsible for the livelihood of 25-125 million people and 90% of coffee production is in developing nations.

Coffee is potentially in some trouble. Coffee leaf rust (CLR) is a fungus that has become epidemic, and resulted in severe loss of yield (for more information, see here). I am not saying that using genetic engineering is the solution to this problem. There are currently other strategies being implemented with success. For example, there are CLR resistant varieties of coffee trees, and breeders are crossing these varieties with coffee varieties that farmers like due to their taste and high yield. However, I believe we should use multiple approaches to study this very serious problem. Traditional breeding techniques may not keep up with the devastating fungus. Genetic engineering can more accurately, and sometimes more quickly, insert resistance genes into favorable varieties without introducing undesired genes (like conventional breeding does). Moreover, we can use genetically engineered crops as a tool to study the fungus and better understand how to stop it.

Would I drink GMO CLR-resistant coffee? Hell ya! And I would do so knowing that it may be responsible for the livelihood of millions of individuals.  

Or maybe I should make a football sized hippo that hangs out on your desk, and laughs when you tickle it. It would munch on cabbage, maybe relax in a little pool.  

Symptoms of coffee leaf rust Image from Wikimedia Commons
[Biochica’s note to Nir: It sounds like you’re forgetting your priorities. Do you know how much money you could make by selling football sized hippos as pets, particularly around Christmas time? Forget this whole “let’s help people” thing that you’ve got going. You have a golden opportunity before you! Never forget the Oath: dough before bros]

Q: You are also interested in science communication. Why do you think that genetically modified crops are feared by the broader population? Is there anything that can “fix” that perception?

A: I think this is an issue of where we live. In parts of the world where your life depends on being able to produce food, or getting the right nutrients from the food you produce as in the case of Golden Rice, for many people there isn’t a fear of GMOs, there is a fear of death. However, in the United States and many other places, we have the luxury of caring about every single aspect of food production. This is not a bad thing, but we need to keep things in perspective: we need to understand true risks and true benefits. We want our phones and other technology to improve greatly every year, but we want our food to stay exactly the same despite a growing population and a warming climate. There are a handful of reasons why people oppose genetic engineering. But I think the main reason the technology is feared by the broader population is because we like thinking of our food as “natural” and “whole”, rather than “engineered”. People will say “the banana is perfect the way it is, why would you want to change it?!” And yes, the banana is perfect the way it is if you want to feed a population a fraction of the size that it is today. Humans bred our crops to sustain a much smaller number of people. Traditional breeding techniques do not always keep up with our demands.

Can we “fix” the perception that GMOs are something to be feared? More and more scientists are getting involved in the conversation, and I think it is helping. From my experience, public opinion is actually shifting a bit. I have no evidence of this, just a feeling. More people I talk to, and more articles I read are less critical of genetic engineering and more focused on the science and facts. Instead of trying to change people’s mind (which is very hard), we should focus on educating those who want to learn. I have links to many good resources for the public (and no, they are not Monsanto leaflets). Don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter with any questions: @NirOksenberg

[Biochica’s note to Nir: Yes. Science and facts... *wink, wink* .]

How to make a GMO
Q: After a quick search on the internet, I learned that to make a GMO you take a syringe filled with fluorescent liquid and inject it into a plant (look at all the pictures of GMO tomatoes that I found! Strangely enough, there's no GMO tomato currently on the market...). How many syringes do you use when you make GM rice?

A: This may be the best question anyone has ever asked me. I took a selfie to show you. Turns out I only use 1. With blue.

Nir's satirical image of blue food coloring and rice is worthy of
Jokes aside, understanding how a crop can become genetically engineered can get a bit confusing. The best video I have found describing the process is this one. There are multiple ways to genetically engineer a crop. The method described in the video mechanically introduces the gene into the genome. In rice, we often use Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer. Scientists found a neat bacteria that has a way of transferring its genomic material into its host’s. Scientists now use this bacteria to their advantage. We delete all the genes in the bacteria that could cause any harm to the host. Then, into the bacterial genome, we insert the new gene we want introduced into the plant. Now the bacteria does all the work and transfers just the gene we want  into the plant we want. This technique has been tested and retested for safety and efficacy countless times. This description of Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer is oversimplified. I am happy to go into more detail with anybody who wants to know!
Bonus selfie: Nir and his rice. #GMOselfie
Post your own #GMOselfie on twitter! 

Q: We all know that research into GMOs is funded by big Ag, who probably have a patent on what you’re working on, and will release these GMOs into the wild without any testing. What do you say in your defense?

A: Next question.

Just kidding I’ll answer. A lot of people hate big anything. Big Ag, big oil, big retail, big donut and so on. I talk to some people who tell me that they don’t have a problem with genetic engineering in theory, but they have a problem with corporations. It is fine to have problems with Big Ag, whether it is economic, environmental, humanitarian or for other reasons, and to try to reduce their footprint. What people do not realize is that demonizing genetic engineering as a whole is counterproductive to this end for multiple reasons. First of all, companies like Monsanto are also making mad profits off of conventional and organic seeds. If you want to protest Monsanto, avoiding genetically engineered corn but munching down on their non-engineered carrot doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Secondly, public disapproval of genetic engineering has tightened regulations on the technology so drastically that only mega corporations can afford to go through with them. That means if a small company tried to produce a genetically engineered crop, they would rarely be able to afford to move it forward, and would have to sell the company or patent rights to one of the big guys. The rich get richer. My point is that if you have a problem with big corporations, don’t necessarily focus your attacks on genetic engineering technology.

[Biochica’s note to Nir: what you don’t know is that you DO get paid by Big Ag: US currency bills have cotton. Cotton is a GMO. You get paid with bills. Therefore you get paid by Big Ag.]

Q: If there’s one thing you’d want everyone to know about transgenic crops, what would it be?

A: Each genetically engineered crop needs to be assessed on a case by case basis. Remember that we are talking about a technology, and not an ingredient. The technology is inherently neutral. If I use the technology to improve nutrient consumption in regions with nutrient deficiency, that is good. If I use the technology to make artichokes have even less eatable flesh, that would be bad. Really bad. Every new genetically engineered food is tested rigorously for safety. People will say that we don’t know the long term effects, or that we can not prove they are safe. But we have safely been eating genetically modified foods for decades. Maybe that is not long enough for you. Maybe you are hesitant to try new products. Fine. But if you ask a scientist who studies these plants, she or he will tell you that the benefits of the technology greatly outway the risk.

Q: Recently, several public sector scientists who do research on GMOs or advocate for these crops have had their emails read under a Freedom of Information Act. Personally, it has made me reconsider my plans for a post-doc on peelable pomegranates. Why deal with the hassle when I could be lounging on a beach somewhere instead? Has it impacted you in any way? What are your thoughts?

A: FOIA can be an important tool to discover scientific fraud, but it is obvious that is not what is happening here. The actual scientific methods and results are not being investigated. The goal of this inquiry is to link public sector scientists to Monsanto or other private companies. Proponents of the inquiry claim that the public has a right to know how publicly funded scientists conduct themselves. This “right to know” argument is one we saw a lot with GMO labeling too, and is very powerful. Why would I fight against somebody's right to know? Especially if I claim to be a science communicator! What I have discovered is that a fact that is out of context can be more dangerous than no fact at all. Not to say that people should hide information from people, but facts without details can be misleading. Here is a fact: GMO plants are bad for the environment. That's something you can quote and put on twitter. Here is the rest of the story: All agriculture is bad for the environment. We have known that for centuries. GMOs are not necessarily better or worse for Earth than conventional methods.

Yelling that an academic scientist has accepted $25,000 from Monsanto is a tactic anti-GMO groups are using. They are tricking people, using an out of context fact, to make them believe that all pro-GMO people are in Monsanto’s pocket. In truth, the money used in this real example was not used for research to support Monsanto’s products. The money was used for science communication, where Monsanto had no say over the material presented.

Sometimes, industry does sponsor academic research. In these cases, it is important that the researcher disclose potential conflicts of interests, whether the science is funded by a biotechnology company, or a company that sells organic deodorant. [Biochica's note: I've written on industry/public sector relationship topic here].

I think I forgot to answer your question. No, the FOIA has not personally impacted me or the way I conduct myself. Except now I write all my letters to Monsanto on hundred dollar bills instead of email.  Jokes aside, the FOIA has deeply affected scientists I admire and look up to, and I sympathize with them. You can read about their stories here and here.

Nir and I wanted to close on a more serious note: we’d like to draw attention to the fact that the number of groups and organizations exploiting the unknowns surrounding Autism are vast, and we consider this to be misinformation of the worst sort. Other than Dr. Seneff’s paper where she outlines a murky hypothesis between ASD and glyphosate, there is no data that we know of that associates autism with GMOs, much less a causal relationship. If parents have any concerns about their children’s diet, we recommend that you consult with their pediatrician.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The SAFE Act or the DARK Act? Why is it being opposed?

Remember that time I wrote a letter to Gwyneth Paltrow and Lena Dunham? Well, soon after, Ms Paltrow teamed up with a group of her friends and created a video against the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (aka SAFE act).

The SAFE act or HR 1599 seeks to regulate labeling of GMOs. It recently passed the House and is currently in the Senate (as I was learning about all this, I became keenly aware that I should probably start studying for the US Citizenship exam, which will be in a few years). I've read through the bill, whose text you can find here, and I encourage you all to do the same.

The act does a few very important things at the Federal level:
  • Says that GMOs must be labeled if there is a difference in "functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity" or other material differences between the GMO and its conventional counterpart. It clarifies that just because something is a GMO, it doesn't automatically make the food/ingredient/crop materially different.
  • States that it is unlawful to sell GMOs or food produced from GMOs that are unregulated (with exemptions, such as for research). 
  • Declares that the Department of Agriculture will keep an online registry of all the non-regulated GMOs and their intended uses, petitions made regarding each GMO, and notifications of findings from the Secretary of Health and Human Resources regarding the GMOs.
  • Creates a "National Genetically Engineered Food Certification Program" and establishes standards for labeling something as non-GMO. Interestingly, the certification is based on the supply chain process (i.e, look upstream from the final product to see if any ingredients derived from GMOs were used, as opposed to looking at the final product to determine if the protein or DNA from the GMO can be identified). It also states that food given to livestock must be GMO-free in order for livestock products to be certified non-GMO. It also provides a list of exemptions. Additionally, it establishes an accreditation program, whereby individuals can become certifying agents. 
  • Establishes guidelines for labeling products as genetically engineered. It expressly states that you can't claim that a product is "better" or "safer" just because it's a GMO.
  • Creates penalties and consequences for those who break the laws outlined in the act.
In a post I wrote for Biofortified, I outlined the difficulty inherent in state-level labeling: that there's no definition for a GMO. I gave examples of how proposed labeling legislation in various states differed: "In Vermont, the labeling bill states that you don’t need to label if the amount of GM material makes up less than 0.9% of the total weight of processed food, but in California‘s proposed (and failed) bill the cutoff was set at 0.5%. Perhaps GMOs have more GMOiness in California so the state can’t handle as much of it. Colorado’s proposed (and failed) bill stated that chewing gum was exempt from labeling. In Colorado, Vermont, and California, alcoholic beverages were exempt, but I could find no such exemption in the bill from Connecticut." This act addresses the issue by creating Federal standards. In that same post, I explained that the absence of a single definition for GMOs will give rise to multiple certification/verification labels, each claiming that their own definition of a GMO is the right one. Using the federal standards established in HR1599, this possibility evaporates because there will be a single Federal certification body. 

You'd think that anti-GMO activists would be jumping up and down and celebrating over this one. But for some reason, they aren't. 

Instead, the legislation has been rebranded as the DARK act (Deny Americans the Right to Know). I checked the "Just Label It" campaign, which Ms Paltrow and colleagues want you to visit, to see why they're opposing it. Here are their reasons and my thoughts below:
  • Preempt states from requiring labeling of GMO food.
    No: the act expressly states that GMO foods must be labeled if they are materially different and puts that power into the hands of federal agencies. How does state level labeling make any sense? Why should it be possible for something to be labeled as a GMO in Colorado but not in Vermont? Wouldn't that just highlight the arbitrary nature of the GMO-label? But I digress...
  • Virtually eliminate FDA’s ability to craft a national GMO labeling system.No: the bill does exactly the opposite. It creates a labeling system and certifying bodies for non-GMOs.
  • Codify the current, broken voluntary labeling system.
    Yes, it fixes the voluntary labeling system. What's wrong with that?
  • Create a GMO “safety” review system based on industry science.
    Yes, and again, what's wrong with that? Car manufacturers use industry science to show that their cars are safe and meet Federal guidelines/standards. The same goes for airplane manufacturers. And crib manufacturers. Even drugs: clinical trials are carried out by the company that makes the drug using "industry science" and then the data is reviewed by the FDA. Why would GMOs be the exception to the norm? If you want GMOs to be tested by government labs, then be prepared for a huge tax increase. I'm not saying this isn't the way to go, but if we decide that government agencies should be responsible for the testing of all consumer products, then we have to be ready to bear the cost/burden.
  • Allow “natural” foods to contain GMO ingredients.
    There's no true definition for "natural". From my perspective, I don't see how an Arctic Apple grown in an orchard under the beautiful BC sky could be anything short than 100% natural. Here's an article on how the "natural" label is a marketing gimick. But I'm sure others would disagree.
According to many experts, making companies label GMOs is a violation of the 1st amendment. The amendment which protects freedom of speech, also makes it unlawful to force speech, and this freedom is extended to commercial speech. The limits of this commercial freedom of speech have been loosely outlined in a Supreme Court Case from 1985: "Commercial speech that is not false or deceptive and does not concern unlawful activities may be restricted only in the service of a substantial governmental interest, and only through means that directly advance that interest." It's on this basis that Vermont's labeling law is being appealed in court. It'll be interesting to see how that court case plays out. You can read more about some interesting commercial first amendment cases here and here

So HR1599 seems to be the best of all worlds: it establishes a clear definition for a GMO, it doesn't violate the first amendment, it forces companies to label GMOs when needed, it creates a federal registry, and creates a new federal label for non-GMO with very stringent/exclusive definitions. I find it interesting that most groups that are denouncing HR1599 embrace the Non-GMO Project's certification, when these two have adopted the same process-based definition for a GMO. The difference between the two is that the former provides a voluntary label for items that don't have GMOs, whereas the latter forces the labeling of everything that has a GMO. In the end, it's the same thing: I can assume that everything that isn't labeled as "Kosher" is non-Kosher, and it's simpler that way rather than forcing everything that is non-Kosher to be labeled as such. So why the backlash? Why the outcry?

In trying to understand why some groups would oppose this law, I stumbled on a letter that Ben & Jerry's had written to the US House of Representatives about HR1599. As you may know, this ice cream company is one in the leaders in GMO labeling and last year they announced that they would be going GMO-free. In the letter, they state "As a Vermont-based company, we are particularly troubled that H.R. 1599 would preempt Vermont’s Act 120, which beginning in July of 2016, will require labeling of food products with GMO ingredients sold in Vermont. As a food company doing business in all 50 states, we’d prefer a national standard for mandatory GMO labeling, but absent that, we support states like Vermont passing legislation that ensures transparency and consumers’ right to know." Their letter continues to outline the minimal cost that GMO labeling would pose by focusing on the fact that changing packaging is done routinely. The letter ignores the cost that would be associated with segregating GMO from non-GMO ingredients in the supply chain.

What I find interesting is that Ben and Jerry's failed to mention that under HR1599, they would not be able to claim that they're GMO-free. Ben and Jerry's website has this extremely convenient definition for GMOs (I've added the emphasis): "...The fresh Vermont milk and cream that our family farmers supply to us is not organic. This means that in the US, it is common practice for the cows' feed to contain GMO ingredients such as corn. Current regulations in most countries with mandatory GMO labeling requirements do not require milk to be labeled as GMO when derived from cows fed GMO feed. This is also consistent with proposed state-level legislation for GMO labeling, specifically dairy from cows fed GMO feed would not be required to be labeled as containing GMO ingredients. This is the current position that Ben & Jerry's are adopting with regard to animal-derived ingredients. Under these regulations, this does not make the dairy genetically modified."

In contrast, the definition of GMO-free in HR1599 states that cows must not be fed GM-grain for their products to be GMO-free: "in the case of a covered product derived from livestock that is marketed in the United States for human consumption, the covered product and the livestock, products consumed by such livestock, and products used in processing the products consumed by such livestock shall be produced without the use of products derived from genetic engineering".

So Ben and Jerry's supports a State law where it can claim that it's products are GMO-free, but rejects a more stringent definition for GMOs at a Federal level and from my perspective it's because it would cost the company a pretty penny to comply with the Federal definition of GMO-free. Pretty convenient, isn't it?

But what about other organizations? Why are they opposing the SAFE Act?

  • The Just Label It campaign is funded by companies that clearly benefit from forced GMO-labeling: the companies that fund the campaign include a long list of organic food companies/manufacturers.
  • The Non-GMO Project's website explains their concern over HR1599 by stating: "The revised bill also includes a mandate for the USDA to create its own non-GMO certification program. While it won’t remove the Non-GMO Project Verified seal from the marketplace, the bill as written would create a competing label that would confuse shoppers and undermine the tremendous progress we’ve made on setting a high standard for GMO avoidance." Not only would  HR1599 make the Non-GMO Project's certification useless, but all the labs that are used by the Non-GMO Project for its certification would have to seek business elsewhere or seek federal contracts. That includes a company named Genetic ID, who is part-owned by Dr John Fagan, who is also on the Board of Directors for GMO Free USA. So of course, GMO Free USA also opposes the DARK Act.
So with all this in mind, I come full circle: the video that Ms Paltrow and her friends made against the SAFE Act. I'll be honest: the video hurt me. It starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, otherwise known as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like a stake through my heart, she joined other celebrities and voiced lines from the "Just Label It" campaign about why this comprehensive law supposedly sucks. I'm a Whedonite and you can probably find lines from Buffy episodes scattered throughout this blog. The collectors' box set of Buffy, along with comic books and other paraphernalia can be found in our home. It was probably the first show that the spouse and I watched from end-to-end in the early days of our marriage. In my despair over SMG's betrayal of her awesomeness, I joined a group of talented, brilliant women (who are also moms) who wrote a letter to the celebrities explaining why GMOs are an important agricultural tool that can benefit our society. I urge you to read our letter and, if you agree with its content, you can add your signature to the letter.