Commentary

Biochar Knowledge Gaps

This article reviews and discusses biochar with particular reference to the book Biochar for Environmental Management - Science and Technology’, edited by Johannes Lehmann and Stephen Joseph, Earthscan 2009.

Biochar is biomass burned in the near absence of oxygen and it is basically identical to charcoal, but used for different purposes. It is being widely promoted by various interests as a soil amendment and to sequester carbon, often with little detailed argument or evidence in support of the claims made. The book "Biochar for Environmental Management" provides of a large collection of articles about biochar by a total of some 50 researchers and specialists from a wide range of universities, government departments and companies. It demonstrates clearly that there are major gaps in knowledge. However, at the same time, some writers speak of biochar as a means to address climate change and propose it for carbon markets, in spite of these knowledge gaps.

The Emperor’s New Clothes - 'New Breeding Techniques' and synthetic biology - genetic engineering by another name

Advocates claim that synthetic biology and the so-called New Breeding Techniques (NBTs) are distinct from genetic engineering (GE), write Helena Paul, Elisabeth Bücking & Ricarda Steinbrecher. In fact synthetic biology and NBTs carry similar risks to old-style GE, and even create novel hazards. The 'new GE' techniques - as they should be named - and their products deserve regulation at least as strict as those applying to GMOs. Read the full article on the Ecologist website.

GM chicken - a solution to bird flu?

On 14 January 2011, Science published an article by Lyall et al. entitled 'Suppression of Avian Influenza Transmission in Genetically Modified Chickens'. The authors state themselves that their research and results are about a 'proof of principle' - something which by definition is a long way away from actual applicability and does not consider any safety issues. The ‘proof-of-principle’ claimed is “that genetic modification can be used to prevent avian influenza infection in chickens”.

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