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  1. #61

    Default Re: Nature identical compounds

    Indeed, I would consider it to be a synthetic. I was not aware of the legislative part, so in that respect it would be a natural. However, this legislative thing is probably not a fundamental approach of these matters, but a practical one. Because the isotope ratios are very close to the compounds of natural origins (see my first post here, and chris' comment on the SNIF-NMR), its very difficult to efficiently tell them apart. You could make laws that consider them differently (natural origins and fermentation origins), but who's to say which is which?


    Now for the so-called "Vanilla" of evolva. Their website looks really nice, with pictures of actual vanilla etc. but don't be fooled. If you dig into their press releases (bottom of the product pages) you'll soon find out that what they are selling is vanillin. So, they may claim to be making natural vanilla, but in effect they are making fermented vanillin. People buying their product will surely be aware of this. They are not competing with the vanilla farmers, but with synthetic and naturally isolated vanillin. Again, a marketing trick.

    And now for the so-called "Friends" of the earth. The pdf you've referred to and which is quite ironically named "fact_sheet.pdf", is full of exaggerations, misinterpretations, half-truths and let's call it less-than-half-truths. Now I'm not a big fan of the biotech industry either. As a synthetic chemist, they are my direct competitors, I also feel they are taking advantage of the misinterpreted term "natural", and most of them have been dissing the chemists for quite some time now.

    But, showing some honesty is always admirable.


    A new ingredient is about to enter the global food supply in many of our favorite foods from ice cream to birthday cake. And like many of the products of genetic engineering, it won’t be carrying a label-- instead it is being marketed as “natural”.
    This ingredient is not new, it's vanillin, we've been eating it our whole lives. Suggesting that something new, and genetically engineered is entering everyday food is just what people need to get scared. Fear is a bad counselor. The product itself is NOT genetically engineered, the production process is. There is indeed a lack of legislation on the "natural nature" of these products. The insinuation that all of the vanillin in our current birthday cakes and icecream is natural helps to prove their case, but is plain wrong. Most of it is synthetic, ergo cheap.

    This ingredient, synthetic biology vanillin, has been created using synthetic biology (aka extreme genetic engineering) and Evolva®, the company producing this ingredient, together with the International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), plans to market its product as a food additive starting in 2014. Synthetic biology is an extreme form of genetic engineering, in which scientists write entirely new genetic code on a computer, “print” it out and then insert it into organisms to serve specific functions.
    All of this is true, depending on what your definition of synthetic biology is. What Evola is using is most likely not quite as high-tech as what is described here. True synthetic biology is not a simple matter of pressing the print button in the task menu. The belitteling of the proces is quite flagrant. Building things from scratch is still not possible. What they could have done is take the DNA-code for the essential parts of the known vanillin biosynthesis, add some known DNA sequences which promote the efficient expression of the previously mentioned genetic code, and repeat this several times. simply put: a large repetition of "the next part of DNA sequence is important, use it often" and "all you need for vanillin biosynthesis". Once all of these bits and pieces of DNA are assembled, they are inserted in the yeast. So, the pieces of DNA are actually not new, their combination may be new. Is it "extreme" genetic engineering? Yes, or "very advanced" depending on which interpretation you want.


    Recent polls found that as the public learns more about synthetic biology, people are increasingly concerned about its risks. One-third of respondents favored a complete ban on synthetic biology products until the risks and implications are better researched.
    Yes, let's give "the public" what it wants, without first properly informing them. Hang those biotech people! burn them! This statement is just an observation of people's opinion, you can't use this as an argument pro or con.


    Despite marketing claims, this “vanillin” produced through synthetic biology is not environmentally sustainable or “natural”,
    See the discussions above. Sustainability will probably be lots better than isolating vanillin from vanilla (transport, extraction, purification, etc.).

    and threatens the livelihoods of small, sustainable, natural vanilla farmers in rainforests around the world.
    It really doesn't. Vanilla and vanillin are in a different league. Synthetic vanillin hasn't ruined their livelyhood either. I Wonder what would happen if we were to ban synthetic vanillin? How much would we pay for vanilla then?

    Due to inadequate regulatory oversight and assessment of risks to human and environmental health, government scientists still know little about the safety of this product.
    We know lots about the safety of these products. Ecotoxicity of the modified organisms is the only aspect still under debate.

    Vanilla is one of the most widely used flavors in our food, and therefore this new application is in the spotlight of the public controversy. Synthetic biology vanillin would be one of the biggest, high profile uses of this new experimental genetic technology in our food system. It will set a precedent allowing for the use of this technology to create other synthetic biology food derivatives such as orange and grapefruit flavoring, coconut oils, and saffron.
    True, a very correct observation. But this is only a bad thing if you manage to show that there is in fact some sort of danger associated with the technology. So far, I've seen nothing of the like.

    Already, a synthetic biology produced animal feed ingredient has been approved by the FDA based solely on the company’s claim that the product is safe. Self-auditing is not legal for financial accounting, nor should it be for this new technology. We need a strict and thorough regulatory process and framework for this emerging biotechnology before these products pervade our food system.
    I don't know which product they are refering to, but the FDA has a very thorough auditing system. That companies provide their own data is common practice, who else would invest in this? However, you can be damn sure that the provided data is double, triple and quadruple checked. And if anyone can independently show adverse effects, the FDA will take its responsability. I invite the friends of the earth to perform a truly scientific study on this product.

    Synthetic biology is a form of extreme genetic engineering. Synthetic biology is the “design and construction of new synthetic biological parts, devices, and systems that do not exist in nature and the redesign of existing biological organisms”2. Instead of taking whole and existing genes from one natural species and inserting them into another, typical in “traditional” genetic engineering, synthetic biology creates entirely new DNA sequences by using computers to compile mixtures of “building blocks” from known or invented genes with the goal of creating specific products to perform unnatural tasks, such as yeast producing vanillin3,4.
    See the comments above. This is an exaggeration of the "unnaturalness" of the process. If they know it so well, why don't they make an effort to explain it properly? The step from traditional genetic engineering to what evolva is doing is probably much smaller than they imply. (If my suspicions about the process are correct and evolva hasn't made break-through discoveries which would be published in Nature, Science and all the newspapers around the world)

    However, as with genetic engineering, sometimes the combination of unique parts results in new, unpredictable traits that none of the individual components would exhibit on their own .
    A concept well known as synergism. It happens, but is the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, no hazardous examples have been reported of this (in this context) as far as I'm aware..

    New discoveries about genetics and biology clarify that our incomplete understanding of when and how gene traits are expressed
    True, but irrelevant. The parts which are inserted, and the resulting ezymes and products are quite well known. If there is something unexpected about the expression of the new genes, it will be on the occasions that they are not well expressed. In which case the organism is useless and destroyed. Don't worry, they sedate them with EtOH first.

    idicates that it will be very hard to know the impact of any synthesized DNA on the health of an organism or ecosystem to which it is introduced6,7,8.
    Ecotoxicity, maybe. But do remember that these production organisms are really not competitive in the outside world because of their massive vanillin production. The will be outcompeted and removed from the ecosystem. Hooray for Darwin! If you are worried about the health of the yeast itself, or its quality of life, there is no hope for you.

    Vanillin is the primary flavor component of vanilla, the world’s most popular natural flavor. The only way to obtain it naturally is from the cured seed pod of the vanilla orchid9. Natural vanilla is produced and harvested by small farmers in rainforests in Madagascar, Mexico and across Southeast Asia. Synthetic biology vanillin is distinct from the artificial vanillin already on the market, although both are engineered in labs. Artificial vanillin is a mix of chemical components. The new synthetic biology vanillin is synthesized by a genetically engineered organism. While synthetic biologists claim that the yeast’s fermentation process is natural10, it requires computer coded yeast that only exists inside of a lab. Synthetic biology vanillin is made with a new synthetic genetic code inserted into yeast. Using a computer, scientists edit the DNA in yeast and insert the computer generated DNA, and then through a fermentation process, force the yeast to biosynthesize vanillin11. Even though this vanillin is engineered and created by a pathway that does not exist in nature, the synthetic vanillin marketers, Evola® and its partner, International Flavours and Fragances, are trying to distance synthetic biology from genetic engineering stigma and market it as “natural”.
    All of this is true, but nothing stated here does any real harm. Unless something is wrong with "using a computer".

    Natural Vanilla depends upon intact tropical ecosystems, and its harvest is very labor intensive. Pure vanilla comes from the Vanilla orchid: Vanilla planifolia. Each flower is pollinated, harvested, sorted and cured by hand. One kilogram of vanilla extracts requires about 500 kg of these vanilla beans12. The knowledge of vanilla farming is intertwined with its cultural importance and its tradition has been passed between families for hundreds of years. Without the natural vanilla market adding economic value to the rainforest in these regions, these last standing rainforests will not be protected from deforestation and sugar cane used to feed the yeast will replace the forests.
    As said, it makes no sense to compare vanillin to vanilla

    Synthetic biology vanillin will severely impact the natural vanilla market and could harm sustainable farmers and poor communities across the world. The natural vanilla market depends on consumer demand. Without labeling requirements, consumers will not know if the “natural” product is made with real vanilla beans or synthetic biology vanillin . This could devastate the international natural vanilla market. Natural vanilla is a high value natural product, and sells for $1,200-$4,000 per kilogram. Internationally, the natural vanilla market is approximately $240 million per year. This is a significant part of the economy for the vanilla growing regions, which are primarily in developing countries such as Madagascar, which produces three quarters of the world’s vanilla, Indonesia, Mexico (where the vanilla orchid originated), and increasingly East Africa and China13. The decreased demand could devastate livelihoods of approximately 200,000 people who are involved with the production of cured vanilla beans per year, as well as the intact natural and diverse ecosystems where vanilla grows and therefore protects14,15.
    Again, this section would only make sense if it were about the "natural vanillin" market.

    Production of synthetic biology vanillin is not environmentally sustainable at the industrial scale. It is promoted as “green” because it uses a fermentation process. However, the yeast is genetically engineered with computer generated DNA.
    If the process is not sustainable on industrial scale (in modernised countries legislation is there to ensure that this includes environmental sustainability), the company would not invest in it. This is big buisiness, no room for error on these types of investments.

    The immense amount of sugar required for efficient vanillin synthesis encourages monocultures of fast-growing sugars instead of the rich biodiversity of the tropical ecosystems which are host to the vanilla orchid17. Sugar plantations contribute to rainforest deforestation and are known for slave labor working conditions. The synthetic biology vanillin process may also lead to the removal of biomass needed for healthy agricultural soil .
    This is the responsability of the sugar industry. If evolva would take it upon itself to use sugar from sustainable sources, it would be quite nice of them, but they carry no responsability for what their suppliers do. You can't ban gen-tech because the sugar industry is (supposedly) corrupt.

    Lastly, synthetic organisms threaten biological diversity if they escape into the environment – either intentionally or unintentionally from a lab. Once “living self-replicating organisms” are released, there is no way to remove them. They could become a new class of invasive species or pollutant and disrupt ecosystems17.
    see above

    It is unclear if synthetic biology vanillin is safe to eat,
    Vanillin is vanillin. It used to be safe, it will be safe.

    I left out the last part, as they are mainly just repeating themselves.


    If the FDA or any other nation’s food safety agency decides to approve the synthetic biology vanillin, companies should commit to not using it in their products.
    Don't tell people what to do. Inform them PROPERLY, and let them decide for themselves. Most people make quite sensible decisions, if you don't mislead them.

    Governments should require mandatory labeling to allow consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. Vanillin produced through synthetic chemistry must be labeled “artificial”, as should vanillin produced through synthetic biology.
    This is the only thing I actually more or less agree with.

  2. #62

    Default Re: Nature identical compounds

    In short, tomash, what you mean to say is that the report is almost entirely a load of old rowlocks, dressed up in scary language and pseudo-science. Except for the bit about labelling. Mostly.
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  3. #63

    Default Re: Nature identical compounds

    thomash,
    with regard to the legislative part, that was taken out of context to some degree, while it is true these approved processes
    create materials that can be used in products that are labeled 'natural'
    the legislation does not permit them to be labled as 'natural X'

    so for example 'vanillin from a fermentation process of rice bran waste'

    under current legislative, the allowed labeling would be
    “Natural flavoring/Flavor/Vanilla flavor” (EU)
    “Vanillin derived by a natural process” (US)

    as apposed to a label that would read 'Natural Vaniilin' or 'Natural Vanilla'

    I wasn't sure what to take from the "Friends of the earth" pdf, that is why I thought I would ask you, thank you for your review.

    Quote Originally Posted by thomash View Post
    Indeed, I would consider it to be a synthetic. I was not aware of the legislative part, so in that respect it would be a natural. However, this legislative thing is probably not a fundamental approach of these matters, but a practical one. Because the isotope ratios are very close to the compounds of natural origins (see my first post here, and chris' comment on the SNIF-NMR), its very difficult to efficiently tell them apart. You could make laws that consider them differently (natural origins and fermentation origins), but who's to say which is which?


    Now for the so-called "Vanilla" of evolva. Their website looks really nice, with pictures of actual vanilla etc. but don't be fooled. If you dig into their press releases (bottom of the product pages) you'll soon find out that what they are selling is vanillin. So, they may claim to be making natural vanilla, but in effect they are making fermented vanillin. People buying their product will surely be aware of this. They are not competing with the vanilla farmers, but with synthetic and naturally isolated vanillin. Again, a marketing trick.

    And now for the so-called "Friends" of the earth. The pdf you've referred to and which is quite ironically named "fact_sheet.pdf", is full of exaggerations, misinterpretations, half-truths and let's call it less-than-half-truths. Now I'm not a big fan of the biotech industry either. As a synthetic chemist, they are my direct competitors, I also feel they are taking advantage of the misinterpreted term "natural", and most of them have been dissing the chemists for quite some time now.

    But, showing some honesty is always admirable.




    This ingredient is not new, it's vanillin, we've been eating it our whole lives. Suggesting that something new, and genetically engineered is entering everyday food is just what people need to get scared. Fear is a bad counselor. The product itself is NOT genetically engineered, the production process is. There is indeed a lack of legislation on the "natural nature" of these products. The insinuation that all of the vanillin in our current birthday cakes and icecream is natural helps to prove their case, but is plain wrong. Most of it is synthetic, ergo cheap.



    All of this is true, depending on what your definition of synthetic biology is. What Evola is using is most likely not quite as high-tech as what is described here. True synthetic biology is not a simple matter of pressing the print button in the task menu. The belitteling of the proces is quite flagrant. Building things from scratch is still not possible. What they could have done is take the DNA-code for the essential parts of the known vanillin biosynthesis, add some known DNA sequences which promote the efficient expression of the previously mentioned genetic code, and repeat this several times. simply put: a large repetition of "the next part of DNA sequence is important, use it often" and "all you need for vanillin biosynthesis". Once all of these bits and pieces of DNA are assembled, they are inserted in the yeast. So, the pieces of DNA are actually not new, their combination may be new. Is it "extreme" genetic engineering? Yes, or "very advanced" depending on which interpretation you want.




    Yes, let's give "the public" what it wants, without first properly informing them. Hang those biotech people! burn them! This statement is just an observation of people's opinion, you can't use this as an argument pro or con.




    See the discussions above. Sustainability will probably be lots better than isolating vanillin from vanilla (transport, extraction, purification, etc.).



    It really doesn't. Vanilla and vanillin are in a different league. Synthetic vanillin hasn't ruined their livelyhood either. I Wonder what would happen if we were to ban synthetic vanillin? How much would we pay for vanilla then?



    We know lots about the safety of these products. Ecotoxicity of the modified organisms is the only aspect still under debate.



    True, a very correct observation. But this is only a bad thing if you manage to show that there is in fact some sort of danger associated with the technology. So far, I've seen nothing of the like.



    I don't know which product they are refering to, but the FDA has a very thorough auditing system. That companies provide their own data is common practice, who else would invest in this? However, you can be damn sure that the provided data is double, triple and quadruple checked. And if anyone can independently show adverse effects, the FDA will take its responsability. I invite the friends of the earth to perform a truly scientific study on this product.



    See the comments above. This is an exaggeration of the "unnaturalness" of the process. If they know it so well, why don't they make an effort to explain it properly? The step from traditional genetic engineering to what evolva is doing is probably much smaller than they imply. (If my suspicions about the process are correct and evolva hasn't made break-through discoveries which would be published in Nature, Science and all the newspapers around the world)



    A concept well known as synergism. It happens, but is the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, no hazardous examples have been reported of this (in this context) as far as I'm aware..



    True, but irrelevant. The parts which are inserted, and the resulting ezymes and products are quite well known. If there is something unexpected about the expression of the new genes, it will be on the occasions that they are not well expressed. In which case the organism is useless and destroyed. Don't worry, they sedate them with EtOH first.



    Ecotoxicity, maybe. But do remember that these production organisms are really not competitive in the outside world because of their massive vanillin production. The will be outcompeted and removed from the ecosystem. Hooray for Darwin! If you are worried about the health of the yeast itself, or its quality of life, there is no hope for you.



    All of this is true, but nothing stated here does any real harm. Unless something is wrong with "using a computer".



    As said, it makes no sense to compare vanillin to vanilla



    Again, this section would only make sense if it were about the "natural vanillin" market.



    If the process is not sustainable on industrial scale (in modernised countries legislation is there to ensure that this includes environmental sustainability), the company would not invest in it. This is big buisiness, no room for error on these types of investments.



    This is the responsability of the sugar industry. If evolva would take it upon itself to use sugar from sustainable sources, it would be quite nice of them, but they carry no responsability for what their suppliers do. You can't ban gen-tech because the sugar industry is (supposedly) corrupt.



    see above



    Vanillin is vanillin. It used to be safe, it will be safe.

    I left out the last part, as they are mainly just repeating themselves.




    Don't tell people what to do. Inform them PROPERLY, and let them decide for themselves. Most people make quite sensible decisions, if you don't mislead them.



    This is the only thing I actually more or less agree with.

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