March 03, 2017

Improved Potatoes, a Gene Therapy Breakthrough and Surprising News from Denmark

By Grace Carr
FDA Approves Genetically Engineered Potatoes  

Three types of potatoes genetically engineered to resist the pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine have just overcome a huge regulatory hurdle. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have given permission to companies to plant and sell these potatoes. The potatoes do not contain genes from any other species, but are resistant to “late blight” disease. The three varieties are the Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet, and Atlantic, and all have the same taste, texture, and nutritional qualities as conventional potatoes. Potatoes are the world’s fourth food staple crop, thus it is not insignificant that late blight continues to plague potato growers. The genetically engineered potatoes greatly reduce the fungi, bruising, and black spots and enhance storage capacity. Companies are not sure yet how they will market these new potatoes, but it seems the new product will benefit growers and consumers. 

Denmark’s Shifting Social Policies  

Denmark is often considered the “poster child” of democratic socialism, but the Danes themselves are moving away from socialist policies. Denmark is raising the pension age and making cuts to welfare programs in an effort to finance major income tax cuts. The Danish government seeks to promote a society in which it is easier to support a family before handing over a large share of income to fund the costs of society. Last year's plan included cutting the top rate of income tax by 5 percent and boosting the after-tax salaries of the lowest earners by 7 percent. To fund the tax cuts, the government looks to get more people into the workforce. But since Denmark is already close to full employment, more young and old people are being encouraged to work. The government seeks to raise the retirement age to 67.5 and more quickly add students to the workforce by increasing the use of school loans. Overall, it seems that Denmark is abandoning the Nordic welfare state model.  

New Gene Therapy to Help Cure Cancer  

A groundbreaking gene therapy treatment called CAR-T cell therapy has been shown to boost patients’ own immune cells, ridding disease from one third of terminal cancer patients. The treatment works by filtering the patient's blood to remove key immune system T-cells, which scientists then genetically engineer to recognize cancer cells. The genetically enhanced T-cells are then reintroduced into the body to fight cancer. While the trials have seen incredible success, there are still concerns about the treatment’s significant side effects, as it puts the immune system into a state of over-drive. Some patients undergoing treatment developed anemia or other blood-count-related problems, and a number reported sleepiness, confusion, tremors, or difficulty speaking that lasted for a few days. Still, the new treatment offers hope and a brighter future for those suffering from terminal illness.