Superfood to the rescue?

The development of genetically modified (GM) crops, even for the purpose of saving people from nutrient deficiencies,1 is driven by profit-hungry transnational corporations. Vitamin A deficiency could be much better addressed by promoting polyculture farming with vitamin A–rich green vegetables, especially in urban areas, simultaneously providing many other nutritional benefits. But this approach would not generate the huge corporate profits from selling patented golden rice.

David Schwartzman
Howard University
Washington, D.C.

The magical thinkers who sing the praises of organic farming have forgotten, or never knew, that organic farming was responsible for the famines previous to the Green Revolution. Before the Green Revolution, almost all the world’s farming was done organically and production was so low that it didn’t create any surpluses for when the weather didn’t cooperate. That means millions of Africans, Chinese, and Indians died every time the rains didn’t come....

Listening to the anti-GMs is very similar to listening to the creationists dispute evolution. Both groups are faith-based and distort facts and reality to support their position, instead of changing their position to fit the facts. The flower power generation did a lot of good, but it also produced an ethic of magical thinking that continues to this day.

Daniel Miller
Monterrey, MEXICO

1. B. Grant, “Where’s the Super Food?” The Scientist, 23(9):30–37, September 2009.

Pregnant pause

I was deeply disturbed by the article that suggested statins could help prevent miscarriage.1 The article nowhere states that Zocor, and all statin drugs, are FDA Category X for pregnancy (contraindicated). Animal research suggests the drugs may cause teratogenicity,2 human placental disruption may occur, and there is a risk of theoretical long-term fetal neurological damage.3

Listening to the anti-GMs is very similar to listening to the creationists dispute evolution.

Even if the mechanism described in the article does account for a significant proportion of human pregnancy losses—an untested hypothesis—a statin trial for pregnancy loss cannot take place without much stronger indication of human safety, probably including primate trials and institutional review board approvals under strictest conditions, including, in my opinion, long-term follow-up of neurological development of the infants. Given the ubiquity of statins in the community and the desperation of couples who lose pregnancies, and given that Girardi is a Ph.D. scientist with only mouse and no human clinical experience, it is dangerous and irresponsible for The Scientist and for her to advocate clinical trials.

Michael Lockshin
Hospital for Special Surgery,
Weill-Cornell Medical College
New York, NY

Category X for the statins simply means that there is no indication for the use of statins in women because there are no studies, even for use in hypercholesterolemia. It is not because of recorded teratogenicity, placental disruption, or fetal neurological damage. The use of statins during pregnancy is not associated with increased teratogenicity.4,5

The in vitro studies describing statins as toxic to trophoblasts used a dose of pravastatin four times greater than the one that will be used in our studies. Adding the metabolism of pravastatin by P450 enzymes in the liver, a still lower dose of pravastatin will be found in circulation. Our clinical trial will use pravastatin, a drug that is hydrosoluble, minimizing exposure to the fetus.

The clinical trials are being drawn up by an experienced multidisciplinary team, including physicians and scientists. These trials are being approved by the relevant regulatory authorities, and are neither dangerous nor irresponsible.

Guillermina Girardi
PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology

1. G. Girardi, “Safeguarding the Foreigner Within,” The Scientist, 23(9):38–42, September 2009.
2. I. Kenis et al., “Simvastatin has Deleterious Effects on Human First Trimester Placental Explants,” Hum Reprod, 20(10):2866–72, October 2005.
3. J. Ponce et al., “Simvastatin Reduces the Association of NMDA Receptors to Lipid Rafts: A Cholesterol-Mediated Effect in Neuroprotection, Stroke, 39(4):1269–75, April 2008.
4. N. Taguchi et al., “Prenatal exposure to HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors: effects on fetal and neonatal outcomes,” Reprod Toxicol, 26:175-7, 2008.
5. P.S. Pollack et al., “Pregnancy outcomes after maternal exposure to simvastatin and lovastatin,” Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol, 73:888-96, 2005.

Reprints, revisited

While I also fondly recall the thrill of receiving reprint requests, I think their feedback function is largely reproduced by new article metrics such as DemandFactor, at the Journal of Vision . This is an estimate of the number of readers (PDF downloaders) in the first 1000 days of an article’s lifetime. Other journals (PLoS ONE) are doing the same.

Andrew Watson
Journal of Vision
Los Gatos, Calif.

I have (literally) hundreds of PDFs of papers of interest sent by authors. When I come across an interesting article, I simply find an email address for one of the authors and send a “PDF reprint request.” In 90 percent of cases, the relevant PDF arrives by email the next day—or sometimes only hours or minutes after the request.

Dean Male

1. S. Wiley, “Bring Back Reprint Requests,” The Scientist, 23(9):29, September 2009.

Young and the Restless

In giving allowances to young investigators, NIH was simply trying to compensate for subconscious bias, and was not trying to actually favor early-stage investigators, as Les Costello argues in his article.1 Subconscious bias has always favored established male investigators from the “best” schools, and while some of those aspects have genuine merit, they are often given more weight than they deserve (because they are easier to assess than scientific merit). NIH’s peer review system might be better served if a proposal and its PI were scored separately (in isolation from each other) and those scores later combined. This could control any undue influence of subconscious bias without resorting to differential paylines (which will always engender hostility).

Martha Stokely
University of North Texas
Health Sciences Center
Ft. Worth, Texas

1. L. Costello, “NIH R01s: No Longer the Best Science,” The Scientist, 23(9):27, September 2009.

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?