Update November 13, 2013
What’s become of Dr. Huber and his claim of a new organism that causes trouble for seemingly every living thing on the planet in the nearly three years since I published this post? The latest news is from Dr. Kevin Folta who I’ve had the privelage of meeting over dinner while he was attending an event at Purdue late this summer.
Today Dr. Folta posted about his face to face with Dr. Huber whenHuber recently spoke in Florida. Folta attended and extended a kind offer to Huber.
From Folta’s Illumination blog post “A Generous offer to Dr. Huber – Turned Down”
“I offer to sequence the genome of the pathogen and identify what it is,” I said. “If Dr. Huber could kindly give me a small amount of the culture we could identify this new life form before Christmas.”
I’m not bluffing here. We could do that. I could pay to have the libraries made and get several lanes of Illumina sequencing done in a few weeks. We’d get several hundred million ‘reads’ (small bits of data) that could be computationally assembled into a whole genome of his novel organism, if it actually existed. If it was real, we could have 300-fold coverage of its sequence. Completely do-able, and I’d pay for it.
If you take the time to read the entirety of Folta’s post you’ll see he had Huber squirming in front of a very pro-Huber audience. Dr. Huber danced around the issue of his, as Folta says, “this novel not-quite-a-virus, not-quite-a-fungus plant-animal kingdom-hopping pathogen.”
The claims of Dr. Huber are quite exceptional, but he alledgedly discover this organism 8 years ago, but he seems to refuse to let anyone else in the scientific community help him tackle the issue. An issue that according to Huber is devasting the health of plants, livestock, and humans. You’d think he get on with dealing with that wouldn’t you?
For more on the subject Biofortified has a nice piece entitled “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” I also have some first hand knowledge I blogged about in “Long Term Glyphosate Use Effect on Wheat.”
January 10, 2013
Rob Wallbridge aka @songberryfarm, an organic farmer, penned a post on his blog The Fanning Mill called Deconstructing Don Huber – A Tale of Two Talks. It’s a great read on how Huber is out fear mongering. “He’s undoubtedly done some good, valuable work in his career. But don’t be mistaken – whatever has lead him here, his current path is deceptive, misleading, and irresponsible. Unless and until he can stick to the science and offer solid evidence for his extreme claims, he must be called to account for the way he is scaring people, and his tour of terror must end.”
Original Post from February 24, 2011
It’s been a roller coaster week for glyphosate. Early this week we hear of a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack from Dr. Don Huber, retired Purdue University professor. At first glance it almost seems as if the end of RoundUp is upon us, but I didn’t get too excited because information was vague and I wanted to hear more. If you haven’t seen it already, here is the text of the letter:
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
A team of senior plant and animal scientists have recently brought to my attention the discovery of an electron microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. Based on a review of the data, it is widespread, very serious, and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn-suggesting a link with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup. This organism appears NEW to science!
This is highly sensitive information that could result in a collapse of US soy and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies. On the other hand, this new organism may already be responsible for significant harm (see below). My colleagues and I are therefore moving our investigation forward with speed and discretion, and seek assistance from the USDA and other entities to identify the pathogen’s source, prevalence, implications, and remedies.
We are informing the USDA of our findings at this early stage, specifically due to your pending decision regarding approval of RR alfalfa. Naturally, if either the RR gene or Roundup itself is a promoter or co-factor of this pathogen, then such approval could be a calamity. Based on the current evidence, the only reasonable action at this time would be to delay deregulation at least until sufficient data has exonerated the RR system, if it does.
For the past 40 years, I have been a scientist in the professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks. Based on this experience, I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high risk status. In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.
A diverse set of researchers working on this problem have contributed various pieces of the puzzle, which together presents the following disturbing scenario:
Unique Physical Properties
This previously unknown organism is only visible under an electron microscope (36,000X), with an approximate size range equal to a medium size virus. It is able to reproduce and appears to be a micro-fungal-like organism. If so, it would be the first such micro-fungus ever identified. There is strong evidence that this infectious agent promotes diseases of both plants and mammals, which is very rare.
Pathogen Location and Concentration
It is found in high concentrations in Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, distillers meal, fermentation feed products, pig stomach contents, and pig and cattle placentas.
Linked with Outbreaks of Plant Disease
The organism is prolific in plants infected with two pervasive diseases that are driving down yields and farmer income-sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soy, and Goss’ wilt in corn. The pathogen is also found in the fungal causative agent of SDS (Fusarium solani fsp glycines).
Implicated in Animal Reproductive Failure
Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of this organism in a wide variety of livestock that have experienced spontaneous abortions and infertility. Preliminary results from ongoing research have also been able to reproduce abortions in a clinical setting.
The pathogen may explain the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations. These include recent reports of infertility rates in dairy heifers of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45%.
For example, 450 of 1,000 pregnant heifers fed wheatlege experienced spontaneous abortions. Over the same period, another 1,000 heifers from the same herd that were raised on hay had no abortions. High concentrations of the pathogen were confirmed on the wheatlege, which likely had been under weed management using glyphosate.
In summary, because of the high titer of this new animal pathogen in Roundup Ready crops, and its association with plant and animal diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions, we request USDA’s participation in a multi-agency investigation, and an immediate moratorium on the deregulation of RR crops until the causal/predisposing relationship with glyphosate and/or RR plants can be ruled out as a threat to crop and animal production and human health.
It is urgent to examine whether the side-effects of glyphosate use may have facilitated the growth of this pathogen, or allowed it to cause greater harm to weakened plant and animal hosts. It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders. To properly evaluate these factors, we request access to the relevant USDA data.
I have studied plant pathogens for more than 50 years. We are now seeing an unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases and disorders. This pathogen may be instrumental to understanding and solving this problem. It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure.
COL (Ret.) Don M. Huber
Emeritus Professor, Purdue University
APS Coordinator, USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS)
Then today, we get a letter from several scientists at Purdue essentially saying there’s potential for such an issue but not likely a major concern.
On top of that if you search the web now you’ll find sites holding judgement on rumors that the Huber letter may actually be fraudulent. So I’m not going to change anything until something more concrete comes through. No industry is perfect, ag included, and if something comes along that requires change I’m sure it will happen. I think it’s pretty much common knowledge that there are glyphosate resistant weeds popping up, and as a result weed management is already adjusting by changing up the chemicals and practices we use.
Huber is claiming something pretty spectacular, yet no one credible seems to back him up.