Author Archives: Marianne

Reduced soil subsidence in the Veenweiden

The peat soil in the Veenweiden subsides by an average of one centimetre per year. The Veenweiden System Programme of VIC Zegveld has discovered that something can be done about this, using pressure drainage and ‘wet’ cultivation in the area. ImpactReporters has produced three brochures about this for dairy farmers, water boards, research institutes and government organizations.

A new quality mark for nature management

 

Can companies and site managers contribute to improvements in nature and biodiversity? The international VCA quality mark has been created to facilitate this, with the aim of better nature management in the areas where we live and work. ImpactReporters is developing training materials on behalf of the Ministry of Infrastructure, Public Works and Water Management, and helping to raise public awareness of this new instrument.

Book ‘Regenesis’: Science marketing or Science journalism?

The 30-year old Dutch Association for Science Journalists (VWN) is going to change its name in ‘Dutch Association for Science Journalism and Science Communication’. A good decision. Most members, including me, earn their money mainly with communication. But actually the term communication is rather vague. ‘Communication’ conceals it is often marketing: well-written stories increase the chances to catch up new research funds. Nothing wrong with that, but shouldn’t we call ourselves science marketers instead of science communicators?  We are always advocating for plain language.

I had already decided to sign my mails with ‘Marianne Heselmans – Science Marketer’,  when I received ‘Regenesis. How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. Written by system biologist George Church and science writer/philosopher Ed Regis in 2012. That book makes me doubt. It may not always possible to say: ‘Now I am a marketer. And now I am a science journalist, searching the truth to support democracy.  

George Church is a leading synthetic biologist, professor at MIT in Harvard and founder of the young company Gen9. Gen9 makes synthetic DNA on microchips. Synthetic DNA can be used to construct more effective bacteria, plants or animals for industry.

The authors have used the writing techniques of thorough science journalism. They have based their stories on published research results from different research institutes and not on vague expectations, or on only Harvard’s results. All stories can be checked and are full of fine (historical) details. 

Meanwhile, the wider story is a sketch of a future world in which all kinds of industrial bacteria, plants and animals are made with….. synthetic DNA. That new ‘synthetic’ organisms are then going to deliver us thousands of new, convenient products such as bio plastic cups and carpets, disease free plants and animals, bacteria for data storage and resurrection of the Neanderthal man. 

So we get a clear impression of the results and goals of the synthetic biologists. The book serves democracy too: who is against genetic modification, has got more idea’s, names and research programs to ‘attack’.  And possible negative side-effects of synthetic biology are described in detail.

But this convincing sketch of a world in which ‘nature and ourselves are reinvented’ is also the ultimate marketing for the company of George Church. The more believers in new bacteria, plants, animals and men  with (only) synthetic DNA, the more synthetic DNA Gen9 is  going to sell.

Do they promis too much? Not really. Gen9 now sells its synthetic DNA for 20 dollar cent per letter (per base pair). Still far too expensive to make bacteria and plants with only synthetic DNA. But if you realize how fast the price of sequenced DNA has been lowered in the last ten years (from 1 sequenced letter for 1 dollar in 2003, to 3 million sequenced letters for 1 dollar now), it is not 100 % unlikely that the Church’ and Regis’ world  becomes reality. In 50  years or in 100 or 200 years (the authors don’t mention a time).

So what I see in Regenesis is that thorough science journalism may well support democracy and science and technology marketing. And that writing a book together with a science writer is also a good marketing idea. 

Less food waste

What are the best methods of dealing with worldwide food waste? And what are the key drivers behind successful cases? The Food and Business Knowledge Platform asked ImpactReporters to produce an accessible brochure on the basis of research undertaken by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research.