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Science Done Right
What I learned in High School
John Swarthout
John Swarthout
Scientific Outreach and Issues Management Lead

We all have had a defining moment(s) in our lives where we realized what it is that we want to do or to become. For me, that moment came in Miss Pope’s AP Biology class, that is when I first remember being enthusiastic about science. One of the topics we talked about that semester was the 'scientific method', a process that includes asking questions (hypotheses), performing experiments to test the question, generating data and interpreting the results. One of the core components of what makes us human is our curiosity and desire to discover how things work and the scientific process provides a framework through which we can ask and answer questions to help us understand.

 

Another key component of the scientific method is peer review, a process meant to ensures that papers published in scientific journals ask meaningful research questions and reach appropriate conclusions based on well executed experimentation. Essentially, peer review acts as a gatekeeping step to prevent low quality science from reaching the scientific community and ultimately the general public. It is a critical part of the scientific process as scientific knowledge is cumulative and builds on itself. Meaning that new information becomes part of the scientific record to live on and be amplified through subsequent citations. Peer review can lower the likelihood that incorrect information worms it way into the scientific record.

In a world of rapid publication and social media amplification, it is more critical than ever that the science is right prior to publication.
John Swarthout
Scientific Outreach and Issues Management Lead

So, it is only if all the steps of the scientific process are done correctly and an adequate peer review is performed, can there be some degree of confidence that the science was done right. And in a world of rapid publication and social media amplification, it is more critical than ever that the science is right prior to publication.

 

To maintain credibility as scientists and to ensure accuracy and reproducibility of our data/reports, Bayer has an additional layer of scientific review. Every scientific paper we write goes through an extensive internal peer review followed by the external peer review at the journal it was submitted to prior to publication. 

 

Similarly, we also review external publications about our products and technologies. In fact, it would be negligent on our part if we did not review the literature. There are a number of reasons we do this. One reason is that, if there was a credible new finding, through scientific literature or otherwise, that suggested potential adverse effects of one of our products, we are required by law to report it to the appropriate global regulatory agencies. Additionally, our commercial biotech and chemistry products are re-reviewed by global authorities (e.g. EPA, EFSA) on a routine basis. As part of their review, regulators scrutinize all the recently-published scientific articles related to our products. They base their re-registration decision on the entire body of data that they review. For these and other reasons, we take significant effort in staying abreast of developments in scientific literature.

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Our review of external publications is not about finding flaws, although sometimes our subject matter experts do identify shortcomings. Rather it is to advance our own understanding of the totality of the science pertaining to our products. Sometimes a study puts forth a new finding or raises an interesting issue that launches research projects by other scientists to answer that question. This is another component to the scientific process: validation of a scientific finding by other scientists by repeating the study. Only through corroboration can a scientific consensus be reached. That is science done right.

 

For example, a study was published that suggested “cross kingdom” communication between a plant micro RNAi1 (a system of gene regulation) and a human gene. This paper got a lot of attention in the scientific world as well as in the popular press. Imagine, a plant gene regulation system capable of directing how our genes are regulated simply by eating the plant. That would be amazing, if true. 

  • 1. Zhang L, Hou D, Chen X, Li D, Zhu L, et al. (2012) Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA. Cell Res 22: 107-126.
Only through corroboration can a scientific consensus be reached. That is science done right.
John Swarthout
Scientific Outreach and Issues Management Lead

The study found that mice fed a rice-only diet had reduced low-density lipoproteins (LDL) – the “bad” kind of cholesterol and this was caused by a plant micro RNAi. This was a new finding and perplexing, in that it was completely contrary to the long-established science and raised a potential dietary safety concern. Bayer scientists and external scientists collaborated to repeat the exact study with one change. The study included an additional treatment group; a rice diet with added protein. While the repeat study showed a similar LDL response when a rice-only diet was fed to rats, in the additional treatment group of a rice diet with added protein, the LDL effect went away. This was a very important finding because the study demonstrated that the LDL effect was the result of an imbalanced diet (too low of protein) and not a plant mediated gene regulation. If it was a gene regulation event, then additional protein would not have impacted the results.

 

Since that time, Bayer scientists have authored or co-authored six follow-up studies that have been published as a result of the original paper2 3 4 5 6 7. Research like this is expensive. But following up on the work of other scientists is a huge part of the scientific process and is an essential part of understanding our products.

 

From time to time, our scientists will provide our perspective relating to complex issues surrounding agriculture as well as our take on new scientific studies that may have captured your attention in social media or even the news. This objective evaluation is very important to us and should be to you as well. This continuous review is the only way that we, and you, can be confident that we got the science right.

  • 2. Dickinson B, Zhang Y, Petrick JS, Heck G, Ivashuta S, et al. (2013) Lack of detectable oral bioavailability of plant microRNAs after feeding in mice. Nat Biotechnol 31: 965-967.
  • 3. Frizzi A, Zhang Y, Kao J, Hagen C, Huang S (2014) Small RNA profiles from virus-infected fresh market vegetables. J Agric Food Chem 62: 12067-12074.
  • 4. Jensen PD, Zhang Y, Wiggins BE, Petrick JS, Zhu J, et al. (2013) Computational sequence analysis of predicted long dsRNA transcriptomes of major crops reveals sequence complementarity with human genes. GM Crops Food 4: 90-97.
  • 5. Petrick JS, Brower-Toland B, Jackson AL, Kier LD (2013) Safety assessment of food and feed from biotechnology-derived crops employing RNA-mediated gene regulation to achieve desired traits: a scientific review. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 66: 167-176.
  • 6. Petrick JS, Moore WM, Heydens WF, Koch MS, Sherman JH, et al. (2015) A 28-day oral toxicity evaluation of small interfering RNAs and a long double-stranded RNA targeting vacuolar ATPase in mice. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 71: 8-23.
  • 7. Zhang Y, Wiggins BE, Lawrence C, Petrick J, Ivashuta S, et al. (2012) Analysis of plant-derived miRNAs in animal small RNA datasets. BMC Genomics 13: 381.