News & Opinion » Letters

Letters for the Week of April 28, 2015

Readers sound off on water conservation, unsafe housing in Oakland, and Roundup.


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I would like to say that the real danger of glyphosate is the effect on the human gut microbiome, the friendly microbes that are a part of our human organism. My prime concern about glyphosate being in so much of our food is that the effect on the human gut microbiome has not been studied. You would think that for a chemical that is in the daily food of most people on the planet, this would have been studied, but it has not. This is a serious failing.

Glyphosate kills plants by blocking their EPSP synthase in the shikimic acid pathway. Monsanto says that because humans don't have the EPSP synthase, this effect does not occur in humans, but this is a serious weasel-type lie because the microbes in the human gut microbiome — 100 trillion of them — are indeed affected in this way. Their EPSP synthase molecules get stalled by glyphosate even in very low doses, so this is a serious effect that occurs at levels we see in our food every day. I, for one, want to know the profound health effects that possibly occur as a result. Too subtle to set off alarms, but probably profound in systemic ways.

To test for this hypothesis, we need serious and good science done by independent entities, in multiple studies of varied design, testing the actual outcome of humans ingesting glyphosate versus those who do not, and studying the relevant dynamics of the gut microbiome. It's not so hard, and I wonder why it hasn't been done yet.

It's hard to claim that a chemical is safe, or that it has no effect on the human body, when this very basic pathway to potential disruption has not been studied adequately.

I personally look to the world with a rational mindset, which includes seeing patterns on many levels, from sociological to psychological to biological, and I see many crazy claims out there, but I also see real reasons for concern on many levels. As for quantities that we ingest, it's in the tens of micrograms daily from all I can tell. As you may know, micrograms of some substances are seriously potent to our bodies when they act in a highly amplified way, especially through competitive inhibition.

If the effect of glyphosate on a plant through acting on the plant's somatic cells is any indication, then glyphosate is a strong competitive inhibitor on EPSP synthase against the normal shikimic acid pathway, and seems to have a very low dissociation constant, because the plants die on receiving rather low doses of glyphosate, which is a "feature" that people use to promote how effective glyphosate is and how little needs to be sprayed.

Note that I am not claiming that it is going on, for I am an empiricist and would like to see something before believing it. However, this effect seems very likely to me given the basic science around it and the results from other adjacent areas of study, which by a sort of interpolation point to this likelihood. And it is very surprising to me that the relevant studies have not been done. It seems a failing in due diligence for a chemical that will be ingested by billions of people. This leads me to a sociological interpretation of the conflict between the profit motive and public responsibility. We see the same dynamic repeatedly throughout history.

Sage Radachowsky, Boston, Massachusetts

"Note to Readers," Letters, 4/15

Good Move on Capitalizing Black

Thank you so much! It means a lot

Monika Brooks, Oakland

"Defending Afrika Town," What the Fork, 4/8

Afrika Town and Qilombo Have Improved Things

Keeping an empty lot and occasionally tossing out the garbage on it for years was not a sound strategy against repeat blight. Afrika Town and Qilombo members remove vandalism and garbage daily, and have created something that serves the neighborhood. They routinely feed the residents.

Prior to that, the lot was an eyesore for years. People called us routinely for several years to paint a mural and clean up that lot. But we waited until there was a solid institution with neighborhood support in place before contributing the mural. Qilombo and Afrika Town are community-based organizations that have the neighborhood's best interest at heart. Prior to the speculation and gentrification hype, the owner did the minimal, if anything to keep up the lot.

Now that Oakland is popular, the landowner wants to get paid. It's a normal capitalist sentiment. But it's far from altruistic.

Desi Mundo, Oakland

Afrika Town Is Gentrification

Are not the members of Qilombo engaging in gentrification by converting a "dilapidated, needle-strewn lot" into a community garden? This article seems to be a bit hypocritical to me. The owner appears prepared to sell the lot if Qilombo wishes to buy it. If Qilombo does not have sufficient funds and it's considered important to the city to gentrify this land, then perhaps Oakland City Council could buy it using the tax money we pay, and the city could gift the land to Qilombo.

Alphie Noakes, Oakland

"Taking Comedy Seriously," Culture Spy, 3/25

They Deserve a Larger Stage

These females are producing an important piece of work. Comedy is a fantastic avenue to bring attention to social issues — as so many male comics (the better ones) have done. When George Carlin and Richard Pryor tackled tough subjects for their audiences, they were equally shunned and applauded, but they were noticed. Their routines are legendary now and revered.


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