2014 Boston Fermentation Festival

I’ll be speaking at:

The 2014 Boston

Fermentation Festival

Our second annual Fermentation Festival will be a tour de fermentation! This completely *free* festival will be headlined by one of the world’s most renowned fermentation revivalists, Sandor Katz. Also on hand will be dozens of speakers, lectures, demos and small fermenting businesses will be on hand to sample & sell their delicious work. We will also have a competitive & tasty pickle-off with some of Boston’s most creative chefs. Join us at the Egleston Farmers Market at 45 Brookside Ave from 10-4 the day of the fest!

The festival will be for all levels of fermenting enthusiasts & lactic acid aficionados. There will be more advanced workshops & demos and a kraut mob for those interested in learning the basics of fermentation.

The Microbiome Wonder: A Closer Look At Our Ancestral Dependence On Bacteria To Nourish Us

We will explore the human microbiome and its origins in the soil and its implications for human health. We’ll delve into the intersection between human health, gut flora and our ancestral relationship to dirt and the consequences of a sterile world. We’ll leave ample time for questions, answers and mutual learning!


<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/112754782″>Fermentation Festival 2014</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user20873723″>Klementina Budnik</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


GMO Foods: Could what you don’t know be hurting you?



You’ve probably heard that GMO (genetically modified) foods are potentially unsafe, and that many other countries have banned them altogether. Are they over-reacting, or are we in the United States not paying enough attention to what’s really going on?

When you consider genetic modifications which allow literally tons of pesticides and herbicides to be added to our food supply (like Round-Up Ready corn and soy, which tolerate large doses of glyphosate), the safety issue is glaringly obvious. (Over 80% of GMO plants are engineered to resist herbicides. Use of herbicides in the US has gone up accordingly, ending up in our environment and in our bodies.)

But what about tomatoes that are altered to withstand shipment without bruising? Or perhaps an apple that doesn’t turn brown after slicing? They look the same. They taste the same. How can these GMO foods possibly be bad for us?



Genome interrupted

Let’s start with how GMO foods are made. The most common method uses a small piece of circular DNA from a bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Almost all bacteria have these circular pieces of DNA, called plasmids, which often contain ‘special’ genes that are separate from the chromosome. Agrobacterium has a very unusual plasmid that has the ability to enter a plant cell and ‘inject’ bacterial DNA directly into the cell’s chromosomes. In nature, this causes Crown Gall disease, where infected plant tissues overgrow into a tumor-like gall.

Scientists have learned to use this natural ‘gene-injector’ to add new genes to plants. They simply remove the tumor-causing gene from the Agrobacterium plasmid, and replace it with another gene, leaving the rest of the ‘injecting’ machinery intact, then mix it with a number of single plant cells. Some of these cells will take up the plasmid and it will become incorporated into their DNA, giving them a new gene. Unlike other genes, which have a ‘switch’ that turns them on and off according to the plant’s needs, the new gene has a permanent ‘on switch’ attached. This means that this gene will always be ‘on’ in a GMO plant (so that it continuously produces a pesticide, or a protein that inhibits spoilage, etc.).

Why is it important for genes to have a switch? Let’s use the example of the potato. Every single cell in the potato plant has a gene that allows it to make solanine, a toxin that can be fatal to humans in large amounts. Production of solanine is normally turned off in the tubers, the part of the plant we eat. When the tuber comes in contact with sunlight, the gene switches on in those cells, which is why we’re told not to eat green potatoes.  We rely on this gene being always ‘off’ in potato tubers, making them safe to eat.

Unintended consequences

In GMO foods, a new gene and switch have been inserted randomly into the plant’s genome by the Agrobacterium plasmid. Depending where it ends up, it could potentially disrupt any number of genes, turn them on or off, or alter the amount of protein they are making. If the thousands of genes in a plant working together in balance are like an intricate spider web that has been woven over millennia, randomly inserting a new gene can be like a fly getting caught: part of the web is going to get mucked up.  Which part, exactly?  We have no good way of knowing.

There can be huge and unpredictable changes in a plant’s native genome. Genes can be deleted, mutated, or permanently change the amount of protein they make. Plants can make larger amounts of an existing allergen or toxin, or begin producing a new or slightly different one. There is no way to control these changes, or even test for all of the possible new or different proteins that a plant might produce.

There have been numerous studies in animals on the health effects of a GMO diet, and nearly all showed adverse effects. Various results indicate that consumption of GMOs can result in reproductive failure, organ damage, and inflammation. The accumulation of large amounts of herbicide residues and their break-down products in heavily sprayed GMO crops (at least 86% more spray than non-GMO) may also lead to increased allergies and health problems.

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There is a protein in natural soybeans that is similar to an allergy-causing protein in peanuts. GMO soy was introduced in 1996. Peanut allergies in the US doubled between 1997 and 2002.

As of 2014 in the US, GMO ingredients are in as much as 80% of conventional processed foods. This includes corn syrup in candy, canola and cottonseed oil in snack foods, and soy lecithin, among many other common ingredients.

For more info and studies: 


About this blog…

Out of sight, out of mind… the forgotten, but fundamental, microbes of our lives…


The history of time on earth is much greater and more complex than the human imagination can really grasp… yet we as humans have all been shaped within this vast sea of interactions and adaptations that is our Natural History.

We have never been alone.

Within recent years, science has discovered that we are not even just human, but are living in harmony with the trillions of microbes that have come along for the ride, making a home in and on our bodies. These tiny organisms have been termed our ‘microbiome’, and we have only begun to scratch the surface in learning just how vital they are to our survival. For millions of years, these tiny beings have been learning to live with us and within us, providing our bodies with things we need in exchange for a safe haven.

Plants are not alone, either.

They have their own microbiomes, as diverse and important as our own, and the soil that they grow in is teeming with life. The microbes of the soil help to provide plants with nutrients and defend against disease, just as our own microbiome does for us. In fact, many of the same bacteria are found both in the soil and in the human gut.

It’s all too easy to forget about or ignore the things that we cannot see, and in the modern world, it can be even harder to remember how connected we really are to nature, including the legions of microbes around us and within us.  It’s even harder to fathom how very long we’ve all lived together, helping each other to survive. Yes, microbiomes evolve right along with their host, changing as we change, adapting with us and to us.  They have been with us since our very beginnings.

In this blog, I hope to help bring to light the many ways the microbiomes of our bodies, homes, and gardens are vital to our health, and how our long and complex history of coexisting with microbes has had a far greater impact on the biology of humans, plants and animals than we had ever before imagined…