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Biotechnology

Biotechnology: Its application in agriculture
·Introduction:
Persuade public to become aware of the changes
Persuade audience to think about where they stand on this very important issue and take action according to your decision.

Labeling and careful regulation of genetically manufactured foods
vPersuade the American Public to think about the following changes that are being made in Agriculture as a society wish should discuss the issue.


vControl genetic technology, Persuade public to ask their Government to control the public use of biotechnology, while trying to improve on tried and true farming techniques.


vLabeling of produce that has been genetically modified a
There should be a choice available to the public.





·What is Biotechnology?
The simplest way to view this is to brake-up the words into two parts
Bio – Technology
Biotechnology, the manipulation of biological organisms to make products that benefit human beings. Biotechnology contributes to such diverse areas as food production, waste disposal, mining, and medicine.




·The Method
Cards/Diagram
·How is it applied in Agriculture/food crops
Potato Chicken Increased disease resistance
Giant silk moth Increased disease resistance
Greater waxmoth Reduced bruising damage
Virus Increased disease resistance
Bacteria Increased herbicide tolerance
Corn Wheat Reduced insect damage
Firefly Introduction of marker genes
Bacteria Increased herbicide tolerance
Tomato Flounder Reduced freezing damage
Virus Increased disease resistance
Bacteria Reduced insect damage
Soybean Petunia Increased herbicide tolerance
Bacteria
Rice Bean, pea Introduction of new storage proteins
Bacteria Reduced insect damage
Cantaloupe,Cucumber,Squash Virus Increased disease resistance
Sunflower Brazil nut Introduction of new storage proteins
Walnut Bacteria Reduced insect damage
Apple Bacteria Reduced insect damage
Catfish Trout Faster growth
Virus
*Information compiled from applications to federal agencies to field test engineered organisms.
Source: The Gene Exchange 2 (4), December 1991
MENU*
Appetizers
Spiced Potatoes with Waxmoth genes
Juice of Tomatoes with Flounder genes
Entree
Blackened Catfish with Trout gene
Scalloped Potatoes with Chicken gene
Cornbread with Firefly gene
Dessert
Rice Pudding with Pea gene
Beverage
Milk from Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH)
Supplemented Cows
* This menu is from the “The Gene Exchange”, a publication of the National Wildlife Federation. Federal permits for environmental release are pending or have been granted for all of the transgenic plants and animals included on the menu.



Farmers
Which companies are buying GM foods from farmers?
What products do these companies make?





·Reported
Bt Corn, Potato
1.Monarch Butterfly
2.Bt resistance genes found in the wild populations of moth
Scientists at the University of North Carolina in the U.S. have already found Bt resistance genes in wild populations of a moth pest that feeds on corn (Gould et. al, 1997). The resistance concerns are serious enough that, just last month, a coalition of the US’ major producers of genetically engineered corn seed, under pressure from federal regulators, environmentalists and the weight of scientific studies, said they would require farmers to grow sizable plots of non-engineered corn in an effort to stave off resistance (Weiss, 1999).


Gould, F., Anderson, A., Jones, A., Sumerford, D., Heckel, D.G., Lopez, J., Micinski, S., Leonard, R. and M. Laster. 1997. Initial frequency of alleles for resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis toxins in field populations of Heliothis virescens. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 94: 3519-3523.


Weiss, R. 1999. Corn seed producers move to avert pesticide resistance. The Washington Post, January 9, page A04.


3.Reduced the population of non-targeted insects , greenlacewigs
Researchers from Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture, for example, found over 60% mortality among green lacewings larvae (a major predator of corn pests) that ate moth larvae that had fed on Bt corn (Hilbeck et al., 1998).


Hilbeck, A., Baumgartner, M., Fried, P.M. and F. Bigler. 1998. Effects of transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis corn-fed prey on mortality and development time of immature Chysoperla carnea (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae). Environmental Entomology, 27(2): 480-487.


Furthermore, the increased lacewing mortality was seen regardless of whether it ate sick prey (i.e. poisoned by eating Bt) or healthy (i.e. resistant to Bt) prey. Bt-resistant insects could feed on Bt corn, fly off to other plants, and be eaten by lacewing which would then die. The resulting ecological effects could extend well beyond the borders of the area planted to transgenic crops.


Other studies have shown that the Bt toxin can persist in soils for over forty days (the longest time evaluated) and can retain its toxicity to insects (Koskella and Stotzky, 1997).


Koskella, J. and G. Stotzky. 1997. Microbial utilization of free and clay-bound insecticidal toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis and their retention of insectidical activity after incubation with microbes. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 63(9): 3561-3568.


4.Springtails harmed
According to data submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Novartis’ Bt corn also harmed springtails (Collembola), which are flightless insects that feed on fungi and debris in soil and, as decomposers, are considered to be a beneficial insect (EPA MRID No. 434635).


Accident at Yale
Accident at Yale
In August 1994 a high-speed centrifuge at Yale cracked a container holding a sample of the rare, deadly Sabia virus from Brazil, which is something like the Ebola virus that has ravaged Zaire, Ivory Coast and other African countries.

The Sabia material sprayed all over the inside of the machine. The researcher sterilized the area that seemed to be affected, and since he was protected with a lab gown, latex gloves and a mask, he didn’t worry about his own safety. He did not report the accident — violating federal guidelines — and went off to Boston for a visit.

A week later, he was running a high fever and was hospitalized. At this point he reported the accident and was successfully treated with an antiviral drug — but not before he had exposed a large number of people, including children and healthcare workers, to a contagious and deadly arenavirus. This type of virus kills in a grisly way: the internal organs decompose and people bleed to death through every pore, including the skin and eyes.
The Yale incident involved a natural virus, not a recombinant one. Perhaps that was lucky, because at least something was known about Sabia. The researcher was working in a lab fitted out with negative air pressure and air filters designed to trap escaped microorganisms, so presumably nothing floated out into the open air.
“A Deadly Virus Escapes: Concerns about lab security arise as a mysterious disease from Brazil strikes a Yale researcher,” Time, Sept. 5, 1994, p. 63.
By emailprotected May 1995
Showa Denko
For example, one of the very first GMO-derived products introduced into the market was an amino acid called tryptophan which is sold in a number of countries including the United States as a dietary supplement. In the late 1980s, the Showa Denko company of Japan began making tryptophan using genetically engineered bacteria, and selling it in the United States. Within months thousands of people who had taken the supplement began to suffer from eosinophilia myalgia syndrome, which included neurological problems. Eventually at least 1500 were permanently disabled and 37 died (Mayeno and Gleich, 1994).

As doctors encountered this syndrome, they gradually noticed that it seemed linked to patients taking tryptophan produced by Showa Denko. However, it took months before this was taken off the market. Had it been labeled as genetically engineered, it might have accelerated the identification of the source of the problem.

Showa Denko refused to cooperate in any U.S. government efforts to investigate the cause of the problem. However, subsequent research by scientists suggests that a toxic contaminant, released by the genetically engineered bacteria in quantities well above the quantities released in non-engineered tryptophan, caused the illnesses and death (Mayeno and Gleich, 1994).


Mayeno, A.N. and G.J. Gleich. 1994. Eosinophilia myalgia syndrome and tryptophan production: a cautionary tale. TIBTECH, 12: 346-352.


Please contact us at: http://www.consumersunion.org/contact.htm
All information ©1998 Consumers Union
·The Argument
Provide rebuttal for the other sides excuses
Why biotechnology.com
Statements from
Novartis
monsanto
Feeding the poor?
Noble Cause vs. Taint of Big technology
Righteousness of the reasonsUnrighteosness of products
Increased food productionsHunger has nothing to do with food shortage
Dr Mae-Wan Ho Biology Department, Open University, U.K. November 1996
It seems the hand of big Industry and Agri-business is taking over
Agricultural biotechnology is big business, and science has been absorbed into industry to an unprecedented extent. Practically all established molecular geneticists have some industrial ties 6, th us limiting what they can research on, particularly with regard to safety.


The same goes for improving the nutritional value of foods. Despite the lowest prices on record, more than 800 million p eople still go hungry 2, and 82 countries – half of them in Africa – neither grow enough food, nor can afford to import it. Infant mortality rates – a sensitive indicator of nutritional stress – ha ve been experiencing an upturn in recent years, reversing a long-term historical trend
Under-nutrition and malnutrition, everywhere in the developing as well as the developed world, stem from poverty, as admitted in the World Bank Report 2. In the Third World, poverty was created in large measure, by centuries of colonial and post-colonial economic exploitation under the “free-trade” imperative, and exacerbated by the introduction of the intensive, high input industrial agricult ure of the “Green Revolution” since the 1970s 9.


The concentration on growing crops for export has benefited the corporate plant breeders and the elite of the Third World at the expense of ordinary people. In 1973, thirty-six of the nations most seriously affected by hunger and malnutrition exported food to the US – a pattern that continues to the present day 10.
Dr Mae-Wan Ho Biology Department, Open University, U.K. November 1996

·Conclusion persuasive closing
vPersuade the American Public to think about the following changes that are being made in Agriculture as a society wish should discuss the issue.


vControl genetic technology, Persuade public to ask their Government to control the public use of biotechnology, while trying to improve on tried and true farming techniques.


vLabeling of produce that has been genetically modified a
There should be a choice available to the public.


1.Today, biotechnology is big business. The first plants, animals, and pharmaceuticals make from biotechnology techniques of unknown safety are on the market – without labels. Cloning , DNA testing, and patenting of genes are big international issues. The stunning diversity of life on Earth is being replaced by “improved” agricultural products. The Human Genome Project seeks to identify and patent every gene that human beings have – commercializing nature, posing a threat to our civil liberties, and trivializing our idea of what being human is all about.
Some, like Monsanto, are making huge profits from their work in agriculture, where they are replacing traditional farming techniques with techniques dependent on corporate products such as bio-engineered seeds and hormones.

By emailprotected May 1995
2.Being able to change crops so dramatically is, of course, the fondest fantasy of agribusiness. Imagine the increased profits if everything ripened exactly on an appointed day; if everything was uniform, easy to pick and process; if nothing ever rotted, so expensive packing and refrigeration could be forgotten.
If you’re an agro-chemical company like Monsanto, ICI or Upjohn, you’ll also want to create plants that herbicides can’t kill, so you can sell more herbicides to farmers and convince them to spray instead of tilling.

Never mind that the environment becomes more toxic for farmworkers, and the herbicide runoff poisons the watershed. Genetically engineered foods are expected to become a $50 billion business.
If you have a ranch, a dairy farm or a fish farm, your bottom line is going to be increasing the amount of food produced while decreasing “inputs” such as food .


By emailprotected May 1995
3.Bad Business associated with it.


4.Therefore, at some point an escaped recombinant organism may threaten public safety.

By emailprotected May 1995
5.Biological laboratories routinely use infectious microorganisms and radioactivity.
Biotechnology labs, in addition, work with microorganisms that are not naturally occurring and whose characteristics are to some degree unknown and possibly very dangerous.
By emailprotected May 1995
6.Can genetically modified foods feed the world or improve nutrition?
Dr Mae-Wan Ho Biology Department, Open University, U.K. November 1996
7.Since the major genetic diversity is centered in the poorer, less developed countries of the world and this is the material genetic engineering wishes to use, the Convention will play an important role in determining the socio-economic effects of the technology. However, the Convention on Biological Diversity has done nothing to stem the drain of natural resources of the South to the North.

Dr Mae-Wan Ho Biology Department, Open University, U.K. November 1996
Why should you persuade people to think about it, on the premise of the above statements?
The consequences what could happen?
Biotechnology is good but only when managed responsibly
(Leaders are beginning to regulate it, so eventually it might reach the status of red#5)



Some people, including scientists, object to any procedure that changes the genetic composition of an organism. Critics are concerned that some of the genetically altered forms will eliminate existing species, thereby upsetting the natural balance of organisms. There are also fears that recombinant DNA experiments with pathogenic microorganisms may result in the formation of extremely virulent forms which, if accidentally released from the laboratory, will cause worldwide epidemics. Some critics cite ethical dilemmas associated with the production of transgenic organisms.


In 1976, in response to fears of disastrous consequences of unregulated genetic engineering procedures, the National Institutes of Health created a body of rules governing the handling of microorganisms in recombinant DNA experiments. Although many of the rules have been relaxed over time, certain restrictions are still imposed on those working with pathogenic microorganisms.


·It threatens environmental health and safety.
·It leads to massive invasions of medical privacy.
·It trivializes the meaning of life and causes animal suffering.
·And it costs billions of dollars, fueled by investor speculation and heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
“Modern” biotechnology dawned during this century, as scientists learned more about DNA, a long, stringy molecule found in every living cell nucleus. In the 1970’s, scientists developed a way to splice genes from the DNA of one organism into the genome (the whole genetic code) of an unrelated species, to create new, self-reproducing forms of life.
Today, biotechnology is big business. The first plants, animals, and pharmaceuticals make from biotechnology techniques of unknown safety are on the market – without labels. Cloning , DNA testing, and patenting of genes are big international issues. The stunning diversity of life on Earth is being replaced by “improved” agricultural products. The Human Genome Project seeks to identify and patent every gene that human beings have – commercializing nature, posing a threat to our civil liberties, and trivializing our idea of what being human is all about.
Many of the world’s largest corporations, especially in agribusiness and pharmaceuticals, engage in biotechnology research and development.
Some, like Monsanto, are making huge profits from their work in agriculture, where they are replacing traditional farming techniques with techniques dependent on corporate products such as bio-engineered seeds and hormones.
Others, notably the pharmaceutical companies, are still casting around for gene therapies. Those companies profiting from biotechnology in this sector are largely selling diagnostics, not cures.
Here are some links to corporate biotech sites:
TRANSGENIC FOODS
The Immortal Tomato
and Other Strange Objects for Your Dinner Table
Source: Marketing Week cover, Feb. 5, 1993
Main Page | About Biotechnology | Site Outline
Since some genes can be located, “snipped out” of one genome, and spliced into another, it has become possible to endow (or inflict) some other species with certain qualities from another species. This process is hit-or-miss, because gene functioning has a lot to do with environmental factors. So genes from birds may not really make apples fly. But sometimes a modification “takes,” and a new breed is born.
Take tomatoes. Some have been given genes from flounders, a cold-water fish, so they can survive in freezing-cold weather. Some have had genes deleted so their cell walls hold up — that is, they don’t collapse and rot — long after Mother Nature has declared them overripe. A California biotechnology company, Calgene, developed this strain under the brand name Flavr Savr. An Australian variety is being sold in Safeway under the MacGregor’s label.

Being able to change crops so dramatically is, of course, the fondest fantasy of agribusiness. Imagine the increased profits if everything ripened exactly on an appointed day; if everything was uniform, easy to pick and process; if nothing ever rotted, so expensive packing and refrigeration could be forgotten.
If you’re an agro-chemical company like Monsanto, ICI or Upjohn, you’ll also want to create plants that herbicides can’t kill, so you can sell more herbicides to farmers and convince them to spray instead of tilling.

Never mind that the environment becomes more toxic for farmworkers, and the herbicide runoff poisons the watershed. Genetically engineered foods are expected to become a $50 billion business.
If you have a ranch, a dairy farm or a fish farm, your bottom line is going to be increasing the amount of food produced while decreasing “inputs” such as food . How would you like your cows to give more milk, your salmon to double in size in half the time, with just a small increase in your feed bill?
If you’re a consumer…well, too bad. You may be violently allergic to legumes, for example, but you’ll never know if peanut genes have been introduced into your vegetables. You may be a vegetarian, but you can be eating chicken genes in your potatoes. Most everyone is revolted by cannibalism, but human growth genes have proven a handy way to get bigger, leaner fish and livestock. Crops endowed with the ability to produce insect-killing toxins may be carrying those onto your dinner plate, along with antibiotic resistance. Since virus DNA is often used to introduce these genes into the host, you may be exposed to virus genes, too.


Is any of this harmful? The Food and Drug Administration has conceded these points:
·Gene splicing may inadvertently add new poisons into food;
·The food’s nutritional quality may be diminished and its chemical composition may be changed;
·There may be allergic reactions;
·Antibiotic-resistant genes that are used as part of the gene-splicing process may diminish the effectiveness of some antibiotics for people who eat transgenic foods.
In spite of this, in April 1995 the FDA tentatively approved a Monsanto plan to raise some 55,000 acres of transgenic crops, over the objections of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Wildlife Federation, and others.
Here are some items that may be creeping onto your dinner menu:
Appetizer: Tomato juice with flounder genes. Cheese made with chymosin, a genetically engineered enzyme.
Entree: Choice of catfish with trout genes, trout with human genes, or salmon with human genes; or pork with human genes. Potatoes containing waxmoth genes. Cornbread with firefly genes.
Dessert: Rice pudding containing pea genes.

Beverage: Milk from cows injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone.

Lettuce, walnuts, squash, cucumbers, melons, grapes, wheat, coffee, celery, carrots, strawberries, broccoli, canola oil, bananas. asparagus and apples are some other foods that are being genetically engineered.
Perhaps you’d like to avoid buying foods such as these. Forget it — at least in the U.S., where the Food and Drug Administration is refusing to order labeling of gene-spliced foods.
However, there is a crusade against “Frankenfoods.” It is led by Ronnie Cummins of the Pure Foods Campaign, an activity of the Foundation on Economic Trends, founded by Jeremy Rifkin. The campaign has signed up some 1,500 chefs who have pledged never to serve “Frankenfoods” in their restaurants. And it threatened a worldwide boycott against Campbell’s Soup products if the company used the slow-decaying Flavr Savr genetically engineered tomato. Nevertheless, the tomato has been approved for human consumption by the EPA, without any labeling required.
For more, contact:
Pure Food Campaign, 1130 Seventeenth St. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202)775-1132 Fax: (202)775-0074
Sources:
Beth Burrows, “Brave New Food,” PCC Sound Consumer, September 1992, p. 1
David A. Kessler, Michael R. Taylor, James H. Maryanski, Eric L. Flamm and Linda S. Kahl, “The Safety of Foods Developed by Biotechnology,” Science, June 26, 1991, pp. 1747-1749
Virginia Matthews, “Strange Fruit,” Marketing Week, Feb. 5, 1993, pp. 26-29
Jeremy Rifkin and Ted Howard, “Consumers Reject ‘Frankenfoods,’ ” Chemistry & Industry, Jan. 18, 1993, p. 64
“The Bionic Tomato,” The Economist, May 30, 1992, p. 70
“E.P.A. Clears 3 Genetically Altered Crops That Will Repel Pests,” Associated Press, The New York Times, April 11, 1995, p. A-10
Main Page | How To Splice a Gene | Site Outline
By emailprotected May 1995
Patenting Life: When Nature is called an “Invention”
Patenting life forms – from gene fragments all the way up to mammals – violates most people’s ethical beliefs.
Europeans have resisted patenting life under a law against patents that outrage public sensibilities. Many Third World countries refuse to patent items with the argument that Nature is a collective good. In the U.S., however, the American people’s sense of rightness is not protected in the same way. The U.S Patent Office, under heavy pressure from industry, thinks that if a scientist has modified even one gene in an organism, that organism now becomes an “invention.”
There are countless reasons – pragmatic as well as ethical – why patents on life should be prohibited. Here are arguments from the Cambridge, Mass.-based Council for Responsible Genetics:
The CRG Opposes All Forms of Patenting Life
No individual, institution or corporation should be able to claim ownership over species or varieties of living organisms. Nor should they be able to hold patents on organs, cells, genes or proteins, whether naturally occurring, genetically altered or otherwise modified. Our reasons are:
·Patents make important products more expensive and less accessible.
The biotech industry claims that patents are necessary so that innovative, life-saving technologies will be developed. In actuality, patents enable companies to create a monopoly on a product, permitting artificially high pricing. As a result, products such as drugs are often priced out of reach for many of those who need them.
·Patents in science promote secrecy and hinder the exchange of information.
By patenting products of research, the free flow of ideas and information necessary for cooperative scientific efforts is reduced. Scientific materials required for research will become more expensive and difficult to purchase if one corporation owns the rights to the material.
·Patents exploit taxpayer-funded research.
The development of biotechnology rests on 50 years of federally funded biomedical research. Corporations can make profits on their patented products by charging high prices to the citizens whose tax dollars supported the research and development of the products. Citizens are unfairly being asked to pay twice for medicines and other products.
·Patents promote unsustainable and inequitable agricultural policies.
A disastrous decline in genetic diversity could be the result of patenting of crop species. The genetic diversity inherent in living systems makes patent claims difficult to defend. The development of genetically uniform organisms would make it easier for corporations to maintain their patent claims. Biotech companies holding broad-spectrum patents on food crops will lure farmers to grow modified varieties with promises of greater yields and disease resistance. However, numerous examples worldwide show the “improved” crops have failed to hold up to corporate promises, and led to the loss of the rich diversity of traditional crop varieties.
·First World patenting of Third World genetic resources represents theft of community resources.
Patents held by the industrialized world on resources from the developing world will serve as a tool for the North to accumulate more wealth from the already economically impoverished South. Microorganisms, plants, animals, and even the genes of indigenous people have been patented for the production of pharmaceuticals and other products. Requiring developing nations to pa royalties to the wealthy industrial nations for products derived from their own natural resources and innovations is robbery.
·Patents on living organisms are morally objectionable to many.
Patenting organisms and their DNA promotes the concept that life is a commodity and the view that living beings are “gene machines” to be exploited for profit. If it is possible to consider a modified animal an invention, are patents and marketing of human reproductive calls far behind? See Greens’ press release on the “Pharm Woman.” Patents derive from concepts of individual innovation and ownership, which may be foreign to cultures which emphasize the sharing of community resources and the free exchange of seeds and knowledge.
Source: “No Patents on Life! 1995 Council for Responsible Genetics brochure, 5 Upland Road, Suite 3, Cambridge, MA 02140.
Links to websites on patenting:
The United Nations’ WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, is located in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s good to keep an eye on what these characters are doing, such as “protecting” genetically engineered plants (as opposed to protecting the public and the environment).
The European Patent Office in Munich deals with patents in 18 countries.


Main Page | Site Outline | What, Me Worry? | Hot File
By emailprotected June 1996
LAB ACCIDENTS:
NOT ALL SCIENCE FICTION
Main Page | About Biotechnology
For Quick Reference:
Overview
Yale accident
Pasteur Institute accident
Science Fiction
Sources
OVERIEW
Biological laboratories routinely use infectious microorganisms and radioactivity.
Biotechnology labs, in addition, work with microorganisms that are not naturally occurring and whose characteristics are to some degree unknown and possibly very dangerous.
On the plus side, labs try to operate in ways that protect the safety of their workers and the public. There are procedures for the safe shipping, storage, handling and disposal of dangerous materials that protect against contamination.
But there are no guarantees. Somebody breaks a test tube; something washes into the wastewater; something gets past the filters in the containment system; somebody gets sick. Maybe somebody even deliberately takes a shortcut, under pressure to get a project done.

To add to the risk, biology holds countless surprises; what was thought to be predictable often is not. Scientists have learned that biology is more complex and unpredictable than previously imagined. Therefore, at some point an escaped recombinant organism may threaten public safety.
In 1974, shortly after the first successful gene splicing experiments, scientists called a moratorium on recombinant-DNA experiments until public safety could be assured. They recognized that the experiments could produce some life-threatening pathogen that could reproduce out of control. Some scientists were worried about safety, others about credibility, and virtually all wanted to stay in control of writing the safety guidelines that would govern their work.
In 1975, more than 100 molecular biologists gathered at Asilomar, Calif., to draw up the guidelines. Members of the public were not admitted. Since no one could predict just what would happen when genes were combined, there was plenty of controversy, but ultimately some guidelines were agreed upon. These were adopted by the National Institutes of Health in 1976, ending the moratorium. Adherence to the guidelines were a prerequisite for obtaining federal research funding, but they remain voluntary for private businesses, which perform about half the research. (A good account of the controversy is presented in Sheldon Krimsky’s book, Genetic Alchemy.)
By 1980, the safety debate had died down and the only restriction on cloning cancer viruses and cancer genes (oncogenes) was the vague requirement that labs “adhere to good microbiological practice.” James Watson, co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, and still today a leader in government-sponsored biotechnology research, was quoted in New Scientist as saying in 1983, “Now we’re free to do exactly as we want.”
Researchers have developed ways to use “disabled” strains of infectious agents, which are theoretically unable to survive outside the lab, and to take other precautions. However, genetic engineering research is taking place all over the world now (with more than 50 companies in Seattle alone), under conditions of intense competition and economic pressure, so it is naive to think that safety procedures are never compromised.
Top of page
ACCIDENT AT YALE
In August 1994 a high-speed centrifuge at Yale cracked a container holding a sample of the rare, deadly Sabia virus from Brazil, which is something like the Ebola virus that has ravaged Zaire, Ivory Coast and other African countries.

The Sabia material sprayed all over the inside of the machine. The researcher sterilized the area that seemed to be affected, and since he was protected with a lab gown, latex gloves and a mask, he didn’t worry about his own safety. He did not report the accident — violating federal guidelines — and went off to Boston for a visit.

A week later, he was running a high fever and was hospitalized. At this point he reported the accident and was successfully treated with an antiviral drug — but not before he had exposed a large number of people, including children and healthcare workers, to a contagious and deadly arenavirus. This type of virus kills in a grisly way: the internal organs decompose and people bleed to death through every pore, including the skin and eyes.
The Yale incident involved a natural virus, not a recombinant one. Perhaps that was lucky, because at least something was known about Sabia. The researcher was working in a lab fitted out with negative air pressure and air filters designed to trap escaped microorganisms, so presumably nothing floated out into the open air.
Top of page
CANCER AT PASTEUR INSTITUTE
In another incident, in 1986 it was announced that five molecular biologists working with tumor viruses and oncogenes at the Pasteur Institute in France contracted cancer at the same time. They were among about 50 people working in two adjacent labs. The chances that 10 percent of these workers could get cancer at the same time were calculated at about 1 in 10 million. An inquiry showed that the lab was not using sloppy practices and had no record of an accident, yet somehow the researchers were contaminated. French authorities said it was an industrial accident, not a coincidence.
THE SCI-FI APPROACH
Hideous biological threats of all kinds have long been grist for the mill of science-fiction writers. These novels are exciting partly because we know that, every once in awhile, something that people thought was science fiction actually comes true.

With the emergence of biotechnology, of course sci-fi writers have a whole new set of weird possibilities to explore. One of the first books in this genre, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, is based on the idea that a mistaken assumption about the controllability of genes could have deadly consequences.

In the book, dinosaur DNA is extracted from mosquitoes that were preserved for millions of years in amber. The partly decomposed DNA is reconstructed using frog DNA for the missing segments. Then the embryonic dinosaurs are kept in the proper environment until they hatch.
Although the managers of the dinosaur amusement park think they have complete control over the number of dinosaurs in the park, by producing only females in their hatchery, in fact they have overlooked one variable. Certain frogs can change sex in a single-sex environment…and breed.
Top of page
SOURCES:
Genetic Alchemy, Sheldon Krimsky, MIT, 1982
“A Deadly Virus Escapes: Concerns about lab security arise as a mysterious disease from Brazil strikes a Yale researcher,” Time, Sept. 5, 1994, p. 63.
“Scientist tests the public trust,” Nature, 1 September 1994, p. 1.
“Escape of the Cancer Genes? Genetic engineering may be more of a hazard for researchers and workers in industry than for the public at large,” New Scientist, 30 July 1987, pp. 52-54.
Main Page | About Biotechnology | About DNA | What, Me Worry ? | How To Splice a Gene
By emailprotected May 1995
E-Link: Suit Filed to Force Labeling of Biotech Foods
EnviroLink News Service: (emailprotected)
Thu, 28 May 1998 08:31:38 -0700
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SUIT FILED TO FORCE LABELING OF BIOTECH FOODS
WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 1998 (ENS) – A coalition of scientists, religous
leaders, health professionals, consumers and chefs has filed a lawsuit to
force the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do safety testing and
labeling of genetically engineered foods. The foods being challenged
include potatoes, tomatoes, soy, corn, and squash, common foods to which a
variety of new genes from different species have been added.

The suit filed Wednesday in Federal District Court alleges that current FDA
policy, which allows bioaltered foods to be marketed without testing and
labels, violates the agency’s mandate to protect publlic health and provide
consumers with relevant information about the foods they eat.


PERILS AMID PROMISES OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
Dr Mae-Wan Ho Biology Department, Open University, U.K. November 1996
Agricultural biotechnology, genetically modifying crops for characteristics such as herbicide, pest, and disease resistance, for improved nutritional value and shelf-life, is being sold as a solution to world hunger. Also promised for the future are drought, and frost resistance, nitrogen fixation 3 and increased yield 4.
Within the past two years, these new foods have found their way to supermarkets in the United States and Europe, despite opposition from consumers, environmental groups and other non-government organizations, on grounds that the new technology has not been properly assessed for risks to human and animal health, nor hazards to biodiversity and the environment. So far, the list of products include s milk from cows given genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (BST) to boost milk yield 5, genetically modified tomatoes with delayed softening, and most recently, Monsanto’s soybean, modified to be resistant to its top-selling chemical herbicide, glyphosate (trade name, Roundup), which is marketed world-wide, without labeling, and mixed in with unmodified soybean crops. Soybean is an i ngredient in many processed foods, including formula for babies allergic to milk products.
Monsanto’s success in forcing food retailers and governments to accept genetically modified soybeans without labelling makes clear to consumers that the commercial imperative takes precedence over an y concerns regarding actual or potential hazards from genetically modified foods.
Agricultural biotechnology is big business, and science has been absorbed into industry to an unprecedented extent. Practically all established molecular geneticists have some industrial ties 6, th us limiting what they can research on, particularly with regard to safety. The transnational companies have invested heavily, and are hoping for huge returns. Some estimates have predicted a stlg9 billi on market in the UK alone by the year 2000 7.
The mission to feed the world has the irresistible ring of a noble obligation. The same goes for improving the nutritional value of foods. Despite the lowest prices on record, more than 800 million p eople still go hungry 2, and 82 countries – half of them in Africa – neither grow enough food, nor can afford to import it. Infant mortality rates – a sensitive indicator of nutritional stress – ha ve been experiencing an upturn in recent years, reversing a long-term historical trend. Large numbers of children suffer from malnutrition in developing countries. In India alone, 85% of children und er five are below the normal, acceptable state of nutrition 8.
In view of the current crisis in food production, and the support for agricultural biotechnology as a solution to the crisis expressed by the World
Bank Report 2 and by Chapter 16 of Agenda 21 of t he United Nations’ Earth Summit, it is all the more important to examine the major claims and promises of the technology as well as the uncertainties and hazards which are not adequately taken into account in existing practices and regulations.
The questions is: Can genetically modified foods feed the world or improve nutrition?
Agricultural biotechnology under the terms of The Convention on Biological Diversity
Under-nutrition and malnutrition, everywhere in the developing as well as the developed world, stem from poverty, as admitted in the World Bank Report 2. In the Third World, poverty was created in large measure, by centuries of colonial and post-colonial economic exploitation under the “free-trade” imperative, and exacerbated by the introduction of the intensive, high input industrial agricult ure of the “Green Revolution” since the 1970s 9. The concentration on growing crops for export has benefited the corporate plant breeders and the elite of the Third World at the expense of ordinary people. In 1973, thirty-six of the nations most seriously affected by hunger and malnutrition exported food to the US – a pattern that continues to the present day 10.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, developed at the Earth Summit is intended to conserve biological diversity in an equitable way. Since the major genetic diversity is centred in the poorer, le ss developed countries of the world and this is the material genetic engineering wishes to use, the Convention will play an important role in determining the socio-economic effects of the technology. However, the Convention on Biological Diversity has done nothing to stem the drain of natural resources of the South to the North. On the contrary, the very basis of sustainability and long-term f ood security of the South is now under threat as the result of agricultural biotechnology promoted under the Convention 11. The Convention on Biological Diversity, signed in June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, is hailed as “the culmination of two decades of arduous in ternational efforts in which the conservation of biological diversity is being recognized as a common concern of humankind, and considered an integral part of the development process” 12. It would “reconcile the need for conservation with the concerns for development based on justice and equity.”
Instead, pilfering of biological diversity has intensified as agricultural biotechnology drives “gene-hunters” to prospect for commercially lucrative genetic resources in the South, in the new regime of intellectual property rights that allows the patenting of living organisms and their genes. Large proportions of the biological diversity of the South are already held in gene banks as ex situ co llections, and the North is insisting that such ex situ collections should be excluded from the Convention, with the result that they will be freely available for exploitation by Northern biotech int erests.
Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Southern countries not only lose massive genetic resources to the North, but also their knowledge and experience of the plants which have accumulated for past millennia. This valuable knowledge is nevertheless excluded from protection as intellectual property rights. The intellectual property rights of corporate gene manipulators, on the other ha nd, will restrict the use of indigenous varieties that were previously freely cultivated and sold. Thus, seeds protected by patent can no longer be saved by farmers for replanting without annual roya lties being paid to the company.
Another factor already adversely affecting agricultural biodiversity in Europe is the Seed Trade Act, which makes it illegal to grow and sell non-certified seeds produced by organic varieties from in digenous varieties, certification being biased towards the commercial varieties currently used in agricultural biotechnology 13. Far from providing cheaper food for all, agricultural biotechnology will further undermine the livelihoods of small organic farmers all over the world, resulting in increased loss of indigenous agricultural biodiversity.
Biological diversity, food security and nutrition
Biological diversity and food security are intimately linked. Communities everywhere have derived livelihoods from natural diversity in wild and domesticated forms. Diversity is the basis of ecologi cal stability 14,15. Recent studies show that diverse ecological communities are more resilient to drought and other environmental disturbances which cause the population of individual species to f luctuate widely from year to year 16. Species within an ecological community are interconnected in an intricate web of mutualistic as well as competitive interactions, of checks and balances that c ontribute to the survival of the whole. This has important implications for in situ conservation, particularly at a time when an estimated 50,000 species will go extinct every year over the next deca des 17.
The same principles of diversity and stability operate in traditional agriculture 18. Throughout the tropics, traditional agroforestry systems commonly contain well over 100 annual and perennial pl ant species per field. A profusion of varieties and land races are cultivated which are adapted to different local environmental conditions and possess a range of natural resistances to diseases and pests. Spatial diversity through mixed cropping is augmented by temporal diversity in crop rotation, ensuring the recycling of nutrients that maintain soil fertility. These practices have effectively prevented major outbreaks of diseases and pests and buffered food production from environmental exigencies.
The diversity of agricultural produce is also the basis of a balanced nutrition. Nutrition not only depends on the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, but also on a combination of vitam ins, essential metabolites, cofactors, inorganic ions and trace metals, which only a varied diet can provide. A major cause of malnutrition world-wide is the substitution of the traditionally varied diet for one based on monoculture crops. The transfer of an exotic gene into a monoculture crop can do little to make up for the dietary deficiencies of those suffering from monoculture malnutrition. The nutritional value of beans, or a combination of rice and beans, will always be greater than that of the transgenic rice with a bean gene.
Monocultures destroy biodiversity and food security, transgenic crops will be worse It is now indisputable that monoculture crops introduced since the “Green Revolution” have adversely affected biodiversity and food security all over the world. According to an FAO report, by the ye ar 2000, the world will have lost 95% of the genetic diversity utilized in agriculture at the beginning of this century 19. Monoculture crops are genetically uniform, and therefore notoriously pron e to disease and pest outbreaks. The corn belt of the United States was last devastated by corn blight in 1970-1971, and in 1975, Indonesian farmers lost half a million acres of rice to leaf hoppers. Genetic modification for disease or pest resistance will not solve the problem, as intensive agriculture itself creates the conditions for new pathogens to arise 20. In 1977, a variety of rice, IR -36, created to be resistant to 8 major diseases and pests including bacterial blight and tungro, was nevertheless attacked by two new viruses called ‘ragged stunt’ and ‘wilted stunt’. Thus, not only do new varieties have to be substituted every three years, they require heavy input of pesticides to keep pests at bay.
The high inputs of fertilizers, water, pesticides and heavy mechanization required by monoculture crops have had devastating environmental effects 8, 20. Between 1981 and 1991, the world’s agricul tural base has fallen by some 7 percent, primarily due to environmental degradation and water shortages. One-third of the world’s croplands suffers from soil erosion, which could reduce agricultural production by a quarter between 1975 and the year 2000. In India, 800,000 square kilometres are affected, with many areas turning into scrub or desert. Deforestation has resulted in 8.6 million hect ares of degraded land in Indonesia, which is unable to sustain even subsistence agriculture. Throughout the tropics, vast areas are vulnerable to flooding. Of the world’s irrigated land, one-fifth – 40 million hectares – suffers from waterlogging or salination. The resultant pressures on agricultural land led to further marginalization of small farmers, swelling the ranks of the dispossessed and hungry, while indigenous natural and agricultural biodiversity are eliminated at accelerated rates.
Transgenic crops are created from the same high-input monoculture varieties of the green revolution, and are likely to make things worse. The greatest proportion of transgenic crop plants are now eng ineered to be resistant to herbicide, with companies engineering resistance to their own herbicide to increase sales of herbicides with seeds 21. The immediate hazard from herbicide resistant crops is the spread of transgenes to wild relatives bycross-hybridization, creating super-weeds. Herbicide-resistant transgenic oilseed rape, released in Europe, can hybridise with several wild-relatives and produce fertile seed 22, 23.
There are yet other problems. Herbicide resistant transgenic crops make it possible to apply powerful herbicides killing many species, directly onto crops. This is so for Monsanto’s Roundup, lethal t o most herbaceous plants. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has identified 74 endangered plant species threatened by the use of glyphosate 24. It reduces nitrogen-fixing activity of soils and is tox ic to many species of mycorrhizal fungi which are vital for nutrient recycling in the soil. Formulations of glyphosate are the third most commonly-reported cause of pesticide illness among agricultur al workers. The use of this highly toxic to plants, non-discriminating herbicide threatens to lead to large scale elimination of indigenous species and cultivated varieties, damaging soil fertility a nd human health besides. Herbicide resistant transgenic crops may also become weeds in the form of “volunteer plants” germinated from seeds after the harvest, so that other herbicides will have to be applied in order to eliminate them, with yet further impact on indigenous biodiversity.
The best strategy to guarantee food security is to conserve and develop existing agricultural biological diversity
In order to counteract the crisis of environmental destruction, loss of agricultural land and indigenous biodiversity created by decades of intensive farming, there has been a global move towards hol istic, organic farming methods that revive traditional practices. For example, in Latin America, a number of non-government organizations joined forces to form the Latin American Consortium on Agroe cology and Development, and are promoting agroecological techniques which are sensitive to the complexities of local farming methods. Programmes introducing soil conservation practices and organic f ertilization methods tripled or quadrupled yields within a year 18. Successive studies have highlighted the productivity and sustainability of traditional peasant farming in the Third World 2, 25 as well as in the North, according to a report published by the US National Academy of Sciences 26.
Many, if not all Southern countries, still possess the indigenous genetic resources – requiring no further genetic modification – that can guarantee a sustainable food supply. As Kothari writes 27, ” Over centuries of agricultural practice, traditional societies have developed an incredible variety of crops and livestock. Some 200-250 flowering plants species have been domesticated, and gene tic diversity amongst each of these is astonishing: in India alone, for instance, farmers have grown over 50,000 varieties of rice Oryza sativa.
In a single village of north-east India, 70 varieties are being grown… farmers (especially women) repeatedly used and enhanced some varieties which were resistant to disease and drought and flood, some which tasted nice, some which were coloured and u seful for ritual purposes and some which were highly productive.”
In Brazil, hundreds of rural communities in the Northeast are responding to the current crisis in food production by organizing Communal Seed Banks to recover traditional indigenous varieties and to promote sustainable agricultural development, with little or no government support 28.
It is significant that the World Bank is planning sharp changes in policy to concentrate its efforts on small farmers in developing countries 2. It seems obvious that in order to guarantee long-ter m food security and feed the world, we can do no better than take the aim of the Convention on Biological Diversity to heart, i.e., help to conserve and sustain existing indigenous agricultural diver sity world-wide, and to develop this diversity as the basis of a secure and nutritious food base for all.
Thus, there is no need for genetically modified crops. On the contrary, they will undermine food security and biodiversity. Under the monopoly of transnational genetic manipulators’ intellectual prop erty rights, the livelihoods of small farmers will be further compromised, both by seed royalties and by restrictive practices of seed certification. At the same time, the use of toxic non-discrimina ting herbicides with herbicide resistant transgenic crops, will result in irretrievable losses of indigenous agricultural and natural biological diversity.
Current practice of gene biotechnology is misguided by wilful ignorance of genetics, in particular, of the new genetics
There are, in addition, problems and hazards inherent to the practice of the technology itself, which makes the regulation of the technology, by a legally binding international Biosafety Protocol und er the Convention of Biodiversity, a matter of urgency.
In a publication which aims to “provide consumers with clear and comprehensible information about products of the new biotechnology” 1, we are told that, “Research scientists can now precisely id entify the individual gene that governs a desired trait, extract it, copy it and insert the copy into another organism. That organism (and its offspring) will then have the desired trait..”(p.5).
This gives the impression that one gene controls one character trait, and transferring the gene results in the transfer of the corresponding trait to the genetically modified organism, which can then pass it on indefinitely to future generations. It presents the process of genetic modification as a precise and simple operation.
The above account – so typical of that found in publications promoting “public understanding” – is based on simplistic assumptions of genetics that both classical geneticists and plant breeders have rejected for many years, and have been thoroughly invalidated by all the research findings since genetic engineering – currently referred to as “genetic modification” – began 20 years ago. Unfortunat ely, most molecular geneticists, apart from being absorbed into
industry, also lack training in classical genetics, and suffer from a severe molecular myopia that prevents them from appreciating the implications and broader perspective of the findings in their own discipline. Consequently, the current practice of biotechnology is (mis)guided and promoted to the public on the basis of an old, dis credited paradigm, and therein lies the real danger.
The contrasts between the assumptions of the old paradigm with the findings of new molecular genetics within the past 20 years are given below.
The Old GeneticsThe New Genetics
1. Genes determine characters in a linear, uni-directional and additive way.Genes function in a complex and non-linear network – the action of each gene ultimately linked with that of every other; causation is circular and multi-dimensional
2. Genes and genomes are stable,and except for rare, random mutations, are passed on un-changed to the next generationGenes and genomes are dynamic and fluid, they can change in the course of development, and subject to feedback metabolic regulation
3. Genes and genomes cannot change directly in response to the environmentGenes and genomes can change directly in response to the environment, these changes being inherited in subsequent generations
4. Genes are passed on vertically, i.e., as the result of inter breeding within the species, each species constituting an isolated ‘gene pool’Genes are also passed horizontally between unrelated species, so that any gene in any species has a finite probability of being transferred to any other species.

The relevant findings have been extensively reviewed beginning more than 10 years ago 29-35. They show that genes function in an extremely complex, interconnected network, so that ultimately, the e xpression of each gene depends on that of every other. That is why an organism will tend to change in non-linear, unpredictable ways, even when a single gene is introduced. (The effect is rather like ripples propagating from a pebble thrown into a pond, except that the pond is much more viscous and elastic than water.) Because there are tens of thousands of genes in the genome, with several vari ants of every gene, each individual will be unique, possessing its own combination of genes. In successive generations, individuals with yet other combinations of genes will be created. The expressio n of a given gene will differ from individual to individual simply because the genetic background consisting of all the other genes is different.
The findings of molecular genetics also reveal that the genome itself is dynamic and fluid, and is engaged in constant feedback interactions with the cellular and ecological environment. These intera ctions normally serve to stabilize the genome, as well as gene expression. However, there are many processes that can destabilize genomes – move genes around, mutate or delete genes, amplify copies o f genes, or change genes wholesale – all of which keep genomes in a state of flux in evolutionary time 29. Genes are even found to have jumped horizontally between species that do not interbreed. U nder certain conditions, disturbances can propagate through the physiological system to give repeatable alterations in the genome, which are inherited in subsequent generations 31,32. Some of thes e changes are so specific that they are referred to as “directed mutations” or “adaptive mutations” 36. Conversely, as demonstrated in current transgenic experiments, introducing a single exotic g ene into an organism can impact on the ecological environment. A common soil bacterium Klebsiella planticola, engineered to produce ethanol from crop waste, was found to drastically inhibit the growt h of wheat seedlings through toxic effects on the mycorrhiza 37.
The logical conclusion from all of the findings is that heredity – the stable reproduction of the same characteristics in organisms year after year – cannot be due to the unchangeable nature of DNA, for DNA is inherently dynamic and fluid. Instead, it is due to the complex network of mutual, feed-back interrelationships connecting the ecological environment to the physiology of the organism and to its genes. The new genetics completely invalidates the old reductionist paradigm. It re-affirms the ecological wisdom of indigenous peoples all over the world, who have practised sustainable agric ulture on the understanding that the biological nature of each organism or species is inextricably linked to its environment, and depends ultimately on the entire ecosystem consisting of all other or ganisms 40.
The damages from intensive agricultural practices have indeed come about because they are based on the old reductionist paradigm, as Vandana Shiva has argued so convincingly 41. For the same reason , agricultural biotechnology will bring new problems and hazards. Before one can appreciate them, it is necessary to understand what “genetic modification” entails.
What is “genetic modification”?
Books promoting “public understanding” of biotechnology (e.g. ref.1) usually begin by saying that there is no difference between crops bred by traditional methods and those made by genetic modificati on, except that the latter is much faster and more precise. These claims are false. “Genetic modification”, or more specifically, “transgenic technology” is a set of techniques for manipulating, or e ngineering the genetic material, DNA, enabling molecular geneticists to cut and join, mutate, copy and multiply genes, and most importantly, transfer genes between species. A major vehicle for geneti c manipulation is artificially constructed, parasitic genetic elements, or vectors, used to multiply copies of genes, and to carry and smuggle genes into cells which would normally exclude them. Once inside the cells, these vectors slot themselves into the host’s genome, to genetically transform the cells to make transgenic organisms. The integration of the vector DNA, as indeed any foreign DNA into the host-cell genome is a very imprecise, random process, known to cause many genetic disturbances with harmful or lethal effects 42, and this is borne out by the low success rate of creating desired transgenic organisms. Typically, a large number of cells or embryos have to be infected with the vector, or in some cases, injected directly with the foreign genes, just to obtain a few organ isms that successfully express the transgene(s).
In order to help recover transformed cells, it is necessary to incorporate selectable “marker genes” into the vectors for gene transfer, or into the DNA introduced into cells directly. The most commo nly used markers are antibiotic resistance genes, which enable transformed cells to be selected in the presence of high concentrations of antibiotics.
Vectors used in transgenic technology are usually a mosaic recombination of natural genetic parasites from different sources, including viruses causing cancers and other diseases in animals and plant s, with their pathogenic functions “crippled” 43. The vector most widely used in plant genetic manipulation is derived from a tumour-inducing plasmid carried by the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaci ens. In animals, vectors are constructed from retroviruses causing cancers and other diseases. Thus, a vector currently used in fish has a framework from the Moloney murine leukaemic virus, which cau ses leukaemia in mice, but can infect all mammalian cells. It also has bits from the Rous Sarcoma virus, causing sarcomas in chickens, and from the vesicular stomatitis virus causing oral lesions in cattle, horses, pigs and humans 44.
The following summarizes why genetic modification differs radically from conventional breeding.
Differences Between Genetic Modification and Conventional Breeding
1. Genetic modification use laboratory techniques to recombine genetic material, and to transfer genes between species that often have very little probability of exchanging genes otherwise.
2. While conventional breeding shuffle different forms (alleles) of the same genes between closely related species, genetic modification enables completely new (exotic) genes to be introduced, with u npredictable effects on the physiology and biochemistry of the resulting transgenic organism.
3. Gene multiplication, and a high proportion of gene transfers are mediated by vectors which have the following undesirable characteristics.
They are derived from disease-causing viruses, plasmids and mobile genetic elements – genetic parasites that have the ability to invade cells and insert themselves into the cell’s genome, causing gen etic damage and unpredictable physiological and biochemical effects.
Many carry genes for antibiotic resistance, which will speed up the evolution of antibiotic resistance among pathogens, thus exacerbating a major public health problem. They are designed to cross species barriers to shuttle genes between species. Their wide host range means that they can infect many species, and in the process pick up genes from viruses of all the s pecies to create new pathogens.
They are increasingly designed to overcome cellular mechanisms which exclude or inactivate foreign DNA, and are hence more and more efficient in breaking down the integrity of species.
These characteristics of genetic modification are the sources of new problems and hazards.
Hazards from genetic modification – due to the interconnected genetic network
Because no gene ever functions in isolation, there will almost always be unexpected and unintended “side-effects” from the gene or genes transferred into an organism.
One major concern over transgenic foods is their potential to be allergenic, which has become a concrete issue since a transgenic soybean containing a brazil-nut gene was found to be allergenic 45. Recent studies suggest that allergenicity in plants is connected to proteins involved in defence against pests and diseases. Thus, transgenic plants engineered for resistance to diseases and pests m ay have a higher allergenic potential than the unmodified plants 23, 46.
Another instructive case is a transgenic yeast engineered for increased rate of fermentation with multiple copies of one of its own genes, which resulted in the accumulation of the metabolite, methyl glyoxal, at toxic, mutagenic levels 47. This should serve as a warning against applying the “familiarity principle” in risk assessment. We simply do not have sufficient understanding of the princip les of physiological regulation to enable us to categorize, a priori, those genetic modifications that will pose a risk and those that do not. It is a strong argument in favour of the case by
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