Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





November 28, 2001


Genetically Modified Material Found in Mexican Corn


Date: 29 Nov 2001 15:40:47 -0000
From: BRenn97389@aol.com
Subject: Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico


According to the BBC 1p.m. news this represents a movemrnt of 60 miles
from the nearest GM maize. Can this have happened without human help?

Brian Rennison

From: "Mary Murphy"
Subject: Mexican corn - the new Starlink-Monarch-Mutant scare story
Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 11:57:46 -0500


The activists will certainly run wild with news that Mexican corn has
been "contaminated" by genes from GM corn not currently available in Mexico.
But they will conveniently neglect to mention other facts.

For one thing, "biotech crops are no more likely than traditional crops
to outcross with wild species" (quote from http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech_info/pr/mexico.html). Would the
activists then advocate banning all conventional corn varieties in order to save

It should also be noted that the author of the Nature article, Ignacio
H. Chapela, is on the Board of Directors of the Pesticide Action Network
North America (PANNA), an activist group:

Ironically, this group is supposed to be against pesticides and at the
same time is against Bt crops which have been proven to reduce pesticide
use. Not exactly what you'd call an unbiased writer.



Genetically Modified Material Found in Mexican Corn


By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists in the United States, confirming fears of environmentalists, said on Wednesday wild maize grown in a remote area of Mexico had been contaminated by genetically modified corn.

Opponents of GM technology have argued that crops genetically modified by the addition or removal of genes or a change in their genetic structure to help them resist pests or the weather could threaten the environment.

Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of the University of California Berkeley have found traces of transgenic DNA in native corn, or criollo, from the remote region of Sierra Norte de Oaxaca in Mexico.

Their findings, which were confirmed and announced by Mexican scientists in October, are reported in detail for the first time in the science journal Nature.

``This is very serious because the regions where our samples were taken are known for their diverse varieties of native corn, which is something that absolutely needs to be protected,'' said Chapela, assistant professor of microbiology at the university.

Environmentalists called for an immediate global moratorium on growing GM crops and said the research raised concerns about contamination from GM crops in other countries.

``These findings are deeply disturbing and highlight the huge gamble the biotech industry is taking with nature,'' said Pete Riley of the environmental group Friends of the Earth (news - web sites).

``To my knowledge this is the first time anyone has found transgenic material in wild plants,'' he told Reuters.


But Phil Mullineaux, a scientist at Britain's top plant research laboratory, the John Innis Institute, was less concerned.

``It is a very interesting observation,'' he said, adding it raised questions and more research was needed.

The Berkeley scientists found evidence of p-35S, a promotoer for the cauliflower mosaic virus which is used in nearly all commercial GM crops, in the criollo.

No signs of transgenic DNA were found in Peruvian maize or in samples from Mexican maize taken before the advent of transgenic crops.

``I repeated the tests at least three times to make sure I wasn't getting false positives,'' said Quist. ``It was initially hard to believe that corn in such a remote region would have tested positive.''

The scientists are not sure how the plants were contaminated because agricultural experts believe corn pollen is too heavy to be blown by the wind.

Mexico banned planting transgenic maize in 1998 but it is still imported from the United States. The closest area with GM corn to the contaminated crop is 60 miles away. The scientists said the contamination could have occurred before the moratorium.

``Whatever the source, it's clear that genes are somehow moving from bioengineered corn to native corn,'' said Chapela.

Riley called for a thorough investigation of how the contamination took place so it can be stopped.


Altered Genes Found in Wild Corn
By Merritt McKinney

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Despite Mexico's 3-year-old moratorium on the use of genetically altered corn, scientists have detected genetically modified DNA in wild maize in the mountains of the state of Oaxaca.

Whether the modified DNA came from seeds planted before the moratorium or from growers flouting the law is unknown, but the spread of altered genes in the birthplace of domesticated corn could have ``very serious consequences,'' one of the investigators told Reuters Health.

``We show that the areas of diversification--the genetic bank account of diversity--for this crop, corn, is compromised,'' Dr. Ignacio H. Chapela at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview.

Chapela explained that Oaxaca is the region where corn was domesticated. Even today most of the diversity of corn is found there, he said.

Each year, according to Chapela, breeders go to Oaxaca to look for beneficial genes in wild corn that could be transferred into commercial crops. For instance, wild corn might contain genes that make it resistant to pests or better able to survive environmental conditions, such as drought.

The spread of modified DNA into wild maize may represent a ''cashing in on the bank account'' of diversity, Chapela noted.

Referring to genes that have been added to genetically modified varieties of commercial corn, Chapela said, ``We were not supposed to see these moving around in the environment.''

Chapela and a colleague at Berkeley, Dr. David Quist, sampled several varieties of maize native to Oaxaca to see whether they contained material from two strains of genetically modified corn used in the US.

Five of the seven types of maize they sampled tested positive for genetically modified material, Chapela and Quist report in the November 29th issue of the journal Nature. In contrast, tests on maize from Peru and a sample saved from the 1971 growing season in Oaxaca were negative.

It is uncertain whether the genetically modified material made its way into wild maize because farmers in Oaxaca are illegally planting genetically modified corn or whether the modified DNA has been passed down from crops planted before the moratorium, the researchers point out.

Chapela said that he would like to find out whether the presence of these so-called transgenic genes is increasing, decreasing or staying the same. Its spread should be studied to ''see if we can reverse it,'' according to the Berkeley scientist.

He noted that corn is one of the most important crops in the world. The spread of genetically modified material could be wider, he added, since the same principle applies to other crops such as rice and wheat.


Genetically Modified Corn DNA Found
By ALEX DOMINGUEZ, Associated Press Writer

DNA from genetically modified corn has found its way into native corn varieties growing in remote southern Mexico, heightening fears about the dangers of bioengineered crops.

Scientists fear the accidental spread of laboratory-inserted genes could give some plants an advantage that would allow them to crowd out other varieties, reducing the world's biological diversity.

``The benefits of these crops don't outweigh the enormous risks to food security,'' said David Quist of the University of California at Berkeley, one of the researchers who reported the findings in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Diversity is prized by scientists as a hedge against diseases, pests and climate change. While some plant strains may be vulnerable to one disease, for example, others may have natural immunity that enables them to survive.

``We can't afford to lose that resource,'' said Ignacio Chapela, a co-author of the study.

Four of six samples of native criollo corn taken last year from fields in Mexico's mountainous Oaxaca region were found to contain a genetic ``switch'' commonly used in genetically engineered plants, the researchers reported.

In addition, two of the samples were found to have another DNA segment commonly inserted by genetic engineers. And one sample contained a commonly inserted gene that prompts the plant to produce a poison effective against the European corn borer, a pest that can harm crops.

The researchers said the discovery was surprising because Mexico imposed a moratorium on genetically engineered corn in 1998. Before that, the closest government-approved plantings of such corn were at least 60 miles from the sample sites.

Scientists could not determine exactly where the foreign DNA came from. But Quist said the researchers suspect imported genetically modified corn was handed out by a government agency as food and may have been planted by recipients near their traditional crops.

They do not believe cross-pollination happened over long distances because corn pollen is heavy, does not travel far and is short-lived.

The unintended DNA mixing is not the first involving a genetically engineered plant.

Still, it highlights the need to carefully control an emerging field in which plants are being equipped with new genes to let them produce medicines and other compounds, the researchers said.

Quist said, for example, that plants are now being developed to produce compounds that act as spermicides.

``Just think if that gets out into the environment and has a negative impact on people's fertility,'' he said. ``It's obvious there are reasons to be concerned - until we have greater information on what the impact will be - about the release of this technology.''

Rebecca Goldburg of the Environmental Defense Fund said the findings show that decisions on whether to approve genetically modified plants should not be made lightly.

``I think the primary message of this article is that large-scale production of genetically engineered crops is going to have an irreversible effect because it is impossible, or virtually impossible, to contain genetic material once it is put into crops that are planted on a wide scale,'' she said.

Dr. Val Giddings of the Biotechnolgy Industry Organization, a trade association, said the foreign DNA in the criollo corn was not a threat to biodiversity because it would only help the strains survive. Bioengineered corn strains also help improve crop yields, lessening the need for acreage and slowing the conversion of wild areas into farmland.

``Biotechnology is alleviating the threat on biodiversity by lessening the need for land,'' Giddings said. ``This argument that has been advanced just doesn't hold water.''


Don't Allow Misleading Claims to Slow Progress

Contact: C.S. Prakash at 334-727-8023 or 334-663-1511 or prakash@agbioworld.org

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 -- As Mexico's President Vincente Fox prepares to meet President Bush, scientists are encouraging him to to allow Mexican farmers and consumers to benefit from new technologies -- such as seeds derived through biotechnology -- which have been used enthusiastically in the United States, Argentina and Canada for years. At the same time, he is being encouraged to disregard scare stories being spread by anti-technology activists.

"It is ironic that Mexico -- the birthplace of corn -- is not taking full advantage of biotech corn seeds which have helped American farmers significantly reduce labor and pesticide use," said Dr. C.S. Prakash of Tuskegee University and the AgBioWorld Foundation. "Mexican scientists at the National Agricultural Research Program (INIFAP), the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have done excellent research, but Mexican farmers have not been allowed to take advantage of it."

Dr. Prakash also supported criticism of Greenpeace and other anti-biotech groups by Mexico's Victor Manuel Villalobos Arambula, Under-Secretary for Agriculture at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who recently told the newspaper Reforma, "If those who call themselves environmentalists were in fact pure environmentalists, they would be begging for GMOs to be used." Similar views have been expressed by numerous other scientists and agriculture experts on the AgBioWorld discussion boards found at http://www.agbioworld.org.

However, special interest groups and the activists they fund have been spreading stories about "Frankenfood," monarch butterflies and "mystery DNA" -- all of which are not supported by mainstream scientists. Concerns about superweeds, mutant DNA and claims of genetic pollution are unfounded and mislead consumers about the scientific facts and the underlying safety of biotechnology crops. Anecdotal stories about biotech varieties outcrossing with wild relatives and destroying native biodiversity are not supported by evidence; biotech crops are no more likely than traditional crops to outcross with wild species.

It is hoped that President Fox, whose family has a background in farming and agriculture, will continue to be a champion of Mexican farmers and that he will do all that he can to implement the acceptance of biotech crops so that they too can benefit from plants with resistance to disease, viruses, drought and heat stress.

As recent disputes over irrigation water along the border between Texas and Mexico have shown, agricultural resources are limited, and a growing population is likely to strain these resources even further in the future. According to a new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) entitled 2020 Global Food Outlook: Trends, Alternatives, and Choices, "decisions made now can have wide-reaching effects on food security and nutrition in the future." The sooner the decision is made to bring ag-biotech to Mexico, the greater its impact will be.