Today in AgBioView - July 19, 2002
* Fish Genes in Strawberries?
* Buddhist Position on GMOs
* On Public Distrust and Labelling/ Japan Approval
* Pew on Pew
* GM Crop DNA Found in Human Gut Bugs
* No Evidence of Horizontal Gene Transfer! - Klaus Ammann Analyzes the
* Information Platform for Agricultural Biotechnology
* Biotech Could Help Africa, Says Report
* Safety of drug-producing plants questioned
* GMO controversy continues: Panel debates
Fish Genes in Strawberries?
- From: Doug Powell
Increasingly, there are media accounts of putative fish genes in
strawberries -- rather than tomatoes which dominated the past 10 years.
Does anyone have knowledge of such experiments and where they are at?
- Thanks, Dp
Dr. Douglas Powell, Dept. of Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph, Ont.
Subject: Buddhism and GMOs
In answer to the following question:
>> From:"Charles Endo" Subject: Buddhism and
>> Hi, I have a question that maybe someone in the mail list will be able
>> answer. I was wondering what is the official position of Buddhism about
>> biotechnologies especially OMGs? How and where could I get this
There are many different Buddhist traditions and schools, so there cannot
be an "official position" on such a topic. In fact, I suspect that you
would get quite different answers depending on the individual concerned.
However if you want find out if there have been statements on this topic
by Buddhist teachers, I think the best way would be to pose the question
on the list Buddha-L. To join this list you send an e-mail with the
following text in the body of the message and leave the subject line blank
- SUBSCRIBE BUDDHA-L. You send it to email@example.com. I
subscribe to Buddha-L, so if you would like me to pose the question for
you, that's fine by me.
By the way, the Buddha-L archives are at
http://www.louisville.edu/it/listserv/archives/buddha-l.html. I had a
quick search but could find nothing specific to GMOs.
Good luck. Peter
Peter Kearns, OECD
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Re: Public Distrust and Labelling
Anti-GE folks often quote polls of the public that give a high percentage
desiring labelling of GM foods or which indicate a desire/intention not to
consume these products. Do any list members know if similar questions have
been asked about mutation-derived foods? If it is valid to use public
perception to drive the decision to label
(or ban) something, regardless of its performance in controlled tests,
then it seems equally valid to ask these public-opinion questions about
other products about which the public might legitimately be concerned (if
they only knew!).
In Europe, the politicians and food retailers seem willing to bow to this
perceived public pressure by requiring labelling and excluding products
(respectively); however, it is peculiar that the so-called processing aids
are not included. Is there absolutely zero detectable GM content in cheese
processed with engineered-microbial chymosin? More accurately, is there
any more detectable GM material in corn syrup or soy oil than in cheese?
Yet the corn and soy products are subject to labelling whereas the cheese
I guess it goes to show that logic and sense are not required in politics
or business-- if anything, the ability to adapt to someone else's reality
(or unreality) is helpful to succeed in either field.
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Re: Japan variety approval
The headline said, "JAPAN APPROVES BIOTECH CORN, SOY VARIETIES FOR FOOD".
Do Japan and the EU require their stamp of approval for any and all new
crop varieties before they may be imported there, or does this requirement
apply only to genetically-engineered varieties? If a new ("conventional")
variety has traits that differentiate it from its predecessors, I presume
that a test could be devised to detect this difference. Would the ability
to differentiate, say, wheat or corn by variety make it desirable to do
so? It seems to me that the logical extension of the consumer choice
arguments of the labelling folks is farm-to-fork tracking of each crop, by
variety; soon, the labels will be bigger than the products, if all
relevant details about the origins of all the food components are to be
included on them!
Pew on Pew
- Michael Rodemeyer, The Scientist 16:12, July 22, 2002
LETTER: Regarding the Opinion by Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko on
genetically engineered foods,(1) their criticisms of our recent report on
food allergenicity research and our other efforts to promote dialogue and
consensus on agricultural biotechnology issues are off the mark.
Miller and Conko argue that the report (2) reflects an "antibiotechnology"
bias because it fails to stress that conventionally processed novel foods
can also pose food allergy risks. Actually, the report discusses at some
length the significance of food allergies caused by conventional foods. It
explicitly states, "[I]t is important to note that understanding food
allergy and being able to test for safety is also an issue for new foods
developed by conventional breeding methods or those introduced to the US
population through expanded world trade in agriculture."
The report focuses on genetically engineered foods simply because they are
the only new foods that are required to be assessed for their potential to
cause allergic reactions--a Food and Drug Administration policy put in
place by the first Bush administration in 1992. The report addresses the
widely acknowledged need for a better scientific foundation for such
allergenicity tests and the current paucity of federal research on the
topic. The report is intended to help ensure that regulatory decisions are
based on the best possible science. Miller's and Conko's real complaint
appears not to be with our report, but rather with the basic FDA policy
that requires companies to assess new genetically engineered foods for
possible allergic reactions, a policy largely supported by both
biotechnology and food companies.
Far from being "antibiotechnology," the report makes it clear that the
lack of better tests for possible food allergenicity could keep
biotechnology products with potential benefits off the market. Unclear
rules make it harder for biotechnology companies to prove their products'
safety to regulatory agencies. Further, as the report also discussed,
unresolved scientific questions about whether StarLink corn could cause
allergic reactions led to an estimated $1 billion of product recalls and
other actions to remove StarLink corn from the food supply--an effort that
may have been entirely unnecessary from a public health perspective. The
problem was not that questions were asked about allergenicity, but that
scientists did not have a definitive scientific basis for answering them.
The remainder of Miller's and Conko's piece is a broadside attack on the
Pew Initiative's efforts to move the agricultural biotechnology debate
beyond its current polarized status by promoting dialogue and
consensus-building. They cite as evidence of our bias the participation of
several public interest group representatives in our Stakeholder Forum,
which was established to develop consensus recommendations for regulatory
policies regarding future agricultural biotechnology products. But they
fail to mention the ongoing participation of representatives of other
views, such as Monsanto, DuPont, Cargill, General Mills, Pioneer Hi-Bred,
the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, and several commodity
groups (among others) in the Stakeholder Forum process.
Much of Miller's and Conko's criticism of our dialogue and consensus
efforts appear to be based on the view that there really is nothing to
talk about. According to them, there are only two positions: those that
are supported by "sound science" on the one hand and "ideological,
antibiotechnology views" on the other. We fundamentally and respectfully
disagree that the debate is that simple or that the science is so
one-sided. The National Academy of Sciences, for example, has completed
several recent reviews of the science and regulation of genetically
modified plants and recommended improvements to the current regulatory
The danger of dividing the world into us and them is that it implies that
there is not, nor can there ever be, a reasonable middle ground. As with
most divisive public policy debates, American public opinion falls
somewhere in the middle while the extremes continue to do battle with no
end in sight. We are striving to help both biotechnology critics and
proponents find a middle ground so that this important, transformative
technology will not only benefit society, but that concerns about risk are
also addressed through appropriate regulatory review. This approach is not
"antibiotechnology," but instead reflects our belief that the best way to
make progress on controversial issues is not to exclude voices but to
bring a wide variety of viewpoints to the table (including Miller's, which
we featured in a recent monthly publication). Having an open and robust
discussion is the right way to challenge assumptions, air facts, and move
to a greater public understanding of these issues.
Michael Rodemeyer, Executive Director, Pew Initiative on Food and
Biotechnology, 1331 H St. NW Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
References: 1. H.I. Miller, G. Conko, "Pew on biotechnology? Pugh!" The
Scientist, 16:12, 14, July 8, 2002.
2. L. Buccini, L.R. Goldman, "A snapshot of federal research on food
allergy: Implications for genetically modified food," June 2002. Available
online at http://www.pewagbiotech.org/research/allergy.pdf
GM Crop DNA Found in Human Gut Bugs
- Andy Coghlan, NewScientist.com , July18, 2002 (Forwarded by Shunnosuke
For the first time, it has been proved that bacteria in the human gut can
take up DNA from genetically modified food. However, the UK's Food
Standards Agency, which commissioned the research, says that the overall
findings are reassuring rather than alarming because the amount taken up
was barely detectable and only occurred in special circumstances.
Nonetheless, opponents of GM foods say the results vindicate their
warnings that this might happen, and that the risk of gut bacteria
scavenging antibiotic resistance genes from GM food is no longer
"This is a first," says Adrian Bebb of the Friends of the Earth. "We've
said time and time again there's a risk of this happening. Now, they've
looked just once and they've found it."
Burger and shake
Harry Gilbert and colleagues at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne made
the discovery, after feeding volunteers with a burger and a milk shake
containing GM soya.
To see how the GM food was dealt with by different parts of the digestive
system, he gave the food to 12 healthy volunteers and to seven volunteers
who had previously had their colons surgically removed.
When he examined stools from the healthy volunteers, he found no traces
whatever of DNA from the GM food. It had all been digested. Nor did he
find any evidence that gut bacteria had taken up the DNA.
But when he examined waste products collected from the seven ileostomy
bags, he found that up to 3.7 per cent of the GM DNA survived.
Crucially, in three of the seven, he found that bacteria had taken up GM
DNA from the soya. But "despite exhaustive attempts", he could not isolate
the precise bacteria which had taken up the GM DNA. He concludes that the
DNA must have been taken up only by tiny proportions of gut bacteria.
To account for the differences between the "ileostomists" and volunteers
with intact digestive systems, Gilbert's team speculate that DNA might
survive the small bowel but gets completely destroyed in the large bowel.
They say in a draft manuscript that people with ileostomies might produce
less of the enzyme that degrades DNA.
As supporting evidence, they found that unmodified soya DNA survived in
the small bowel as plentifully as the GM DNA. "It shows that the GM DNA
acts in the body the same way as DNA from regular food," says a
spokeswoman from the FSA.
In a separate experiment on colonies of intestinal cells, Gilbert's team
showed that raw loops of GM DNA called plasmids can be taken up directly,
but only by one gut cell in 3000.
Bacteria containing the same plasmids proved totally incapable of
transferring their genetic cargo into the gut cells. "These data support
the view that GM soya does not represent a significant risk to human
health through gene transfer," says the Gilbert team.
No Evidence of Horizontal Gene Transfer!
Analysis and Follow up on the University of Newcastle Report on "GM DNA In
From: Klaus Ammann
first apologies for this lengthy piece, but things are complex about
horizontal gene transfer. We need a step by step approach and if we obey
the rule of not employing antibiotic resistance marker genes which are
still in use in animal and human medicine, then there is no reason for a
total ban as foreseen in the EU and also in Switzerland.
Horizontal transgene transfer in humans from GM food to bacteria? These
will be the headlines of the next days due to some documents and
publications from the University of Newcastle.
We already saw in 1999 in British boulevard journals the headlines such
as: Genetic Engineering will cause Super-Meningitis, triggered by a simple
phone call from a journalist who did not disclose that he was calling for
an interview. Dr. Heritage announced the intentions of doing some research
on the question whether horizontal gene transfer could happen in the mouth
of human beings. And his worries also included meningitis bacteria which
survive in small portions in the complex environment of the mouth of many
humans. And from there it is not far to conclude that a meningitis
bacterium receiving all sorts of antibiotic resistance genes will trigger
a super meningitis...
see April 19, 1999, from the
BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_328000/328578.stm more
information at: http://www.applesforhealth.com/meninbacteria1.html
When you check publications from Dr. Heritages Lab (actually most of the
work is derived from a thesis at the University of Leeds by Chandler),
then you see that the concerns did not actually prove correct, but still,
a certain prudence and an evaluation of antibiotic marker genes case by
case seems to be recommendable. A short comment about the concerns from
Dr. Heritage at: http://www.botanischergarten.ch/debate/biofutur.pdf
In the University of Leeds publications I saw there was a clear intention
to go ahead with more realistic scenarios, including human test persons.
The University of Newcastle now issued reports on those matters and the
results are not worrying. Those results do not justify the total ban,
which will take place in the European Union at the latest in the year
2008. They do justify a prudent approach in the sense of the precautionary
approach (I hate the word principle here) and a step by step decision
But according to some NGO's such as Friends of the Earth, the German BUND
and Greenpeace these are alarming results published in reports of the
University of Newcastle. Again this is a case of superficial, but
professional scare mongering: Go to the original reports, given here as
links and also read, if you do not have enough time, the summaries given
below with some of the significant statements highlighted.
If you really take the time to dig into the original articles, then things
look different and not at all so alarming. I know of many early small lab
studies with in vitro conditions where the fate of transgenes have been
studied, showing the same tendencies in data. (Bt, RR-Resistance)
It is still worthwhile to state that thorough (published !) studies are
undertaken late, at a stage where GM food is introduced for years already.
But under realistic conditions horizontal gene transfer is of no worry,
provided the food is following the whole usual path and ends there where
our back has lost its decent name. It is certainly advisable to avoid
resistance genes from antibiotics still in use in animal and human
At the BAGECO 7 in Bergen, Norway there was a research group showing that
more comments for most of the links given below.
if you want to work on the downloaded ppt files, please right click the
mouse and get edit slides
Flint H., Mercer D., Scott K., Melville C. and Glover A. Survival of
digested DNA in the gut and the potential of genetic transformation of
resident bacteria FSA Project Code FSG 01007, 1.6.1998 - 1.10. 2001,
Two significant sentences from the summary: "The [half time] survival of
DNA in the human mouth in vivo was only for 6 seconds, and the
concentration had decreases 100fold after 60 seconds, the DNA being much
less stable than with in vitro conditions."
"We did not detect transformation in vitro using linear DNA that possessed
only a single region of matching sequence, which is, arguably, the most
likely state of GM DNA in food. We did however detect transformation of
genes that were flanked on both sides by sequences that match the
Technical report on the Food Standards Agency project G010008 "Evaluating
the risks associated with using GMOs in human foods" University of
Newcastle 5. July 2002
The articles (an extensive summary and reports on two parts of the
project) are given as one pdf-file
The conclusions are in fact very simple: There is no evidence of
horizontal transgene transfer, as long as you obey to the 'reality rule'
of measuring only potential horizontal transfer of antibiotic marker genes
in use and thus widespread in nature - AND provided the test food has been
sent through the whole of the human intestines, INCLUDING the colon.
In order to get some clearcut results for the potential release of
bacteria with new antibiotic resistance genes transferred from GM food
into nature, it was necessary first to find an antibiotic resistance gene
which was rare enough in nature so that transfer could be detected, to
this purpose a plasmid with a chloramphenicol resistance was constructed,
see the Report of the University of Newcastle on page 8:
Initial attempts to measure gene transfer from E. coli into soil bacteria
were unsuccessful due to the very high level of Kanr (10-2) in the
ecosystem. The antibiotic resistance spectrum of soil ecosystems
was therefore assessed. The data revealed chloramphenicol resistance (Cmr)
was very low
(<10-7) in the soil microbial population. To measure gene transfer a
conjugative broad range gram negative plasmid was constructed that
From those lines it is clear for me that the experiments again show
artificial conditions - conditions which should have been avoided
according to the original concept. But even so, with conditions strongly
changed in favour of a potential horizontal gene transfer, there is no
evidence - sorry Greenpeace, BUND, Friends of the Earth....
Conclusions: The data presented in this study demonstrated that the
AZT-based donor kill system is a highly effective in measuring gene
transfer into natural microbial populations. The primary advantage that
this system over standard gene transfer methodology is that there is no
need to include a marked recipient bacterium and thus gene transfer into
the complete microbial population can be assessed. This system can be
exploited in studying gene transfer from food grade microorganisms into
natural populations, such as the intestinal microflora, into which these
prokaryotes are introduced. This methodology is this of considerable value
when developing risk assessment protocols for GMOs that are introduced
into the human food chain. It was hoped that the strategy could also have
been exploited in detecting gene transfer into viable but non- culturable
populations, which comprise >90 % of natural microbial ecosystems. This
proved not to be feasible as the endogenous fluorescense in natural
populations created a high background, the donor cells, although killed
did not lyse, and GFP was expressed at very variable levels when gfp was
transferred into the recipient bacteria. In the original project we had
intended exploiting the AZT kill system to measure gene transfer from the
food grade microorganism Lactococcus lactis, which is a target GMO, into
the microbial ecosystem of the large bowel. In a parallel study, however,
H. J. Flint╠s group showed that L. lactis was very rapidly lost from in
vitro large colon simulations with no evidence of gene transfer
(erythromycin resistance) occurring. For these reasons we did not further
explore this system in the large bowel but focussed more on Objectives 2
and 3 as agreed with FSA.
Report on Objective 3 These experiments have recently been published in
the British Journal of Nutrition (2002) 87 533-542 Degradation of
transgenic DNA from genetically modified soya and maize in human
intestinal simulations Susana M Martin-Orue, Anthony G O╠Donnell, Joaquin
Arino, Trudy Netherwood, Harry J Gilbert and John C Mathers
The inclusion of genetically modified (GM) foods in the human diet has
caused considerable debate. There is concern that the transfer of
plantderived transgenes to the resident intestinal microflora could have
safety implications. For these gene transfer events to occur, the nucleic
acid would need to survive passage through the gastrointestinal tract. The
aim of the present study was to evaluate the rate at which transgenes,
contained within GM soya and maize, are degraded in gastric and small
bowel simulations. The data showed that 80% of the transgene in naked soya
DNA was degraded in the gastric simulations, while no degradation of the
transgenes contained within GM soya and maize were observed in these
acidic conditions. In the small intestinal simulations, transgenes in
naked soya DNA were degraded at a similar rate to the material in the soya
protein. After incubation for 30 min, the transgenes remaining in the soya
protein and naked DNA were 52 (SEM 13.1)% and 34 (SEM 17.5)% respectively,
and at the completion of the experiment (3h) these values were 5% and 3%
respectively. In contrast to the sya transgene, the maize nucleic acid was
hydrolysed in the small intestinal simulations in a biphasic process in
which approximately 85% was rapidly degraded, while the rest of the DNA
was cleaved at a rate similar to that in soya material. Guar gum and
tannic acid, molecules that are known to inhibit digestive enzymes, did
not influence the rate of transgene degradation in soya protein. In
contrast guar gum reduced the rate of transgene degradation in naked soya
DNA in the initial stages, but the polysaccharide did not influence the
amount of nucleic acid remaining at the end of the experiment. Tannic acid
reduced the rate of DNA degradation throughout the small bowel
simulations, with 21 (SEM 5.4)% and 2 (SEM1.8)% of the naked soya DNA
remaining in the presence of the phenolic acid, respectively. These data
indicate that some transgenes in GM foods may survive passage through the
Report on Objectives 2 and 3. Transgenes in genetically modified Soya
survive passage through the human small bowel but are completely degraded
in the colon
Trudy Netherwood1,2, Susana M. Mart├n-Or?e1, Anthony G. O╠Donnell2, Sally
Gockling1,2, Harry J. Gilbert1 and John C. Mathers1 Department of
Biological and Nutritional Sciences1 and Department of Agricultural
and Environmental Sciences2, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle
upon Tyne NE1 7RU, U.K.
The introduction of genetically modified plants (GMPs) into the human food
chain has caused considerable debate with regard to the associated risks
to human health. One of the major issues following the inclusion of GMPs
in the human diet is the possible transfer of transgenes to the
commensurate intestinal microflora and/or the epithelial cells lining the
intestinal lumen, both of which could have health implications. Recent
data indicate that a significant proportion of the transgenes in GMPs does
survive in vitro simulations of the small bowel, and bacteriophage M13
DNA gavaged into the mouse intestines is detected in the faeces, blood and
liver[3, 4, 8]. The persistence of dietary GMP-derived DNA in humans,
however, is unknown. In this study we have evaluated the survival of
transgenes in GMPs during passage through the gastrointestinal tract of
humans. To track DNA survival through the small intestine seven
ileostomists were given a single meal containing genetically modified Soya
(GMS), and the appearance of transgene DNA on the digesta collected from
the stoma was monitored. Whilst the amount of transgene that survived
passage from the small bowel was highly variable between subjects, the
nucleic acid was detected in all seven subjects. In one individual as much
as 3.7 % of the transgene DNA was recovered at the stoma. In a second
trial, human volunteers with an intact gastrointestinal tract were fed a
single meal containing GMS. No transgene DNA was detected in the faeces
indicating that the nucleic acid did not survive passage through the
and some texts from the University of Leeds, from the Laboratory of Dr.
John Heritage J.Heritage@leeds.ac.uk , he kindly sent me some files
Survival of free DNA encoding antibiotic resistance from transgenic maize
and the transformation activity of DNA in ovine saliva, ovine rumen Fluid
and silage effluent. Paula S. Duggan a, Philip A. Chambers a, John
Heritage a;*, J. Michael Forbes b a Division of Microbiology, School of
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
b Centre for Animal Sciences, Leeds Institute for Plant Biotechnology and
Agriculture (LIBA), University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK Received 5 July
2000; received in revised form 1 August 2000; accepted 2 August 2000
To assess the likelihood that the bla gene present in a transgenic maize
line may transfer from plant material to the microflora associated with
animal feeds, we have examined the survival of free DNA in maize silage
effluent, ovine rumen fluid and ovine saliva. Plasmid DNA that had
previously been exposed to freshly sampled ovine saliva was capable of
transforming competent Escherichia coli cells to ampicillin resistance
even after 24 h, implying that DNA released from the diet could provide a
source of transforming DNA in the oral cavity of sheep. Although target
DNA sequences could be amplified by polymerase chain reaction from plasmid
DNA after a 30-min incubation in silage effluent and rumen contents, only
short term biological activity, lasting less than 1 min, was observed in
these environments, as shown by transformation to antibiotic resistance.
These experiments were performed under in vitro conditions; therefore
further studies are needed to elucidate the biological significance of
free DNA in the rumen and oral cavities of sheep and in silage effluent.
fl 2000 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by
Elsevier Science B.V.. All rights reserved.
A rapid, reliable method for the extraction from avian faeces of total
bacteria DNA to be used as a template for the detection of antibiotic
resistance genes, Chambers Ph., Duggan P., Forbes M. and Heritage J.
Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (2001), 47, 239-246
This is the method published which is used to detect potential horizontal
gene transfer events at the Lab of John Heritage University of Leeds.
Kornelia Smalla's classic: firstname.lastname@example.org
Given the fact that antibiotic resistance genes, often located on mobile
genetic elements, are already widespread in bacterial populations and that
HGT events from transgenic plants to bacteria are supposed to occur at
extremely low frequencies and have not yet been detected under field
conditions, it is unlikely that antibiotic resistance genes used as
markers in transgenic crops will contribute significantly to the spread of
antibiotic resistance in bacterial populations. There is no doubt that the
present problems in human and veterinary medicine, resulting from the
selective pressure posed on microbial communities, were created by the
unrestricted use of antibiotics in medicine and animal husbandries, and
not by transgenic crops carrying antibiotic resistance markers.
Unfortunately, in some European countries the discussion about antibiotic
resistance genes in transgenic crops attracts much more public attention
than the massive use of antibiotics. We feel that the public debate about
antibiotic resistance genes in transgenic plants should not divert the
attention from the real causes of bacterial resistance to antibiotics such
as the continued abuse and overuse of antibiotics by physicians and
veterinarians (Salyers, 1996). The control of the antibiotic resistance
problem very clearly lies in a reduction of the selective pressure by
prudent use of antibiotics.
and the way, Greenpeace handles the case:
There is no word in the Greenpeace website that all experiments where
transgene DNA has been followed up through the all intestines with highly
sensitive methods, there was no sign of any horizontal gene transfer. The
reason is that this fact does not fit into the scare mongering scheme..
Its the usual tactics of Greenpeace: Using lots of scientific expressions,
putting them into simple boulevard style scary sentences and misleading
its own readers. This is another and repetitious abuse of science.
"The study went further to see if this genetically modified DNA could be
transferred via bacteria in the large intestine. In laboratory simulated
gastrointestinal tracts, three of the seven samples revealed bacteria had
taken on the herbicide-resistant gene. And this was after only one GM
meal. There have been no studies of the long term effects of introducing
GM food into people's diets."
The latest article in the Guardian from yesterday
And it is again the Guardian working to make the news from the reports to
look as bad as possible.
Just read the paragraph cited from this article, and you will have to read
it at least twice to realize that people with normal stomachs don't show
any horizontal transgene transfer.
"The scientists took seven human volunteers who had their lower intestine
removed in the past and now use colostomy bags. After being fed a meal of
a burger containing GM soya and a milkshake, the researchers compared
their stools with 12 people with normal stomachs. They found "to their
surprise" that "a relatively large proportion of genetically modified DNA
survived the passage through the small bowel". None was found in people
who had complete stomachs."
What the Guardian author Vidal actually wants to say is very simple: no
horizontal gene transfer in human faeces going through the whole NATURAL
intestine sequence, including the colon.
If you do not know what a "small bowel" is, then you have no idea that
these human test persons do not have normal digestion anymore.... In
medical language, these patients are called ileostomists. Just have a look
at http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/help/default.asp?page=3926 and
http://www.virginiamason.org/dbSurgery/sec3206.htm and then you will know
how 'significant' results obtained by those deplorable human ilestomic
test persons really are.
I just leave it to you to decide whether this is bad or misleading
and finally some food for thought from the excellent BAGECO 7 in Bergen,
Norway June 2002 see http://carl.im.uib.no/nyheter/Bageco7/
Some selected contributions on horizontal gene transfer, especially
interesting the poster and oral contribution from from Anne Mercier,
Pascal Simonet et al.
The research group is working on a very special case of bacterial
infection on a higher plant where in the in infestation zone there might
be some horizontal gene transfer possibility involving transgenes.
Poster owner: Mercier, Annette
CONTROL OF HORIZONTAL GENE TRANSFER AND GENETIC VARIABILITY IN RALSTONIA
Mercier Anne, Bertolla Franck, Passel└gue-Robe Eug╗nie, Normand Philippe
and Simonet Pascal. Center for Microbial Ecology, UMRCNRS 5557, Universit╗
Lyon 1-La Doua, Bat. G. Mendel, 69622 Villeurbanne cedex, France. E-mail:
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Biotech Could Help Africa, Says Report
- AgBiotechNet, http://www.agbiotechnet.com/news/database/guestnews.asp
"Biotechnology, and other science-based agricultural technology, hold the
potential to help Africa achieve higher yields, improved pest control,
greater drought resistance, reduced dependence on chemical fertilizers,
shorter growing seasons, and increased nutritional value of crops," says a
new report. "The judicious deployment of biotechnology and other improved
technologies could lead to an agricultural revolution in Africa even more
dramatic than the "Green Revolution" of the mid-twentieth century. A new
strategy will need to address present obstacles to its use, including
concerns related to the potential impact of genetically modified organisms
on health and the environment."
This is the view of a report from the Partnership to Cut Hunger and
Poverty in Africa. The report notes that Africa is home to 186 million
people who don't have enough to eat and 31 million children under the age
of 5 who are malnourished. In the past, technology that has benefited
other parts of the developing world has bypassed Africa.
Monsanto says that plant biotechnology is being seen as one of a number of
significant opportunities to increase agricultural productivity on the
continent and reverse some of the negative statistics. Monsanto has just
joined a partnership to help realize some of the potential benefits
biotechnology can offer.
In Africa, where millions of people still make their living from the land,
investment in agricultural production and systems is pivotal in spurring
sustainable economic growth. Reducing hunger and poverty will require
investment in rural areas in crop and livestock production, processing and
trade. Increasing agricultural productivity through avenues such as
biotechnology will likely have a multiplier effect, helping farmers, local
vendors and producers, and generating economic capital and employment,
says the company.
The official declaration of the United Nations World Food Summit, held in
June in Rome, called on international research institutes to advance
agricultural research and research into new technologies, including
biotechnology. The declaration stated, "The introduction of tried and
tested new technologies, including biotechnology, should be accomplished
in a safe manner and adapted to local conditions to help improve
agricultural productivity in developing countries. We are committed to
study, share and facilitate the responsible use of biotechnology in
addressing development needs."
A coalition of public- and private-sector members has been created to
focus policy and public attention on the continuing problems of hunger and
malnutrition in Africa. The Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in
Africa mainly focuses on the agriculture sector, and is asking the United
States to increase assistance in several areas, including improving
agricultural technology development and transfer.
Monsanto recently joined the partnership, co-chaired by the presidents of
Mozambique and Ghana, along with the president of Michigan State
University, Peter McPherson, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and Representative
Lee Hamilton. It will participate in the organization's advisory
committee, which sets strategic direction and assists in developing plans
of action for the partnership, according to Judy Chambers, International
Government Affairs lead - Africa, for Monsanto.
The partnership's new report, "Now Is the Time: A Plan to Cut Hunger and
Poverty in Africa," was released at the recent World Food Summit. The
report calls for increased public and private investment in African
economic development, and increased effectiveness of U.S. assistance, to
be more responsive to African-led priorities and involvement in the
The partnership's plan has four objectives:
(1) Convince the U.S. government that helping Africa should be one of its
(2) Encourage the World Bank to restore agriculture and rural development
as a priority sector for funding.
(3) Influence the United States to concentrate agricultural assistance in
five areas - capacity, enterprises, technology, emergency aid linked to
long-term strategy and infrastructure.
(4) Increase funding for agriculture and rural development programs of the
U.S. Agency for International Development, including a Partnership Fund
for Africa Competitive Grants Program.
"Monsanto has a lot of great experience in partnering with organizations
all over the world that are working to bring the benefits of improved ag
technology to raise yields in developing countries," said Jill Montgomery,
Monsanto's Technology Cooperation Lead. "By joining the Partnership to Cut
Hunger and Poverty in Africa, we hope to join with others in not only
boosting public spending on important agricultural research, but also
impacting some of the other, less technical causes of hunger and poverty.
This is the latest demonstration of how Monsanto is working to share our
technologies and experience in areas of the world where they can really
make a difference."
Safety of drug-producing plants questioned
- United Press International, July 17, 2002
Drugs produced via genetically engineered plants could soon be available
to the public, representatives from the federal government and the
pharmaceutical industry said at a meeting Wednesday, but the plants'
impact on the environment and human health remains unknown.
Anne Vidaver, chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told
United Press International it "would not be surprising" for drugs grown in
plants to be on the market in a few years.
Kathryn Stein, a former Food and Drug Administration official for 22 years
and now with Macrogenics, of Rockville, Md., which is developing
plant-based pharmaceuticals, concurred. "Drugs produced from (engineered)
plants will be on the market," she told UPI. "There's no question in my
mind." As many as 20 companies are attempting to develop drug-producing
plants and approximately seven products are in advanced clinical trials in
humans, Mich Hein, president of Epicyte, of San Diego, told UPI. Epicyte
expects to head into clinical trials in 2003 with its anti-herpes product,
which is produced in plants.
To produce drug-yielding plants, genes for human hormones, enzymes or
antibodies are inserted into conventional plants such as corn and spinach.
The plants will produce the desired drug product, which then can be
purified from the plant and used to make drugs.
Drugs produced in plants have the potential to treat cancer, infectious
diseases, heart disease and disease caused by biowarfare agents, Hein
Most companies in this field are focusing on a type of drug called
monoclonal antibodies, designed to bind to disease-causing or harmful
viruses, bacteria or other agents and prevent them from negatively
impacting the body. There currently are ten monoclonal antibodies approved
by the FDA, including the breast cancer treatment Herceptin and the
rheumatoid arthritis treatment Remicade.
However, the current method of making these products has reached the
limits of its capacity and plants appear to be a promising way of
increasing that capacity and lowering production cost, said Richard
McCloskey, vice president of medical research at Centocor, of Malvern, Pa.
Many companies plan to use corn to produce the drugs, which raises
concerns about the unknown potential for seeds or pollen from these plants
contaminating nearby food crops and finding their way into the environment
or possibly unsuspecting humans.
This prospect is in the forefront of the minds of pharmaceutical company
and regulatory agency officials, due in particular to StarLink, a
genetically modified corn intended for growing crops for animal feed that
accidentally found its way into human food crops and several different
food products in 2000.
Industry and regulatory agencies doubt such an event could happen with
corn used for producing drugs, however. "Pharmaceutical-producing corn
will never be seed corn for anything," Stein said, so it would be highly
unlikely it could get mixed up with seeds for human or animal feed. Stein
said she would want every kernel accounted for because each one would
contain valuable drug product.
USDA's Vidaver also said plant pharmaceuticals would entail a different
situation than StarLink. "Companies will be extra-cautious" because the
crops would contain pharmaceuticals and as such would be very valuable.
Companies also would not want to risk damaging their reputations by having
a product linked to contamination of the environment or human food supply,
Bill Freese, policy analyst with Friends of the Earth, said "there are
real problems with growing (drug-producing) crops in the open air." The
main risk is the contamination of food crops with pharmaceuticals, Freese
told UPI, noting corn pollen can travel for more than a mile. Few, if any,
studies have been done to examine the potential health risks to consumers
or farmworkers harvesting drug-producing crops or the impact on animals,
Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists agreed. From the few
studies that have been done, she said it is reasonable to conclude "some,
perhaps many pharmaceutical-producing food crops might pose risks to
humans." She added current governmental regulations do not protect humans
or the environment from these risks.
There also is little monitoring by the USDA and the companies themselves
contract the work to farmers who "sometimes are not even aware of what
they're growing," Freese said. The USDA maintains a list of drug crops
being grown but it does not reveal the location of the crops or the type
of drug being grown in the crop, Freese said.
This leaves little information available to the public and this could
ultimately come back to haunt pharmaceutical companies, Rissler said.
"Having the public in the dark ... does not inspire confidence especially
in light of experience in last few years with StarLink," she said.
However, Philip Eppard of Monsanto, which is developing
pharmaceutical-producing crops, said industry is taking steps to safeguard
the public because it "cannot afford another StarLink type of incident."
Seeds for pharmaceutical-producing crops are never sold, he said. They are
securely transported and security measures are utilized around the crops
to prohibit tampering. In addition, the plants are detassled or sterile
males are used so there is no transgenic pollen available for release into
the air that could cause contamination in far away crops, he said.
Gregory Jaffe, director of the biotechnology project at the Center for
Science in the Public Interest, told UPI he wants pharmaceutical plants to
go forward because they have great potential to provide life-saving drugs.
But he agreed with Rissler and Freese that the government has dragged its
feet in creating appropriate regulations for these products.
Keith Webber, acting director of the FDA's division of monoclonal
antibodies, said the agency in conjunction with the USDA will soon be
issuing guidelines to industry for developing drugs derived from
bioengineered plants. One of the concerns the FDA has is residual
pesticides, herbicides or plant toxins that may remain in the final
product, Webber said.
USDA's James White said his agency already has developed containment
strategies to ensure the bioengineered corn does not leach into the
environment or affect other crops. This includes ensuring that there is no
other corn within a half-mile of the pharmaceutical-producing plants and
the crops must be planted 21 days after other nearby crops to reduce the
likelihood that pollen from the bioengineered crop could contaminate food
White noted these criteria are "difficult or virtually impossible to meet
in the corn belt."
GMO controversy continues: Panel debates whether labels on genetically
modified foods will alarm consumers or inform them
- James P. DeWan, The Chicago Tribune, July 17, 2002
It is estimated that up to 70 percent of the processed food on your
grocer's shelves contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But
there's no way you'd ever know that, because there are no guidelines for
labeling food that has been genetically modified.
Most shoppers, when asked in surveys, want such labeling, but few of them
have a clear idea of what genetic modification is or what foods it applies
Proponents of labeling include Craig Winters, executive director of the
Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods. He was in Chicago early
this month to take part in a panel sponsored by the Pew Initiative on Food
and Biotechnology, funded through a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Other participants, including a marketing professor and a representative
of General Mills, don't believe labeling is a cure-all.
The discussion, titled "Labeling Genetically Modified Foods: Communicating
or Creating Confusion?" and hosted by Dan Charles, a science reporter for
National Public Radio, brought together four leaders from food
manufacturing, market research and political advocacy.
"The labeling debate raises a number of contentious issues about how
consumers perceive information," said Michael Rodemeyer, executive
director of the Pew Initiative. "Although most polls show consumers in
favor of these labels, there are questions as to how useful labels might
be and whether they may cause unnecessary fears over products that most
scientists have found to be as safe as their conventional counterparts.
"On the other hand," Rodemeyer said, "consumers may believe that the lack
of a label indicates food companies are trying to hide something."
It's a biotech world
Since the mid-1990s, farmers around the globe have been raising crops that
have been developed through agricultural biotechnology. The Pew Initiative
reports that three quarters of all GM crops worldwide are grown in the
U.S. Last year, the three main GM crops were soybeans (68 percent
genetically modified), cotton (69 percent) and corn (26 percent).
Europeans are more suspicious: The European Parliament recently voted for
a bill to require labeling of all GM foods. But the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration has long held that GM crops are "substantially equivalent"
to their conventional counterparts and that no labeling is required unless
there is a significant difference in their composition, nutritive value or
"The FDA has essentially granted the biotech industry the ability to
regulate itself," Winters said. "This a situation very close to the old
adage of the fox watching the chicken coop."
The public seems to share his skepticism. Winters points to a 2001 ABC
News survey that said that "93 percent of the public think the federal
government should require labels on genetically modified foods." These
numbers are borne out by the proliferation in recent years of foods
labeled "GMO free."
Such labels can be misleading, though. The Wall Street Journal reported in
April 2001 that of 20 products labeled "non-GMO" or "GMO-free," 11
contained evidence of genetic material used to modify plants and five
others contained more substantial amounts.
Even more problematic is that fact that a label that states nothing more
than the existence or non-existence of GMOs in a product does nothing to
explain what exactly that means.
"The American public doesn't really understand what genetic engineering
is," said Jonathon Frenzen, clinical professor of marketing at the
University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business and another panel
participant. "We've conducted focus groups, and consumers, when asked to
cite an example of genetically engineered food, cited tangelos and
broccoflower, which are actually extreme cases of hybrids rather than
genetically engineered foods."
In fact, most GM food is much more humble than those exotic hybrids. Most
of it is grown for animal feed. As for the GM foods that most of us
consume, check the ingredient lists on the soup cans in your cupboard and
the TV dinners in your freezer. Corn syrup. Soy products. It's likely
these ingredients came from genetically modified crops.
In the case of corn, a specific gene from a soil bacterium is shot into
the corn cell using a device called a gene gun. The original bacterium
kills insects, and when that gene is introduced to the corn, the corn
produces its own pesticide, thus allowing farmers to spend less money on
traditional chemical pesticides, and to spray less of them.
Soybeans are given a gene that makes them tolerant of a common herbicide
called Roundup. When the fields are sprayed with this herbicide, these
"Roundup ready" soybeans remain unharmed while the weeds around them are
Panel member Austin Sullivan, senior vice president of corporate relations
at General Mills Inc., is concerned that, given the public's current lack
of understanding and mistrust of genetically modified foods, mandatory
labeling ultimately will spell the end of genetically modified foods
before their full potential is reached.
"Food manufacturers, who currently receive no benefit or marketing
advantage from bio-engineered ingredients, do not want to present their
products in a way that is negative to consumers," he said. "Thus,
mandatory labeling would lead these manufacturers to ask their suppliers
for non-bio-engineered ingredients only. The net result would be to
eliminate choice and retard the development of a potentially beneficial
Rather than mandatory labeling, Sullivan is among those who favor a
regulatory system to build consumer confidence and trust.
"Under FDA's current policy, GM crops are not approved before they are
marketed," said Gregory Jaffe, director of the biotechnology project at
the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Establishing a mandatory
approval process at FDA would lessen consumer concerns about eating unsafe
GM foods, greatly reducing calls for labeling for safety reasons.
"If a GM food cannot be proved safe to eat, it should not be allowed to be
marketed, whether or not labeling is required."
Sullivan agrees. "The bottom line is that where there is any question
about the safety of a product, it does not get to market," he said. "If
something is unsafe, it should not be sold. Period. No exceptions."