Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org : December 2, 2005
* Is the European Attitude to GM Products Suffocating African Development?
* Debunking Benbrook
* More on the WSJ "Corn Contamination" Story
* Better Biotech Plants with Metabolomics
* India: Swaminathan Calls for Second Green Revolution
* Kenyan Ministry Urges Equal Policies on GMOs
* Illegal GM Corn Found in Brazil
* The Benefits of Biotechnology
* Is Plant Breeding Different from GM?
Is the European Attitude to GM Products Suffocating African Development?
- Greg Bodulovic, Functional Plant Biology 32(12) 1069-1075
Abstract: Currently, parts of Southern Africa are experiencing the
third major drought in five years. The previous two droughts greatly
affected food production, resulting in food shortages, which
necessitated the provision of food aid to the region by developed
nations. However, some of the food aid included genetically modified
(GM) crops, the supply of which triggered hostile reactions by
southern African governments, and in one case resulted in food aid
being withheld from people on the verge of starvation.
This article will examine the background and reasons behind the
condemnation of GM crops by southern African nations, and will
consider whether the lack of support of agricultural biotechnology by
European nations has contributed to this situation. Furthermore, the
necessity of agricultural biotechnology in future African development
will be considered.
Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Integrative
Legume Research, Genomic Interactions Group, Research School of
Biological Sciences, Australian National University, PO Box 475,
Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia. gregor.bodulovic.at.anu.edu.au
- Kim Nill, KNill.at.ussoyexports.org
'U.S. Soybean Yield Per Acre was a Record High For 2005, Even Though
Some States Had A Drought in 2005'
Dear Agbioview: Today's edition of your newsletter contained several
repetitions of Mr. Benbook's silly assertion that biotechnology-derived soybeans have supposedly caused a "flattening" of the yield curve for the U.S. soybean crop.
On November 11, 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the nationwide yield/acre for America's 2005 crop (i.e., when more than 90% of U.S. soybean acres were planted to biotech soybeans) was a record highest-ever.
More on the WSJ "Corn Contamination" Story
- Joe Kamalay, jkamalay.at.danforthcenter.org
More comments on the WSJ "corn contamination" story. The human
interest angle in the recent Wall Street Journal story "Out of the
Lab: Biotech-Crop Battle Heats Up As Strains Mix With Others" by
Scott Miller and Scott Kilman (WSJ, November 8, 2005) portrays a
hapless Spanish farmer, Felix Ballarin, who is horrified to find
yellow kernels in his organic red corn. The farmer, and subsequently
the authors, blamed pollen contamination from some neighboring corn
crop. It is also reported that "government scientists would later
confirm with a DNA test, the kernels had been contaminated with a
genetically modified strain."
That may be the case but, as Nina Federoff pointed out in her letter
to the WSJ editors, (responding to Miller and Kilman) the corn
pericarp color could not have been determined by genes from rogue
pollen. There is a possible genetic explanation for the yellow
pericarp corn harvested from Ballarin's red corn crop. He may have
been a victim of Unstable factor for orange1 (Ufo1), a dominant,
allele-specific modifier of _expression of the maize pericarp color1
(p1) gene. (Chopra, et al., 2003. Genetics 163:1135-1146)
I wonder if he noticed any instability in kernel color during the 15
years he labored to produce this red corn. I was also puzzled why the
15 year corn breeding effort was considered "down the drain" as a
result of one anomalous harvest.
Better Biotech Plants with Metabolomics
- Emily Singer, Ellinghuysen, December 1, 2005
'Metabolomics may help scientists to engineer sophisticated plant factories.'
Genetic engineers have created various types of biotech crops,
including corn and cotton resistant to insects. But some other
possibilities, such as plants that could make cancer drugs, have yet
to yield to the bioengineer's bag of tricks. Scientists say that the
relatively new technique of metabolomics -- the analysis of all the
metabolites in an organism -- could provide the genetic insight
needed to make these highly desirable products.
While genomics and proteomics focus on the DNA and proteins present
in an organism, metabolomics analyzes the end products -- such as
sugars, fats, and peptides -- of all the biochemical reactions taking
place in a cell. Researchers say these end-product molecules may
provide details into how genes affect the observable characteristics
of a plant, such as how fast it grows or how resistant it is to cold.
Basil Nikolau, director of the Center for Designer Crops at Iowa
State University, will lead a team of researchers at Iowa State and
six other institutions using metabolomics to elucidate the function
of 100 genes in the mustard plant, Arabidopsis, a model organism.
During the two-year pilot project, funded by the National Science
Foundation, scientists will study different strains of the plant that
each have a single gene "knocked out." In order to understand the
relationship between genes and metabolites , researchers will
systematically analyze how the loss of this gene changes the level of
The findings will shed light on how plants grow and develop, but
could also have major agricultural applications in producing novel
routes to various compounds. For example, genetic engineers have been
unable to make plants that produce high levels of Taxol, an
anti-cancer compound extracted from the Pacific yew tree. Such a
plant could provide a cheaper, more efficient way to make the drug.
One reason Taxol production is difficult to engineer in plants is
that the compound is synthesized in approximately 30 different steps.
"With metabolomics, you can figure out the individual steps in the
pathway, which in principle should suggest a number of ways to
suppress or enhance gene expression to produce that compound," says
L. Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture at the
Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, DC.
The metabolomics approach could also help researchers better
manipulate existing pathways in plants. Lloyd Sumner, a plant
biochemist with The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Oklahoma, has
been trying to engineer a plant to produce more isoflavenoids, an
antioxidant that may help prevent heart disease and cancer.
Scientists have been studying the pathway for 40 years and have
identified many of the key genes. But when Sumner and team tried to
engineer plants to make more of the healthful compound, they
discovered that the desired isoflavenoid was converted into a
useless form a few steps later along the biochemical pathway.
"Metabolomics helps us understand intentional and unintentional
effects [of altering genes]," he says. "When you try to put a gene
into a plant to do a specific thing, you don't always get the effect
While a few agricultural biotechnology companies are using
metabolomics on a small-scale, the Iowa State project is the first
large-scale metabolomics program in plants. Giddings says the project
is "just what the doctor ordered" to test the technology for broader
India: Swaminathan Calls for Second Green Revolution
- Rediff News (India), December 02, 2005 http://us.rediff.com
Claiming that behind the notion of surplus food in the country, 200
million people go undernourished, renowned agricultural scientist M S
Swaminathan Thursday insisted that the distressed farm sector needs a
second green revolution to overcome technology fatigue and sluggish
"We are surviving today only because 200 million people are
undernourished. If everyone is properly nourished, there would not be
any surplus," Swaminathan, chairman of the National Commission for
Farmers, said in New Delhi.
"The mood in the farming community is same as in the 1960s. Farm
sector growth is lagging, farmers are committing suicide and the
National Sample Survey says that people are willing to leave
farming," the agricultural scientist said. "Once again we have to go
on the path of a green revolution and take agriculture from a stage
of distress to progress," said Sawminathan who heralded a green
revolution in the country about three decades back.
Observing that agriculture in the country was at a critical stage,
Swaminathan expressed concern over the slow rate of growth in the
sector which had fallen below the rate of population growth. "There
is a technology fatigue among farmers. They are wondering whether we
are making progress," he said adding the forthcoming annual Indian
Science Congress would focus on the theme of integrated rural
development and the role of science and technology.
Excerpts from Swaminathan Interview
Full interview at http://www.rediff.com/money/2001/jan/25inter.htm
* Is it because we have been producing surplus food after the green
revolution that various governments are ignoring this sector?
- The truth is, we are not producing surplus food. If all the 300
million children, women and men who will go to bed partially hungry
tonight, eat well, there will be no surplus. Our surplus is only an
expression of poverty. Every third child born in this country is of
low birth weight because of maternal under-nutrition.
* But isn't there an illusion that we produce surplus food grain?
- That is because all newspapers depend on advertisements. The
government gives sops and not solutions. There is a difference
between sops and solutions.
* Doesn't the government have a solution?
- They are all advised by non-professionals. ..... We have this
self-inflicted injury of not having enough professionals to take
decisions. WTO is not responsible for our plight. We ourselves are
Kenyan Ministry Urges Equal Policies on GMOs
- Allan Kisia, The East African Standard (Nairobi), Nov. 30, 2005
The Ministry of Agriculture has called for the adoption of a
harmonised policy on biotechnology for the eastern and southern
Africa region. Permanent Secretary James Ongwae said yesterday the
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) member states
were at different levels in the enactment of biosafety bills.
He said some countries had regulations and guidelines for Genetically
Modified Organisms (GMOs) while others had full legal instruments and
policies on biotechnology and biosafety. "Some States have no
mechanisms for permitting testing of GMOs while others have banned
such crops," he said.
Ongwae made the remarks while opening the Kenya National Consultative
Workshop on Biotechnology and Biosafety at a Nairobi hotel.
Representatives from Comesa member states and the Association for
Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Southern Africa
attended the workshop.
The meeting seeks to understand regional opportunities, challenges,
views and positions on GMOs, and the impact on trade and food
security. Conclusions and recommendations of the workshop will form a
regional position on GMOs.
The PS said the development of biotechnology in Africa is expected to
grow as the agricultural sector increasingly becomes liberalised. He
added that the progress of biotechnology in Africa would continue to
grow despite the controversy surrounding its adoption in agriculture.
"It is therefore necessary to consider the role of biotechnology in
African food security and economic development," he said.
The PS said biotechnology, if used appropriately, had the potential
to increase productivity in agriculture, reduce dependence on fossil
fuel and offer effective cures for diseases.
Illegal GM Corn Found in Brazil
- Luisa Massarani, SciDev.Net, Dec. 2, 2005,
Genetically modified (GM) corn is being illegally sold in the
southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, according to an
accusation by the state deputy Frei SÚrgio Ant˘nio G÷rgen . Frei
SÚrgio, who presented his claim to the Federal Public Ministry on 11
November, received an anonymous tip-off last month that a company in
BarŃo de Cotegipe (north of Rio Grande do Sul) was selling modified
corn smuggled from Argentina.
In a sample bought from the company, the researchers found a GM corn
(GA21) produced by the company Monsanto. Tests showed that more than
one quarter (27.5 per cent) of the seeds were genetically modified.
The risk of contaminating local varieties of corn with GM strains is
greater than with soya, says Frei SÚrgio, because pollen can be
carried up to nine kilometres away by insects, birds and wind.
Last month, Brazil enacted a law allowing GM crop commercialisation
in the country (see Brazil enacts GM and stem cell law after 8-month
wait). However, the companies must obtain permission to sell such
crops from CTNBio, the national commission for biosafety. "No
permission was provided for growing GM corn in Brazil, because in the
case of corn it is not excluded that it might contaminate native
species," says Jairon Alcir Santos do Nascimento, executive-secretary
"This is a very serious problem, since it shows that there is no
suitable bio-vigilance in the border between Brazil and other
countries," says Rubem Nodari, manager of genetic resources in the
Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. He adds that this also raises
concern over the possible emergence of plagues and agricultural
Rio Grande do Sul has been a stage for controversies since 2003 (see
Brazil faces dilemma of 'illegal' GM soya), when it was found that
about 90 per cent of the soya grown there was genetically modified
due to seeds smuggled from Argentina.
The Benefits of Biotechnology
- Robert Wager Globe and Mail (Canada), Dec. 2, 2005.
For centuries, aboriginal peoples have known the aspirin-like
compound found in the bark of willow tree would ease pain. More
recently, a random deposit of a fungus spore on a bacterial culture
started Sir Alexander Fleming on the road to discovering penicillin.
Although plants have always been a source of medicines, modern
biotechnology has created a twist on what will be considered a
It can be argued the first medical product of biotechnology was
recombinant human insulin. By inserting the human insulin gene into a
bacterium, scientists created "Humulin." It became a commercial
product to treat people with diabetes in 1982. Recombinant human
insulin has made life much better for diabetics, who no longer suffer
the complications of using insulin isolated from pigs.
Today, scientists are using recombinant DNA technologies and common
agricultural plants to produce a wide range of pharmaceutical
compounds. These medicine-producing engineered plants are often
called pharma-crops. Scientists have successfully inserted genes into
barley, maize, carrots, tomatoes, alfalfa, bananas, rice and tobacco.
The engineered genes range from those that code for proteins found in
milk and tears, to potential vaccines.
There has been a large outcry about a biotech pharma-crop that was
recently planned to be grown in California and then later in
Missouri. The biotech crop is rice and the engineered proteins are
lactoferrin and lysozyme. These two human proteins can be found in
breast milk, saliva and tears. They hardly represent a dire threat to
our food supply, as many media stories have stated. Recently, such
stories convinced a major beer producer to not buy any rice grown in
the vicinity of these engineered crops. Why? Because critics have
spread fear that these engineered rice crops could contaminate other
rice fields by cross-pollination.
The problem with that story is that rice self-pollinates and
therefore does not spread its pollen to the wind. There are also very
conservative, mandatory geographic isolation and harvesting
procedures to reduce the chances of cross-pollination to near zero
for all pharma-crops. Those who demand zero risk do not seem to
understand there is no such thing as risk-free anything.
The production of these two proteins in large quantities may help
reduce infant mortality in many parts of the world. Bacterial
infections cause severe diarrhoea that kill millions of children in
the developing world each year. Lactoferrin and lysozyme have been
proven to help reduce these bacterial infections.
Unfortunately, it is all too common to read or watch a story that
greatly exaggerates a scary aspect of biotechnology. Somehow the
positive side of the story never seems to be given equal exposure. It
is important that we look at the whole risk/benefit evaluation for
this biotech crop and stop publishing only the hypothetical risks.
There are millions of children who could benefit from this engineered
It may be that the demands of critics will slow the use of food crops
for pharmaceutical production in the near future, but that does not
mean that these technologies will stop. Non-food crops like tobacco
are becoming a favourite of biotechnology researchers. There is
something deliciously ironic about tobacco becoming a major
Research has shown promising results in the production of
Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) in both rice and tobacco.
Injection of this human protein is one of the few treatments that
slow the progress of Lou Gehrig's disease. Similar successes have
been demonstrated with plant derived genetically engineered
monoclonal antibodies that protect against rabies and colorectal
It has been estimated that vaccines save three million lives each
year. For the past 30 years chicken eggs have been used to make
vaccines. Unfortunately not all vaccines can be made this way. A good
example involves the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This virus can be
grown only in human cells and, therefore, we cannot produce a
Papilloma vaccine in chicken eggs.
There are over 140 different types of this virus, most do not cause
any harm but a few are associated with cancer. According to the World
Health Organization there are 600 million people infected with HPV
worldwide, over 20 million in North America alone. The pathogenic
strains cause a half million cases of cervical cancer each year,
mostly in the developing world. Poor access to PAP smears in
developing countries means that nearly half of those cases are fatal.
Researchers have engineered a tobacco plant to produce the VP16-L1
protein from the HP virus. Tests have shown the recombinant protein
to be very effective at generating an immune response against the
virus. With this breakthrough, it will soon be possible to make large
amounts of this protein vaccine. There are significant logistical
problems with production and storage of purified vaccines in the
developing world; therefore researchers are working to produce an
oral version of the HPV vaccine in tomatoes. It is hoped that soon
young women in less developed countries will only have to eat a few
specially engineered tomatoes to gain immunity to this killer virus.
Other researchers are developing vaccines in bananas or other local
crops. If a vaccine could be grown locally, many of the huge
logistical problems associated with vaccination programs would be
The cost of developing a single pharmaceutical product is often close
to a billion dollars. A significant portion of the expense is for
special cell culture laboratories. Often tens of millions of dollars
worth of cell culture will produce less than a gram of medicine.
Plant-made pharmaceuticals can greatly reduce these costs and
increase the yields.
The potential of pharma-crops is best illustrated with the anthrax
story. At present, there is only one form of vaccine that protects
against anthrax. Along with being expensive to produce and store, it
has generated significant side effects in some people. Researchers
have engineered the protective antigen (PA) from anthrax into
tobacco. This time, instead of inserting the gene into the nucleus,
of which there is one per cell, they inserted it into the
chloroplast. With up to hundreds of chloroplasts per cell, this
greatly increases the yield of the engineered protein. The fact that
chloroplasts are not present in pollen also means the potential
cross-pollination problem is eliminated. With 40 tonnes of leaf
tissue per acre and 2-3 harvests per year, the ability to produce
large amounts of the anthrax vaccine in tobacco is soon to be a
reality. Only one acre of genetically engineered tobacco will produce
400 million doses of stable anthrax vaccine.
Today pharma-crops produce $19-billion of pharmaceuticals. It is
estimated that by 2010 genetically engineered crops will generate
$100-billion of medicinal products. Golden Rice, with its engineered
beta-carotene, will soon be available to help prevent 500,000
children from going blind from lack of vitamin A each year.
Salt and drought tolerant crops will allow present lands to remain
productive and even increase yields in marginal soils. Insect
resistant crops will continue to generate large yields with reduced
pesticide use. Herbicide tolerant crops will continue to allow
farmers to preserve precious topsoil. Bio-fuels will help reduce our
needs for foreign oil.
The future will see pharma-crops adding to the benefits agricultural
biotechnology brings to the world.
This article is from a guest viewpoint section offering perspectives
on current issues and events from people working on the front lines
of Canada's technology industry. Robert Wager is a member of the
Biology Department at Malaspina University College in Nanaimo, B.C.
Is Plant Breeding Different from GM?
- Response to Bradford et al.- from David Schubert, Professor, Salk
Institute, La Jolla, CA ; Forwarded by Twittman.at.aol.com. from gmwatch.org
The following are some comments on the rebuttal (Bradford et al.,
2005a) to my critique (Schubert, 2005) of a manuscript (Bradford et
al., 2005b) that appeared in Nature Biotechnology. In their original
article, Bradford and colleagues argue that the regulation of
transgenic food crops should be reduced or eliminated, based upon the
assumption that the products of genetic engineering (GE) are no
different than those produced by classical plant breeding. I, and
hundreds before me, pointed out that this is unambiguously not the
case. I used specific references to show that many of their
statements were misrepresentations of scientific fact.
In their reply to my comments they used several new rhetorical
techniques in addition to the standard ones such as taking statements
out of context and misquoting sources. Of greatest concern is the new
lexicon that has been evolving in the plant biotechnology industry
over the last decade in order to deceive the less technically
educated into believing that there should be no concern about GE food
crops because, as they argue, the outcomes are identical to those
obtained with standard breeding techniques. Since they cannot ignore
the overwhelming evidence that GE is highly mutagenic, they are
instead trying to equate GE with normal breeding by redefining the
fundamental meaning of some relevant terminology.
An excellent book entitled "Genetically Modified Language", written
by a linguist, Guy Cook, shows how the plant biotechnology community
is misusing language to promote themselves (Cook, 2005). As described
in detail below, examples of "genetically modified language" are
abundant in the rebuttal by Bradford et al. of my critique.
1. Lack of precision. The initial response of Bradford et al. in
defense of the unambiguously high rate of mutagenesis-in GE crops is
a perfect example of how plant biotechnology is attempting to change
the technical definitions of genetics for the purpose of self
promotion. They state that "conventional breeding is based on
essentially random induction or assembly of mutations", followed by
"imprecise natural recombinations between genomes". Thus, they are
equating recombination with mutagenesis, and so, by extension, GE
with natural breeding. This is not only scientifically incorrect but
Recombination occurs with high fidelity between allelic genes. There
is no mutagenesis involved in the standard recombination event, for
if there were, there would be no such thing as a stable species of
plant or animal. This section of the critique by Bradford et al.
concludes by stating "changes accompanying GE may occur, but are
irrelevant so long as the expected phenotype is produced". The
problem here is that they redefine phenotype to suit their
purposes. In general scientific usage phenotype refers to all traits,
while these authors use 'phenotype' in both their original paper and
their rebuttal to mean solely agricultural characteristics, ignoring
other traits that might be caused by genotypic changes from GE. The
tests used to assay unintended changes to phenotype are, to date,
quite limited. The legitimate debate is whether these limited tests
are adequate. Will an assay to detect changes in yield of peas detect
an increase in rotenone or other harmful secondary metabolites?
2. Basic research vs. cultivar development. The discussion in this
section is completely meaningless, for in my critique I was concerned
about toxicological traits, not agronomic ones, and unless they can
establish a causal link between plant height or yield and potentially
toxic secondary metabolites, agronomic traits are not relevant to the
health and safety issue.
3. Mutagenized cultivars. Since both the original Bradford paper and
my critique deal only with US regulatory policies, I specifically
stated that I was discussing food crops in the US. The manuscript by
Ahloowalia et al. (Ahloowalia et al., 2004) lists all of the
registered crops (non-food as well as food) in the world that have a
mutagenized parent. The "2,275 varieties of 175 species" referred to
by Bradford et al. include flowers and many other non-food crops, and
the vast majority are not now and never were used commercially. As I
stated in my critique of the food crops, the only one listed by
Ahloowalia et al. as a commercial crop in the US is the
sunflower. The major cultivars of the US crops of corn, soybeans and
wheat are not derived by mutagenesis. The implication that I
misrepresented the Ahloowalia article is therefore incorrect. Indeed,
it would be of interest to many if Bradford et al. could list and
document those vast numbers of crops in the US food supply that they
claim are derived by mutagenesis.
4. Wide crosses. I agree that "genetic changes often accompany wide
crosses". I don't doubt that genetic changes always occur during any
breeding procedure. Indeed, that is the point of sexual
reproduction. However, the question is whether or not those changes
that do occur are the same as those caused by GE? First, Bradford et
al. again try to equate recombination with mutagenesis which, as
discussed above, is not correct. Knowing this group's propensity for
"genetically modified language" I specifically pointed out the
difference in my original critique. Second, their "large body of
evidence" supporting the claim that wide crosses are mutagenic is
rather paltry, and certainly does not justify all of the claims that
they make for genomic modifications outside of changes in copy number
and recombination, which are not mutations.
For example, the cited paper by Madlung et al., 2005 used to support
their claims of naturally occurring transposition in fact only shows
that in Arabidopsis polyploids there is "transcriptional activity of
several transposons although their transposition was limited"
(Madlung et al., 2005). n other words, some transposon-dependent RNA
was made, but it did not reverse transcribe and randomly insert into
the chromosomal DNA to cause mutations (as occurs with GE
manipulations). Both Madlung et al. (2005) and Liu & Wendel (2000)
show that changes in DNA methylation at sites within or flanking the
normally inactive transposons are responsible for their "limited" or
"ephemeral" activation. While both papers show that transposons can
transiently be transcribed, neither established that DNA products
were made and incorporated into functional DNA, thereby possibly
causing a mutation. Furthermore, the "silenced genes" in the cited
manuscripts are in fact the transposons, and gene silencing is not a
mutagenic event (half of the X chromosome complement in human females
is silenced by methylation).
Again, aside from wheat, not a single one of the cited manuscripts
showed that wide crosses produced mutations. In wheat
allopolyploidization does cause the elimination of blocks of DNA and
transient retrotransposition (Levy & Feldman, 2004). However,
tetraploid wheat occurred about 500,000 years ago and hexaploid about
9500 years ago. Synthetic allopolyploid wheat has been made in the
laboratory, but I am not aware of any commercial crops from this
5. Promoters. My comments have nothing to do with promoters, either
viral or genomic, per se, but only with the fact that in GE plants
they are used in synthetic DNA constructs to drive the expression of
foreign genes in all plant tissues, and that this is by no stretch of
fact or imagination a situation that occurs in nature.
Plant biologists are very defensive about this aspect of their
technology, and as witnessed here they try to talk their way around
it by presenting information unrelated to the expression of foreign
genes in all tissues.
While I did not express any particular concern about the transfer of
antibiotic resistance from GE plants to animals, it must be pointed
out that contrary to the views expressed by plant biologists, it has
clearly been shown that a transgene from GE soya can survive passage
through the small intestine and can transfer its DNA to the
microflora of the small intestine (Netherwood et al., 2004).
Although the gene was a fragment of the glyphosate resistance gene
from soybeans, there is no reason why other genes could not also
transfer. Therefore there is horizontal gene transfer from plant
material to gut bacteria and if for some reason there is a selective
advantage for those bacteria expressing the gene (for example, during
a course of antibiotics), they could become the dominant population
within the gut. Since plant DNA also can be taken up by and
integrated into the cells lining the intestines and other tissues
(Einspanier et al., 2001; Schubbert et al., 1994; Schubbert et al.,
1997; Schubbert et al., 1998), the possible health consequences of
this transfer cannot be ignored.
While I agree that antibiotic resistance may not be an issue for the
common antibiotics like ampicillin and tetracycline, as pointed out
by Bennett et al. (2004) "bacterial AR genes that are uncommon in
bacterial pathogens, and for which any further spread would be
undesirable, if not disastrous, should not be used as marker genes in
GE plant development". Curiously, one of the papers cited by Bradford
et al. is an attempted justification by a group sponsored by Monsanto
to do exactly that - introduce kanamycin resistance into GE plants as
a selectable marker (Flavell et al., 1992).
Transposition. Again Bradford et al. redefine scientific terminology
to obscure the facts. In their statements, they explicitly equate
the expression of mRNAs with the insertion of reverse transcribed DNA
into genomic DNA (transposition). I state that there is no
transposition, not that some plants (and animals) cannot occasionally
transcribe some mRNA from these repetitive elements. It is possible
that I have missed published data showing that transposition does
occur in non GE food crops, but if this is the case, the appropriate
reference should have been cited by Bradford et al. Thus they either
do not understand the science or are purposely misrepresenting the
Screening. The statement that "humans have adapted to diverse plant
chemistries" is curious in that it states exactly the opposite of the
true situation and is one of my major concerns about GE. Human
physiology did not evolve to fit that of plants and there certainly
would be no selection against the ingestion of compounds with long
term consequences such as carcinogens.
Instead, for the last 10,000 years, humans have selected and bred
plants that did not make them sick and promoted their
health. Bradford et al. contend the opposite. Since, as Roessner et
al. (2001) clearly demonstrate, new chemicals not found in
conventionally produced plants are indeed made by GE plants, it would
be very naive to think that humans can "adapt" to all new plant
metabolites. Humans are obviously not too good at adapting to
rotenone or cyanide, both of which have been present in plants for
thousands of years. Since GE can lead to the introduction of novel
compounds, 10,000 years of experience with food safety is essentially
disregarded by the promoters of GE.
The cited Ames & Gold paper (1997) has nothing to do with the normal
consumption of plants and their metabolites. Instead it argues that
animals fed almost any "pure" chemical at high enough doses to cause
tissue damage will develop cancer due to the increased rate of cell
division required for tissue repair, increasing the probability of
cell transformation. Aberrant mitogenesis is a major cause of cancer
in the developing world due to chronic infections and tissue lesions.
The argument that metabolic profiling would lead to chaos is
ridiculous, for it would only have to be done with the few cultivars
that are intended for production (the finalists in any given breeding
program) and only needs to identify molecules that are toxic or
novel. The real reason that the plant biotech companies do not want
to do this or any other testing is because they fear potentially
hazardous compounds will be detected.
With respect to the extensive quotation from the two co-authors on
the Kuiper paper (2001) who supposedly changed their minds on the
metabolic profiling issue, it should be pointed out that neither are
the senior or corresponding authors on either paper and that they now
work for a biotech company as opposed to the unbiased government
health agency when they were co-authors on Kuiper's manuscript.
Finally, the comment about 3% of insertions leading to "visible
phenotypes" says nothing about the invisible ones related to
secondary metabolism, and the comment about the plant's ability to
"buffer" itself against genetic changes is only minimally true and
says nothing about what the plants are making in the way of compounds
that have no visible phenotype, such as secondary metabolites.
Furthermore, plant defense compounds , which are of special concern
because they are often also harmful to people, have been shown to be
particularly susceptible to change (Schwab, 2003). This makes sense
because they have to adapt to co-evolving pests, and this argues
against effective buffering for classes of compounds that are of
particular concern as toxins and allergens.
Unintended changes. I cite two independent papers by academic
scientists showing that lignin levels are elevated in Bt corn and
soybeans (Saxena and Stotzky, 2001; Gertz et al., 1999), while
Bradford et al. cite one paper published in an agricultural trade
journal funded by the Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship
Technical Council claiming that the original papers are incorrect
(Jung and Shaeffer, 2004). Contrary data may have many explanations,
such as subtle differences in methodologies or measuring somewhat
different lparameters. This is a common tactic that biotech promoters
use frequently to counter any published data that is unfavorable to
Mutagenicity tests. The Ames test is a valid reflection of
mutagenicity and potential carcinogenicity of compounds, and is
required for approval for all drugs, cosmetics and chemicals that are
released into the environment. It is simple (I have had a 7th grade
student run the assays in my laboratory) and very cheap. It is used
widely in many parts of the world to test plant products before
giving them to humans (Ribnicky et al., 2004; Chen et al., 2003). The
"high-dose test" is miscited by Bradford et al. and is not relevant
to the issue of food safety, for only plant extracts need be tested.
It is clear from the comments of Bradford et al. that they do not
understand the Ames test or how it is used in other countries to
screen plants and plant extracts.
SUMMARY: The response of Bradford et al. to my critique of their
article that argued for further reductions in the regulation of GE
food crops is typical of GE promoters in that it is both misleading
and does not correctly represent the facts. For example:
1. The biotech industry misuses language to redefine scientific terms
in order to make the GE process sound similar to conventional plant
breeding. Examples from Bradford, et al. include equating
recombination with mutagenesis and calling the expression of mRNA
from transposons transposition.
2. There is a lack of understanding of elementary biology when it is
stated that humans have adapted to plant secondary metabolites rather
than humans having selected non-toxic cultivars, as well as the
belief that the Ames test is done in animals.
3. I focused my critique on food crops and the GE process, while
Bradford et al. frequently cited work with flowers and other non-food
crops, but did not state this in their text.
4. Papers were conveniently left out that showed the opposite of
their claims. For example, the Netherwood paper that shows horizontal
GE gene transfer between ingested plants and gut bacteria.
5. Their definition of phenotype in their original paper is extremely
simplistic. It includes only basic agricultural properties. This is
a convenient mechanism that allows them to ignore problems associated
with more subtle and potentially more dangerous unintended effects.
6. Both Bradford et al. and I failed to point out that the unintended
effect of a specific transgene may be directly correlated with
transgene expression, not random mutagenesis as assumed (Roessner et
al 2001; Gurian-Sherman, 2004).
7. Perhaps the most curious aspect of all is that plant biotechnology
is complaining about a regulatory system that was written by their
lawyers (Eichenwald et al., 2001) and at least with respect to the
FDA is voluntary and lacks safety testing requirements altogether
(Gurian-Sherman, 2003; Freese & Schubert, 2004). Although they have
what they asked for, they are still complaining about it.
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