Last week’s article, “Antibiotic Resistance: A Worldwide Scourge, Part Two: Natural Antimicrobials for Food Safety,” discussed the literal lifesaving ability of certain essential oils in the battle against increasing antibiotic resistance. One cannot read the scientific literature on the benefits of essential oils without offering up thanks for these oils distilled from a variety of God-given botanicals.
But what of UN-natural plants? There are growing concerns about bioengineered or genetically modified plants and a host of unexpected dangers. We will now learn how “frankenplants” may unleash a new world of hurt on the human race.
Genetic engineering of plants and animals has resulted from scientists learning how to extract genetic material from one organism and insert it into the genetic code of another. This has given us “potatoes with bacteria genes, ‘super’ pigs with human growth genes, fish with cattle growth genes, tomatoes with flounder genes, and thousands of other plants, animals and insects.”1 The Center for Food Safety states that “up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as are 91 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products). According to industry, up to 95 percent of sugar beets are now GE. It has been estimated that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves—from soda to soup, crackers t
o condiments—contain genetically engineered ingredients.”2
The following fact is not well known: “Antibiotic-resistant genes are put in GM plants as tags or markers, so that genetic engineers can tell when they have successfully inserted new traits into a plant. Although it is possible to remove antibiotic resistance marker genes before the plant is released (or to use different marker genes altogether), these precautions are rarely taken.”3
Genetic Engineering: How It Is Done
To trick a plant into accepting genes from another species, a “promoter” is needed to allow the new genes to work in the host plant, and nearly always the promoter is a gene from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus. This virus slows or disables the plant’s normal repression or silencing of new genes. Read more bad news about this virus below.
And as mentioned previously, an antibiotic-resistant gene is necessary to be the marker to help the technologist know in which cells the transfer has been successful. In an article in Natural Foods Merchandiser, PhD Richard Wolfson explained, “To determine in which of the cells the DNA has taken hold, researchers pour antibiotics into the cells. The cells that do not die are the ones that the [foreign] DNA has been incorporated into.” Worrying that antibiotic resistant genes could transfer to pathogens, he said, “They could become antibiotic resistant, and this could produce diseases that cannot be controlled by antibiotics.”4
So it is highly probable that GM corn plants contain antibiotic genes. Should I worry that eating my favorite corn chips or corn cereal (remember 85 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified) will also mean I am ingesting antibiotic-resistant genes? A 2005 study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal by two researchers from the R&D at Novartis Seed concluded that “although fragments of DNA large enough to contain an antibiotic-resistant gene may survive in the environment, the barriers to transfer, incorporation, and transmission are so substantial that any contribution to antibiotic resistance made by GM plants must be overwhelmed by the contribution made by antibiotic prescription in clinical practice.”5 [Emphasis added.] Do you feel reassured?
Antibiotic-Resistant Genes CAN Jump from GM Food to the Human Gut
The Brits certainly are not reassured. The UK’s largest organization for organic food and farming, Soil Association, reported “horizontal gene transfer” occurred in a test by the University of Newcastle. Twelve healthy volunteers and seven volunteers who had previously had their colons surgically removed were given a burger and a milk shake containing GM soya. This was to test GM food in different parts of the digestive system. No genes were transferred in the healthy volunteers, but up to 3.7 percent of the GM DNA survived in the seven ileostomy bags.6 The GM industry had always said this could not happen or was unlikely. The UK Government’s GM science review agreed with the study that since the gene transfer did not occur in volunteers with the complete intestinal tract, the transfer of GM DNA from GM crops to humans “is unlikely to occur because of a series of well-established barriers.”7
Those barriers appear to be falling. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition used polymerase chain reaction (PRC) to investigate the fate of a transgene in the rumen (pouch in the stomach) of sheep fed silage and maize grain from a GM insect-resistant maize. The scientists concluded that “DNA in the maize grains persists for a significant time and may, therefore, provide a source of transforming DNA in the rumen.”8 (Do we realize that animal waste goes into the soil, potentially transforming the bacteria there?)
These researchers also examined the biological activity of plasmid DNA. This small DNA molecule is separate from the chromosomal DNA in a cell, but it can replicate DNA independently. The study reported that “Plasmid extracted from saliva sampled after incubation for 8 min. was still capable of transforming competent Escherichia coli to kanamycin [an antibiotic] resistance, implying that DNA released from the diet within the mouth may retain sufficient biological activity for the transformation of competent oral bacteria.”9
Joe Cummins, PhD, professor emeritus of genetics at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, stated, “The spread of antibiotic resistance is the main threat from gene transfer from GM crops. I have found that the antibiotics used in GM crops are used in surgery and to treat a number of diseases.”10 So not only are animals in concentrated feedlot operations slugging down antibiotics to spur growth and stay well in crowded and unclean environments, but their GM feed increases their exposure even more.
Viral Gene IV Bad News
Remember the “promoter” that disables a plant’s defenses so the alien genes can be inserted—the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus? The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found out in late 2012 that a hidden viral gene has been discovered in GMO crops.11Researchers Nancy Podevin and Patrick du Jardin found that out of 86 different commercialized crops allowed in the United States, 54 contain the viral Gene VI, which they say “might result in unintended phenotype changes.” (Their full paper is available on the website referenced as No. 11.) This conclusion was reached because earlier research has shown similar fragments of Gene VI were active on their own.12 The article found on the website Sustainable Pulse is titled quite alarmingly, “EFSA Discovers Hidden Virus Gene VI in GMO Crops—Sparks Global Health Fears!”
Headlines are meant to be “over the top” to entice people to read. However, this article contains much food for thought. The writer asks the question, “Is there a direct human toxicity issue?” Here is what is concluded: “When Gene VI is intentionally expressed in transgenic plants, it causes them to become chlorotic (yellow), to have growth deformities, and to have reduced fertility in a dose-dependent manner (Ziljstra, et al., 1996).
“Plants expressing Gene VI also show gene expression abnormalities. These results indicate that, not unexpectedly, given its known functions, the protein produced by Gene VI is functioning as a toxin and is harmful to plants (Takahashi, et al., 1989). Since the known targets of Gene VI activity (ribosomes and gene silencing) are also found in human cells, a reasonable concern is that the protein produced by Gene VI might be a human toxin. This is a question that can only be answered by future experiments.”13
When the fox is guarding the hen house, consumers might avail themselves of some heritage (non-GMO) seed and produce their own food.
Center for Food Safety, http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/campaign/genetically-engineered-food/crops/.
Gay PB, Gillespie SH, “Antibiotic resistance markers in genetically modified plants: a risk to human health?” Lancet Infect Dis. 2005 Oct;5(10):637-46.
Duggan PS, et al., “Fate of genetically modified maize DNA in the oral cavity and rumen of sheep,” Br J Nutr. 2003 Feb;89(2):159-66.
Organic Consumers op cited.
DeTapia M, Himmelbach A, Hohn T, “Molecular dissection of the cauliflower mosaic virus translation transactivator,” EMBO J. 1993 Aug;12(8):3305-14.
Sustainable Pulse, op cited.