So what's wrong with GMOs?
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho - The Independent Science
First, new genes and
combinations of genes made in the laboratory, which
have never existed in billions of years of
evolution, are being introduced into our food chain.
Allergies and other toxicities
come to mind. In fact, 22 out of 33 proteins
incorporated into GM crops were found to have
similarities to known allergens, and are therefore
The synthetic genetic
material are introduced into the cells of organisms
with invasive methods that are uncontrollable,
unreliable and unpredictable, and far from precise.
It ends up damaging the natural
genetic material of the organism with many
unpredictable, unintended effects, including gross
abnormalities that you can see, and metabolic
changes that may be toxic that you can't see.
Many foreign synthetic genes
are copies of those from bacteria and viruses that
They also contain antibiotic
resistance marker genes to help track the movements
of the foreign gene inserts and select for cells
that have taken up the foreign genes.
Right from the beginning, in the
mid1970s, geneticists themselves have worried that
releasing those synthetic genetic material runs the
risk of creating new viruses and bacteria that cause
diseases, and spreading antibiotic resistance to
make infections untreatable. As the result of the
Asilomar Declaration, a moratorium was imposed.
Unfortunately, the moratorium was short-lived, as
geneticists were in a hurry for commercial
exploitation of genetic engineering.
The dangers arise because the
genetic material persists long after the cells or
organism is dead, and can be taken up by bacteria
and viruses that are in all environments
This process - called horizontal
gene transfer and recombination - is the main route
to creating dangerous pathogens.
Genetic engineering is
nothing if not greatly enhanced horizontal gene
transfer and recombination, and nasty surprises have
already been sprung.
Researchers in Australia
‘accidentally' transformed a harmless mousepox virus
into a lethal pathogen that killed all the mice,
even those that were supposed to be resistant to the
virus. Headlines in the New Scientist
editorial: “The Genie is out, Biotech has just
sprung a nasty surprise. Next time, it could be
The lead article continued in the
same vein: “Disaster in the making. An engineered
mouse virus leaves us one step away from the
The researchers added a gene
coding for an immune signalling molecule to the
virus, which they thought would boost antibody
production; instead, it suppressed immune responses.
The researchers had previously put the same gene
into a vaccinia virus and found it delayed the
clearance of virus from the animals, so it may well
have the same immune suppressive effects for all
viruses. Imagine what would happen if this gene ever
got into a smallpox virus!
More surprisingly, researchers at
the University of California in Berkeley found that
disrupting a set of disease-causing genes in
Mycobacterium tuberculosis , the tuberculosis
bacterium, resulted in a hyper-virulent mutant
strain that killed all the mice by 41 weeks, while
all the control mice exposed to the unmodified
There is yet another insidious
The synthetic genes created
for genetic modification are designed to cross
species barriers and to jump into the natural
genetic material of cells. Such constructs jumping
into the natural genetic material of human cells can
trigger cancer .
This is not just a theoretical
possibility. It has happened in gene therapy, which
is genetic modification of human cells.
In 2000, researchers in the Neckar
Hospital in Paris, France treated infants with
X-linked Severe Combined Immune Deficiency
apparently successfully by isolating bone marrow
cells from the patients, applying gene therapy, and
then injecting the genetically modified cells back
into the patients. But since 2002, 3 infants have
developed leukaemia. One child has died. The foreign
synthetic gene has inserted near a human gene that
controls cell division, making it overactive,
resulting in uncontrollable multiplication of the
white blood cells.
I have only scratched the surface
of the problems and hazards of genetic modification.
But you can already see that there has been a
massive campaign of misinformation and
disinformation on the part of the GM proponents.
The greatest danger, I think,
is the mindset of the GM proponents
Genetic engineering of plants and
animals began in the mid 1970s under the illusion
that the genetic material is constant and static and
the characteristics of organisms are hardwired in
their genes. One gene determines one characteristic.
But geneticists soon discovered to their great
surprise that the genetic material is dynamic and
fluid, in that both the expression and structure of
genes are constantly changing under the influence of
the environment. Geneticists have coined the term,
“the fluid genome”, which encapsulated this major
paradigm change. The genome is the totality of all
the genetic material in an organism.
The processes responsible for the
fluid genome are precisely orchestrated by the
organism as a whole in a dance of life that's
necessary for survival. In contrast, genetic
engineering in the lab is crude, imprecise and
invasive. The rogue genes inserted into a genome to
make a GMO can land anywhere in any form and has a
tendency to be unstable, basically because these
rogue genes do not know the language of the dance.
Genetic engineers haven't learned to dance with
That is why dozens of prominent
scientists from seven countries launched ourselves
as the Independent Science Panel, to overcome the
campaign of disinformation from pro-GM scientists
who are working to promote the corporate agenda, and
to reclaim science for the public good. We compiled
all the evidence against GM crops as well as the
evidence on the successes and benefits of all forms
of sustainable non-GM agriculture. Based on this
evidence, we are calling for a ban on the
environmental releases of GM crops and a
comprehensive shift to sustainable agriculture. I
hope the Assembly will support this call!
Plenary lecture to the People's
Health Assembly 2, 17-22 July 2005, Cuenca, Ecuador.
For further information please visit the Institute
of Science in Society website: