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9-misc: 50 years of double helix - GE scientists are living on a flat earth

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Genetic engineering stuck in the Dark Ages of science
50 years after the discovery of the double helix, why are genetic engineers
clinging to old science?

Tue 22 April 2003

Fifty years ago, in 1953, the structure of DNA was discovered and hailed as
the "secret of  life". A complete understanding of living organisms seemed
to be certain. However, fundamental questions regarding how DNA and genes
actually work remained unanswered. Genetic engineering (GE), at its roots,
is based on an over-simplistic theory from the 1950s. Modern science has
since shown gene expression to be far more complex than imagined.

The technology and tools to insert genes from different species in a crude,
random and often forcible manner into the genomes of organisms were
developed in the 1970s and 1980s and termed "genetic engineering". Genetic
engineering was called a "life" science; it was the technology to design
and shape living organisms.

Our current genetic engineering industry is based on a 50 year old
understanding of molecular biology: that a gene is unaffected by its local
surroundings on the genome. The outcome of transferring a gene from one
organism to another is thought to be specific and predictable. However,
this is now regarded by most scientists as an over-simplified theory.

Gene expression is now understood to be regulated by a complex cellular
network. Gene expression is the result of many reactions and interactions
between elements such as proteins and RNA. The significance of these
interactions is increasingly being recognised, but remains far from being
fully understood.

This scientific reality is being ignored by GE companies like Monsanto,
Bayer and Syngenta. Short-term, economic interests keep these companies
holding on to an old-fashioned and outdated scientific understanding that
no longer has a sound scientific basis. This behaviour becomes reckless
when these companies release their genetic experiments into the environment
and hide it in our food.

Some GE crops such as soya and maize, have been commercialised and
deliberately released into the environment and food chain in the last few

Surprising and unpredictable effects have occurred in these crops. In one
example, GE Roundup Ready soya plants unexpectedly split their stems in
high temperatures, probably because of a higher amount of lignin.

GE companies regard such unexpected effects as technical problems to be
overcome by more research or adapted technologies. However, these
unforeseen effects may be due to a more fundamental reason, that the basis
of GE is invalid. Recent science has shown that the expression of genes in
the DNA of cells is not nearly as simple and not as fully understood as the
GE industry would like us to believe.

Chronology of Scientific and Genetic Engineering Developments since 1953
(pdf factsheet)

50 Years Since the Double Helix (pdf factsheet)

Illustrating the Problems of Genetic Engineering (pdf)