GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Why Labelling of Genetically Modified Organisms is Pointless.

Why Labelling of Genetically Modified Organisms is Pointless.

I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in these matters,
but I believe the evidence presented below shows that GMOs have and will
cross with non gm crops and wild relatives. This will make it impossible
to have any foods that will be free of the modified genes, and any other
dangerous bits and pieces that have been inserted into the organisms.

Other evidence shows that the vectors used are also dangerous, and this
means that the whole process must be stopped until such time as the
scientists themselves (free of the constraints imposed on them by greedy
self-interested corporations) can prove conclusively that they have
reached a level of expertise and knowledge that is needed to be sure of
no danger.

What appears below is not speculation to be argued about politely with
the representatives of corporations, but things that have actually
(conclusion at the end if you find this too boring)


Field tests with genetically engineered potatoes have demonstrated both
the high frequency and wide range of gene flow. When normal potato
plants were planted in distances up to 1100 metres from genetically
engineered potatoes, and the seeds of the normal potatoes were collected
afterwards, 72% of the plants in the immediate neighbourhood of the
transgenic potatoes contained the transgene. At greater distances an
almost constant 35% of seeds contained the transgene (Skogsmyr I (1994)
Gene dispersal from transgenic potatoes to conspecifics: A field trial.
Theor. Appl. Genet 88: 770-774.).

Scientists at the Scottish Crop Research Institute have shown that much
more pollen escapes from large fields of genetically engineered oilseed
rape than is predicted from earlier experiments on smaller plots. They
found that escaping pollen fertilised plants up to 2.5 kilometres away
(Timmons AM, O'Brien BT, Charters YM & Wilkinson MJ (1994) Aspects of
environmental risk assessment for genetically modified plants with
special reference to oilseed rape. Scottish Crop Research Institute,
Annual Report 1994. SCRI, Invergowrie, Dundee, Scotland.).

Crop seeds travel hundreds of kilometres between seed merchant, farmer
and processing factory, therefore spillage in transport is inevitable -
and could be more worrying than threat through pollen spread (Crawley M
(1996) 'The day of the triffids'. New Scientist 6 July pp 40-41 -this
was further referenced).

It was reported in 1994 that gene transfer can occur from plants to
micro-organisms. Genetically engineered oilseed rape, black mustard,
thorn-apple and sweet peas all containing an antibiotic-resistance gene
were grown together with the fungus Aspergillus niger or their leaves
were added to the soil. The fungus was shown to have incorporated the
antibiotic-resistance gene in all co-culture experiments (Hoffmann T,
Golz C & Schieder O (1994) Foreign DNA sequences are received by a
wild-type strain of Aspergillus niger after co-culture with transgenic
higher plants. Curr. Genet. 27: 70-76.). It is worth noting that micro-
organisms can transfer genes through several mechanisms to other
unrelated micro-organisms.


Genetically engineered soil bacteria Klebsiella: A common harmless
variety of a bacteria Klebsiella planticola, inhabiting the root-zone of
plants had been genetically engineered to transform plant residues like
leaves into ethanol that farmers could readily use as a fuel. The
genetically engineered bacteria not only survived and competed
successfully with their parent strain in different soil types, it proved
unexpectedly to inhibit growth or kill off grass in different soil types
tested. In sandy soil, most of the grasses died from alcohol poisoning.
In all soil types the population of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi in the
soil decreased. These soil fungi are crucial for plant health and growth
as they help plants to take up nutritions and to resist common diseases.
In clay soils, the genetically engineered bacteria increased as well the
number of root-feeding nematodes. (Holmes T M & Ingham E R (1995) The
effects of genetically engineered microorganisms on soil foodwebs. in
"Supplement to Bulletin of Ecological Society of America 75/2)

The bacteria Pseudomonas putida was genetically engineered to degrade
the herbicide 2,4-D. The engineered bacteria broke down the herbicide
but degraded it to a substance that was highly toxic to fungi. These
fungi - crucial to soil fertility and in protecting plants against
diseases - were therefore destroyed (Doyle JD, Stotzky G, McClung G &
Hendricks C W (1995) Effects of Genetically Engineered Microorganisms on
Microbial Populations and Processes in Natural Habitats, Advances in
Applied Microbiology, Vol. 40 (Academic Press)).

The toxin-producing gene of the bacteria Bacillus thurigiensis, for
instance, is commonly engineered into crops to provide them with a
built-in insecticide. However, the toxin produced is known to resist
degradation by binding itself to small soil particles whilst continuing
its toxic activity. The long term impact of this toxin on soil organisms
and soil fertility is unknown (summarised in Doyle et al., 1995). 


35S Promoter (CaMV) in Calgene's Flavr Savr Tomato Creates Hazard

Joseph E. Cummins Associate Professor (Genetics) Dept. of Plant Sciences
University of Western Ontario London, Ontario N6A 5B7 Telephone: (519)
679-2111 Ext. 6478 Answering Machine: (519) 681-5477 FAX: (519) 661-3935

June 3, 1994

"Feel free to reprint this article in unalterated form"

The majority of crop plant constructions for herbicide or disease
resistance employ a Promoter from cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV).
Regardless of the gene transferred, all transfers require a promoter,
which is like a motor driving production of the genes' message. Without
a promoter, the gene is inactive, but replicated, CaMV is used because
it is a powerful motor which drives replication of the retrovirus and is
active in both angiosperms and gymnosperms. The CaMV pararetrovirus
replication cycle involves production vegetative virus containing RNA
which is reverse transcribed to make DNA similar to HIV, Human Leukemia
Virus and Human hepatitis B. (Bonneville et al. RNA Genetics Vo.11,
Retroviruses, Viroids and RNA Recombination pp. 23-42, 1988). CaMV is
closely related to hepatitis B and is closely related to HIV (Doolittle
et al. Quart.Rev.Biol. 64,2, 1989; Xiong and Eickbush, EMBO Joumal 9,
3353, 1990). The CaMV promoter is preferred above other potential
promoters because it is a more powerful promoter than others and is not
greatly influenced by environmental conditions or tissue types. CaMV has
two Promoters 19S and 35S, of these two the 35S promoter is most
frequently used in biotechnology because it is most powerful. The 35S
promoter is a DNA (or RNA) sequence about 400 base pairs in length. The
use of the CaMV promoter in plants is analogous to the use of retrovirus
LTR promoters in retrovirus vectors used in human gene therapy. The
majority of human gene therapy trials employ LTR promoters to provide
motors to activate genes.

Antisense genes are genes constructed to have a complementary sequence
to a target gene, thus producing a product that combines with a gene
message to inactivate it. Antisense is analogous to an antibody which
combines with an antigen like a key fitting a lock. Antisense is being
used to treat human cancer and HIV infection. Antisense is used to
prevent spoilage in tomatos, either by targeting an enzyme degrading
cell walls (polygalacturonase), or production of ethylene a hormone
promoting ripening (P. Oeller et al. Genetic Engineering 49, 1989; R.
Fray and D. Grierson, Trends Genetics 9, 438, 1993). Most frequently
antisense targets production of a chemical metabolite producing
ethylene. The antisense gene also influenced polyamines spermine and
spermidine production through S-adenosylmethionine. The implication is
that the plant antisense gene product should be tested in animals to
ensure that critical functions including gene replication, sperm
activity and gene imprinting are not disrupted.

The perceived hazards of CaMV in crop plants include the consequences of
recombination and pseudo recombination. Recombination is the exchanges
of parts of genes or blocks of genes between chromosomes.
Pseudorecombination is a situation in which gene components of one virus
are exchanged with the protein coats of another. Frequently viruses may
incorporate cellular genes by recombination or pseudorecombination, it
has been noted that such recombinants have selective advantages (Lai,
Micro. Rev. 56, 61, 1992).

It has been shown that the CaMV genes incorporated into the plant
(canola) chromosome recombine with infecting virus to produce more
virulent new virus diseases. The designers of the experiment questioned
the safety of transgenic plants containing viral genes (S. Gal et al.,
Virology 187: 525, 1992). Recombination between CaMV viruses involves
the promoter (Vaden and Melcher, Virology 177: 717, 1992) and may take
place either between DNA and DNA or RNA and RNA and frequently creates
more severe Infections than either parent (Mol. Plant-Microbe
Interactions 5, 48, 1992). Recently related experiments suggest altered
plants may breed deadlier diseases (A. Green and R. Allison, Sciences
263: 1423, 1994). DNA copies of RNA Viruses are frequently propagated
using the CaMV 35S promoter to drive RNA virus production (J.Boyer and
A. Haenni, Virology 198: 4l5, 1994 and J.Desuns and G.Lomonossoff, J.
Gen. Vir. 74: 889, 1993). In conclusion CaMV promoters recombine with
the infecting viruses to produce virulent new diseases. CaMV viruses and
promoter may incorporate genes from the host creating virulent new

CaMV can recombine with insect viruses and propagated in insect cells
(D. Zuidema et al. J. Gen. Vir. 71: 312, 1990). Thus it is likely that
as large numbers of humans consume CaMV modified tomatos recombination
between CaMV and hepatitis B viruses will take place creating a
supervirus propagated in plants, insects and humans.

Plant biotechnology has grown out of recombinant DNA research that began
in the early 1970's. The special nature of recombination has been
debated since that time. In recent years, government regulators on the
American and European continents, under pressure from well-funded lobby
representing the biotechnology industry, have chosen to ignore the
special nature of recombination. They have chosen instead to base
regulations on existing frameworks for toxic chemicals and pathogenic
organisms. Ignoring the special nature of recombination is likely to
have costly, if not terminal, environmental consequences. A worst-case
example includes the complete cloning of Human Immunodeficiency Virus
(HIV) on an E. coli plasmid. When the plasmid is used to transform
animal cells, intact HIV viruses are released from the cells. A careless
(but legal) release of HIV bacteria to the environment would allow the
plasmid to transfer to Salmonella as well as E. coli. Thus, numerous
mammals and birds could contain HIV bacteria which could transform the
animals, which would in turn produce HIV particles unable to target the
animals T-cell receptors but easily transmitted to humans. When all the
animals are HIV carriers, human survival would be marginal. The special
concerns of recombination in plant biotechnology include the viruses and
bacteria used in crop plant construction and gene flow between related
crop plants and weeds in the field.

Currently most experts agree that virus diseases such as influenza gain
strength for epidemics by alternating between animal hosts (pigs and
ducks) and man. Epidemics begin when rare combinations appear in large
closely associated populations such as in asia. CaMV can propagate in
plant and insect hosts following recombination. It may not be outlandish
to predict that CaMV may recombine with related Hepatitis B or for that
matter HIV to create a most powerful disease. The salient feature being
large number of people or animals consuming large numbers of virus genes
incorporated into crop plants making up a major part of human and animal

The use of CaMV promoter is seldom an issue in reviews of safety of gene
tinkered crops. Few people have raised the important issue and more
often than not their concerns are ignored by government officials
"protecting" public safety. This omission may be a fatal one because it
has potentially the most damaging impact, and the one perceived at the
beginning of gene splicing.


  As Bill Mollison said; "the time for evidence is over, there is only
time for action, or in the more eloquent words of Kant; "It is often
necessary to take a decision on the basis of knowledge sufficient for
action, but insufficient to satisfy the intellect." In this case I think
we even have the latter.

If we campaign wholeheartedly for a ban we are on solid scientific
ground. We can appeal directly to people to help, and show them why it
is important. The campaign for labelling is making the issue of a
life-threatening technology appear to be merely an issue of civil
rights. This is playing right into the hands of the biotech
corporations. I would like to see a debate about how to stop them, not
about how to allow them to carry on. No-one has the right to choose
something that threatens the lives of others. These new organisms must
be stopped. The democratic process is being subverted by powerful
corporations who are taking direct action with no mandate. How should we

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