GENTECH archive


unexpected effects, archives 489 and 491

Dear Clive:

For the first time that I can remember, I will go beyond a simple
recitation of the facts in answering your question.  I will

Of course genetic engineering causes unexpected effects.  So do most
new medical procedures when first tried.  However, we don't call for a
indefinite moratorium on new medical procedures. And once the
procedures are approved to go beyond trial phase, the risks are
considered to be minimal, at least compared to the alternatives.  

The opponents of genetic engineering would like you to confuse the
unexpected effects of the trial phase with actual use in the field. 
They like to cite  examples such as experimental insect resistant
plants with proteinase inhibitors and lectins, which are not being
commercialised. They cling desparately to claims that EMS was caused by
genetically engineered bacteria because they have no other example of
an unexpected effect that affected either health or the environment and
that was not caught in the extensive testing that all products must
undergo.  And they like to claim that weaknesses of Bt cotton and
Round-up Ready cotton were unexpected (both were either predicted or
easily predictable).

In reply to CAM, it is a cartoon of modern population genetics to
suggest that any organism reaches a "perfect" state even for a natural
environment.  It is even less likely for a human altered environment,
in which we change conditions all the time. Starting perhaps
5,000-10,000 years ago, our ancestors bred grain crops so the seed does
not "shatter" so that we can more easily harvest it. Dobzhansky
starting more than 40 years ago began to erase the notion that there is
any such thing as a "normal set of genes".  

Breeders and molecular biologists  have most certainly not forgotten
gene interaction or pleiotropy (multiple expressions of the same gene
in different traits). To the contrary, as an example, classical
breeders work hand-in-hand with molecular biologists to select cotton
for improved performance once BT genes have been introduced into a new

Ultimately, the question is not unpredictability but risk.  I am
convinced that for at least the genetically engineered crops that I
have defended on this server, the risks are far lower than the
benefits.  The difference between me and many of my critics is that I
will criticise some genetic manipulations while defending others.  The
critics appear to reject all of them. (Will either you or Jaan Suurkula
name one genetically manipulated crop that either of you can accept?)
How can it be that no genetic manipulation is worthwhile? 


<excerpt>Dear Rick


I want to ask if you accept, or not, that the process of genetically
engineering can, and does, bring about unexpected, unpredictable
effects in the plants which are the recipients of foreign genes?


Clive Elwell



<bold>To: </bold>Clive Elwell

<bold>Date: </bold>Sunday, 6 December 1998 05:43

<bold>Subject: </bold>Re: unexpected effects from GE

</fontfamily></paraindent>I wonder about the DNA set of any organism,
that took thousand of years to get to a "perfect" and competitive
equilibrium to survive; Then we humans distort it by breeding methods
to induce it to a "Better" type to get economic benefits from some of
hid parts, Now, we want more and disrupt the "normal set of genes" with
any foreign gene. Afterwards we expect that it must continued being
"NORMAL" for our commercial purposes. We forgot of gene interaction, of
pleiotropic gene effects, and said that it doesn't occurs, that
everything continues being "normal".




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