Genetic Engineering - What's germinating now?
Original post: September 17, 2010
The motive for genetic manipulation has been hidden behind ethical fronts like the cure for world hunger, disease prevention, improved crop yields and reduced costs for consumers. However, the driving force for genetic modification is proving to be far from ethical; it’s all about control, power and money. The pharmaceutical industry has contributed largely to the pioneering of this technology since the 1960’s to produce hormones for human use and we’ve benefited tremendously from a therapeutic standpoint. Just like nature, technology has a way of evolving but conventionally technological advancement depends on guidance by man. However, we may be at the brink of witnessing an interesting hybrid of the evolutionary process – natural selection advancing man-made technology at a genetic level.
Not too long ago, the genetic sequence for a special flounder protein was isolated and infused in the DNA of a plant – genes from a fish forced into the DNA of a terrestrial plant! With this remarkable biotechnology, we have produced potatoes which have a genetically inbuilt capacity to resist frost; strawberries can now be grown beyond the natural growing season with greater yields. These foods look and taste like natures variety but the man-made force within them idles with an uncertain bioenergy. We could soon produce fruits and vegetables with gene sequences for higher levels of vitamins, proteins and essential fatty and amino acids. An apple could soon deliver insulin in its flesh – a new meaning to functional and therapeutic foods. It all sounds positive, so what’s everyone worried about? Genetic engineering has taken on various forms. Plants have been equipped genetically to resist herbicides so farmers can blanket spray for weeds while the cash crop survives. Another engineering objective is to infuse the plant with unnatural gene sequence encoded for a toxin which kills natural pests such as microbes or insects. But these feats have simply advanced the potential for more toxicity. In the case of the herbicide-resistant crop, more of the weed chemicals can be used on the plantation and this translates into more crop absorption, increased soil saturation and greater potential for leaching into the waterways. The natural cross-pollination process will infiltrate organic and non-GMO plantations and it also holds the possibility of producing resistant weeds – a new generation of plant-life which is foreign to our world. The long term implications are unforeseeable by man.
The case of genetically inbuilt insecticides presents another formidable question. How is this unnatural toxin level affecting man? The recent introduction of the Bt toxin gene into corn by Monsanto has produced tremendous controversy. Monsanto is a driving force in genetic engineering; this corporate pathogen has accumulated in access of 600 GMO-related patents. The novel corn plant produces over ten times as much toxin as would be produced by the bacterium in nature; some studies unveil as much as twenty times the natural levels.
Currently scientists are monitoring and anxiously waiting to see how this toxicity has affected the ecology around the plots; with special interests on butterflies, bees and ladybugs. Has anyone determined how the toxin tips the delicate balance of our cell chemistry? Humans are not designed to metabolize the toxin either. Research we do today to determine how these genetic changes influence the environment; the flora and fauna; and more specifically our own metabolism, cannot take into account the long term affects which nature will craft from these man-made seeds. The immediate toxicity pales in comparison to what is about to germinate. Agrobacterium is a common pathogenic microbe which naturally attacks plants and infuses its own DNA into the plant’s, getting the plant’s cells to produce fuels and metabolic building blocks which are beneficial to the bacterium. This natural system proceeds with genetically encoded checks and stops. Scientists have used this Agrobacterium vector to implant within it selected genetic codes in the form of plasmids but contrary to how nature has progressed in a relatively controlled manner, we are now prompting Agrobacterium to cross universal lines and share DNA which it did not have access to in nature and shuttle it across different classes of life. The genetically inbuilt stops and checks are removed or overridden. Although many of these gene-derived characteristics such as the flounder protein with antifreeze properties have been in our food chain for a long time to be part of our own evolutionary process, we do not have control over how these genes will cross over into other species and consummate new sequences. Mutation can alter these man-made arrangements one step further to produce mild changes in the protein and flesh of fruit. The new protein can be experienced by our bodies as an unfamiliar allergen. As a result we might experience mild subclinical symptoms which fester quietly and surface once in a while as familiar disease. Chronic inflammation or inadvertent allergic reactions might be the clinical symptom. In fact, we experienced a mass recall of food products made with a genetically modified corn which produced profound allergic reactions that were not prolific in the past. These crops, however, were quickly diverted to animals as agricultural feeds or ingredients in our pet foods. One way or another they are passed on to affect us metabolically through animal food products such as milk, cheese, and even muscle meats. They`ll also affect us emotionally through the ailments which are becoming prolific in our pets. However, an even more insidious activity can fester to produce profound metabolic disorder without apparent cause and without any signatory change to our own genetic profiles.
We’ve experienced the affects of nutritional profile changes for decades with processed foods but mainstream medicine and biotechnology has yet to acknowledge it while they move forward toward genetic modification taking the problem one metabolic step deeper. Processed foods are completely devoid or just moderately compromised of precious vitamins, minerals and important antioxidants. Foods which are processed and altered from their natural balance can have a higher than natural glycemic load.
Vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, protein, fat and carbohydrate proportions are all thrown off of natural order. This imbalance has been shown to negatively influence insulin efficiency and inflammation. The change in macronutrient and micronutrient ratios has a profound effect on hormone cascades throughout the body.
The problem we’re about to face is much bigger than nutritional profile changes. Genetic engineering will produce a completely different animal when it comes to this endocrine response and illness. The first sign that metabolic disorders can rise out of these genetic alterations is a study done at Roweet Research Institute in Scotland which found that rats fed genetically altered potatoes for a lengthy period developed at a substantially different growth rate with serious physiological and metabolic impediments. Brain development of the rats was thwarted and other organs and glands developed abnormally. Interestingly the potatoes were analyzed to have a completely different protein profile. The study was buried and the head researcher fired for releasing the findings. However, the data was eventually unveiled due to media and legal pressure. It gets worse. In recent years the emergence of an unknown illness has prompted US national attention with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention taking part in a government effort to investigate the illness. The disease was labelled Morgellon’s Disease in 2002 to put a name to a condition characterized by skin irritation, skin lesions, fatigue and joint pain. Most disturbing is what is found to be growing out of these skin sores – blue fibres, white threads and black specks of granular material. Early in 2006 we knew of about 2000 cases. By February of 2007 in excess of 10, 000 cases were reported with the majority of the cases collected around Florida, Texas and California. The molecular constitution of the unfamiliar fibres was eventually checked against national databases and the determination was that they “cannot be man-made and do not come from plant”. The finding that’s hair-raising is the eventual discovery that the fibres contain that previously mentioned Agrobacterium – the bacterial vector used in the transgenic process.
Although Agrobacteria exist in our soil naturally, it is also the vector commonly used in the laboratory to transfer genes in the engineering process. Agrobacterium is now found to reside in the sores of the cases of Morgellon`s Disease. Agrobacteria are not found in healthy tissues of the same subjects. The next question that must be answered is whether or not the fibres of this novel disease are being produced by the human cells of the infected tissues.
Currently I am investigating to determine if those tissues have been infused with foreign genomes by Agrobacterium which itself, has been altered to void its natural genetic checkpoints. Are we seeding new intelligence into subordinate classes of life, creating new pathogens for man?
Antibiotic resistance will be a trivial complication in comparison. I guess one could postulate that if man is part of that delicate co-dependent ecosystem the man-made genomes and the evolutionary shifts they`ll create are themselves part of a natural process. It’s not too late to prevent further damage but it is too late to stop nature’s incorporation of the man-made alterations we’ve already unleashed. We’ll just have to wait and see what germinates next as nature carries on the manipulation or it naturally weeds it out.