Genetical modification of Agricultural Seeds- cotton, soya, maize, potato, rice and trees in the forest.


The all encompassing big macabre issue discussed world wide today is the invasion of the good science, ‘biotechnology’ to virtually every nook and corner of the biosphere and practically turned to the bad science, ‘thanotechnology’ for every living element of concern and speeding up the rate to total annihilation of the biosphere.It all began with a little known episode in 1980, that is the US Supreme Court decision in the case, Diamond vrs. Chakrabarty, where the highest US court decided that biological life was legally patentable.


Anand Mohan Chakrabraty a microbiologist and employee of General Electric Company (GE) developed a type of bacteria that could ingest oil from oil spills. GE rushed for a patent in 1971 which was turned down as life forms were not patentable. GE sued and won. In 1985 the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) ruled that the Chakrabraty ruling could be further extended to all plants, seeds and plant tissues or to the entire plant kingdom.

US company W.R. Grace was granted 50 US patents on the Indian Neem tree which even included patenting indigenous knowledge of medicinal use of the Neem products (since been leveled ‘biopiracy’). In 1988 PTO issued patent on animal to Harvard Professors, Philip Lader and Timothy A. Stewart who had created a transgenic mouse having genes of the chicken and human being. In 1991, PTO granted patent to human stem cells and later to human genes. Biocyte was awarded European patent on all umbilical cord cells from foetuses and new born babies even without the permission of the ‘donors’. European Patents Office (EPO) received applications from Baylor University for the patenting of women who had been genetically altered to produce GE proteins in their mammary glands.

Baylor University essentially sought monopoly rights over the use of human mammary glands to manufacture pharmaceuticals. Attempts also were made to patent blood cells of indigenous people of Panama, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Within a decade the ‘Chakrabarty ruling’ of the US Supreme Court revolutionised the research and developments in biotechnology involving microbes to human beings which led it to be branded as bad science, “thanotechnology” in the following decade and hated world wide. biotech companies engaged in biotech pharmaceuticals quickly moved to agriculture, obtained patents on seeds, buying up small seed companies, destroying their seed stocks and replacing the same with GE seeds. In the last decade several companies have gained monopoly control over such seeds world wide as soy, corn and cotton ( used in processed foods via cotton seed oil). As a result, nearly 2/3 rd. of such processed foods showed some GM ingredient in them.

However, even without any labelings, the concerned US consumers were aware of such pervasive food products of biotech companies. Immediately the companies knew that aware citizen kept away from GM foods and they organized to convince the regulators not to require such labelings. Somewhat shockingly the bureaucratic risk evaluators in the US turned a blind eye towards the ill motives of the bio-tech companies.

The point of concern

All genetical modifications are based on recombinant DNA technology. The present society is faced with unprecedented problems not only in the history of science, but of all life on earth. The GE technology enables the profit oriented biotech companies the capacity to redesign the living organisms, the products of three billion years of evolution. In the words of Dr. George Wald, Nobel Laureate in Medicine (1967), Higgins Professor of Biology at the Harvard University, “potentially it could breed new animal and plant diseases, new sources of cancer and novel epidemics”.

On Record

In 1989, dozens of Americans died and over several thousands were afflicted and impaired owing to the ingestion of a genetically altered version of food supplement L – tryptophan. A settlement of $ 2 billion was paid by Showa Denko, Japan’s 3rd. largest chemical company (Mayeno and Gleich, 1994)

In 1996, pioneer Hi-Bred spliced Brazil nut genes into soy beans. Some individuals are so allergic to this nut that they go into apoplectic shock which can cause death. Animal tests confirmed the peril and the product was soon removed from the market before any fatalities occurred. In the words of Marion Nestle, HOD Nutrition, New York University, “the next case could be less than ideal and public less fortunate.”

In 1994 US Food and Drug Administration approved Monsanto's r-BGH, a GE growth hormone, for injecting the dairy cows to enhance their milk yield in spite of experts warning that the resultant increase of IGF-1, a potent chemical hormone, linked to 400 – 500 % higher risks of human breast, prostrate and colon cancer. According to Dr. Samuel Epstein of University of Chicago, “ it induces the malignant transformation of human breast epithelial cells.” Studies on Rats confirmed the suspicion and showed damage to internal organs with r-BGH ingestion. Even FDA’s own tests showed a spleen mass increase by 46%, a state that is a prelude to ‘leukemia’. The argument that the substance get damaged by pasteurization was nullified by 2 of Monsanto’s own scientists, Ted Elasser and Brian Mc Bride who found only 19% of the hormone get destroyed after 30 minutes of boiling (pasteurization takes only 30 seconds). Inspite of Canada, EU, Australia, New Zealand and even the UN’s Codex Alimentarius refusing to endorse the GE hormone, the same is freely marketed in the US by Monsanto. It was found out that 2 US bureaucrats namely, Margaret Miller and Micheal Taylor in the US FDA who helped Monsanto’s r-BGH pass the risk factor barrier were in fact earlier Monsanto employees.

Several other GM products approved by US FDA involve herbicides that are commonly known as ‘carcinogenic’, viz – ‘bromoxiny’l used on Bt. Cotton and Monsanto's ‘round-up’ or Glufosinate used on GM soy, corn and canola. Sharyn Martin, a researcher, has opined that a number of auto- immune diseases are enhanced by foreign DNA fragments which come with G M food that are not fully digested in the human stomach and intestine. These DNA fragments absorbed into the blood stream mix with normal DNA through recombination and are, hence, unpredictable. Such DNA fragments have been found to be in GM soy and other GM products available in the market.

The fear factor

Professor Joe Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics, University of Western Ontario said, ‘ Virus resistant crops are becoming the mainstay of biotech industries. These crops carry foreign virus genes which are genetically engineered to empower the plants to resist virus attacks. Most of the fruits, vegetables and baby food marketed in the US are of this category. Lab. experiments have shown that ‘the GE viral genes in food potentially give rise to new viruses – deadlier than the viruses that the crops are being protected from’, a fact that is quite alarming.
In 1986, it was reported that GE plants having TMV genes delayed the development of the disease and this report opened the flood gates to create resistance to a range of other viruses. But the fact is that viral coat protein production in GE crop does not block the virus entering into the plant cell rather the transgene is exposed to the nucleic acids of many viruses that are brought to the plant by insect vectors. A number of study results are there to show that plant viruses can acquire a variety of viral genes from GE plants through recombination.

For examples-
* Defective Red Color Mosaic Virus lacks the gene enabling it to move from cell to cell and hence is not infectious ,but recombined with a copy of that gene in GE Nicotina benthamiana plants, regenerated the infectious RCMVirus.
* GE Brassica napus and Nicotiana bigelovii containing “ gene- vi ”, a
translational activator from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV) which
recombined with the complementary part of a virus missing that gene, and
produced new infectious virus in all GE plants.
* N. benthamiana expressing a segment of the Cowpea Chlorotic Mottle Virus (CCMV) coat protein gene recombined more frequently with the defective virus missing that gene.
* N. benthamiana was transformed with 3 different constructs containing coat protein coding sequence of African Cassava Mosaic Virus (ACMV). The transformed plants were inoculated with a coat protein deletion mutant of ACMV that induces mild systemic symptoms in control plants. Several such inoculated plants of the transgenic lines developed severe systemic symptoms typical of ACMV confirming recombination had occurred between mutant viral DNA and the integrated construct DNA resulting in the production of recombined viral progeny with ‘ wild type ’ virulency.

The CaMV recombination, when and where ?

CaMV 35 s promoter gene, is the ubiquitous viral sequence in all the transgenic (GM) plants which are either already commercially released in the market or undergoing field trials. This gene is needed by all GM plant producers because it drives the production of gene messages from the genes inserted to provide herbicide tolerance, insect- pest resistance, antibiotic resistance and a range of other functions deemed to improve the commercial quality of the crop plant. In the absence of this ‘promoter gene’, the ‘inserted gene’ remains inactive, while in its presence the gene activity is maintained at a high level in all of the plant tissues irrespective of the changing environmental conditions which drastically affect the activity of ‘promoters’ native to the crop plant.

The 2 events which occurred in 1999 provoked Professor Cummins and other independent scientists to draw global attention to such alarming industrial scientific maladies that may have disastrous consequences. In fact Professor Cummins had in 1994 questioned the environmental safety of the release of CaMV 35 s promoter gene through the GM plants. Experimental evidences available indicated that the frequency of genetic recombination of CaMV 35 s promoter gene was much higher than those of other viruses. When recombinant CCMV was recovered from 3% of transgenic N. benthamiana containing CCMV sequences, recombinant CaMV was recovered from 36% of transgenic N. begelovii.

Event -1. Scientists of John Innes Research Institute published a paper showing that the CaMV 35 s promoter has a recombination ‘hot spot’ meaning it is prone to break and reassociate with other pieces of genetic material, may be of other viruses.

Event- 2. Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a senior scientist working in the UK govt. funded Rowett Institute in Scotland was sacked from his job because he revealed the results of feeding experiments suggesting that transgenic potatoes were unsafe. The lab. Rats fed with GM food showed increased lymphocytes in gut lining indicating damage to intestine from non specific viral infection.

Scientists Mae- Wan Ho and Angel Ryan published a paper in October 1999 issue of Journal of Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease warning that the CaMV 35 s promoter is interchangeable with promoters of other plant and animal virus and is promiscuous and functions efficiently in all plants, green algae, yeast and E. coli. Its recombination hot spot is flanked by multiple motifs and is similar to other recombination hot spots such as that of the Agrobacterium –T DNA vector, the other most commonly used gene, in making transgenic plants. They also claimed to have demonstrated in the lab. of the recombination between viral transgenes and infecting viruses.

In an article published in the online journal of European Food Research and Technology (2006) authors ( Marit R. Myhre, et. al. ) claimed to have constructed expression vectors with CaMV 35 s promoter inserted in front of 2 ‘reporter genes’ encoding firefly luciferase and green fluorescent protein (GFP), respectively and performed transient transfection experiments in the human enterocyte – like cell line, Caco - 2 and found that the CaMV 35 s promoter genes drive the expressions of both the ‘reporter genes’ to significant levels.



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