Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in Commercial GMO Crops Print
Justice News
Written by Joan Russow
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 06:15


by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson  Independent science News. January 21, 2013  Biotechnology, Commentaries 42 Comments

How should a regulatory agency announce they have discovered something potentially very important about the safety of products they have been approving for over twenty years?

In the course of analysis to identify potential allergens in GMO crops, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has belatedly discovered that the most common genetic regulatory sequence in commercial GMOs also encodes a significant fragment of a viral gene (Podevin and du Jardin 2012). This finding has serious ramifications for crop biotechnology and its regulation, but possibly even greater ones for consumers and farmers. This is because there are clear indications that this viral gene (called Gene VI) might not be safe for human consumption. It also may disturb the normal functioning of crops, including their natural pest resistance.

Cauliflower Mosaic Virus

Cauliflower Mosaic Virus

What Podevin and du Jardin discovered is that of the 86 different transgenic events (unique insertions of foreign DNA) commercialized to-date in the United States 54 contain portions of Gene VI within them. They include any with a widely used gene regulatory sequence called the CaMV 35S promoter (from the cauliflower mosaic virus; CaMV). Among the affected transgenic events are some of the most widely grown GMOs, including Roundup Ready soybeans (40-3-2) and MON810 maize. They include the controversial NK603 maize recently reported as causing tumors in rats (Seralini et al. 2012).

The researchers themselves concluded that the presence of segments of Gene VI “might result in unintended phenotypic changes”. They reached this conclusion because similar fragments of Gene VI have already been shown to be active on their own (e.g. De Tapia et al. 1993). In other words, the EFSA researchers were unable to rule out a hazard to public health or the environment.

In general, viral genes expressed in plants raise both agronomic and human health concerns (reviewed in Latham and Wilson 2008). This is because many viral genes function to disable their host in order to facilitate pathogen invasion. Often, this is achieved by incapacitating specific anti-pathogen defenses. Incorporating such genes could clearly lead to undesirable and unexpected outcomes in agriculture. Furthermore, viruses that infect plants are often not that different from viruses that infect humans. For example, sometimes the genes of human and plant viruses are interchangeable, while on other occasions inserting plant viral fragments as transgenes has caused the genetically altered plant to become susceptible to an animal virus (Dasgupta et al. 2001). Thus, in various ways, inserting viral genes accidentally into crop plants and the food supply confers a significant potential for harm.

The Choices for Regulators
The original discovery by Podevin and du Jardin (at EFSA) of Gene VI in commercial GMO crops must have presented regulators with sharply divergent procedural alternatives. They could 1) recall all CaMV Gene VI-containing crops (in Europe that would mean revoking importation and planting approvals) or, 2) undertake a retrospective risk assessment of the CaMV promoter and its Gene VI sequences and hope to give it a clean bill of health.

It is easy to see the attraction for EFSA of option two. Recall would be a massive political and financial decision and would also be a huge embarrassment to the regulators themselves. It would leave very few GMO crops on the market and might even mean the end of crop biotechnology.

Regulators, in principle at least, also have a third option to gauge the seriousness of any potential GMO hazard. GMO monitoring, which is required by EU regulations, ought to allow them to find out if deaths, illnesses, or crop failures have been reported by farmers or health officials and can be correlated with the Gene VI sequence. Unfortunately, this particular avenue of enquiry is a scientific dead end. Not one country has carried through on promises to officially and scientifically monitor any hazardous consequences of GMOs (1).

Unsurprisingly, EFSA chose option two. However, their investigation resulted only in the vague and unreassuring conclusion that Gene VI “might result in unintended phenotypic changes” (Podevin and du Jardin 2012). This means literally, that changes of an unknown number, nature, or magnitude may (or may not) occur. It falls well short of the solid scientific reassurance of public safety needed to explain why EFSA has not ordered a recall.

Can the presence of a fragment of virus DNA really be that significant? Below is an independent analysis of Gene VI and its known properties and their safety implications. This analysis clearly illustrates the regulators’ dilemma.

The Many Functions of Gene VI
Gene VI, like most plant viral genes, produces a protein that is multifunctional. It has four (so far) known roles in the viral infection cycle. The first is to participate in the assembly of virus particles. There is no current data to suggest this function has any implications for biosafety. The second known function is to suppress anti-pathogen defenses by inhibiting a general cellular system called RNA silencing (Haas et al. 2008). Thirdly, Gene VI has the highly unusual function of transactivating (described below) the long RNA (the 35S RNA) produced by CaMV (Park et al. 2001). Fourthly, unconnected to these other mechanisms, Gene VI has very recently been shown to make plants highly susceptible to a bacterial pathogen (Love et al. 2012). Gene VI does this by interfering with a common anti-pathogen defense mechanism possessed by plants. These latter three functions of Gene VI (and their risk implications) are explained further below:

1) Gene VI Is an Inhibitor of RNA Silencing
RNA silencing is a mechanism for the control of gene expression at the level of RNA abundance (Bartel 2004). It is also an important antiviral defense mechanism in both plants and animals, and therefore most viruses have evolved genes (like Gene VI) that disable it (Dunoyer and Voinnet 2006).

Cauliflower mosaic virus genome

Gene VI (upper left) precedes the start of the 35S RNA

This attribute of Gene VI raises two obvious biosafety concerns: 1) Gene VI will lead to aberrant gene expression in GMO crop plants, with unknown consequences and, 2) Gene VI will interfere with the ability of plants to defend themselves against viral pathogens. There are numerous experiments showing that, in general, viral proteins that disable gene silencing enhance infection by a wide spectrum of viruses (Latham and Wilson 2008).

2) Gene VI Is a Unique Transactivator of Gene Expression
Multicellular organisms make proteins by a mechanism in which only one protein is produced by each passage of a ribosome along a messenger RNA (mRNA). Once that protein is completed the ribosome dissociates from the mRNA. However, in a CaMV-infected plant cell, or as a transgene, Gene VI intervenes in this process and directs the ribosome to get back on an mRNA (reinitiate) and produce the next protein in line on the mRNA, if there is one. This property of Gene VI enables Cauliflower Mosaic Virus to produce multiple proteins from a single long RNA (the 35S RNA). Importantly, this function of Gene VI (which is called transactivation) is not limited to the 35S RNA. Gene VI seems able to transactivate any cellular mRNA (Futterer and Hohn 1991; Ryabova et al. 2002). There are likely to be thousands of mRNA molecules having a short or long protein coding sequence following the primary one. These secondary coding sequences could be expressed in cells where Gene VI is expressed. The result will presumably be production of numerous random proteins within cells. The biosafety implications of this are difficult to assess. These proteins could be allergens, plant or human toxins, or they could be harmless. Moreover, the answer will differ for each commercial crop species into which Gene VI has been inserted.

3) Gene VI Interferes with Host Defenses
A very recent finding, not known by Podevin and du Jardin, is that Gene VI has a second mechanism by which it interferes with plant anti-pathogen defenses (Love et al. 2012). It is too early to be sure about the mechanistic details, but the result is to make plants carrying Gene VI more susceptible to certain pathogens, and less susceptible to others. Obviously, this could impact farmers, however the discovery of an entirely new function for gene VI while EFSA’s paper was in press, also makes clear that a full appraisal of all the likely effects of Gene VI is not currently achievable.

Is There a Direct Human Toxicity Issue?
When Gene VI is intentionally expressed in transgenic plants, it causes them to become chlorotic (yellow), to have growth deformities, and to have reduced fertility in a dose-dependent manner (Ziljstra et al 1996). Plants expressing Gene VI also show gene expression abnormalities. These results indicate that, not unexpectedly given its known functions, the protein produced by Gene VI is functioning as a toxin and is harmful to plants (Takahashi et al 1989). Since the known targets of Gene VI activity (ribosomes and gene silencing) are also found in human cells, a reasonable concern is that the protein produced by Gene VI might be a human toxin. This is a question that can only be answered by future experiments.

Is Gene VI Protein Produced in GMO Crops?
Given that expression of Gene VI is likely to cause harm, a crucial issue is whether the actual inserted transgene sequences found in commercial GMO crops will produce any functional protein from the fragment of Gene VI present within the CaMV sequence.

There are two aspects to this question. One is the length of Gene VI accidentally introduced by developers. This appears to vary but most of the 54 approved transgenes contain the same 528 base pairs of the CaMV 35S promoter sequence. This corresponds to approximately the final third of Gene VI. Deleted fragments of Gene VI are active when expressed in plant cells and functions of Gene VI are believed to reside in this final third. Therefore, there is clear potential for unintended effects if this fragment is expressed (e.g. De Tapia et al. 1993; Ryabova et al. 2002; Kobayashi and Hohn 2003).

The second aspect of this question is what quantity of Gene VI could be produced in GMO crops? Once again, this can ultimately only be resolved by direct quantitative experiments. Nevertheless, we can theorize that the amount of Gene VI produced will be specific to each independent insertion event. This is because significant Gene VI expression probably would require specific sequences (such as the presence of a gene promoter and an ATG [a protein start codon]) to precede it and so is likely to be heavily dependent on variables such as the details of the inserted transgenic DNA and where in the plant genome the transgene inserted.

Commercial transgenic crop varieties can also contain superfluous copies of the transgene, including those that are incomplete or rearranged (Wilson et al 2006). These could be important additional sources of Gene VI protein. The decision of regulators to allow such multiple and complex insertion events was always highly questionable, but the realization that the CaMV 35S promoter contains Gene VI sequences provides yet another reason to believe that complex insertion events increase the likelihood of a biosafety problem.

Even direct quantitative measurements of Gene VI protein in individual crop authorizations would not fully resolve the scientific questions, however. No-one knows, for example, what quantity, location or timing of protein production would be of significance for risk assessment, and so answers necessary to perform science-based risk assessment are unlikely to emerge soon.

Big Lessons for Biotechnology
It is perhaps the most basic assumption in all of risk assessment that the developer of a new product provides regulators with accurate information about what is being assessed. Perhaps the next most basic assumption is that regulators independently verify this information. We now know, however, that for over twenty years neither of those simple expectations have been met. Major public universities, biotech multinationals, and government regulators everywhere, seemingly did not appreciate the relatively simple possibility that the DNA constructs they were responsible for encoded a viral gene.

This lapse occurred despite the fact that Gene VI was not truly hidden; the relevant information on the existence of Gene VI has been freely available in the scientific literature since well before the first biotech approval (Franck et al 1980). We ourselves have offered specific warnings that viral sequences could contain unsuspected genes (Latham and Wilson 2008). The inability of risk assessment processes to incorporate longstanding and repeated scientific findings is every bit as worrysome as the failure to intellectually anticipate the possibility of overlapping genes when manipulating viral sequences.

This sense of a generic failure is reinforced by the fact that this is not an isolated event. There exist other examples of commercially approved viral sequences having overlapping genes that were never subjected to risk assessment. These include numerous commercial GMOs containing promoter regions of the closely related virus figwort mosaic virus (FMV) which were not considered by Podevin and du Jardin. Inspection of commercial sequence data shows that the commonly used FMV promoter overlaps its own Gene VI (Richins et al 1987). A third example is the virus-resistant potato NewLeaf Plus (RBMT-22-82). This transgene contains approximately 90% of the P0 gene of potato leaf roll virus. The known function of this gene, whose existence was discovered only after US approval, is to inhibit the anti-pathogen defenses of its host (Pfeffer et al 2002). Fortunately, this potato variety was never actively marketed.

A further key point relates to the biotech industry and their campaign to secure public approval and a permissive regulatory environment. This has led them to repeatedly claim, firstly, that GMO technology is precise and predictable; and secondly, that their own competence and self-interest would prevent them from ever bringing potentially harmful products to the market; and thirdly, to assert that only well studied and fully understood transgenes are commercialized. It is hard to imagine a finding more damaging to these claims than the revelations surrounding Gene VI.

Biotechnology, it is often forgotten, is not just a technology. It is an experiment in the proposition that human institutions can perform adequate risk assessments on novel living organisms. Rather than treat that question as primarily a daunting scientific one, we should for now consider that the primary obstacle will be overcoming the much more mundane trap of human complacency and incompetence. We are not there yet, and therefore this incident will serve to reinforce the demands for GMO labeling in places where it is absent.

What Regulators Should Do Now
This summary of the scientific risk issues shows that a segment of a poorly characterized viral gene never subjected to any risk assessment (until now) was allowed onto the market. This gene is currently present in commercial crops and growing on a large scale. It is also widespread in the food supply.

Even now that EFSA’s own researchers have belatedly considered the risk issues, no one can say whether the public has been harmed, though harm appears a clear scientific possibility. Considered from the perspective of professional and scientific risk assessment, this situation represents a complete and catastrophic system failure.

But the saga of Gene VI is not yet over. There is no certainty that further scientific analysis will resolve the remaining uncertainties, or provide reassurance. Future research may in fact increase the level of concern or uncertainty, and this is a possibility that regulators should weigh heavily in their deliberations.

To return to the original choices before EFSA, these were either to recall all CaMV 35S promoter-containing GMOs, or to perform a retrospective risk assessment. This retrospective risk assessment has now been carried out and the data clearly indicate a potential for significant harm. The only course of action consistent with protecting the public and respecting the science is for EFSA, and other jurisdictions, to order a total recall. This recall should also include GMOs containing the FMV promoter and its own overlapping Gene VI.

1) EFSA regulators might now be regretting their failure to implement meaningful GMO monitoring. It would be a good question for European politicians to ask EFSA and for the board of EFSA to ask the GMO panel, whose job it is to implement monitoring.

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Currently there are "42 comments" on this Article:

  1. altMadeleine Love says:

    This is something new. I’ve gone into the Monsanto application material they gave to Food Standards Australia New Zealand for their GM canola crop, just because I know this set of material best. GM canola has two figwort mosaic virus-related promoters. When describing their P-CMoVb promoter, they referenced Gowda et al (1989), Richins et al (1987), Sanger et al (1990). I’ve looked at Richins. It’s absolutely clear that the FMV sequences overlap. If they took material upstream of the promoter they must know they were using sequences from a viral gene. How much of Gene VI would be included? Monsanto didn’t seem to report the size of these promoters in the original material. They sent additional material in 2002, saying each promoter was 580 bp long. But then I read an EFSA report “Application for renewal of the authorisation for continued marketing of existing food additives, feed materials and feed additives produced from GT73 oilseed rape…” that listed one of the promoters at 564bp and 680bp. Very close examination of the plant transformation plasmid drawings in the Monsanto material does suggest these different lengths. Different lengths usually mean something’s broken in the process. Looking at the earlier shuttle drawings indicates promoters of about 1100bp, much like Sanger described. More to find out here.

    • altMadeleine Love says:

      I was wondering why Figwort Mosaic Virus Gene VI sequence (M59930) on pubmed Nucleotide was so different to the GeneVI designation in the Richins genome (NC_003554) – have since seen studies on the adaptation of Gene VI to its host. Wondering if or how much the actual promoter sequence would mutate in plant.

  2. Wow. Thank you for this article. I suppose the choice to make the public into guinea pigs has not yet been dissuaded, but with good scientists like this in the world we can have hope.

    • altjrlatham says:

      Hi Heather
      I wouldn’t like to judge these scientists as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They were working for an agency (EFSA) and appear to have tried to sneak this out just after the California labeling vote. The agency may have felt they actively needed to publish this to preempt someone else pointing it out. To publish this in an obscure journal, many of whose editors work for the biotech industry, is also worth noting. This is not a simple situation.

  3. altValerie says:

    Great article, nothing in it surprises me. However, I’m dismayed by how few comments there are regarding this. Just goes to show, mainstream America just doesn’t get it quite yet. I still get blank stares when I mention GMO’s in casual conversation. When you come to the realization that NO industry will willfully police it’s actions when big $$ are at stake. And that that same industry and your government are working hand in hand in duplicitous collusion. And that even scientists you thought were above it all, have been bought by big money. When you finally understand it all, you realize that you can only trust your instincts. As time goes on, I get further and further away from the Food Industrial Complex, and am healthier for it.

    • altMary E. says:

      Valerie, I understand when you say you receive blank stares when mentioning GMO’s. I am giving a presentation on Plant Based Eating and am going to mention GMO’s. Do you have any words of wisdom as far as definition and ways to avoid GMO’s in layman’s terms? I have an idea of how to present it, but I always welcome other ways to approach the subject.

  4. alttielman says:

    I’m with Valerie on this one. When upon hearing about the wonders of the New Revolution about to take place in Wheat farming in Canada many years ago my first instinct was to go “hold on here” and who says? Then non participating farmers were having their Rapeseed fields contaminated by the bullies who were selling the new science to the greedy! That caused me to worry even more about the brilliance of this new fangled industrial monopoly that was advocating the use of their products. Now it appears I was correct in my original assumption. I’m an old time organic farm practioner and seem to be vindicated by my trust in what I call sticking to what my grandparents advocated as the best policy in farming the way nature intended us to farm. By looking after the environment we were working in. Yes?

    • altMisha says:

      Thank you for being an honest organic farmer. I and many others have a lot of respect for farmers like yourself for taking care of the land for this and future generations. Please keep up your good work!

  5. altKaren Chun says:

    The Mosaic virus is in most GMOs ON PURPOSE – it is the mechanism which stimulates the plant to reproduce the foreign DNA. Without it, you could splice genes all you want but they wouldn’t reproduce.

    • altKaren Chun says:

      I should add that the “promoter” gene that is attached to GMO DNA, not only stimulates the inserted genes to “express” or turn on and copy themselves — but it also “promotes” other virus DNA. There’s a lot of ancient (and not active) virus material in our DNA. Some of it is very bad when it gets turned on – like that which causes leukemia..

      For those with some molecular biology background, understanding the process by which GMOs are created, makes one FAR more concerned than just reading about the effects! Logically, what the GMO guys are doing is fraught with danger to not only our health but that of the plants.

      • altjrlatham says:

        Hi Karen
        I hope the article is clear that the viral promoter is there on purpose but Gene VI is not. Re your point about the methods used to make GMOs, our paper (Wilson et al. 2006) and another one that is shorter and more concise (The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation) are the best resources we know of to find out the gruesome details of the different methods.

        • altAri says:

          No, Gene VI encodes the P6 protein – a nuclear shuttle protein, and is part of the viral infection cycle:

          Maybe if the PUBLIC funded science instead of only the private sector, we could perform more thorough research into these endeavors prior to public release for consumption. Maybe instead of demonizing the science itself and writing alarmist articles, one could release factual evidence that doesn’t use buzz words only meant to frighten the general public and immediately turn into Facebook memes propagated by the fearfully ignorant.

          Also, I read the abstract of this article, but since I’m a broke grad student (btw, actually have a degree in molecular biology, would like to see credentials of these authors if possible) I can’t afford to pay $29 to read it ahead of publication. Maybe there is something in this article that warrants a more alarmist standpoint, but from what I have read (and this includes previous literature that was likely cited in this particular article) this is actually A. a good thing, the evaluation of possible complications due to this common process and B. not something to panic over.

          Lest we forget that a good portion of GM is a process nearly identical to the practice of crop modification that has been carried out by humanity for THOUSANDS of years – just in a more precise way. That is not the case for all, but it is pertinent to say that not all GMOs can be lumped into one ‘evil’ category. Straight up. Don’t believe the hype.

          • altjrlatham says:

            I am sorry you cannot access the paper easily/cheaply but the journal has an open access option which EFSA chose not to use. Consequently, you cannot see the research you (if you are a European tax payer) paid for. Unfortunately this means that we cannot make this available to you without breaching copyright. It is a deeply sad thing that this situation persists over much of science, the only people who are able easily to change this are scientists themselves and they have chosen not to do so.
            Yes, Gene VI makes protein P6, but rather than introduce another term you will see we called it the protein produced by Gene VI, etc.
            It is true GMO crops also go through steps of conventional breeding (unless they are papaya or trees in which they may not) but GMO breeding (tissue culture, shooting with particles, infecting with microbes, insereting foreign genes, etc) has next to nothing in common with what we have been doing for thousands of years.
            The people in this story who are the fearfully ignorant are not the public who want labeling so they can avoid GMOs but the regulators who fear industry and for their jobs and wish to remain ignorant of the risks.

          • altMadeleine Love says:

            Ari, the academic backgrounds of the authors of this commentary are here

  6. altAngela says:

    To get the word out, I recently posted a picture on FB of bread that I made with organic, non-GMO ingredients. At least three of my friends that buy all organic and make most of their own dishes said that they thought organic and non-GMO were the same thing. They all said they were ready to do the research. Those were the only people that spoke up. I think that is a big misconception about organic. I get a lot of my recipes from different blogs. Most of the large blogs that claim to be cooking healthy do not mention non-GMO, only organic. I could be wrong, but I doubt that most scientist use social media. There seems to be a need for tapping into that market with education in layman’s terms.

    • altHazel says:

      Organic is supposed to be non-GMO (I forget the percentage, but the USDA Organic label does allow for a tiny % of GMOs in there, to cover themselves from contamination….since the entire concept of “co-existence” is a farce, because pollen cannot be contained).
      So yes, if something is organic, in theory it should also be non-GMO. Something that is just non-GMO is not necessarily organic. Sometimes it may be grown using organic methods, but could not claim the “organic” label, because you have to go through a costly process to certify yourself for this, and it is simply out of reach for many small producers, even if they do attempt to grow in what is basically an organic way.

  7. altKay Sheehan says:

    Please continue to get the real facts about GMO’s out to the public in terms that the common man can understand. The general public needs to be able to read and possibly relate the hidden health risks to their own bodies. Thank you for your diligence and research.

  8. altian says:

    I think it is clear now the scientists can throw it back and forth and say things we dont understand ,i think that this is the nail in the coffin for biotech,and anyone who eats it is also seriously mad; the only way is organic,if you want fat salt and sugar,go to the supermarket,the best thing is to get some land and grow it yourself ,tastes better,cyou know then its not gm or contaminated with chemicals.

  9. This is a clear cut case of fraud and collusion. Even a surveyor making a mistake is subject to suit because his license presumes that he knows what he is doing. Whenever you find gross violations like this in science, government or politics no one loses even so much as their jobs let alone their ability to see the light of day over a life sentence. This is about the total pollution of the human genome and all that people do is debate the mechanics of it.

  10. altKim says:

    I am sorry but, have to laugh. hahaha. Where are all the GMO defenders who usually show up to comment, and tell us how good GMOs are. Saving the world, excetera… I see here qualified minds of logic who actually study all this…Where have you been? I spend all my time trying to inform people of the problems, and am treated like a looney tune. (Maybe, but my argument has premises which can be upheld).
    Needs to go on my blog. And the only thing that makes sense to me here are the comments,telling the world in layman’s talk.
    I am actually so excited am crying now. I am stunned… This is the scientific evidence that may be noticed.
    Too much….Like the Earth just stopped spinning,
    If you want to see how this comes down follow my blog.
    Antiphopholipid and Pesticide Effects Blog
    Will watch over our egg, and keep it warm.
    Here is the reason they want to take away everyones guns and clamp down on freedom. They made a bad bet and want to welch on it. Although the labeling issue is important.
    Isn’t this the way our body becomes a pesticide factory in he case of BTs? hmmm

  11. altDella says:

    I am a qualified mind who studies this, and I am absolutely definitely NOT a GMO defender. And I agree that using viruses is potentially dangerous. However, articles that call the cauliflower mosaic virus a “belated discovery” are just fueling the people who are. As someone said earlier, these have been used in crop GMOs for a very long time. No one was trying to hide anything, you can get this information in about 5 minutes of a google search, and you always could.

    I found a really good book on this stuff, written for lay people, called “Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering.” It’s on Amazon. If you want to know how this stuff works and more importantly, how it got approved by the government, you should read it.

    • altjrlatham says:

      You missed the point. CaMV is supposed to be there but Gene VI was not.

    • altMadeleine Love says:

      Della, Food regulators are obligated to examine any novel proteins that may be potentially produced in the GM crop, and ensure their safety is [at least nominally] tested. The fact that they overlooked this protein coding DNA included with the pure ‘promoter’ code may highlight the laxity in their work or perhaps highlight the impossibility of the task for a few select individuals in a government body, chosen for this work, to be fully accountable to populations of multi-millions. In my view they have failed in their duties.

      For their ‘assessment of safety’ the food regulators have chosen to rely, solely in most cases here in Australia, on information provided by the financially interested GM crop developers. This practice, profoundly open to conflict of interest abuse, is obviously fraught, frequently observed yet not dealt with.

      Back to this particular case, I have looked through many full GM crop application dossiers from the companies and have not noticed any mention of Gene VI DNA attached to the ‘pure promoter’. Although Latham and Wilson write as though inclusion of Gene VI was accidental, to me, looking at the references supporting the GM company’s own advocacy material, it seems unlikely. If I am right that they had knowledge, I wonder why it was not reported. If I am not right that they had knowledge, and were hence unable to comply with the most rudimentary regulatory requirements, then we see, by their surprise, more evidence that the outcomes of DNA manipulation of food crops are not reasonably foreseeable, and that the existence of these crops should be reconsidered.

      Further this finding highlights more clearly than before how regulators sit back and wait to be told what the financially interested company wants, or is able, to tell them, rather than undertake genuine investigation themselves. As a citizen I was eager to delve to the origins of all the code but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to look at the promoters.

      So what is it with the food regulators in this particular case? Did they read through the references and fail to have the imagination and understanding to forsee the issue? Read through the references and understand the issue, yet decide to keep it from the public? Fail to read through the references? Or something else?

      In the cases where Open Reading Frame assessments were done, and putative proteins/polypeptides found, these were only run through toxin/allergen databases. Yet what if they were proteins/peptide arising from the Gene VI code that interfere with immune defense mechansims as they do in plants? We would not have consumed these curtate novel proteins before. There should be a lot more work on this.

      I sat in with individuals with these regulatory responsibilities in a masterclass on risk management. The facilitor asked the participants (paraphrasing) “If you make a mistake that ends up having some adverse consequences, is it because you were evil, or because you were stupid?” The roar “Because we were stupid” overwhelmed any other response that might have been given. There are limits. I see us in deep water and for no other reason than for the eager launch of a corporate/state ship.

  12. altBruce Bingham says:

    Perhaps some of these companies should be sued out of existence, and, as suggested above, the future well-being of the human race taken out of the hands of profit driven corporations and given to state-funded scientists

  13. altBrandon says:

    “their own competence and self-interest would prevent them from ever bringing potentially harmful products to the market”

    Just a side note from my perspective: much of the trouble comes from mixing this view of free markets with conflicting views of government regulation. They cannot co-exist. Government regulation short circuits a free market, competitive self-regulation. For a government to claim they will regulate an industry but then operate upon principles of a free-market instead is simply fascist. I think that a true free market where no one looks to and trusts the government to protect them but are instead cautious and discerning of what is “out there” would be a much greater check on companies like Monsanto than any regulatory body. (I realize it’s a very complicated issue)

    • altjrlatham says:

      At the moment we have regulators (generalising somewhat) who seem to see their job as pretending to regulate, providing reassurance to the public, without hindering what industry wants to do. The article we published early last year by William Sanjour explains this clearly about EPA when he worked there. The regulations were designed not to work from the start. It’s a great article:
      On our sister site there is also (in the resources section) a peer-reviewed article by David Pelletier of Cornell University detailing (through memos etc) how FDA came to view the regulation of GMOs, in which science was specifically excluded from the outcome. If this is really true, and I see no reason to doubt it, then we would be better off without the pretense. Monsanto would have to rely on its good name to sell its products and right now I’m going to hazard a guess they couldnt do that, nor many other companies.

  14. altKim says:

    Sadly I am not shocked by this. It just makes me very sad every time I read yet another article about GMO’s. I recently had a conversation with an executive where I work about GMO’s and Monsanto. When he heard how passionate I was about this subject he laughed and asked if my parents were hippies. Kills me how closed minded people are.

  15. altKO says:

    WHat I need to know, is what are the implications of this on my bee colonies?

  16. altChris says:

    I know the FDA Food Protection Czar Michael Taylor is a formed Monsanto Lawyer, but what is the “official” benefit of doing this to our produce? I don’t understand this notion of inserting viral genetic material into anything in a safe way. Weren’t soybeans fine like they were? I won’t eat non-GMO, so I am really limited on what I can eat, especially in the realm of corn, which is basically 100% GMO now. I am sickened by the idea that it is moving into Pork, Salmon, when will it end. The term Frankenfoods, doesn’t really apply because these are more like Chimerafoods…with pieces that don’t belong together!!

  17. altTodd says:

    There is too much irrational fear of GMOs. I think the problem is that too many people cant comprehend what they are reading. They dont understand how GMOs work, and when they do “research” they go to biased sites, or watch “Food Inc”, and now think they are an expert. Organic is a fad, and unsustainable. Organic is NOT the answer. These studies go back and forth, and the results are picked apart, and debunked. I have read nothing so far that will make me avoid GMOs in the future. I will not be a part of the uninformed/misinformed fear mongering.

    • altMadeleine Love says:

      Regardless of the source or nature of people’s concerns about GMO’s these concerns are well-founded and supported by a strong scientific base, .

  18. So a stray bit of DNA got through without the rigorous testing regime noticing it? That’s hardly surprising It’s high time genetic “engineers” reviewed the lessons of software validation. In software testing, we know that only the most trivial programs can be tested empirically. Serious software validation involves a spectrum of methods that go way beyond testing, including formal proofs (a rare luxury) and, most particularly, code inspection. Nothing beats a human brain (or better still, a team of brains) poring over source code, exploring it mentally, looking for logic errors, or stray elements that just don’t make sense.

    But you have to understand the code you’re reading. So I’ve long been concerned that they just cannot know enough about how DNA works to be able to meaningfully code-inspect the products of recombinant genetic engineering (although in the reported case, perhaps a simple inspection of the sequence would have spotted the viral gene fragment; does anyone even read the sequence before a GMO goes into production?).

    Empirical black box testing is the only tool available for validating GMOs, but any software engineer will tell you, that’s not enough. There can be very little confidence in any amount of testing of such a complex system as a modified genome.

    See a longer presentation of the argument here:

  19. This sort of result from what we’ve identified as a “genomicidal technology” leads to what Dr. Rima E. Laibow MD has identified as: Genome Disruption Syndrome. – see: for more information.

  20. altJohn Vreeland says:

    This article seems overheated. The gene is incomplete, and so probably does not do any of the things the authors fret about. Perhaps too much depends on what the original authors meant by “significant fragment.” But even assuming the worst case, that a complete viral gene was encoded and was actually expressed, then the plants would be obviously sick and would be unmarketable. This is why there was no recall issued, clearly the relevant protein was not being produced.

    It does strike me, though, that people are only making a big deal about this now, when it should have been known ages ago. Especially given how easy it is to check these things. Are you using a transgenic promoter? Lets sequence it to make sure it doesn’t contain any surprises.

  21. There has been mounting evidence about the harm, of various transgenic crops, to human health and the environment. If, with this new evidence, the regulators do not 1) recall all CaMV Gene VI-containing crops they will be grossly negligent.

    Even though .”recall would be a massive political and financial decision, would also be a huge embarrassment to the regulators themselves, would leave very few GMO crops on the market and it might even mean the end of crop biotechnology” recall must happen.

    There is sufficient evidence now to justify invoking the precautionary principle, which reads: where there is a threat to human health or the environment the lack of full scientific certainity shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent the threat. The precautionary principle, which appears in the universally adopted Rio Declaration and in the legally binding Convention on Biological Diversity has become an international peremptory norm and as such, a state obligation.

    It is extraordinary that regulatory agencies would even consider the other two options. Their role has to be the protection of human health and of the environment.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 06:22