Challenges Fundamentals of Genetic Engineering;
Study Questions Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods
NEW YORK -- A study released today reveals a critical,
long-overlooked flaw in the science behind the multi-billion dollar
genetic engineering industry, raising serious questions about the safety
of genetically engineered foods.
In a new review of scientific literature reported in the February issue
of Harper's Magazine, Dr. Barry Commoner, a prominent
biologist demonstrates that the bioengineering industry, which now
accounts for 25-50 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean crop, relies on a
40-year- old theory that DNA genes are in total control of inheritance in
all forms of life. According to this theory -- the "central dogma" -- the
outcome of transferring a gene from one organism to another is always
"specific, precise and predictable," and therefore safe.
Taking issue with this view, Commoner summarizes a series of scientific
reports that directly contradict the established theory. For example, last
year the $3 billion Human Genome Project found there are too few human
genes to account for the vast inherited differences between people and
lower animals or plants, indicating that agents other than DNA must
contribute to genetic complexity.
The central dogma claims a one-to-one correspondence between a gene's
chemical composition and the structure of the particular protein that
engenders an inherited trait. But Dr. Commoner notes that under the
influence of specialized proteins that carry out "alternative splicing," a
single gene can give rise to a variety of different proteins, resulting in
more than a single inherited trait per gene. As a result, the gene's
effect on inheritance cannot be predicted simply from its chemical
composition -- frustrating one of the main purposes of both the Human
Genome Project and biotechnology.
Commoner's research sounds a public alarm concerning the processes by
which agricultural biotechnology companies genetically modify food crops.
Scientists simply assume the genes they insert into these plants always
produce only the desired effect with no other impact on the plant's
genetics. However, recent studies show that the plant's own genes can be
disrupted in transgenic plants. Such outcomes are undetected because there
is little or no governmental regulation of the industry. "Genetically
engineered crops represent a huge uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is
inherently unpredictable," Commoner concludes. "The results could be
Dr. Commoner cites a number of recent studies that have broken the DNA
gene's exclusive franchise on the molecular explanation of inheritance. He
warns that "experimental data, shorn of dogmatic theories, point to the
irreducible complexity of the living cell, which suggests that any
artificially altered genetic system must sooner or later give rise to
unintended, potentially disastrous consequences."
Commoner charges that the central dogma, a seductively simple
explanation of heredity, has led most molecular geneticists to believe it
was "too good not to be true." As a result, the central dogma has been
immune to the revisions called for by the growing array of contradictory
data, allowing the biotechnology industry to unwittingly impose massive,
scientifically unsound practices on agriculture.
"Dr. Commoner's work challenges the legitimacy of the agricultural
biotechnology industry," said Andrew Kimbrell, Director of the Center on
Food Safety. "For years, multibillion dollar biotech companies have been
selling the American people and our government on the safety of their
products. We now see their claims of safety are based on faulty
assumptions that don't hold up to rigorous scientific review."
The study reported in Harper's Magazine is the initial
publication of a new initiative called The Critical Genetics Project
directed by Dr. Commoner in collaboration with molecular geneticist Dr.
Andreas Athanasiou, at the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems,
Queens College, City University of New York. Contact: Dr. Barry Commoner
of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, 718-670-4182
Back to Gazette Front Page
Current Articles List