Message Number: YG4428 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Sukie Crandall
Date: 2001-06-09 00:01:00 UTC
Subject: Re: Bob C: A MAD Look At Genetically Altered Foods

Leigh gave me permission to cross-post this from the FOB. She is a
molecular geneticist finishing her doctorate in the topic so I
figured that you would find it interesting. If the topic hadn't been
broached in terms of genetically altered foods for ferrets it would
be OT, but as *one-shot* thing it's helpful for a fuller picture and
better understanding.

>Hey Bob,
>As a molecular biologist I feel qualified to respond to your post... I'm
>going to play devils advocate, as I mostly agree that the fear of GM foods is
>pretty hyped up.
>That being said, I DO have questions and concerns about genetically modified
>foods. Working with genes and recombinant DNA technology I can tell you from
>personal experience that things don't always do what you think they are going
>to do. Living organsims are SO incredibley complex. There are so many
>pathways and gene interactions. Just because science has teased apart one
>aspect of a gene or pathway doesn't mean that everything has been all worked
>And there is a very fundamental and, IMO, important difference between
>breeding for a trait and ''inserting a trait". That is natural selection and
>the weeding out processes that occur with breeding for a trait. Artificial
>selection that occurs by human intervention, which is what breeding is
>essentially, is still governed by the laws of natural selection. This
>becomes less of a constraint when talking about GM foods. In many cases we
>are inserting genes that would never have a chance in nature of getting
>incorporated into an organsim's genome. Often these genes are not under the
>control of normal natural selection processes. The natural weeding out
>processes that would occur normally don't occur. Whether this is a problem
>or not really depends on the gene that was inserted. You put a gene in, and
>boom, it's there. What the organsim does with it over subsequent generations
>is of concern to me as well.
>I do agree with Bob, that most likely inserted genes are not going to cause
>any big health risk, but but but..... Like I said above, organisms are so
>complex! So you prove a protein does one thing in a set of experiements.
>What's to say that protein doesn't do a whole lot of other things that you
>didn't test for, and who's to say that when you put this gene in another
>organism there's not going to be some sort of bizarre unexpected interaction
>that causes unexpected and maybe even undectable problems? In my opinion
>science has been way to cavalier about going around willy nilly recombining
>genetic material (for public consumption, let me specify), without proving to
>the scientific community public that what they're doing is okay and safe.
>This is nothing to be cavilier about! Nature has had millions of years to
>work these complex protein and/or DNA interactions out and here we come along
>thinking we can make it better. I think we can, but we need to be much more
>careful than what I've been seeing.
>The concern that Bob brought up about the super pests is a VERY valid concern
>and this is much more worrisome to me that any of the other points I've
>brought up. Living things reproduce themselves; that's their job, it's what
>they do. We have to come to grips with the idea that if we put a gene into
>an organism it IS going to find a way to pass that gene on. What or who it
>passes it on to is not up to us at that point (cross species hybridization
>and transposons are two mechanisms). Nature will take it's course. That's
>it, accept it.
>As a not so pimply faced graduate student I do agree with Bob that the
>scientific community needs some bad ass public relations help in this area.
>But we also need to think carefully about what we are doing, why we are doing
>it, and how we can ensure that we are not doing more harm than good.
>Finally, I do eat genetically modified food without much concern! (I need
>my energy so I can make more transgenic frogs!)