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A paper released in December in the journal GM Crops and Food has created quite a stir — cruddy reporting in The Daily Mail and the anti-biotech blog Independent Science News have twisted a paper about GM crops into baseless scaremongering.The Daily Mail’s headline reads “Uncovered, the ‘toxic’ gene hiding in GM crops: Revelation throws new doubt over safety of foods” and the Independent’s original — published Jan 2 — reads, “Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in Commercial GMO Crops“
The paper takes a computer model to analyse genetic data of GM crops. They were looking for stretches of the DNA that looked as if they could be toxic or allergenic. Because of the way that some genetically modified crops are made (a virus is used to insert a gene into the plant’s genome) — it is technically possible that a viral gene known as gene VI could have been inserted as well.
50-four of America’s genetically modified crops are created in this way.
The researchers took genetic data from the crops and searched it for areas where a short stretch of this plant-virus genetic material inserted itself into the plant’s genes. They then examined the DNA in that area to check if it matched the genetic code of the plant virus gene, or matched any known allergen or toxin.
They didn’t find any genetic sequences that looked like allergens or toxins. Using a less-reliable method, they did find weak evidence that one of the sequences may have allergenic properties, but that wasn’t confirmed by other tests.
Also it’s important to note that not all stretches of DNA are turned into proteins, so it’s possible that even if a bit of plant virus DNA got into the crop, it
Alan Dove has a great take down of the coverage at his blog:
That’s right, these hypothetical proteins that might not even exist don’t match any known allergens or toxins anyway. They did an additional test that sets the bar lower, and found that by this standard, one of the putative proteins might be allergenic. But it’s a stretch:…
So there you have it. This was a research paper that used bioinformatic methods to ask yet again if GM crops are any more dangerous than non-GM crops. It ended up adding to the large pile of established data showing that they are not. Through what can only be described as laziness and ideologically blinded reporting, it served as a handy news hook for stories claiming exactly the opposite.
Also, the virus used in the modification procedure is common in nature, found all over plants and soil. About 10 per cent of cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower) that reach our food stores are infected with it. So, basically, you’ve definitely eaten some Gene VI before and survived. No plant virus has been proven to infect humans.
Even if there was a protein produced, it would have to survive your digestive system, make its way into your blood then into your cells before it could do any damage. That’s a long shot.
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