Thursday, December 22, 2005

GM news

Proponents of genetically modified (GM) foods often characterize fears about these crops as "unfounded" and "unscientific."

Welcome to "founded" and "scientific."

Australian government researchers developed a plan that looked good on paper. The common bean contains a protein that inhibits an enzyme that pea weevils need to digest starch. So (the thinking went) just genetically modify pea plants with the bean protein and you've got a weevil-resistant pea plant. Early trials showed that the genetic change was effective in controlling the pea weevil.

But there was one small problem. When scientists for CSIRO (Australia's national research organization) tested the GM peas on mice, the peas triggered allergic lung damage. The same results occurred with both cooked and uncooked peas. Further investigation showed that the structure of the bean protein was slightly different when it was expressed in the pea. The CSIRO team speculates that this minor difference may be the factor that caused the lung damage.

The result: The ten-year program to develop a GM weevil-resistant pea plant has been discontinued. No tests on humans are planned.

In an article in the journal New Scientist, Jeremy Tager noted that if a private company had been developing the new GM pea plant, the results of the mouse study would probably never have been reported.

This is from HSI.

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