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Are GMO Crops Creating a SuperVirus?

are_GMO_crops_creating_a_supervirus_imageThe presence of a new virus gene that may be deadly to humans has been found in some of the world's most widely distributed genetically modified crops.

The gene, known as Gene VI, was discovered by European Food Safety Authority scientists and published in a paper at the end of 2012, catching the eyes of Jonathan Latham and Alison Wilson of Independent Science News.

According to the research, Gene VI essentially "overlaps" with the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter, which is routinely used in biotech to promote gene expression in GMO seeds. What this means for humans who eat GMO foods that have been exposed to CaMV 35S is that there may be a risk of Gene VI also being expressed in the food, and potentially putting humans at risk for illnesses.

The CaMV 35S (and similar promoters) has already been scrutinized for its ability to potentially create "new" viruses or activate dormant ones. It has triggered the development of cancer in animal cells, and Gene VI is a bit like a viral monkey wrench being thrown into the mix, attaching itself to CaMV 35S. According to Latham and Wilson, "there are clear indications that this viral gene [Gene VI] might not be safe for human consumption. It also may disturb the normal functioning of crops, including their natural pest resistance."

Latham and Wilson state that the researchers found "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." Among those most widely grown crops includes varieties of Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans and corn, including the strain NK603, which recently caused concern when a French study found the corn caused tumors in rats.

It's also not the first time researchers have discovered potentially harmful organisms in genetically modified material. Dr. Don Huber, Purdue professor emeritus, made a discovery in 2011 of a "new" organism showing up in cows fed GMO grains. It's not a virus, bacteria, prion, or microplasma, says Huber, but whatever it is, it's increasing the risks of miscarriage and infertility in cows.

And like most plant viral genes, Gene VI produces a protein that is considered "multifunctional." Among its abilities, it can suppress anti-pathogen defenses; it possesses the ability of "transactivating," which could essentially "turn on" any number of proteins that can cause allergies or produce toxins; and it has also shown an ability to make plants more susceptible to bacterial pathogens.

toxic_to_plants_imageGene VI, when intentionally expressed in plants, caused rapid yellowing and induced plant deformities, indicating that the gene is indeed toxic to plants, which could mean toxicity to humans as well.

Perhaps most curious about the discovery though is that once Latham and Wilson broke the story, the EFSA began a retrospective risk assessment of the CaMV promoter and its Gene VI sequences, "and hope to give it a clean bill of health." But the investigation revealed only that Gene VI “might result in unintended phenotypic changes,” which could, essentially, be anything, states Latham and Wilson. 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 [of crops containing CaMV 35 S].

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettingerLearn more about Jill EttingerReferences

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