Process of making GMO is not safe
We need to change the way how we discuss GMO. Instead of evaluating the kind of genetic change, we as a society need to become more aware of the harmful consequences of the genetic modification process in general. Attention to other biologists: there is some amount of oversimplification in this article for the sake of easier comprehension.
In order to understand the dangers of the general Genetic Modification process, I have to explain some of the technical details of how it works.
The science of Genetics was created in mid-19th century by the Austrian biologist Gregor Mendel. He demonstrated that inheritance of the certain traits in the pea plants follows specific patterns, known today as Mendelian Inheritance.
Fast forward 100 years to the middle of 20th century. In 1945 George Beadle, American geneticist and Nobel Prize Laureate, proposed the famous one-gene-one-protein hypothesis, which held that each gene involved in biosynthetic pathways controls the synthesis of a single protein. (From: NIH)
Genes, however, do not just produce proteins all the time. Every gene has a Promoter sequence at the beginning, which, when activated, produces a desired protein. When an organism needs a certain protein, a special “activating protein” is created. It affects the Promoter and causes the desired protein to be created. There is also a feedback mechanism, so when enough of the needed protein is created, no additional activator proteins for this gene are produced and the the protein production stops.
Welcome modern GMO technology. Technology has evolved to the point where we can take a gene from one organism and insert it into another. A difficulty, however, lies in activating the foreign gene in the new host organism. To accomplish that, genes that produce activating proteins are spliced into the host organism along with a new gene. The most effective one is the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S (From: NIH) – it activates very high number of genes in plants.
The human genome contains about 21,000 protein-encoding genes, but the total number of proteins in human cells is estimated to be between 250,000 to one million. One gene can encode more than one protein (even up to 1,000) (From: Cancer.gov)
Therefore, when a gene is spliced into another organism’s DNA and activated by the promoter, several things happen.
1) Target gene begins to produce all 1000s of proteins it is responsible for – not just the one the researcher is trying to activate.
2) Very aggressive activating proteins, such as the one Cauliflower Mosaic Virus gene codes for, activate not only the target new gene – but many of the genes of the plant itself. In potato, for example, only tubers are edible – and the rest of the plant is toxic to people. If wrong protein is produced in the wrong part of the plant – plant may produce the toxin in the tubers. While any protein with an acute toxicity, like potato flowers or leafs, is identified rapidly, anything that is toxic over time will go unnoticed.
3) There are many idle genes in every organism. There is no knowledge of what these genes may produce if activated.
4) Since the activator protein is always produced in the GM Organism, the host organism is investing disproportionate percentage of resources into production of extra amounts of “target” proteins, so the resources available for nutrient content of the plant drop.
One well known example of GMO manipulation producing unexpected toxicity is 1989 outbreak of previously unknown eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. Amino acid supplement L-tryptophan was being manufactured by modifying the e-coli bacteria to produce it (From: NIH) Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome was linked to GM-bacteria produced L-tryptophan (From: NIH)
Once the GMO researcher archives the desired goal, the project is over. Currently there is no research being done on what byproduct proteins are produced in the GMO food and what is their influence on the people who eat it. (From: NIH)