With the goal of crop “improvement”, scientists find the location within the DNA strand of the particular trait they want increased. Once located it is then spliced with and pasted into DNA from different genomes using enzymes.
What discoveries made GMOs possible?
In 1928, when Frederick Griffith, an English medical officer studied the bacteria responsible for a pneumonia epidemic in London, he found that living cells take up genetic material released by other cells and became phenotypically ‘transformed’ by the new genetic information.1 Ten years later Oswald Avery repeated Griffith’s work and isolated the transforming molecule which turned out to be DNA.”1
E.coli = DNA glue:
Then, in the ‘60s, an American biologist, Martin Gellert and his and his colleagues from the NIH (National Institutes of Health) isolated an enzyme in Escherichia coli (e.coli) that could join, or recombine separate pieces of DNA. (Zimmerman et al., 1967) E. coli is a group of bacteria normally known to inhabit the human intestines, but can be deadly if found in your food or drinking water. Normally we avoid this by hygienic practices – hand-washing and avoiding cross-contamination of raw meats with our veggies6, but this process of recombination using e.coli as a DNA glue, incorporates the bacteria into our food system… What if it is the harmless type found in the human gut? Is it still harmless if we consume it in our food?
This still experimental technology of GMOs takes DNA from different species – or even crossing an animal with a plant – and combines them using e.coli bacteria creating combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature nor in traditional crossbreeding. Many commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of an herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide.
CURRENT GMOs in USE:
Round Up Ready Corn:
Round-Up Ready Corn is a GMO crop designed to allow the farmer to spray the herbicide, Round-Up on their Corn and, ideally, watch the weeds die and the Corn Live.
Bt Corn has Bacillus Thuringiensis or Bt, a natural bug killer found in the soil, multiplied into the DNA of the corn in the hopes of it killing any Corn Earworm that might want a bite.
Total pesticide use is said to have increased 404 million pounds per year in the first 16yrs of GMO use (1996-2011 – Bt Corn reduced pesticide use, while Round-Up Ready type GMOs increased the use of chemicals three times more than Bt reduced it – this European study estimates a 50% increase in years to come!)7
Now another manufacturer of pesticides has gotten approval for another toxic combination to compete with Round-Up’s use on GMO crops. Enlist Duo was approved for use on Enlist Duo GMO crops (approved in October of 2014) and is a combination of the herbicides 2,4-D (part of the chemicals used in Agent Orange which is a combination of endocrine disrupters – a possible cause of the increase in thyroid diseases5 and shown to retard growth in fish4) and glyphosate.2 Glyphosate has been shown to becytotoxic when combined as a pesticide.8 A lawsuit has been filed arguing that the EPA did not adequately research the effects this would have on humans or the environment.3 The Center for Food Safety, one of the organizations involved in the suit states that the sale of this pesticide alone could increase use from 2 to 7 times current levels – to 176 million pounds per year by 2020.2
There is a lot we don’t know, but when I think of biting into corn that has a pesticide — even a naturally one like Bt or worse yet, e.coli multiplied within its DNA – it doesn’t sound very appetizing!
4.) Fish Physiol Biochem. 2014 Sep 12. [Epub ahead of print] Commercial formulation containing 2,4-D affects biochemical parameters and morphological indices of silver catfish exposed for 90 days.
5.) Environ Res. 2014 Aug;133:56-65. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2014.04.027. Epub 2014 Jun 4. Agent Orange exposure and disease prevalence in Korean Vietnam veterans: the Korean veterans health study. Yi SW1, Hong JS2, Ohrr H3, Yi JJ4
8.) Int J Toxicol. 2014 Jan-Feb;33(1):29-38. doi: 10.1177/1091581813517906. Epub 2014 Jan 16.