New Report Challenges Fundamentals of Genetic Engineering
Study Questions Safety of
Genetically Engineered Foods
New York--A study released today reveals a critical, long-overlooked
flaw in the science behind the multi-billion dollar genetic engineering industry,
raising serious questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods.
In a new review of scientific literature reported in the February
issue of Harper's Magazine, Dr. Barry Commoner demonstrates that the bioengineering
industry, which now accounts for 25-50% of the U.S. corn and soybean crop, relies
on a 40-year-old theory that DNA genes are in total control of inheritance in all
forms of life. According to this theory--the "central dogma," the outcome
of transferring a gene from one organism to another is always "specific, precise
and predictable"--and, therefore, safe.
Taking issue with this view, Commoner summarizes a series of scientific
reports that directly contradict the established theory. For example, last year the
$3 billion Human Genome Project found there are too few human genes to account for
the vast inherited differences between people and lower animals or plants, indicating
that agents other than DNA must contribute to genetic complexity.
The central dogma claims a one-to-one correspondence between a
gene's chemical composition and the structure of the particular protein that engenders
an inherited trait. But Dr. Commoner notes that under the influence of specialized
proteins that carry out "alternative splicing," a single gene can give
rise to a variety of different proteins, resulting in more than a single inherited
trait per gene. As a result, the gene's effect on inheritance cannot be predicted
simply from its chemical composition--frustrating one of the main purposes of both
the Human Genome Project and biotechnology.
Commoner's research sounds a public alarm concerning the processes
by which agricultural biotechnology companies genetically modify food crops. Scientists
simply assume the genes they insert into these plants always produce only the desired
effect with no other impact on the plant's genetics. However, recent studies show
that the plant's own genes can be disrupted in transgenic plants. Such outcomes are
undetected because there is little or no governmental regulation of the industry.
"Genetically engineered crops represent a huge uncontrolled
experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable," Commoner concludes. "The
results could be catastrophic."
Dr. Commoner cites a number of recent studies that "have broken
the DNA gene's exclusive franchise on the molecular explanation of inheritance."
He warns that "experimental data, shorn of dogmatic theories, point to the irreducible
complexity of the living cell, which suggests that any artificially altered genetic
system must sooner or later give rise to unintended, potentially disastrous consequences."
Commoner charges that the central dogma, a seductively simplistic
and financially rewarding explanation of heredity, has led most molecular geneticists
to believe it was "too good not to be true." As a result, the central dogma
has been immune to the revisions called for by the growing array of contradictory
data, allowing the biotechnology industry to unwittingly impose massive, scientifically
unsound practices on agriculture.
"Dr. Commoner's work challenges the legitimacy of the agricultural
biotechnology industry," said Andrew Kimbrell, Director of the Center on Food
Safety. "For years, multibillion dollar biotech companies have been selling
the American people and our government on the safety of their products. We now see
their claims of safety are based on faulty assumptions that don't hold up to rigorous
The study reported in Harper's Magazine is the initial publication
of a new initiative called The Critical Genetics Project directed by Dr. Commoner
in collaboration with molecular geneticist Dr. Andreas Athanasiou.