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Wheat field photo from Morgue File (http://morguefile.com). Smokey skull superimposed.
The Australian government, in the form of its science research arm, is joining Agribusiness profiteering by designing a GM wheat that could kill people who eat it & be inherited by their children.
by Heidi Stevenson
We have not yet seen the worst damage that genetic engineering may do. Australia's governmental agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is developing a wheat species that is engineered to turn off genes permanently.
Professor Jack Heinemann at the University of Canterbury's Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety has studied the wheat's potential. Digital Journal reports that he says1:
What we found is that the molecules created in this wheat, intended to silence wheat genes, can match human genes, and through ingestion, these molecules can enter human beings and potentially silence our genes. The findings are absolutely assured. There is no doubt that these matches exist.
The implications are clarified by Professor Judy Carman of Flinders University:
If this silences the same gene in us that it silences in the wheat—well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five.
Silencing the equivalent gene in humans that is silenced in this genetically modified wheat holds the potential of killing people. But it gets worse. Silenced genes are permanently silenced and can be passed down the generations.
The wheat genes involved are called SEI. The specific sequences of those genes are being termed classified confidential information. CSIRO, which is part of the Australian government, is developing a commercial application, but refuses to divulge the information that's most significant to the people of Australia! The government is apparently more interested in profits than in the people's safety.
Dr. Heinemann was asked to provide his opinion of CSIRO's genetic engineering on wheat plants and produced the report "Evaluation of risks from creation of novel RNA molecules in genetically engineered wheat plants and recommendations for risk assessment"2. He discusses the nature of the genetic entities that are being played with and explains how they can affect human health.
RNA is similar to DNA, which is the molecule that carries genetic inheritance. There are several types of RNA, but a particular group called double stranded RNA (dsRNA) is of concern. Heinemann writes:
dsRNAs are remarkably stable in the environment. Insects and worms that feed on plants that make dsRNA can take in the dsRNA through their digestive system, where it remains intact.
He delineates research documenting that once dsRNA is taken through an animal's skin or digestive tract, it can wreak havoc. It circulates throughout the body and has been known to be amplified or cause a secondary reaction that:
... leads to more and different dsRNAs ("secondary" dsRNAs) with unpredictable targets.
Heinemann points out that a silencing effect on a gene, once initiated, can be inherited. Though it's known to happen, little is yet known about the process.
dsRNA is known to be a tough molecule. It survives readily, even through digestion. Worse, though, it's known to pass into the body through digestion. Then, as Dr. Heinemann writes:
Once taken up, the dsRNA can circulate throughout the body and alter gene expression in the animal.
That is, gene expression can be altered as the result of eating a food with dsRNA altered by genetic engineering. Judy Carman, of Flinders University, who also provided an expert opinion, wrote in "Expert Scientific Opinion on CSIRO GM Wheat Varieties"3:
In fact, employees from the world's largest GM company, Monsanto, have written at least one paper about how to commercially exploit the fact that dsRNA survives digestion in insects, in their attempts to try to control insect pests of plants. That is, the plant is genetically engineered to produce a dsRNA, which insects ingest when they eat the plant; the dsRNA survives digestion in the insect and then silences genes in the insect to stunt its growth and kill it.
There can be no question that dsRNA can be transferred to humans by eating.
Heinemann makes these three points:
- Plant-derived microRNA [a type of dsRNA] precursors have been detected in human blood, thus demonstrating that they can survive the human digestive tract and be passed into the body through it. He emphasizes: "There is strong evidence that siRNAs [a type of dsRNA and the one of particular concern here] produced in the wheat will transfer to humans through food."
- dsRNA that have been shown to transmit to humans through food have also been shown to survive cooking! He points out: "There is strong evidence that siRNAs produced in the wheat will remain in a form that can transmit to humans even when the wheat has been cooked or processed for use in food."
- Plant-derived dsRNA was able to silence a human gene in cultured cells. He wrote: "There is strong evidence that once transmitted, siRNA produced in wheat would have the biological capacity to cause an effect."