Scary Potatoes

March 3rd, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gm | 95 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday March 3, 2007
The Guardian

In 1998 Arpad Pusztai claimed on national television and in the media that GM potatoes stunted rats’ growth and damaged their immune system. When the research was finally published, over a year later, it turned out to be significantly flawed.

During the crucial two days after the GM ‘Frankenstein Foods‘ story broke, in February 1999, on the back of an article in this newspaper, not a single one of the news articles, opinion pieces or editorials on the subject – in any British newspaper – was written by a science journalist, and again the work was unpublished, so nobody could comment on the science anyway. It was the turning point in public opinion against GM crops.

And now we have “Suppressed report shows cancer link to GM potatoes” by the Deputy Political Editor of the Independent, all about cancers and tumours, in rats fed a genetically modified potato in Russia. According to the article, the Russian report was released by Welsh anti-GM campaigners, after a battle to obtain it from the biotech industry.

I found the English commentary on the Russian report at the GM Free Cymru website. It’s 2,000 words long, by a Russian neuroscientist and green campaigner, the only english document on the project that seems to be available. Reading it, I’m not entirely convinced this study warrants the headline, or indeed any coverage at all. It doesn’t mention the word “cancer” – or indeed the word “tumour” – once, anywhere, for example, which rather undermines the cancer connection, to my mind.

I chase it up. The Russian activist tells me in an email that they did find “tumours”. I don’t know why she didn’t mention cancer in the 2,000 word commentary. Then I ask for clarification, and it turns out the researchers actually reported “cysts in the kidney and in the liver”. Cysts are not cancer, I suggest? They’re not. She agrees. This is headline news in the Independent about GM food causing cancer, remember.

Look. I’d like to know if GM foods are dangerous. Unless you take a very big bag of packed lunches with you, every time you go to America, you probably want to know too. But in reality, this seems to have been an amateurish piece of old science from which no meaningful results can be drawn in any direction. The first line of the commentary says the studies “were not carried out according to the accepted protocols for the biomedical assessment of GM food and feed”.

It was a three armed trial, where rats were fed Russet Burbank potatoes, or GM Russet Burbank potatoes, or “standard chow”. They measured things like body weight and organ size: there is a huge amount of data missing, but you can see that there were massive differences between the “standard chow” rats, and the rats eating the Russet Burbank potatoes, whether those potatoes were GM or not. We are told that some of the differences between the potato and the GM potato rats were significant.

But one other thing might make you think that the results of this kludged study are less relevant to your life. “Both types of Russet Burbank potatoes” the commentary concludes, “lead to changes in the blood and internal organs of laboratory rats (in the liver, the kidneys, the large gut, a change of the dimensions of heart and prostate gland and others)” They say: “and on the basis of this evidence they CANNOT be used in the nourishment of people.”

This will come as a great surprise to many farmers, since the Russet Burbank is one of the most commonly grown varieties of potato in the world. They’re a bit like Maris Pipers, and you’ve eaten them many times. They’re often used for french fries.

I can readily identify with the antipathy. I’m no friend of big biotech. I think GM has created a dangerous powershift in agriculture in the favour of multinational biotechnology corporations, and “terminator seeds”, which die at the end of the season, are a venal way to increase farmers’ dependency. Monsanto are clearly a nasty company (apart from anything else they made Agent Orange).

So I’m cautious about GM, and each crop needs to be assessed on a case by case basis, but they seem safe overall. If there’s something new and frightening, then I want to see it published, in full, so we can all sit down and get frightened by it together, on the basis of well conducted research that we can see and read. Before that, I’m not sure anyone’s very well served by scare headlines about cancer.


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95 Responses



  1. AitchJay said,

    March 3, 2007 at 1:19 am

    Terminator seeds really are terrible – there’s nothing good to say about that purely economic decision.

    Contrast that with Norman Borlaug’s dwarf wheat – a genetic improvement that saved millions of lives, and done with the noblest intentions – and the biotech firms like Monsanto start to look pretty shabby..

  2. pigwiggle said,

    March 3, 2007 at 2:45 am

    Terminator seeds really are terrible – there’s nothing good to say about that purely economic decision.

    Well, I’m not sure this is necessarily true. What if this is the only sales model that would support the amount of research and development needed to bring their product to market? Or perhaps the only way to recoup investor capital in a timely fashion such that investors are willing to trust Monsanto with that bit of their retirement investment. And presumably there is some value added, even taking into account the terminal seed. Otherwise, why would anyone buy and grow the stuff?

    Anyway, like it or not this is the way the market works. The same market that generates the revenue necessary to fund the kind of purely altruistic research you reference. The kind conducted in non-profit labs like universities and national research centers.

  3. jackpt said,

    March 3, 2007 at 4:19 am

    You maintained good balance here. I’ve stuffed my face GM food, and everything I’ve read suggests the risk factor seems about the same as non GM food, but the aggressive marketing of it seriously detracts from the good it could do the world (and the good it has done). I don’t think that’s necessarily a GM problem though, because there is plenty of companies that do similar exploitative things with contracts.

  4. GreenBean said,

    March 3, 2007 at 6:08 am

    The primary motivation behind GM-development, as I see it, is the patenting of base food stuffs; big profits lie here.

    Anyway, what’s the likely shelf-life of a GM seed? Surely Darwin’s natural selection will be busy at work in this new environmental landscape to produce weeds and so on that are equally as virulent as those we have now? Back to square one, so how few years could that take? Then what? A continuous cycle of new GM seeds and pesticides?

  5. Chris said,

    March 3, 2007 at 8:58 am

    My attention was caught by Ben’s remark that the guy in the Independent who wrote the article was the deputy political editor. Accordingly, I fired off a letter as follows:

    Dear Sir,

    I write with reference to your article “Suppressed report shows cancer link to GM potatoes” published on 17 February 2007.

    There now seem grounds to believe that the Russian trials did not find evidence of cancer in rats fed with GM potatoes, and indeed that the science was not rigorously conducted. A little bit of digging by a person with some knowledge of the appropriate scientific methodology would have found this out at the time, which leads me on to my main point: what the hell is your deputy political editor doing writing a science story, and a shoddy one at that? Don’t you have science journalists on your staff?

    Yours Faithfully

    Chris

    Just thought some of you might be interested.

  6. BrickWall said,

    March 3, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Wow pigglewiggle I never realised revenue raised from companies like this paid for your research. I wonder what the taxes I pay get spent on? Probably nothing important that obviously only gets paid for by revenue raised from big corporations or other difficult to morally balance areas. I hope my taxes only get spent on unnnecessary fluffy kittens for the PM’s office, the grown up tax expenditure coming from “awkward” places – wow thanks Monsanto (where are they registered for tax purposes anyway I wonder?)

  7. Ms Moreland said,

    March 3, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Sadly, you’ve included only half the story about Arpad Pusztai here. His study showing damaged organs and immune systems in adolescent rats fed GM potatoes wasn’t “flawed”: it was incomplete and inadequate because it was scuppered. That he went to the media was an act of whistleblowing; that he hasn’t been able to defend his study is because of gag clauses.This is no conspiracy theory: it is well-documented in Australia (where I’m from) and in the US.

    These are the facts as I understand them:

    Pusztai is a senior scientist with more than fifty years’ experience, considered at the top of his field internationally in experimental biology. In the study you mention, a team headed by Pusztai was commissioned to create a GM testing model to be adopted across Britain and the EU. But the pro-GM Pusztai became “shocked” at the “flimsy evidence” and “unconvincing case” that had swayed governments into wholesale approval of GM foods, against the concerns of some doctors and food scientists. One of these foods was GM potatoes. Consumed throughout the US, these had been spliced with a gene that gave them in-built pesticides. A world expert on lectins, Dr Pusztai knew these pesticides were safe for consumption. So when he fed laboratory rats lectin-producing GM potatoes, he didn’t expect any problems.

    But his team was shocked to discover that not only had the nutritional values of the potatoes changed, but rats fed on them suffered damaged immune systems and became significantly more vulnerable to infection and disease than the control group. Their organs were damaged and they had smaller, lessdeveloped brains, livers and testicles, among other anomalies. A proliferation of cells in their stomachs and intestines signalled a potential for cancer. All this after only ten days of test-feeding on the GM potatoes.

    Pusztai went to the media prematurely only because he was in a terrible bind. He knew that the industry-designed ‘studies’ of GM foods approved in the US would not have picked up his findings. He also knew it would be some time before his own study was complete, peer-reviewed and published, during which time millions of unsuspecting consumers could suffer health consequences. As his team was (according to the EU) the only one in the world conducting sound and thorough research in this area, Pusztai compiled his preliminary findings for publication and media exposure, backed by his colleagues and his research laboratory director, who later changed his tune. Consequently, Pusztai was sacked, and unable, for intellectual copyright reasons, to revealhis research. Legally prohibited from commenting on his own study, Pusztai was unable to defend himself from the very accusations like yours above. But many other scientists (I can list these if you like) back up Pusztai’s findings with their observations and warnings.

  8. le canard noir said,

    March 3, 2007 at 10:29 am

    But isn’t this the whole point? Pusztai went to the press with a conclusion that could not be check or defended from the study? This is the path to scares and misinformation, not the path to reliable knowledge. The point of the article is that when shortcuts in science are made, then bad things can happen. It parallels well with the whole MMR thing.

  9. Gimpy said,

    March 3, 2007 at 10:54 am

    You can find the correspondence and criticism of the original Pusztai research here www.rowett.ac.uk/gmoarchive/ and the research here www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=10533866&query_hl=5&itool=pubmed_docsum
    I don’t have time to go through it and its one for the hardcore statisiticians to decide whether the results were significant or not but there is a lively debate in the Lancet that can be followed from my Pubmed links.
    I also understand that Pusztai was a victim of some personality clashes between various staff members of the Rowett or otherwise he may just have got a slap on the wrist for jumping the gun.

  10. evidencebasedeating said,

    March 3, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Am I missing something? This tiny study gave boiled potatoes in addition to rat chow? Animals on boiled potato + rat chow diet ‘failed to gain as much weight’ and ‘had smaller internal organs’ , plus cysts, when compared to the rat-chow only rats…

    But rat chow is a high fat, high protein energy dense foodstuff, partially substituted in the experiment for potato – a relatively energy poor (per 100g), virtually protein free product.

    We know you can make a lab rat fat on a ‘cafeteria’ diet with all sorts of fun nibbles added – chocolate, cheese, pastries anyone??. We also know that on a rat chow diet, the lab rat will eat just enough and no more, day after day – as its rather boring food.

    So rat chow + potato. Just how enjoyable is that? Probably falls within the latter category. So inadequate energy and protein intakes throughout life result in impaired general and organ growth – and possible alterations in immune function….

    And also – can a rat model substitute for a human? Well, rats can make Vitamin C -we can’t. Male rats can develop kidney problems and occasionally cancer from d-limonene, a natural oil found in orange and citrus juices – whilst female rats, and humans, don’t.

    Perhaps the only safe conclusion from this study is that rats (and humans) can’t live on Russet Burbanks alone….

    www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0682.htm

  11. Bob O'H said,

    March 3, 2007 at 11:48 am

    If it isn’t any better than what these folks were using before,well, then I suppose they wont be planting Monsanto terminal crops, right?

    But it will be better, because of other agronomic properties (better yield, disease resistance etc.), and that will give the incentive for farmers to buy it. But, the improved performance would be seen in a similar variety without the terminator gene in it. So the gene itself doesn’t help the farmer.

    I did feel sorry for Monsanto’s PR department. Their first GM product was resistant to the herbicide Roundup, so farmers could spray more of the stuff. Just by chance, Monsanto also made Roundup. Then the next product they were talking about contained terminator genes (so that farmers had to keep buying seed from Monsanto). I guess at that point they gave up trying to deny they were Evil Capitalists.

    Bob

  12. AitchJay said,

    March 3, 2007 at 11:51 am

    Pigwiggle, the point I was making is that making the seeds terminal is strictly an economic idea – it has nothing to do with helping people, or giving them more food. It’s about creating a revenue stream, and any excuse otherwise is false. If the seeds weren’t incrementally better, no-one would buy them – so it wouldn’t even make it to the market.

    The idea that making farmers (3rd world or otherwise) dependant on your product can be justified by the good research into other products is wrong – the products they’re researching are being invested in because they might create more revenue – plain fact. Why stick to one cash-cow when you can have three?

    I’m not saying it’s wrong for company’s to make money, that’s what makes the world go ’round, but they could make the seeds non-terminal after the R+D’s been paid off.. But they haven’t, and they don’t plan to, and that’s my issue.

    The parallels with pharma not releasing their patents to the 3rd world are plain – the dollar is king, and morality can get stuffed.

    If GM can feed the world – great, let’s get on with it. If it’s going to be the way that companies keep themselves in the S&P 500, then stuff ‘em. Before you say that they need the money to hire the researchers, the biggest money-makers are the small firms with new innovations, so good R+D is not dependant on dollars invested.

    /end rant.

  13. Stu said,

    March 3, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Ben wrote: “each crop needs to be assessed on a case by case basis”

    Does that apply to varieties created by traditional, non-GM techniques, too?

  14. jimbob said,

    March 3, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    “When the research was finally published, over a year later, it turned out to be significantly flawed.”

    One way of saying it:

    I checked my recollections, and the potaties had been engineered to produce a snowdrop toxin…

    Eating posion is bad.

  15. jimbob said,

    March 3, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Here’s a link;

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/291105.stm

  16. ChrisR said,

    March 3, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    But do terminator seeds actually exist in commercial forms that are being used by farmers? According to Monsanto, they don’t: www.monsanto.co.uk/search/display.phtml?uid=9950

    Do contributors here, and indeed Ben, have evidence to the contrary showing that this statement from Monsanto is incorrect?

    And why is Monsanto a “nasty company”? I have no particular opinion on them, but if they have been scientifically honest – continuing to develop GM crops because the evidence supports that – shouldn’t they be praised for doing so? Particularly if, in fact, they are not including terminator genes and the comment on their web-site that 8 million developing world farmers use their products is true; if it is, it seems to me they may in fact be a “good company”.

  17. Ms Moreland said,

    March 3, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Thanks, Pish-Tush. Here’s a partial list: I may post more later (bed-time here in Oz for mother of Little One):

    Richard Strohman, Stuart Newman, George Wald, Barry Commoner, Samuel S Epstein, Norman Ellstrand, David Suzuki, Judy Carman, Richard Lacey, Hugh Campbell, Colin Blakemore, Mae-Wan Ho, Richard Hindmarsh, Shirlene Badger, Rosemary Stanton, Philip Davies, Adrienne Hallam, Richard Hil, Sarah Hindmarsh, Kees Hulsman, Stewart Lockie, Kristen Lyons, Monica Seini, Vandana Shiva, Sujatha Byravan, Suzanne Wuerthele, Richard Lewontin, Andrew Chesson, Gordon McVie, Michael Antoniou, Harash Narang, Erik Millstone, Murray Lumpkin, Michael Hansen, Joe Cummins, Stenley Ewen, Sharad Patak, John Heritage, Kate Clinch-Jones.

    Google any one of them for their qualifications: this list includes senior geneticists, epidemeologists, nutritionists, ag scientists. (Oh, alright, it includes a couple of science sociologists, too… scrap them). Most are very senior in their fields and at least one is a Nobel Laureate, from memory.

    See also legal declaration of geneticist and Emeritus Professor Richard Lacey, M.D., Ph.D.
    www.biointegrity.org/laceydeclaration.html

    and that of ProfPhilip J. Regal, College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota (St. Paul)
    www.biointegrity.org/regaldeclaration.html

    among others…

    Google also the work of Richard Strohman (Emeritus Professor Richard Strohman, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California at Berkeley)

    I can put up more, but you get the idea…

    [& of course, as epidemeologist Judy Carman points out in her essay, “But where are the dead bodies?” (or something like that), the epidemeological studies of GM-consuming populations just aren’t being funded.]

  18. Ms Moreland said,

    March 3, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Jimbob: “I checked my recollections, and the potaties had been engineered to produce a snowdrop toxin… Eating posion is bad. ”

    Jimbob, that “poison” the potatoes were engineered to carry was actually safe for human consumption. The pro-GM Pusztai himself knew this. His (premature) conclusion was that something else occurred in the process of GM itself. In his mind it wasn’t, in other words, the poison that caused the serious adverse effects on the rats’ health.

  19. Andrew Clegg said,

    March 3, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    AitchJay:

    “Before you say that they need the money to hire the researchers, the biggest money-makers are the small firms with new innovations, so good R+D is not dependant on dollars invested.”

    Do you mean in all high-tech fields, or in biotech, or in agribusiness specifically?

    Because I don’t think this is true in other areas of biotech like pharmaceuticals; the startups with new innovations are the ones least likely to break even, as far as I’m aware. Hence the need for massive risky borrowings from venture capitalists just to turn a patent into a product, let alone get it to market.

    I would have thought the same was true in agritech, where you have similar problems: even if you have some really hot new IP you still have the massive costs of getting through the regulatory process (safety/toxicity testing etc.), and setting up marketing, production and distribution infrastructure on a global scale.

    Andrew.

  20. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 3, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    I don’t recall seeing a definite statement that the patent owners of reproductive terminator genes – if those even work – had an intention other than nobly preventing modified genes in their products, such as crops, crossing into the wild. i.e., not preventing farmers from saving seeds from their crop to sow again instead of buying from the seed dealer again.

    But the idea that they -do- want to own African agriculture by establishing that kind of dependency isn’t astonishing. They’re big business like tobacco; they’re in business not for their customers’ good but to make money.

  21. BobP said,

    March 3, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    On GM generally –
    GM does things that evolutioh would either not manage (transgenic) or else take zillions of years to achieve. Ecological systems have checks and balances,; every organism has natural predators and parasites, which evolve roughly at the same speed as it does, and keep it from disrupting the balance.
    GM enables an organism to cheat these evolutionary checks and balances, so I think that we (mankind) have an obligation to run a few checks of our own at least before we release a modified organism into the world.

    In terms of “green” credentials, I can’t see any problem, for example, with GM tomatoes which have a longer shelf life. Maybe they would be transported by truck instead of plane, thus giving a net reduction in CO2 emissions. I’m not so keen on Roundup-resistant crops, since there will be an increased use of herbicides and loss of biodiversity, as demonstrated with oilseed rape (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4287044.stm). Each case on its own merit.

    On terminator genes – I thjink I remember that the GM companies were happy that they could rely on patent law etc. to ensure that they received a fee every time their products were used in the developed world . They perceived a problem with subsistence farmers (who keep seed from one crop in order to plant the next) in poorer countiries. The terminator gene was specifically developed in order to force these guys, who by definition are far from rich, to buy new seed from the GM companies every season. There was a big argument over the ethics of this and the GM companies voluntarily withdrew the gene when they saw which way the wind was blowing.
    They haven’t tried to reintroduce it, so I guess they are getting along all right without.

  22. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 3, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    i think “each case on its own merit” really is the key. there is no good reason for thinking that the GM techniques per se are inherently more risky than other forms of biotechnology (pesticides, breeds, etc) but it goes without saying that some of the things you might make with it could be risky, just as many pesticides and breeds can be. this “cancer report” is most definitely not a good example of evidence for a risky use of the technology.

    re terminator seeds as i recall monsanto were a bit annoyed that they couldnt buy the tech from another company?

  23. jackpt said,

    March 3, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    In terms of genetic manipulation people like Norman Borlaug have already changed agriculture beyond all recognition for the better. I don’t think the risk factors of GM crops are that much different from the kind of breeding he used in the Green Revolution, or the selective breeding that we’ve used to change our environment for thousands of years. I would und the impression that a lot of

  24. Pish-Tush! said,

    March 3, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Ms Moreland,
    Thanks for your promptitude! No, the studies aren’t funded but when if ever can we be sure that things are safe. I agree that we need more work, but at what point do we allow field trials let alone human consumption.
    Gimpy,
    Yes indeed the mutant brassicas are fine, but how did find out which mutations are good and which bad. Wasn’t there arean attempt to cross potatoes and tomatoes that produced poisonous plants and fruit?
    I think that Ben’s comment 28 gets it about right.
    P.S. when will somone sort out the media on ‘Silicon/Silicone’ please? I’ve seen both re petrol.

  25. jackpt said,

    March 3, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    regular varieties of crops are infertile because of their breeding. Many fruit trees for instance. So are terminator seeds a deliberate design choice or just the way it goes?

  26. Gimpy said,

    March 3, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Pish-Tush! well to find out if the mutations are good or bad we do what all humans have done since the dawn of humanity. We feed wierd looking things to our pets and enemies and see if they fall ill or die. I don’t know about the tomato/potato cross but with regard to my previous sentence its the kind of thing McKeith would like.

  27. Pish-Tush! said,

    March 3, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Gimpy, Exactly my point, suck it and see! If I’m off beam I may be a bit hypoglycaemic.
    Signing off for Lucozade.

  28. Observer said,

    March 3, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    And where does all this irrational fear of GM leave such stable cross as Beefalo. Certainly the genetics are much modified in this stable cross.

  29. Observer said,

    March 3, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    And where does all this irrational fear of GM leave such stable crosses as Beefalo. Certainly the genetics are much modified in this animal.

  30. profnick said,

    March 3, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Ms Moreland, you are right that only part of the Pusztai story is dealt with, and of course there were many frenzied stories on both sides of the argument. However there were some genuine scientific concerns over the experimental design, some being: low subject numbers, inadequate diet, poor controls (the GM potatoes had a different secondary metabolite profile from the GM ones), and inappropriate statistical analysis.

  31. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 3, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    there were massive methodological problems with the studies, and they didnt show what was initially claimed to the press. the personality politics might be interesting to some people – perhaps if they don’t understand the science – but to me they’re very peripheral. i’m very sorry for pusztai if he had a hard time, but his study didn’t show what he said it showed.

  32. Gimpy said,

    March 3, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    “he personality politics might be interesting to some people – perhaps if they don’t understand the science – but to me they’re very peripheral”
    Unfortunately most people don’t understand the science so they take an emotive standpoint on the subject of GM. Politicians are largely in thrall to the whims of the electorate and if the electorate get agitated over something they don’t understand then the baser populist instincts of politicians tends to win over intelligent debate. This is particularly true on the subject of GM crops and Monsantos botched attempts to introduce them in to Europe. In the mid 90s there were a lot of companies wanting to introduce GM crops into Europe and they were lobbying the European parliament to agree to this. The parliament had setup a committee, composing of MEPs, green groups, scientists and representatives of the companies, to assess the feasibility of this. A decision was nearly made to approve GM crops (subject to trials) when Monsanto’s PR disasters struck over the introduction of their products. With green groups and the popular press up in arms the politicians bowed to pressure and decided to set all manner of restriction on GM crops. Monsanto’s problems were apparently because they assumed the EU markets worked like the American market where cosying up to a few politicians and extolling the virtues of making money using new technologies is all that is needed to get approval. Other big producers of GM crops are apparently still furious with Monsanto for botching all of this up.
    I don’t know how true all of this is but it is hearsay from somebody who represented biotech on the EU committee and from somebody who worked for a certain purveyor of baby milk to third world countries.
    Apologies for longwinded post.

  33. Ms Moreland said,

    March 3, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    In response to Michael Harman’s (and others’) assertion that terminator technology is some kind of safeguard against GM spreading:

    As I understand it, while Terminator has ‘suicide seeds’, Terminator plants’ pollen can remain fertile, so Terminator genes can in fact be transferred to other plants. This would sterilise them too, with the potential of wreaking havoc and threatening food security.

    Terminator technology (or and GURT) was designed “to protect US technology and seed patents” according to a statement released by the US dept of ag, which first thought of the technology. Dekta & Pine Land (now owned by Monsanto) developed it into its “Techology Protection System.”

    In some patents I know of (including some lodged by Australia’s Chief Scientist), GURTS can also stop plants fruiting unless a patented chemical is applied.

    In my mind, Terminator is just another case of agribusinesses engineering its interest into the food chain.

    Ben:
    As you’ve so often observed, the media tends to distort science, and many people have been misquoted. But as I understand it, Pusztai did make qualifications in his media statements. I’m not sure, though: could you directly quote some of his erroneous statements so we can see? (Or could you provide links?)

  34. Ms Moreland said,

    March 3, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Forgive another rant:

    I forgot to mention the CSIRO pea case here in Australia. The CSIRO made GM field peas using a gene from beans to make the pas weevil resistant. Australian National University feeding experiments found that mice, fed cooked or uncooked peas (there goes the protein-flattening argument), all got antibodies from a serious allergic reaction (Journal of Agriculture & Food Chemistry).

    My point is this (& I’m with Bob, above): GM is a dud & outdated technology

    Billions upon billions of $ have been poured into the biotech industry to produce products most farmers and shoppers don’t want. We’re sold all sorts of spin about improved yields and so on, but these have largely been duds (see US agronomist Charles Benbrook’s studies.)

    • The GM pototato, now off the market, was a dud.
    • The Flavr Savr tomato, which promiosed longer shelf-life etc, was a commercial failure.
    • Here in Aust, publicly-funded CSIRO promised non-browning fruit & veg, but turning off the ‘browning gene’ made the plants prone to virus attack
    • The Brazil nut gene spliced into soya beans triggered allergies in people
    • The GM ‘Golden Rice’ was a dud, nutritionally volatile, never commercialised, and not fulfilling claims made for it (that it could save 3rd world children, yadda yadda)

    etc etc etc

    I think the only place for GM is in medical research (the work of Australia’s Professor Paul Fisher, with slime mould, for example.)

    For food crops there are smarter, more precise technologies to do with genomics & proteomics. Let’s move on and stop wasting money on this dud technology.

  35. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 3, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    moreland: the australian pea case is the exact example i linked to in the article above, where i say the risk should be assessed on a case by case basis!

  36. Ms Moreland said,

    March 4, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Sorry, Ben. (Annoying, isnt’ it, when people don’t fully read the post.)

    But this case exemplifies something else: it was exceptional. Being a public body, CSIRO experimental design found things that industry-designed studies may overlook. The ‘case-by-case’ argument falls flat when bodies like the FDA and ANZAS (here in Oz) rely on industry, rather than independent or disinterested bodies, to provide info.

  37. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 4, 2007 at 1:17 am

    no. what it shows is that they need to be assessed on a case by case basis, exactly like i said.

    all technologies – all activities – carry risks, there is nothing uniquely risky about GM.

    your only reason for believing there is something uniquely dangerous about them is an intuition, a sense that something is “not quite right”. intuitions can be valuable in, for example, social situations, but not risk management and appraisal, especially when your sense of things being not quite right is based on your reading media reports like “gm potatoes cause cancer”.

    post-marketing surveillance along with pre-marketing safety testing is important for all products and needs to be continually audited and improved. if there is ever a failing in those systems then they should be reviewed.

  38. Ms Moreland said,

    March 4, 2007 at 8:56 am

    “your only reason for believing there is something uniquely dangerous about them is an intuition”

    Hmmm.

    Don’t know where you got the idea that I believe GMOs are “uniquely dangerous”, Ben (in fact, I wrote above of applications where I think GM might be good). Nor where you got the idea that my views are based not on reports by reputable scientists (see above), but on “an intuition”.

    Nor where you got the idea that I’ve ever even seen a media report that says anything like “gm potatoes cause cancer” (I haven’t).

    Let’s take an evidence-based approach to this argument, Ben. Not a strawman one.

    (Also: As I asked, can you link to Pusztai’s precise statements, in context?)

  39. Bob O'H said,

    March 4, 2007 at 10:36 am

    no. what it shows is that they need to be assessed on a case by case basis, exactly like i said.

    This seems to be pretty much the consensus of people looking at the environmental side of risk assessments (I assume for food safety as well, but I don’t work in that area), and frameworks are being developed for these assessments (I’m involved in a project developing one for Finland). It’s also clear that the big environmental problems in agriculture are due to intensification, and GM won’t have a big effect in comparison.

    I agree with BobP that GM could have positive benefits: that’s one of the reasons I find Monsanto’s past behaviour so amusing: they could have looked at transforming crops with traits that would have made the world a Better Place (e.g. to reduce chemical inputs).

    Bob

  40. le canard noir said,

    March 4, 2007 at 11:20 am

    I think the ‘uniquely risky’ bit comes from the insistance that ‘all GM is bad’ type arguments. You would not ban elecricity on the basis of poorly designed plugs electrocuting people. You look at the specific merits of each application of the technology. There is no inherert risk in GM, only in sepcific applications of the technology.

  41. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 4, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Surely sterilising plants that are accidentally cross-fertilised with hypothetical terminator-gene plants doesn’t create a problem – as Charles Darwin pointed out, the total fertility of reproducing organisms is in most cases far more than enough to provide the next generation. “The codfish lays ten thousand eggs”…. hmm, but then why are cod stocks a problem? I’d make an exception too for large mammals such as elephant and rhino.

    Is there something that lives off codfish eggs, so that most of them don’t make it?

    I’m still not sure about the terminator gene having the specific purpose of preventing use of fertile seed, but presumably there is a patent or patents, publicly available, with the use of the invention described. Show me that, please – not the echo-chamber of hearsay. I’m sorry but rumour is only rumour.

  42. profnick said,

    March 4, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Not quite sure why there still seems to be confusion over this. It may be that some folks are referring to the Con A construct and others to the GNA (snowdrop lectin), (see my comments on the forum thread). In any event all the “who said what to whom” stuff is in the public domain at:
    www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmselect/cmsctech/286/9030801.htm

  43. Leo4 said,

    March 4, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Ben, since when was the Pusztai / Ewen research “badly flawed”? I know you defend your position in earlier pastes, but I still fear that you have been unduly influenced by the campaign of vilification by the Royal Society and other parts of the science establishment who should know better. Pusztai has pleaded ever since 1998 for his experiments to be repeated and extended by others — and to date they have NOT been repeated, let alone “improved”. If anybody thinks his findings were flawed they should go out and do the experiments again, and come back to us with a different set of results.

    In the meantime, it’s interesting that the 1998 Russian research (note the timing — at the same time that Pusztai was doing his work) found very similar physiological damage to the rats in the test group. While Monsanto was gleefully joining in the campaign of vilification against Pusztai in 1998/99 it was in possession of research results which effectively vindicated him. That was typical of the manner in which Monsanto has distorted its research and falsified its results over the years — encouraged by a GM regulatory system which encourages “advocacy science” and a dependence upon experiments which are effectively non-replicable. They are non-replicable because Monsanto will not allow truly independent researchers to use its GM products for genuine carefully-controlled feeding trials. In other words, most of the science which purports to prove that GM crops and foods are safe is not peer-reviewed and it is corrupt.

    I have seen the full Russian study in Russian and in English translation, and it is a very poor piece of work. The authors — no doubt under great pressure from Monsanto and the Instutite of Nutrition top brass — claimed that their studies showed the Russet Burbank GM potatoes to be safe. But an examination of the raw data shows precisely the opposite — that there was serious organ damage particularly to the animals which consumed the GM feed. This was pointed out originally by the Russian institute of Pharmacology which peer reviewed the Institute of Nutrition Report. The reviewers said that the Report’s authors had made significant mistakes in interpreting their results. They also uncovered “physiological, histological deviations in the rats fed with GM potato” and said that the research gave no grounds for a conclusion that the potatoes are safe for either animals of humans. Since that review was done:

    www.gmfreecymru.org/

    GM Free Cymru has had two further peer reviews completed, and the reviewers both agree broadly with the findings of the Institite of Pharmacology. All three reviews are on the web site.

    By the way, neither GM Free Cymru nor any of its reviewers have mentioned the word “cancer” in the commentaries on this Russian work. It is a pity that certain politicians and journalists make an instant connection between physiological damage and cancer — as Ben has commented. It might be more correct to say that the damage noted in the Russian study — and in Pusztai’s parallel research in 1998 — can be interpreted as damage which, if unchecked or exascerbated, could lead to cancerous growths.

    Sure, there is some bad science here, and some bad newspaper reporting, but that does not mean that the Rissian study should be blithely dismissed as rubbish. Monsanto has covered up the existence of this study for eight years, and has fought tooth and nail to keep it out of the public domain. Now why should any honest, reputable, public-spirited corporation seek to protect you and I from its research results? I think we all know the answer to that one.

  44. Ms Moreland said,

    March 4, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    Hear, hear, Leo4.

    Robert Carnegie:

    “I’m still not sure about the terminator gene having the specific purpose of preventing use of fertile seed”

    Then read the industry quotes above, and the examples linked to above. The industry calls them “suicide seeds”. Other GURTs don’t necessarily produce suicide seeds, but might fruit or flower only on the application of a patented chemical, so the farmer is sold a seed-chemical package, and can potentially time the flowering or fruiting of his or her crop. GURTs are banned internationally, by the way, in a de facto way, but Bayer and Monsanto are pushing to overturn the bans.

    RC again:
    “but presumably there is a patent or patents, publicly available, with the use of the invention described. Show me that, please – not the echo-chamber of hearsay. I’m sorry but rumour is only rumour.”

    Sigh. Do a little homework and you’ll find patents for GURTs. (& an introduction to issues surrounding the technology: see Dr. Ricarda A. Steinbrecher’s crtique at www.banterminator.org/the_issues/biosafety/econexus_submission_v_gurts_terminator_as_a_biological_containment_tool
    or www.ucsusa.org/ )

    One such example of what you call “the echo-chamber of hearsay” and “rumour”:

    PATENT APPLICATION WO0032780A1: CONTROL OF FLOWERING[French]

    Derwent Title:
    New nucleic acid comprising a MADS box that encodes a transcription
    factor for altering the flowering time or modifying the vegetative or
    floral phenotype of a plant such as wheat [Derwent Record]

    Inventor:
    BURN, Joanne, Elizabeth; 84 A’Beckett Street, Watson, ACT 2602,
    Australia
    PEACOCK, William, James; 16 Brassey Street, Deakin, ACT 2600, Australia
    DENNIS, Elizabeth, Salisbury; 100 Hopetoun Circuit, Deakin, ACT 2600,
    Australia
    SHELDON, Candice, Claire; 1 Quartz Street, Sutton, NSW 2620, Australia
    HELLIWELL, Christopher, Andrew; 25A Bingham Circuit, Kaleen, ACT
    2617, United Kingdom
    ROUSE, Dean, Thomas; 131 Osburn Drive, MacGregor, ACT 2615, Australia

    Assignee:
    PEREZ, Pascual, Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire et Moleculai re,
    Campus Universitaire des Cezeaux, 24, avenue d, France
    News, Profiles, Stocks and More about this company

    ECLA Code:
    C07K14/415; C12N15/82C8A12; C12N15/82C8D2;

    Abstract:
    The invention relates to control of flowering and reproduction
    in plants, and in particular to agents and methods for inducing or
    suppressing flowering. The invention provides isolated nucleic acid
    molecules which are useful for inducing flowering, particularly
    initiating early flowering, for delaying or suppressing flowering, or
    for manipulating the flowering period. In a first aspect, the
    invention provides an isolated nucleic acid molecule comprising a
    MADS box, which is capable of altering the flowering time of a plant.
    Preferably the nucleic acid molecule of the invention comprises a
    nucleotide sequence corresponding to a FLOWERING LOCUS F (FLF) gene.
    The nucleic acid molecule may be a genomic DNA, a cDNA, or a
    messenger RNA. The invention is applicable to any dicotyledonous or
    monocotyledonous plant species, including but not limited to
    decorative flower, vegetable, fruit, cereal, grass, tree, and other
    flowering species. [French]

    Designated Country:
    AE AL AM AT AU AZ BA BB BG BR BY CA CH CN CR CU CZ DE DK DM EE ES FI
    GB GD GE GH GM HR HU ID IL IN IS JP KE KG KP KR KZ LC LK LR LS LT LU
    LV MA MD MG MK MN MW MX NO NZ PL PT RO RU SD SE SG SI SK SL TJ TM TR
    TT TZ UA UG US UZ VN YU ZA ZW, European patent: AT BE CH CY DE DK ES
    FI FR GB GR IE IT LU MC NL PT SE, OAPI patent: BF BJ CF CG CI CM GA
    GN GW ML MR NE SN TD TG, ARIPO patent: GH GM KE LS MW SD SL SZ TZ UG
    ZW, Eurasian patent: AM AZ BY KG KZ MD RU TJ TM

    First Claim:
    Show all claims
    CLAIMS 1. An isolated nucleic acid molecule comprising a MADS
    box, which is capable of altering the flowering time of a plant.

    Description
    Expand description
    + CONTROL OF FLOWERING
    This invention relates to the control of flowering and
    reproduction in plants, and in particular to agents and methods for
    inducing or suppressing flowering.
    – SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION In a first aspect, the invention provides
    an isolated nucleic acid molecule comprising a MADS box, which is
    capable of altering the flowering time of a plant.
    In one preferred embodiment, the invention provides an isolated
    nucleic acid molecule which is capable of delaying the flowering of a
    plant. Preferably expression of the nucleic acid molecule in the
    plant, in the sense orientation under the control of a promoter
    sequence, is capable of delaying the flowering of the plant.
    In a second preferred embodiment, the isolated nucleic acid
    molecule of the invention is capable of accelerating the flowering of
    a plant. Preferably expression of the nucleic acid molecule in the
    plant in the anti-sense orientation under the control of a promoter
    sequence is capable of accelerating the flowering of the plant.
    Preferably the nucleic acid molecule of the invention comprises
    a nucleotide sequence corresponding to a FLOWER-TNG LOCUS F (FLF)
    gene. The nucleic acid molecule may be a genomic DNA, a cDNA, or a
    messenger RNA.
    More preferably the nucleic acid molecule comprises the
    nucleotide sequence set out in any one of SEQ ID NOS. 1, 2, 4, and 6
    to 15, or a nucleic acid molecule capable of hybridizing thereto
    under at least low stringency hybridization conditions, or a nucleic
    acid molecule with at least 70% sequence identity to at least one of
    SEQ ID NOS. 1, 2, 4 and 6 to 15. Methods for assessing ability to
    hybridize and % sequence identity are well known in the art. Even
    more preferably the nucleic acid molecule is capable of hybridizing
    thereto under high stringency conditions, or has at least 80%, most
    preferably at least 90% sequence identity. A nucleic acid molecule
    having at least 70%, preferably at least 90%, more preferably at
    least 95% sequence identity to one or more of these sequences is also
    within the scope of the invention.
    In a second aspect, the invention provides a vector comprising a
    nucleic acid molecule according to the invention. The vector may be a
    virus, bacteriophage, plasmid, or bacterium. In a particularly
    preferred embodiment, the vector is a T-DNA vector present in a
    bacterium of the genus Agrobacterium, in particular Agrobacterium
    Lumefaciens.
    In a third aspect, the invention provides a plant cell
    transformed with a nucleic acid of the invention.
    In a fourth aspect, the invention provides a plant transformed
    with a nucleic acid molecule of the invention.
    In a fifth aspect, the invention provides a method of isolating
    a nucleic acid molecule capable of altering the flowering time of a
    target plant, comprising the step of using a nucleic acid molecule of
    the invention, or a functional portion thereof, as a hybridisation
    probe or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primer, and optionally
    detecting hybridisation. Suitable methods are very well known in the
    art. For example, we have demonstrated that the Arabidopsis FL.F
    sequence described herein can be used to isolate the homologous
    sequence from Brassica napus.
    In a sixth aspect, the invention provides an FLF polypeptide.
    Preferably the polypeptide is encoded by a nucleic acid molecule of
    the invention. More preferably the polypeptide has an amino acid
    sequence as set out in any one of SEQ ID NO: 3, 5, and 16 to 30, or
    has a sequence at least 70% identical thereto.
    The polypeptide may be produced by expression of the FL.F
    nucleic acid molecule in a convenient host, for example in a
    bacterial host such as Escherichia coli.
    Antibodies against the polypeptide, including monoclonal
    antibodies, may be produced using routine methods, and it will be
    clearly understood that antibodies to the FL.F polypeptide are within
    the scope of the invention. Such antibodies are useful for screening
    plants for high or low levels of expression of FLF polypeptide.
    Suitable screening methods including Western blotting and various
    forms of immunoassay, for example radioimmunoassay, ELISA, and
    chemiluminescent or fluorescent detection immunoassays.
    Genes controlling developmental stages in plants, such as the
    gene associated with the nucleic acid of the invention, are highly
    conserved during evolution.
    Consequently the nucleic acid molecules and the methods of the
    invention are applicable to all plant species, whether the species is
    monocotyledonous or dicotyledonous. Thus the invention is generally
    applicable to flowering plants, including but not limited to
    ornamental, horticultural, agricultural and tree species. Methods for
    introducing exogenous DNA into plants of all these types, and for in
    vitro culture of plant tissue and regeneration of plant cells or
    tissues into whole plants, are known in the art.
    Methods for further generation and selection of commercially
    useful cultivars are also well known.
    Depending on the type of plant, it may be desirable to
    accelerate flowering ie. to induce early flowering, to synchronise
    flowering, to delay flowering or to suppress flowering.
    For example it is desirable to suppress or delay flowering in
    many vegetable plants, in pasture grasses such as rye grass, or in
    sugar cane. Acceleration of flowering by induction of early flowering
    is desirable in a number of crop species, such as cotton, and in
    horticultural species.
    We have surprisingly found that flowering can be delayed in
    proportion to the degree of expression of the nucleic acid molecule
    of the invention, and that early flowering can be induced by reducing
    the expression of this nucleic acid molecule.
    Thus in a sixth aspect the invention provides a method of
    delaying flowering in a plant, comprising the step of introducing a
    nucleic acid molecule of the invention into cells of the plant,
    optionally such that expression of the nucleic acid molecule is under
    the control of an inducible promoter, and over-expressing the nucleic
    acid molecule. Preferably the promoter is a tissue-specific promoter.
    Preferably flowering is delayed for at least five days,
    preferably for at least twenty days, and more preferably for at least
    thirty days beyond the normal flowering period. Most preferably
    flowering is delayed for at least forty to fifty days. In at least
    some species it may be possible to achieve complete suppression of
    flowering. It will be appreciated that this further provides a method
    of inducing sterility in a plant.
    According to a seventh aspect, the invention provides a method
    of inducing early flowering in a plant, comprising the step of
    reducing the degree of expression in the plant of a nucleic acid
    molecule of the invention. The reduction may be effected by any
    convenient means, including but not limited to transformation of the
    target plant with an anti-sense nucleic acid sequence, post-
    transcriptional gene silencing, ribozyme cleavage, disruption of the
    nucleic acid sequence using a transposable element or transposon, or
    by a procedure such as vernalisation. The person skilled in the art
    will readily be able to select the most suitable procedure for the
    particular plant species in question. Optionally the method of the
    invention may be supplemented by other treatments, such as an
    exogenous gibberellin.
    Preferably flowering is at least five days earlier than the
    normal flowering period, more preferably at least ten days, and most
    preferably at least fifteen days earlier than the normal flowering
    period.
    We have found that the degree of expression of FLF, and hence
    the flowering time, can be altered by modifying the activity of genes
    known to affect flowering time, including but not limited to FCA,
    FVE, FPA, LD, FLD, and VRN2. Therefore in both the sixth and seventh
    aspects of the invention, a further means of modifying the degree of
    expression of FLF is provided by modifying the activity of one or
    more additional genes which affects flowering time, or vernalisation.
    According to an eighth aspect, the invention provides a method
    of modifying the vegetative and/or floral phenotype of a plant,
    comprising the step of increasing the level of expression of an FLF
    gene, thereby to modify the level of production or activity of a
    gibberellin in the plant.
    Preferably the vegetative or floral phenotypic characteristic is
    one which is regulated by gibberellic acid production or activity.
    More preferably the characteristic is related to plant architecture
    or fertility. For example, modification of gibberellic acid
    production and/or activity using the method of this aspect of the
    invention may be used to produce dwarf or sterile plants. In one
    particularly preferred embodiment, the invention provides sterile
    plants. In a second preferred embodiment, the invention provides
    dwarf plants; more preferably the plant is a wheat plant.
    In a number of embodiments of the invention, the nucleic acid
    molecule of the invention is operably linked to a promoter sequence
    capable of regulating the expression of the nucleic acid molecule;
    more preferably the promoter sequence is adapted to regulate
    expression in a eukaryotic cell, most preferably a plant cell. The
    nucleic acid molecule of the invention may also be operably linked to
    a transcriptional terminator sequence.
    Suitable promoter sequences are well known in the art, and
    include but are not limited to the CaMV 35S promoter, a NOS promoter,
    the octopine synthetase (OCS) promoter, a subclover stunt virus
    promoter and the Arabidopisis thaliana ubiquitin gene promoter. The
    person skilled in the art will readily be able to selected the most
    suitable promoter for a given purpose. In particular, for some
    purposes an inducible promoter may be desirable, and these are also
    well known in the art. Suitable transcriptional terminator sequences
    active in plant cells are also well known, and may be of bacterial,
    fungal, viral, animal or plant origin.
    Suitable transcriptional terminators particularly suitable for
    use in the present invention include the nopaline synthase (NOS) gene
    transcriptional terminator of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, the
    transcriptional terminator of the Cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S
    gene, the zein gene transcriptional terminator from Zea mays, and the
    Rubisco small subunit (SSU) gene transcriptional terminator sequences
    or subclover stunt virus (SCSV) gene sequence transcriptional
    terminators.
    The nucleic acid molecule of the invention may be introduced
    into a plant cell or tissue by any suitable means. A variety of
    methods for introducing exogenous DNA into plant tissue
    (transformation) are known. These include, but are not limited to,
    direct DNA uptake into protoplasts (Krens et al, 1982; Paszkowski et
    al, 1984), polyethyleneglycol-mediated uptake to protoplasts
    (Armstrong et al, 1990), electrophoresis (Fromm et al, 1985),
    microinjection of DNA (Crossway et al, 1986), microparticle
    bombardment of tissue explants or cells (Christou et al, 1988;
    Sanford, 1993), or T-DNA-mediated transfer from Ag- robacterium to
    the plant tissue.
    Representative T-DNA vector systems are described in the
    following references: An et al (1985); Herrera-Estrella et al (1983a,
    b); Herrera-Estrella et al (1985). These transformation methods are
    applicable to plant tissue culture, or may be employed with whole
    plants (in planta transformation). Again a person skilled in the art
    will be able to select the most suitable method for any given plant.
    Any plant tissue capable of subsequent clonal propagation,
    whether by organogenesis or embryogenesis, may be transformed with a
    vector of the present invention. The particular tissue chosen will
    vary, depending on the clonal propagation systems which are most
    suitable for the species being transformed. Suitable tissue targets
    include whole plant, leaf discs, pollen, embryos, cotyledons,
    hypocotyls, megagametophytes, callus tissue, existing meristematic
    tissue (eg. apical meristem, axillary buds, and root meristems), and
    induced meristem tissue (eg. cotyledon meristem and hypocotyl meristem).
    The vector of the invention may additionally comprise a dominant
    selectable marker to facilitate cell selection and plant breeding. A
    variety of suitable markers is known in the art, including but not
    limited to the NPT-T-T gene, genes encoding resistance to an
    antibiotic such as hygromycin or ampicillin or to a herbicide such as
    phosphinothricin or glyphosate; a gene encoding a polypeptide which
    confers stress tolerance, such as superoxide dismutase; or a visually-
    detectable marker, such as green fluorescent protein or P-
    glucuronidase. The person skilled in the art will readily be able to
    select the most suitable marker for use in a specific case.
    The invention is applicable to any dicotyledonous or
    monocotyledonous plant species, including but not limited to
    decorative flower, vegetable, fruit, cereal, grass, tree, and other
    flowering species. Preferably the plant is selected from the group
    consisting of chrysanthemum, rose, gerbera, carnation, tulip, legumes
    such as soya bean, sugar beet, lettuce, cotton, oil seed rape,
    coriander, Lolium, wheat, barley, maize, rice, pasture grasses,
    Phalaris, Canola and other Brassica species, Linola species, sugar
    cane, Eucal_yptus species, pine and poplar. Forest species are to be
    understood to be within the scope of the invention.
    For the purposes of this specification it will be clearly
    understood that the word “comprising” means “including but not
    limited to”, and that the word “comprises” has a corresponding meaning.
    The term “flowering time” as used herein means the time at which
    floral meristem tissue is first visually detectable in the plant, for
    example by light microscopy or using the naked eye. The measured
    flowering-time includes the time taken for the occurrence of the
    cellular processes in the differentiation of a floral meristem and
    subsequent cell divisions which enable such visual means to be used.
    The term “flowering time” also includes the time taken for the
    transition from a vegetative meristem to a floral meristem to occur,
    as measured visually, following the induction of flowering in the
    plant by the application thereto of a specific chemical, physical or
    environmental stimulus, such as a plant growth regulator, photoperiod
    or temperature regime, including the vernalisation of the plant.
    Alternatively flowering may be induced in response to an internal
    development signal in the plant. Those skilled in the art will be
    aware of the specific nature of such chemical, physical or
    environmental stimuli or internal developmental signals.
    “Altering the flowering time” means that the time period in
    which floral meristem tissue is first visually detected in a plant is
    increased, decreased, or otherwise modified or regulated. Thus,
    flowering may be delayed, accelerated, inhibited, suppressed, or
    synchronized.
    The term “meristem” refers to plant tissue in which cells are
    undergoing, or are capable of undergoing, rapid mitotic division
    followed by differentiation into cell types which are capable of
    forming a primordium which develops into an organ such as a leaf,
    root, stem, floral bud or other plant organ.
    “Vegetative meristem” refers to a meristem in which the
    differentiation process produces a cell type which develops into a
    vegetative organ or non- reproductive organ, such as a leaf, petiole,
    bract, stem or root.
    “Floral meristem” refers to a meristem in which the
    differentiation process produces a cell type which develops into an
    inflorescence meristem, a secondary inflorescence meristem, a floral
    organ or sexual reproductive organ, in which the meristem or organ,
    when developed, may comprise both reproductive and non- reproductive
    tissues, including, but not limited to, anthers, stamens, stigmas,
    ovules, carpels, petals and sepals. “Bolt” refers to an inflorescence
    stem of a rosette plant, and “bolting” is the development of such a
    stem.
    The term “derived from” means that a particular integer or group
    of integers has originated from a particular organism or species as
    specified herein, but has not necessarily been obtained directly from
    that source.
    Representative low and high stringency conditions of
    hybridisation as referrred to herein are as follows:
    High stringency: hybridization at 421C in 50% formamide, 3 x
    SSC, 0.1% SDS, 20 x Denhardt’s, 50 ~tg/ml salmon sperm DNA overnight
    and washed with a final wash of 0.1 x SSC, 0.1% SDS at 421C.
    Low stringency: hybridization at 281C in 50% formamide, 3 x SSC,
    0.1% SDS, 20 x Denhardt’s, 50 ~tg/ml salmon sperm DNA overnight and
    washed with a final wash of 0.1 x SSC, 0.1% SDS at room temperature.
    A “homologue” of a nucleotide sequence refers to an isolated
    nucleic acid molecule which is substantially the same as the nucleic
    acid molecule of the present invention or its complementary
    nucleotide sequence, despite the occurrence within the sequence of
    one or more nucleotide substitutions, insertions, deletions, or
    rearrangements.
    An “analogue” of a nucleotide sequence means an isolated nucleic
    acid molecule which is substantially the same as a nucleic acid
    molecule of the present invention or its complementary nucleic acid,
    despite the occurrence of any non-nucleotide constituents not
    normally present in the isolated nucleic acid molecule, for example
    carbohydrates, radiochemicals including radionucleotides, reporter
    molecules including, but not limited to digoxigenin, alkaline
    phosphatase or horseradish peroxidase.
    A “derivativeff of a nucleotide sequence means any isolated
    nucleic acid molecule which contains significant sequence similarity
    to the molecule or a part thereof. The person skilled in the art will
    appreciate that the nucleotide sequence of the present invention may
    be subjected to mutagenesis to produce one or more single or multiple
    nucleotide substitutions, deletions and/or insertions. Nucleotide
    insertional derivatives of the nucleotide sequence of the present
    invention include 5′ and 31 terminal fusions, as well as intra-
    sequence insertions of single or multiple nucleotides or nucleotide
    analogues.
    Insertional nucleotide sequence variants are those in which one
    or more nucleotides or nucleotide analogues are introduced into a
    predetermined site in the nucleotide sequence of the sequence,
    although random insertion is also possible; suitable screening of the
    resulting product is performed. Deletional variants are characterised
    by the removal of one or more nucleotides from the nucleotide
    sequence. Substitutional nucleotide variants are those in which at
    least one nucleotide in the sequence has been removed, and a
    different nucleotide analogue inserted in its place.
    Reference in this specification to a “gene” is to be understood
    in its broadest context, and includes:
    (i) a classical genomic sequence comprising transcriptional and/
    or translational regulatory sequences and/or a coding region and/or
    non- translated sequences (ie.
    introns and 5′- and 31-untranslated sequences); (ii) mRNA or
    cDNA corresponding to the coding regions (ie. exons), optionally
    additionally comprising 51- or 31-untranslated sequences of the gene;
    or (iii) an amplified DNA fragment or other recombinant nucleic acid
    molecule produced in vitro, and comprising all or a part of the
    coding region and/or 51 or 31-untranslated sequences of the gene.
    The term “gene” is also used to describe synthetic or fusion
    molecules encoding all or part of a functional product. A functional
    product is one which comprises a sequence of nucleotides or is
    complementary to a sequence of nucleotides which encodes a functional
    polypeptide, in Particular the FLF polypeptide of the invention or a
    homologue, analogue or derivative thereof.
    In some of the examples herein the FLF gene is referred to as
    gene B. These two terms are synonymous.
    + BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES Figure 1 is a photograph showing
    wild- type C24 (left), the late flowering T-DNA tagged f1f mutant
    (middle) at 70 days after germination, and f1f mutant at 150 days,
    showing the domed shape caused by vegetative bolts (right).
    The bar represents 5 cm.

    Other Abstract Info:
    CHEMABS 133(04)040669W CHEMABS 133(04)040669W DERABS C2000-451762
    DERABS C2000-451762

  45. Ms Moreland said,

    March 5, 2007 at 12:01 am

    Thanks, profnick, for the link.

  46. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 5, 2007 at 1:05 am

    moreland, at 3,800 words of copied and pasted crap youre impressing nobody, and definitely the biggest loser i have seen on this blog in a year. please go away now. byee.

  47. Ms Moreland said,

    March 5, 2007 at 2:39 am

    Apologies about the long post: it wasn’t designed to impress, but to prove a point (and there was no link). You’re welcome to delete all but the patent number.

    This is a very uncivil response, Ben. I shall go away as requested, because clearly you don’t tolerate evidence-based dissent or discussion.

  48. manigen said,

    March 5, 2007 at 11:37 am

    If anyone wants to see Ms Moreland’s document in its original, it’s at:

    v3.espacenet.com/textdoc?DB=EPODOC&IDX=WO0032780&F=0

    Click on the “original document” tab.

    @Ms Moreland (if you’re still there):
    I’m not sure that I see why you posted this document. Patents don’t really speak to the inventor’s intentions, so they’re a poor way of assessing how a technology will be used. I know that it was specifically requested, but what was it you thought you were going to show?

  49. Luddite said,

    March 5, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Ben, your haranguing of Ms Moreland is quite extraordinary. On the basis of what type of rigorous scientific evidence do you reply to her in post 43:

    “your only reason for believing there is something uniquely dangerous about them is an intuition, a sense that something is “not quite right”. intuitions can be valuable in, for example, social situations…”?

    Certainly not on the basis that you actually bothered to read her posts. Looks from here it was more likely on the basis of “intuition”. Your remarks are those of a rather absurd and condescending hypocrite.

    Sorry to say this, but having looked at the posts on this blog, I would suggest that it is you, not Ms Moreland, who is the bigger “loser”. And given your comments in post 52, that doesn’t make you look so cool, does it now?

    Byee

  50. testtubebabe said,

    March 5, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Ben You conclude saying you would like to know what is really scary about GM technology. I know, I have seen it. As a researcher I went to one of the test sites in Oxfordshire growing GM rape under patent from Monsanto. The possible effects on humans pales into insignificance beside the total devastation of the environment on and around the site. I cried, very unprofessionally ,all the way home to Cornwall

  51. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 5, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    industry is ugly: hold the front page!

    still nothing unique about GM.

  52. testtubebabe said,

    March 5, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Still bloody scary. It SHOULD be on rthe front page if you ask me

  53. DrJ said,

    March 5, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    testtubebabe
    I would be interested to know what the effects on the enviroment were, was it the result of higher concentrations of pesticides or just that the GM crops prooved too resistant to insects thereby messing up the local ecosystem?

    In an earlier post GM is written off as a ‘dud’ technology. I would argue that this is not the case. The tomatoes I buy are all labelled as being genetically modified – I assume by an offshoot of the flavr savr technology. I was also under the impression that the majority of the worlds soy was genetically modified.

    I do agree with Ben – that every product needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis, however I also believe that responsible development of GM crops could reduce the incidence of famine and do a lot more besides.

  54. testtubebabe said,

    March 5, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Drj
    ‘Reduce the incidence of famine’ Not true. Could initally but long term effects are devastating, including destruction of biodiversity, ecosystems, soil erosion, resistance to chemicals enforcing more and more use and the ethics stink… the list is endless and very depressing I agree with the case by case argument in theory, but there is a strong argument to be had over the release of any GMO into the environment

    Such a huge topic. Only really scratched the surface….. home time ,sorry

  55. factician said,

    March 5, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    I’ve been a lurker for a while, this is my first post. I’m an academic microbiologist/geneticist.

    There are some misconceptions here about what terminator technology does. The original idea was to have something that would allow control of seeds to prevent them from spreading. If you can require some additive to keep a plant from being sterile, then you can keep it from cross-pollinating with neighbours crops. This is actually a good thing. There are GM modified crops that would be disatrous to spread (i.e. ones which aren’t intended to be used as food, but rather to make pharmaceuticals). This is the original intent of said technology.

    Obviously, this has the other side that the company that made this plant could keep the chemical secret, and thus keep the seed from being made by anyone they haven’t licensed. This would be about as successful as the various copy protection schemes have been on the web. A biologist would crack the particular scheme being used to control the plant, and provide details on the web. People would then buy generic versions of the chemical, and produce their own seed. Any biotech company also knows this. They know terminator technology won’t protect their seeds, it’s expensive to do, and not worth it except as a public safety measure.

    That’s right, no one has even tried to make plants with terminator seeds. The example of the patent above is using the term terminator completely differently (look it up in a basic biochemistry textbook if you don’t believe me). Every gene has a “transcriptional terminator” to stop transcription at the end of the gene (to prevent long run-on RNAs being produced). That is what they mean in the patent above and in any other patents.

    The truth of the matter is, that anti-GM campaigners did society a great disservice by making villains out of a concept paper that discussed the potential of terminator seeds. Now no one will dare to use the technology to prevent seed spread as they’re worried that they’ll be accused of trying to lockdown their seeds. They don’t *need* to lockdown their seeds, because in most western countries, they have intellectual property law on their side.

    I hope this clears things up for people.

  56. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 5, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Hmmm. Some very emotive arguments here.

    Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the specific report under discussion, Ben’s basic premise – that there are no ‘inherently dangerous’ technologies – only poorly researched applications – is sound. There’s no such thing as ‘dud’ technology.

    Nuclear, Biotech, Nanotech, GMOs – once we start labelling them as taboo techniques we are surrendering to superstition. Certainly they need to be handled with care, and whether profit-driven commercial organisations can be trusted to exercise that care, and the extent to which industries need to be regulated and monitored, are all pertinent questions.

    This blog is called ‘Bad Science’. Good science requires us to set aside our personal biases and pursue objectivity. Branding any sort of technology or field of human knowledge ‘dud’ is an expression of personal bias, and as such is not good science.

  57. evidencebasedeating said,

    March 5, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    1. The cherry tomato
    2. The seedless grape
    3. Low erucic acid rapeseed oil (aka Canola, or in UK cheapy veggie oil. Rich in monounsaturates, and containing UK daily suggested dose of 450mg omega-3 as ALA per single 5ml teaspoon).

    All genetically modified from original version.
    All useful additions to the daily diet.
    Discuss.

  58. manigen said,

    March 5, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    @Factitian

    Thanks for the summary of the patent. I know patents, but not biotech, so I was all at sea.

  59. profnick said,

    March 5, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Leo4
    “Pusztai has pleaded ever since 1998 for his experiments to be repeated and extended by others — and to date they have NOT been repeated, let alone “improved”.

    The majority view was that it was no use repeating the same experiments, precisely because they were deemed to be flawed. However if you read the Royal Scociety report of 2002, (www.royalsoc.ac.uk/displaypagedoc.asp?id=11319), there is the statement that “…. the only way to clarify Dr Pusztai’s claims
    would be to refine his experimental design and carry out further studies to test clearly defined hypotheses focused on the specific effects reported by him. Such studies, on
    the results of feeding GM sweet peppers and GM tomatoes to rats, and GM soya to mice and rats, have now been completed and no adverse effects have been
    found (Gasson & Burke, 2001).”

  60. Andrew Clegg said,

    March 6, 2007 at 1:29 am

    Factician, 61:

    “Obviously, this has the other side that the company that made this plant could keep the chemical secret, and thus keep the seed from being made by anyone they haven’t licensed. This would be about as successful as the various copy protection schemes have been on the web. A biologist would crack the particular scheme being used to control the plant, and provide details on the web. People would then buy generic versions of the chemical, and produce their own seed.”

    Err, not if the original manufacturer patented the control chemical too. Then it would be illegal to manufacture a generic version until the patent had expired, like with a drug.

    At which point the manufacturer can stop making the original strain of the seed, and start making a new one which is controlled by a different chemical under a new patent. Surely?

    Andrew.

  61. DrLeonard said,

    March 6, 2007 at 3:44 am

    Like factition:

    “I’ve been a lurker for a while, this is my first post. I’m an academic microbiologist/geneticist.”

    Only I can’t really claim the geneticist bit.***

    _________

    Dr Ben Goldacre’s prattish behaviour on this post speaks for itself. I will say this, however. To simply repeat the mantra “Nothing unique about GM” doesn’t a point prove – instead it reeks of dogma. Can you, Dr Goldacre, point to any peer-reviewed study which demonstrates this with an adequate degree of certainty?

    Certainly not all, but many geneticists (and it seems you are not one) would disagree. As geneticist and Emeritus Professor Richard Lacey puts it:

    “The number of scientists who are not convinced about the safety of genetically engineered foods is substantial enough to prevent the existence of a general recognition of safety. I am not aware of any study in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that establishes the safety of even one specific genetically engineered food let alone the safety of these foods as a general class. Those who claim that genetically engineered foods are as safe as naturally produced ones are clearly not basing their claims on scientific procedures that demonstrate safety to a reasonable degree of certainty.”

    Dr Goldacre, are you basing your belief on intuition and ideology, or science? If you claim it is the latter, please point us in the direction of the body of peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate your belief that there is nothing novel in GE foods as opposed to traditionally-bred foods. Conversely, many of the studies I’ve seen seem to suggest many properties unique to GE products as a food class: novel and often incorrectly folded and allergenic proteins being a couple of them. (This is why, as Ms Moreland suggests, GE is good for medical research rather than food. Model organisms can be engineered to carry genetic diseases which we can observe.)****

    Given this, I would suggest science’s age-old precautionary principle is the best approach for food, rather than the industry-endorsed case-by-case scenario you suggest. Your approach might perhaps work in an ideal world, but in the real world the systemic reguatory checks and balances that this technology requires simply aren’t there. In the US, GE soy was approved because of political directive which overrode the FDA toxicologists’ own advice and warnings. (And DrJ, the majority of the world’s soy is still traditional. Refer to the ISAAA website.) Science does not exist, you see, in an apolitical context.
    ________

    Evidencebasedtesting:
    Even my first-year undergrads would not make such a disingenuous assertion. We’re talking about genetic engineering, not traditional breeding methods like those that produced the cherry tomato. They are worlds apart.

    ***In the interests of disclosure, I am also Ms Moreland’s partner.
    ****Again in the interests of disclosure, I also have interests in a biotech medical product.

  62. DrLeonard said,

    March 6, 2007 at 6:04 am

    #
    DrLeonard said,

    March 6, 2007 at 3:44 am

    Like factition:

    “I’ve been a lurker for a while, this is my first post. I’m an academic microbiologist/geneticist.”

    Only I can’t really claim the geneticist bit.***

    _________

    Dr Ben Goldacre’s prattish behaviour on this post speaks for itself. I will say this, however. To simply repeat the mantra “Nothing unique about GM” doesn’t a point prove – instead it reeks of dogma. Can you, Dr Goldacre, point to any peer-reviewed study which demonstrates this with an adequate degree of certainty?

    Certainly not all, but many geneticists (and it seems you are not one) would disagree. As geneticist and Emeritus Professor Richard Lacey puts it:

    “The number of scientists who are not convinced about the safety of genetically engineered foods is substantial enough to prevent the existence of a general recognition of safety. I am not aware of any study in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that establishes the safety of even one specific genetically engineered food let alone the safety of these foods as a general class. Those who claim that genetically engineered foods are as safe as naturally produced ones are clearly not basing their claims on scientific procedures that demonstrate safety to a reasonable degree of certainty.”

    Dr Goldacre, are you basing your belief on intuition and ideology, or science? If you claim it is the latter, please point us in the direction of the body of peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate your belief that there is nothing novel in GE foods as opposed to traditionally-bred foods. Conversely, many of the studies I’ve seen seem to suggest many properties unique to GE products as a food class: novel and often incorrectly folded and allergenic proteins being a couple of them. (This is why, as Ms Moreland suggests, GE is good for medical research rather than food. Model organisms can be engineered to carry genetic diseases which we can observe.)****

    Given this, I would suggest science’s age-old precautionary principle is the best approach for food, rather than the industry-endorsed case-by-case scenario you suggest. Your approach might perhaps work in an ideal world, but in the real world the systemic reguatory checks and balances that this technology requires simply aren’t there. In the US, GE soy was approved because of political directive which overrode the FDA toxicologists’ own advice and warnings. (And DrJ, the majority of the world’s soy is still traditional. Refer to the ISAAA website.) Science does not exist, you see, in an apolitical context.
    ________

    Evidencebasedtesting:
    Even my first-year undergrads would not make such a disingenuous assertion. We’re talking about genetic engineering, not traditional breeding methods like those that produced the cherry tomato. They are worlds apart.

    ***In the interests of disclosure, I am also Ms Moreland’s partner.
    ****Again in the interests of disclosure, I also have interests in a biotech medical product.

  63. Len said,

    March 6, 2007 at 6:21 am

    #
    DrLeonard said,

    March 6, 2007 at 3:44 am

    Like factition:

    “I’ve been a lurker for a while, this is my first post. I’m an academic microbiologist/geneticist.”

    Only I can’t really claim the geneticist bit.***

    _________

    Dr Ben Goldacre’s prattish behaviour on this post speaks for itself. I will say this, however. To simply repeat the mantra “Nothing unique about GM” doesn’t a point prove – instead it reeks of dogma. Can you, Dr Goldacre, point to any peer-reviewed study which demonstrates this with an adequate degree of certainty?

    Certainly not all, but many geneticists (and it seems you are not one) would disagree. As geneticist and Emeritus Professor Richard Lacey puts it:

    “The number of scientists who are not convinced about the safety of genetically engineered foods is substantial enough to prevent the existence of a general recognition of safety. I am not aware of any study in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that establishes the safety of even one specific genetically engineered food let alone the safety of these foods as a general class. Those who claim that genetically engineered foods are as safe as naturally produced ones are clearly not basing their claims on scientific procedures that demonstrate safety to a reasonable degree of certainty.”

    Dr Goldacre, are you basing your belief on intuition and ideology, or science? If you claim it is the latter, please point us in the direction of the body of peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate your belief that there is nothing novel in GE foods as opposed to traditionally-bred foods. Conversely, many of the studies I’ve seen seem to suggest many properties unique to GE products as a food class: novel and often incorrectly folded and allergenic proteins being a couple of them. (This is why, as Ms Moreland suggests, GE is good for medical research rather than food. Model organisms can be engineered to carry genetic diseases which we can observe.)****

    Given this, I would suggest science’s age-old precautionary principle is the best approach for food, rather than the industry-endorsed case-by-case scenario you suggest. Your approach might perhaps work in an ideal world, but in the real world the systemic reguatory checks and balances that this technology requires simply aren’t there. In the US, GE soy was approved because of political directive which overrode the FDA toxicologists’ own advice and warnings. (And DrJ, the majority of the world’s soy is still traditional. Refer to the ISAAA website.) Science does not exist, you see, in an apolitical context.
    ________

    Evidencebasedtesting:
    Even my first-year undergrads would not make such a disingenuous assertion. We’re talking about genetic engineering, not traditional breeding methods like those that produced the cherry tomato. They are worlds apart.

    ***In the interests of disclosure, I am also Ms Moreland’s partner.
    ****Again in the interests of disclosure, I also have interests in a biotech medical product.

  64. testtubebabe said,

    March 6, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    evidencebasedeating

    Agree with above. Cherry toms and seedless grapes are selectively bred over time, using evolutionary techniques to do the job for us, not ‘sideways’ evolution that does not exist in nature. You do not find a flounder gene in tomatoes usually, you do in genetic modification.

  65. jj_hankinson said,

    March 6, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Why is it that the anti-GM people here don’t seem to have basic manners when it comes to posting? 3000 word comments from patents? The same long post three times over a number of hours? Jeez…

    I can’t work out what all the fuss is really. Ben is saying that we should apply the scientific method on a case by case basis for GM products. I agree with this – why should GM foods be a special case where we veto science?

    You might as well do the same for certain medical treatments…

    “The MMR vaccine?! I don’t like the idea of it so we should lock it in a cupboard and throw away the key. Properly conducted scientific trials you say? Nonsense – MMR vaccines are evil!!”

    Odd behaviour. You either believe in science or not – you can’t just pick and choose where you apply it based on subjective views…

  66. BrickWall said,

    March 6, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Absolutely jj_hankinson.

    Its not as if Ben’s original article was saying everyone should accept GM food as a great global saviour he was just highlighting yet again the uninformed bonkers media approach to the slightest chance of a shock headline and that GM foodstuffs should neither be rejected OR accepted on the basis of dogma but on the basis of scientific results.

    In some cases those very scientific results might be difficult or even dangerous to get but that’s not a reason not to do something that’s a reason to do it carefully!!

    As for the mad length repeated bloggings lets just generously assume the two people concerned are just web/blog challenged rather than that they think length = quality!!

  67. CaptainKirkham said,

    March 6, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Oooh lovely, there’s nothing like a bit of “othering” to allow you to reject people’s opinions. The “anti-GM people”? Who are they then? Aliens? Or just interested parties with different views from your own that you choose to label and thus dismiss.

    I speak here as an disinterested party, with fluctuating views on the subject of GM, and I have yet to see any decent rebuttal of some of the points being made by DrLeonard. All I see is some snarky comments about accidental multiple posting.

  68. calmooney said,

    March 6, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    The main problem that I see with this thread (stupidly long posts and insults aside) is a complete absence of links to peer-reviewed studies. I really couldn’t give a monkey’s who thinks GM is bad, so no more lists of people or quotes please, could we just have some proper data?
    Ben, was your statement that “they seem safe overall” based on the any peer-reviewed studies or the fact that lots of Americans are already eating GM foods without any apparent ill effects? I can’t access the Gasson&Burke paper cited in the Royal Society review that profnick mentionned but it doesn’t appear to be an original study?

  69. BrickWall said,

    March 6, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Accidental multiple posting? Several hours apart and with different user names?

    There has been plenty of discussion throughout this thread on the points raised admittedly not from myself.

    This is an internet blogging thread – you don’t seriously expect people to listen or take notice of these lengthy repeated posts here do you? If people want to cite papers/research then cite them so others can follow links to cut and paste such volumes is just plain bad etiquette in such a forum whereas being a bit “snarky”?/slightly rude and a bit off-hand isn’t such bad etiquette. Don’t like it? Oh well.

  70. factician said,

    March 6, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    Dr. Leonard suggests that we need to look at GM food safety on a case by case basis. He lists one possible worry as allergies to the gene added to the crop. I think in an ideal world, I would agree with him. In a world of unlimited resources, we should run every conceivable safety test on every GM crop created. But let’s not stop there, right? Novel allergens can reach the market when wild relatives of crops are crossbred with the domesticated varieties (a very common technique in crop breeding that has been used for over 100 years – perhaps longer). Should we test all of these extensively for allergens?

    Nonetheless, people *are* testing GM plants for safety. Just because the quoted expert Richard Lacey is lousy at using PubMed, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Try this one paper I found in less than 30 sec on PubMed Allergy 2006: 61: 491–497 where they show no difference in allergic reactions to a particular GM and a convential mustard. There are thousands of others.

    I am not advocating a system in which GM food is completely unregulated. There are cases where it clearly should be regulated, and tested for safety. Take, for example, crops that make pharmaceutical products. *Great* care should be taken to ensure that these crops never crossbreed with other plants and get into the food supply. We should also take care with putting in genes from known allergenic species (for example peanuts). But should we be spending millions to test the safety of plants where scientists have merely knocked out an individual gene? Or what about BT-plants, where organic farmers have been spraying BT on their plants for decades, but if genetic engineers put it in the plant, now it needs to be tested for safety?

    Biotech companies made a strategic public relations error in releasing the first generation of GM crops that were beneficial to the farmer. The next generation of crops will be ones that consumers will clamour for, and will reduce the fear of this technology. Caffeine free coffee (without having to use nasty solvents). Allergen-free peanuts. Lower fat meat.

    There is no good reason to think that GM foods as a class could be more dangerous than conventional food. There are reasons to be concerned about a very small subclass of GM foods. Let’s keep our limited regulatory muscle on the ball, working to keep us safe from the very few GM plants that have a potential for harm.

  71. profnick said,

    March 6, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    Factician,
    Sane, measured and thoughtful; clearly out of place in this thread. At the risk of reducing the level again, Richard Lacey is not unknown for stirring up controversy, so wouldn’t be my expert of choice if I had to rely on one only.
    To answer calmooney’s point, (and to show that I’m an unbiased combatant), the Gasson & Burke paper is indeed a review and there is some doubt about the quality of the original studies they cite . I have tried to find an impartial link to illustrate that last point but perhaps not surprisingly all the articles I’ve found are either strongly pro- or anti- Pusztai.

  72. RS said,

    March 6, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    In case anyone isn’t aware, I thought I’d post an extract from the badscience forum ‘rules of engagement': “if your post is more than one thousand words long then you are officially a loser”.

  73. RS said,

    March 6, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    “Or what about BT-plants, where organic farmers have been spraying BT on their plants for decades, but if genetic engineers put it in the plant, now it needs to be tested for safety?”

    I don’t want to talk about BT specifically, but there is an a priori reason to suppose that engineered pesticide expression could be more harmful than sprayed pesticide owing to greater residual levels of pesticide within the product.

  74. factician said,

    March 6, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    “there is an a priori reason to suppose that engineered pesticide expression could be more harmful than sprayed pesticide owing to greater residual levels of pesticide within the product.”

    Is there? Why would you care, if the stuff was safer than table salt? You’re more likely to be hurt by having a ton of it fall on you, than if you ingested all the BT-laden food you like.

    I know you said you didn’t want to talk about BT specifically, but BT is the perfect example of a commonly used genetic modification that is clearly totally safe, and doesn’t require more testing. In fact, using scarce resources to test this clearly safe product takes away resources from testing products that are more ambiguous.

    But if you find an example of plants that are being modified to make rat poison, I’m all ears.

  75. Lurkinggherkin said,

    March 6, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    @ 70 – testtubebabe asserts that lateral gene transfer does not occur in nature.

    I understand that there is in fact a body of evidence for the occurence of this type of transfer between microorganisms, and some evolutionary biologists believe that this type of transfer occurs amongst higher order species also, with bacteria and viruses acting as transfer agents.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateral_gene_transfer

    This could be an argument either for or against the introduction of GMOs into natural environments depending on how you want to spin it.

  76. factician said,

    March 6, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    Lurkinggherkin,

    Lateral gene transfer is a *major* mechanism of speciation in bacteria. It’s a much smaller mechanism for larger organisms, but there is evidence that it occurs. (When closely related plants breed, this isn’t generally called lateral gene transfer, but when genes pass from rhinocerous to corn, that is).

    I’ve thought that the Roundup ready crops (that are resistant to the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup) were a bad idea in the long run for the reason that interspecies breeding move the resistance genes around. As these genes get passed on to weeds, the weeds become Roundup resistant, and Roundup is made useless.

    In the long run, seems like a bad move by Monsanto (producers of Roundup) but not a safety issue for those of us who eat it (Roundup is one of the few chemical herbicides that is relatively non-toxic to humans).

  77. evidencebasedeating said,

    March 6, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    Beg to differ Len/ Dr Leonard/ Ms Moreland – and Testtubebabe

    Cherry tomatoes/ seedless grapes/ low erucic rapeseed oil ARE ALL examples of ‘extreme’ genetic modification. To suggest that evolution alone was responsible for teeny alterations in genetic material gently drifting over centuries towards the foods we eat today is far too simple a premise, and of course not the only way in which current plant varieties evolved …
    For instance, great big genetic shifts happened to get to some current foods…. In the case of the white grape, by Nature itself – www.csiro.au/news/ps2u5.html
    and in the case of rapeseed oil – by Man, well, Men.
    Dr R Keith Downey and Professor Baldur Stefansson of the University of Manitoba selectively bred a low erucic acid, low glucosinolate variety of rapeseed in 1974 – subsequently termed ‘Canola’ (Canadian Oil Low Acid), the basis of all edible rapeseed oil globally since then.
    What is the real difference between Nature and Man in the above scenarios? Very little, it appears.

    Of course man may accelerate what Nature would perform itself – but we’ve been around for enough millenia, munching a global salad of plant based materials, to make it likely that we are not going to suffer for it – but that disease-succumbing or drought-damaged ‘untampered’ staples still cause premature human suffering and death right now across the continents.

    So guess I have to take some of your concerns, tempered with a modicum of common sense, and trust that the plant geneticists of today use a more sophisticated palette of research to develop, monitor and evaluate new plant variants – and that these will add to the common good.

  78. Tony Jackson said,

    March 7, 2007 at 6:44 am

    I think this whole debate has suffered from a number of separate contemporary obsessions du-jour that have become hopelessly entangled and hindered understanding. These are:

    1) A general distrust /outright hatred of big agribusiness – in this atmosphere, Monsanto’s cackhanded behaviour has of course played right into the hands of the anti-GM brigade.

    2) A substitution of eagerly believed innuendo for hard facts. The anti-GM websites I have visited have been outrageous in their scaremongering and downright dishonesty, rather similar come to think of it to many of the anti-vaccination websites you find in the cranky corners of cyberspace. In this atmosphere, rumour effortlessly becomes hardened fact.

    3) A failure to appreciate just how artificial our current foodstuffs are. Consider those nice fat carrots or gigantic strawberries you bought at the local organic food store. Do you really think they’re ‘natural’? Ah you say, but GM involves moving genes ‘beyond the species barrier’ and um…that’s not natural. But consider Triticale wheat/rye hybrids in which not just one, but tens of thousands of different genes from these two different species are scambled together in terrifying new combinations never before seen in nature (and you really don’t want to know how plant scientists managed to get the hybrids in the first place – lots of dubious sciencey stuff including treatment with scary chemicals like colchicine).

    4) Finally, people seem to have an intuitive feeling that living things have an invisible ‘essentialist essence’ that should not be tampered with. I’m not psychologists enough to develop this further, but this irrationalist belief seems to lie at the heart of much opposition to GM technology and can be surprisingly strong even in otherwise well educated people. I suspect, this ‘gut feeling’ also underlies opposition to say stem cell research etc.

    Like Ben and others here, I take a fairly pragmatic view that each GM construct should be examined on it’s own merits. What I don’t like is the dogmatic assertion that the technology can’t possibly work, or is dangerous BECAUSE OF THE TECHNOLOGY. The fact of the matter is that we are going to have to use all our ingenuity over the coming years if we are to feed an increasing population. Closing down a whole area of research for no good reason is just nuts.

  79. RS said,

    March 7, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    “Is there? Why would you care, if the stuff was safer than table salt?”

    Well salt might be a good example – it won’t do me any harm to put a bit of salt on my food – but if it comes premade packed full of the stuff that is potentially harmful. Whilst the pesticide residues left on a product (and to some extent in it) after spraying may be well below the max safe levels, there is no guarantee (unless you actually check) that the engineered in pesticide expression is within safe levels. It may well be that said pesticide is actually harmless, but you need to show that first before glibly asserting that because something has been safely applied in one way that it will be safe when expressed within the plant. Even then there is a theoretical risk of further metabolism to toxic products within the new environment – but that isn’t a risk I’d like to quantify.

  80. factician said,

    March 7, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    First off, you’ll find that eating any BT-plant, you’re getting more salt than you are getting BT (even before you’ve lifted your salt-shaker).

    “because something has been safely applied in one way that it will be safe when expressed within the plant.”

    BT has been used for decades. People know all about the safety of it when sprayed on. However, I’m sure that they haven’t looked at the safety when sprayed on during a full moon. Or after a decent rain. Or after a drought. Or whether it is safe on corn and tomatoes or just on corn. Do you see what I’m trying to get at? It is *possible* that delivering BT inside the plant cell instead of on top of the plant cell will be different. But it is terribly unlikely. It’s also possible that umbrellas cause cancer (I doubt anyone has ever done an epidemiological study to look), yet we consider them safe. That’s why I suggest that we save our regulatory muscle for real issues. Rather than spending valuable research dollars looking to see if umbrellas cause cancer and BT-corn is safe, let’s use them for the real issues (as I outlined in my earlier posts).

  81. Tony Jackson said,

    March 7, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    As factician points out, obsessing about miniscule hypothetical risks isn’t very helpful. Meanwhile back in the real world, guess what? Because Bt maize is less susceptible to insect attack, it’s less prone to fungal infections and so has lower levels of carcinogenic mycotoxins. See here:

    Bakan, B et al., “Fungal growth and fusarium mycotoxin content in isogenic traditional maize and genetically modified maize grown in France and Spain.”

    J. Agric. Food Chem. (2002) 50, 728-731

    Abstract: Fungi of the genus Fusarium are common fungal contaminants of maize and are also known to produce mycotoxins. Maize that has been genetically modified to express a Bt endotoxin has been used to study the effect of insect resistance on fungal infection of maize grains by Fusarium species and their related mycotoxins. Maize grain from Bt hybrids and near-isogenic traditional hybrids was collected in France and Spain from the 1999 crop, which was grown under natural conditions. According to the ergosterol level, the fungal biomass formed on Bt maize grain was 4-18 times lower than that on isogenic maize. Fumonisin B(1) grain concentrations ranged from 0.05 to 0.3 ppm for Bt maize and from 0.4 to 9 ppm for isogenic maize. Moderate to low concentrations of trichothecenes and zearalenone were measured on transgenic as well as on non-transgenic maize. Nevertheless, significant differences were obtained in certain regions. The protection of maize plants against insect damage (European corn borer and pink stem borer) through the use of Bt technology seems to be a way to reduce the contamination of maize by Fusarium species and the resultant fumonisins in maize grain grown in France and Spain.

  82. Bean said,

    March 7, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Would it be possible to put a proper debate about this on the website? It’s a topic I’m interested in but there’s a lot of repetition & sniping to sift through. The idea would be that anyone who is interested & feels qualified to take part, applies. Then visitors to the website vote on who takes part in the debate. Maybe you (Ben, or the webmaster or whoever) could email Arpad Pusztai and get him. Why not? If he’s a scientist surely he wants to argue with people who disagree with him.

  83. CaptainKirkham said,

    March 7, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Brickwall – you have taken exactly one (and not the main) point from my comment and ignored the rest. Well done on a superb example of good blog comment etiquette.

  84. RS said,

    March 7, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    “BT has been used for decades. People know all about the safety of it when sprayed on… It is *possible* that delivering BT inside the plant cell instead of on top of the plant cell will be different. But it is terribly unlikely.”

    Not it isn’t. As long as it has some inherent toxicity that is dose dependent (I don’t kow about BT, which is why I didn’t want to focus on it) there is a risk that by expressing it within the product (where it can reach a high concentration), rather than spraying it onto the outside (where it can be mostly washed off) there is a very real question of differential toxicity. [as an aside it is also possible that expressing within the plant might decrease the amount that is delivered into the environment from spraying – which would be a good thing]

  85. factician said,

    March 7, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    *Everything* has an inherent toxicity. If you drink too much water, you mess up your electrolytes and die. I used the example of table salt as a comparison to BT, because it takes a *lot* of table salt to kill you. Any toxicologist will tell you “it’s the dose that counts”. And that’s with absolutely every compound on the planet. That said, you’re more likely to have a bunch of BT corn fall on you and kill you than you are to be able to ever eat in your lifetime enough BT corn to get a dose of BT that will harm you. You’d need to eat a little less than a pound of *pure* BT toxin to kill you. (I wonder, would you die from eating a pound of peanut butter? you’d sure get sick…) The BT toxin in corn is far from pure. There’s other stuff there (like corn, for example). If I had to put a conservative guess on it (conservative in the sense that I’ll err in your favour), I’d say you’d have to eat somewhere on the order of 1000 lbs of corn to get 1 lb of BT (probably a lot more than a 1000lbs, but let’s leave it at that). The real danger is that carrying the 1000lbs of corn into your home will put your back out.

  86. manigen said,

    March 8, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    That’s an interesting idea Bean. I wonder if it would be possible to run something like that on the forums?

  87. RS said,

    March 8, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    factician – I note that you refuse to engage with the point in the abstract – as if BT is the only possible engineered pesticide and the safety of all other GM products somehow comes down to the safety of BT.

  88. factician said,

    March 8, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    RS,

    I thought I had adressed the issue very directly. I’ll try to be more clear. How’s this? I agree that there are some GM plants that should be tested for safety. As described above, I think that producing pharmaceuticals in genetically modified plants presents some possible safety issues. I don’t think that the safety of all GM products rests on the safety of BT, just like I don’t think that the safety of all chemically produced products comes down to the safety of plastic.

    As to BT being the only engineered pesticide in a plant? To my knowledge, at the moment, it is the only pesticide being produced in plants. Reason being, there are few pesticides that are as safe as BT. Most other pesticides have residual toxicity in humans, so genetic engineers are not going to try to get them produced in a plant.

    The reason I take the example of BT, is that it illustrates my point very well. BT-corn is one of the most-common engineered foods available currently. And it is one of the more radical engineering projects that is available commercially. And it is safe. Most of the other available engineered foods are even less likely to be dangerous than BT-corn. (I’m not willing to say unequivocally that they’re not dangerous, as I mentioned above, I’m not willing to say that umbrellas are not dangerous). To the extent that we can call any food safe, most GM food *is* safe.

  89. Bean said,

    April 4, 2007 at 10:11 am

    This article suggests that genetically modified corn is responsible for a fall in the bee populations in Germany (25% drop) & the US (60 5 – 70% drop):
    www.truthout.org/issues_06/032307EA.shtml

  90. Irate_Joe said,

    January 22, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Wow!

    Having just read Dr Goldacre’s book “Bad Science” I decided to take a look at this site and its associated forums. I was quite surprised to see how little discussion of genetic modification there was on either site, but know I think I can see why.

    The efforts of Ms Moreland and her “partner” to counter the points raised in the article and subsequent discussion are obscene… and extremely effective.

    In fact, I suspect that many laymen reading this page come away with the impression that she is the better informed, more reasonable and crucially, more correct voice in this little debate. Just like Luddite did “Ben… Your remarks are those of a rather absurd and condescending hypocrite… byee”. Her posts have the air of authority, claim to be referenced or at least have the backing of authoratative scientists such as Richard Lewontin (I just spent 5 minutes on the internet and could only find a single quote from him regarding GM, used on every anti website).

    I appreciate that it may be a lot of work, but I really feel that a robust criticism of Moreland et al’s posts, with some references that are so lacking in her arguments, should be compiled and stickied at the top of this thread.

    I volunteer Ben and Factician for this task ;)

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  94. newswede said,

    January 23, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    How many of you understand that THERE ARE NO TERMINATOR SEEDS?

    That false story was put out there by GMO opponents RAFI and it has had incredible staying power.

    Here’s what’s true. There is a patent on a method of producing seeds so that the second generation seeds will be infertile.

    Here’s what’s false — that any seed company sells such seeds.

    Lots of ways you can know the story is false. First, look at any seed company’s web site, or to any agricultural supply store, etc. If they have such seeds they will want to sell them, right?

    Second, go to GMO opponents web sites and look at the widespread complaints about Monsanto suing farmers who are alleged to have saved their seeds. Monsanto makes its farmer customers sign a contract that they won’t save seeds for replanting. Why would they bother doing that if the saved seeds won’t grow?

    Third, look up publicity about a lawsuit involving Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser. His farm fields were full of GMO canola plants which he claims were accidentally introduced, perhaps by seeds blown by the wind from a passing truck. Monsanto sued him, and won the suit, bu that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the seeds were not infertile.

    While you are checking out false stories from the GMO opponents, check on the tomatoes with fish genes. There are none. Don’t believe me? Lots of companies want to sell you tomato seeds for your backyard garden. Try to buy some. The origin of this story was when a California company transferred a gene for a frost tolerant protein form an arctic flounder to a tomato plant, in the hopes of getting a frost resistant plant. The experiment failed. End of story, except for the propaganda masters who love to show pictures of a fish with leaves.

  95. Colonel_Mad said,

    November 30, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    “Third, look up publicity about a lawsuit involving Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser”

    Poor old Percy Schmeiser whose rape crop was contaminated by Monsanto’s GM roundup ready version that had “blown” into his field.

    The court records[1] actually show he had 1000 acres (think 500 football pitches) that were 95-98% GM. Some wind has blown that lot in! No wonder the courts didn’t believe a word he said.

    Jonathan

    References:
    [1] scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2004/2004scc34/2004scc34.html