Redesigning the World: Ethical Questions about Genetic Engineering

Geneticist Joseph Cummins has commented:
The matter of DNA being incorporated into human chromosome from food is still alive and active. The fact is clear that such incorporation takes place…. Uptake into cells may trigger apoptosis (cell suicide) in some cases but Doerfler showed that mature healthy cells do incorporate foreign DNA into chromosomes. It is too early to make conclusions about the consequences of such incorporation. Since food is implicated in a variety of immune and autoimmune diseases as well as mental illness (Celiacs have very high incidence of mental illness) the role of incorporated DNA disease should be investigated and blind conclusions should be avoided. Certainly food DNA has been incorporated into somatic cell chromosomes throughout evolutionary history. The danger of genetic engineering is related to the greatly amplified incorporation of viral promoters, bacterial genes and synthetic genes (widely employed by Monsanto) causes new risks… (personal email communication, August 18, 1998).
See also Schubbert, R., Lettman, C. and Doerfler, W. “Ingested foreign (phage M13) DNA survives transiently in the gastrointestinal tract and enters the bloodstream of mice,” Mol. Genet. 242 (1994): 495-504.
48. ‘It has long been assumed that our gut is full of enzymes which can rapidly digest DNA, In a study designed to test the survival of viral DNA in the gut, mice were fed DNA from a bacterial virus, and large fragments were found to survive passage through the gut and to enter the blood stream. This research group has now shown that ingested DNA end up, not only in the gut cells of the mice, but also in spleen and liver cells as well as white blood cells. “In some cases, as much as one cell in a thousand had viral DNA.”‘ Ho, op. cit.., p. 141.
49. The spread of antibiotic resistant organisms is a dangerous by-product of genetic engineering. Antibiotic resistant genes are often used as marker genes in the process of gene-splicing. They can then be spread by horizontal transfer. As mentioned above, antibiotics are also sprayed on crops in large quantities to unlock the effect of the so-called Terminator technology.
50. Science, 16 June 1989, p. 1233.
51. John B. Fagan, Ph.D., “Tryptophan summary,” Apparently genetically engineered tryptophan is already back on the market with the same dangerous characteristics that caused the initial problems:
A reformulated food supplement could contain harmful contaminants similar to those found in an earlier banned version of the product, according to US researchers. L-trytophan, a naturally occurring amino acid, was banned in 1990 after the product was linked to a Japanese outbreak of a rare blood disease called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS). The outbreak affected 1,500 people and killed 30. Studies of the product, which was promoted as a sleep and diet aid, revealed it contained an unidentified contaminant nicknamed ‘peak X’. Scientists could not determine whether the contaminant, or L-trytophan, or a combination of the two caused the disease. Several manufacturers have since reformulated the product into brands containing 5-hydroxy-L-trytophan. The product is widely available over-the-counter in the US. Stephen Naylor and Gerald Gleich at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota examined six brands for traces of the original contaminant. All six showed the ‘peak X’ signature, they said on Monday 31 August. The levels varied between 3-15% of those observed in a test on the original product. Gleich said they were not aware of the new formulations being associated with any outbreaks of EMS, but said the ‘potential was there.’ The Food and Drug Administration said it had confirmed Naylor and Gleich’s findings, which are published in the September issue of the journal Nature Medicine. (“Remade Food Supplement as Bad as Banned Original” [posted by Shane Morris on the [email protected] listserv Sept. 2, 1998]).
Several articles on the subject, including those reporting the research mentioned above, were published in The Lancet 352, no. 9129 (Aug. 29, 1998).
52. John Fagan, “Assessing The Safety And Nutritional Quality Of Genetically Engineered Foods” <>.
53. Mark V. Bloom, Ph.D., “Polymerase Chain Reaction,” <>.
54. Mae-Wan Ho, Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare, p. 110.
55. “Adventures with an Ice Pick: an Short History of the Lobotomy,” adapted from Robert Youngson and Ian Schott, Medical Blunders (London: Robinson, 1996). Adaption copyrighted by The Independent on Sunday, March 3, 1996.
56. See Vandana Shiva, Biopiracy, p. 19 ff., for a summary. See also Vandana Shiva, Biotechnology and the Environment (Malaysia: Third World Network, n.d.).
57. For example, see the interesting case of Seattle businessman John Moore, discussed by Phillip L. Bereano in this article “Body and Soul: the Price of Biotech” (Seattle Times, August 20, 1995) p.B5 <>. The case is also discussed in Monte Paulsen, “Biotech Buccaneers” (Fairfield County Weekly, August 29, 1998).
58. For example, several years ago I talked with a distinguished professor in the field who is a department chair at a well-known university. After publicly writing about the theoretical possibility of some serious dangers with genetic engineering, he was publicly reprimanded by colleagues for needlessly scaring the public and blacklisted, so that he was denied government funding, even after subsequent experiments proved him to be correct.

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