Re: standards - Biotech Problems (fwd)
From: "Geraldo Defune" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: Wye College, University of London
Date: Fri, 2 May 1997 19:29:55 GMT
Subject: Re: standards - Biotech Problems (fwd)
CC: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Tue, 29 Apr 1997 11:36:03 -0500
> From: email@example.com
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Subject: Re: standards
> Dear Larry,
> Just a few thoughts on genetic manipulation.....
> This kind of research is becoming increasingly popular throughout
> the world. And it does have its benefits; increased disease
> resistance, pest resistance, etc...
Dear friends of sustainable & BD lists,
Replying to the above &...
Following a discussion of Vandana Shiva's article on BioTech (fwd),
I think is very important looking for lucid explanations on the points
criticised, remarking that this is not meant to be a maniqueistic/sectarian
attack, but an oportunity for learning more about such important issue.
One of my philosophic convictions and strategies is respectful pluralism.
My research and life-project in allelopathy applied to Bio-dynamic and
Organic farming, originally inclined me v.much against Biotech, but
after seeing that it is a good scientific tool to explain/find out how
plant methabolite production works and is triggered, made me calm my
killer instincts against sliced genes...
The following questions I posed were originally sent to a friend who is
a specialist in the subject, after a talk he gave to our Sustainable
Agriculture Research Group & MSc students. So, they were made on the
friendliest, most respectful & even grateful mood, that I think we all
must keep if we want to sustain a fruitful dialogue with the people
working in the field.
Even finding BioTech a useful tool for basic research on the genes
responsible for important processes, I think there is a dangerous commercial
rush in applying it for profit without really knowing the whole (-istic)
First of ALL, there is a risk on the method itself that is most
widely used for the selection of Genetically Transformed cells:
To be able to retrieve the cells, they link the desired gene to
another one that gives high resistence to a wide-spectrum anti
biotic, like Kanamycin, and after the tranfer procedures just
wipe-out all non-transformed cells.
Well, with this, the Tomatoes or Maize that is fed to us and/or
animals are carrying this AB resistence gene in EVERY CELL!
By natural gene tranfers occurring in the guts, they can be
transfered to other microorganisms that can becom " SuperBugs" for
ABs - fortunately not against natural organic defences/resistence,
but this can be VERY dangerous for sick or wounded people in
hospitals, poor areas, etc!
Once again, like with other technologies, the danger seems to reside
on HOW (and how carefully) we use it, but with seemingly greater
risks for the lack of deeper understanding in this field.
E.G.: Although they use the so-called "anti-sense technique" to
neutralize some genes, like in the Tomato over-ripening case; nobody
actually KNOWS HOW or WHY does it work! I've been to a seminar of the
British researcher who succeded in it and HE said so!
I know that in conventional breeding we were already dealing with some
unpredictable random variations, but at least we had the NATURAL
LIMITATIONS imposed by the whole cultigen/organism genotype.
Isn't it much riskier if you can transpose limits between species?
Aren't the dangers of variations (amplifications, suppressions,
distortions) in the expression of both the transgene and the host's
What about possible mutations induced by both synergistic influences
in the modified genotype and by the transfer methods themselves?
Isn't it much more dangerous to release "especific efficient genes"
inside the carrier-genotype of, say, a pollen grain that can cause
inumerable interactions that those genes would be very unlikely to
undergo (at least at this speed) in natural conditions?
Overall, isn't the very tendency of the Biotech approach dangerously
leaning towards ignoring the holistic evolutionary nature of organisms?
The use of Biotech to allow, for example, a wider, even indiscriminate
use of herbicides, looks clearly unhealthy, leading to both concentration
of power/money for the companies and to the risks of creating "superweeds".
Just a note: there's one doubt in excelent Vandana's text regarding the "built-
in resilience of amaranth". I conducted experiments in Brazil with different
Amaranthus spp & varieties, for the sake of finding insect resistant plants,
for they are VERY attractive for both Coleoptera and Lepidoptera - even
working very well as "summer trap plants" for organic diversified
horticulture. Even native wild spp of Amaranthus have a very nutritious
foliage, that can be used for forage and human consumption.
I hope this can be useful for a healthy discussion on the matter!
Thanks for your attention. Cheers,
Wye College - University of London
Sustainable Agriculture Research Group
Wye, Ashford, Kent TN25 5AH
Tel.:(01233)812401 Ext. 271
Fax: (01233)812855 GB
5 The Green
Wye Ashford Kent TN25 5AJ
Tel: 01233 813658
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>From email@example.com Mon Dec 4 17:59:40 1995
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 1995 08:50:06 -0800 (PST)
From: "Tom Hodges (moderated newsgroup)" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Principles of Sustainable Agriculture <email@example.com>
Subject: Biotech Will Worsen Problems In Agri (fwd)
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Date: Sun, 3 Dec 1995 23:09:45 -0800
From: Andrew Bartlett <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Subject: Biotech Will Worsen Problems In Agri
/* Written 7:33 PM Nov 28, 1995 by twn in igc:twn.features */
/* ---------- "Biotech Will Worsen Problems In Agr" ---------- */
BIOTECHNOLOGY WILL WORSEN AGRICULTURAL PROBLEMS
Genetic engineering, says the writer, will add to the environmental
costs of agriculture, instead of reducing them. It will make agriculture
non-sustainable rather than sustainable. Further, newe health risks
can be introduced through transgenic crops.
By Vandana Shiva
Third World Network Features
Amarnath<<, or ramdana, grown across India in traditional <<AMARANTH
farming systems, is the world's most nutritious grain. It
comes in many varieties, and can be popped, baked and
cooked. Its leaves and stems are also nutritious, containing
more than twice the protein of other cereals. And it is
Prof Ashish Datta of Jawaharlal Nehru University and the
Department of Biotechnology have filed a patent for
transferring the gene that codes for protein in amarnath to
other cereals like rice and wheat. The patent will cover the
isolation of the gene and delivery/transfer or construct for
transferring the gene into other crops. It will be
applicable in the US and Europe.
What does the patent for a transgenic crop using amarnath
genes imply for biodiversity and human health and nutrition?
It has been claim that the transgenic crop will enhance the
protein level of edible oils. However, a comparison of the
nutrition available from polycultures based on amarnath as
well as the nutrition available from amarnath clearly shows
this claim to be false.
Amarnath is not just a source of high protein. It has high <<AMARANTH
calcium and iron too. These multiple and complex nutritional
properties do not get transferred to the transgenic crop.
Transfering the amarnath protein gene to rice, for example,
thus does not increase overall nutrition; it decreases it.
Besides, people do not eat only ice, but rice with dal. The
balance comes from the rice and dal mixture, not from rice
alone. By trying to increase the protein content of rice
through genetic engineering, dal as a source of a balanced
protein composition is being negated.
In addition, the transgenic rice wll have none of the built-
in resilience of amarnath. It wll be vulnerable to diseases,
pests and drought, thus requirng intensive chemical and
intensive water use. The development of transgenic crop with
amarnath genes will lead to the displacement of amanath
itself as companies with investments in research and patents
will have to promote the spread of the transgenes.
Genetically engineering amaranth genes in rice will add to
the environmental costs of agriculture, instead of reducing
them. It will make agriculture non-sustainable rather than
sustainable. Further, new health risks can be introduced
through such transgenic crops.
The extreme form of genetic determinism which assumes that
each specific character of an organism is encoded in a spe
cific, stable gene so that the transfer of a gene results in
the transfer of a character, has already been rejected by
the majority of biologists and the intellectual community,
because it fails to take into account the complex
interactions between genes and their products that are
involved in the develoment of all characters. In many cases,
it has been impossible to predict the consequences of
transferring a gene from one type of organism to another.
Furthermore changing a gene's cellular and surrounding
environment can produce a cascade of further unpredictable
changes that could be harmful.
The essence of a genome is self organisation -- elements
that fit together. Complexes of effective genes form
coherent wholes, which vary within usually stale patterns.
However, genomes of all organisms are known to be subject to
a host of destabilising processes, so that the transferred
gene may mutate, transpose, or rearrange within the genome,
and may even be transferred to another organism. As a
consequence of genetic engineering, the stabilising or
`buffering' control circuits are exposed to disruption thus
threatening the stability of organisms and ecosystems.
In transgenic plants particularly, there is abundant empiri
cal proof that genetic engineering is indeterminate and
uncertain. A classic example is the maize A1 gene that has
been introduced into a white flowering mutant of Petunia
hybrid wqhich has lresulted i transgenic plants with flower
colours ranging from brick red through variegated to white.
However, during a field trial of 300,000 plants, the number
of plants producing flowers with white or variegated petals
and plants with weakly pigmented blooms varied during the
The study linked the stability of the transgene with
environmental stress and endogenous factors such as the age
of the parent plant. The effect of environmental factors of
the stability of transgene expression has also been
evidenced by transgenic alfalfa.
Studies with rice plants genetically engineered to resist
kanamycin showed not merely that this trait, though inheri-
ted, was not expressed in the progeny but also that gene
amplification or loss occurred in the progeny of the same
Problems like silencing or suppression of the inherited gene
suggest that this phenomenon results from events that are an
integral part of normal gene expression in plants. The way
plants recognise the specifically inactivate foreign DNA is
not known; but all evidence points to the possibility that
the newly integrated DNA may be recognised as foreign.
The unpredictability and uncertainty that accompanies
genetic engineering has serious implications at two levels;
that of the biosafety of transgenic organisms; and that of
patents fo them. Given the factors of instability and
uncertainty of genetic engineering, the `safety' of
genetically engineered organisms cannot be taken as a prior
assumption. As more transgenic crops leave the controlled
environment of research greenhouses and are subjected to
natural variation in farmers' fields, problems associated
with transgene instability will increase in magnitude.
Datta, who has a co-application for the patent claim on the
amarnath gene, is also the head of the commission meant to
decide on biosafety regulations, which has recently
permitted Proagro Seed Company of India and Plant Genetic
Systems (PGS) of Belgium to deliberately release hybrid
brassica (which includes mustard and rapeseed) and hybrid
tomatoes at the Proagro Research Station at Gurgaon, near
New Delhi. The tomato variety will contain a Bt gene and the
mustard will tolerate the herbicide Basta produced by
Hoechst. When contacted, the Department of Biotechnology
first contended that such release was safe, and then
admitted that information on biosafety based on which the
permission was granted was supplied by PGS on the basis of
its own work in this field.
Genetically engineered herbicide tolerance carries with it
enormous environmental risks. A primary concern is that such
resistant plant could themselves become weeds, or transfer
their resistance to wild relatives, which would then become
super weeds, especially in countries which have developed
the crop in the first place and where numerous farmers'
varieties still exist.
A study conducted by University of California-Riverside
geneticist Norman Ellstrand has confirmed that genetic
traits of crops can be transferred to their wild relatives
by even hybrid varieties by simple polination. Besides, such
varieties will encourage the use of more herbicides.
Likewise, the Bt gene has also proved to be less effective
and more hazardous both for the environment and for
lifeforms other than those targeted than claimed. Transgenic
plants with the bt component produce anti-pest toxin
continuously, leading to increasing Bt resistance.
Further, Bt ingestion can result in feeding inhibition in
the pest before it has absorbed a lethal dose of the toxin.
Bt has also been shown to target beneficial insects, and has
been linked to the creation of newer resistant virus varie-
ties as well as multiple virus infections.
In humans, it has been incriminated in severe types of eye
infection that can lead to blindness, besides food
poisoning. Microbiologists agree that the most obvious
potential hazard associated with Bt is to individuals whose
immune defences are impaired. Such individuals comprise most
of the Third World populations as immune defences become
impaired by diseases like measles in childhood and malaria,
besides AIDs. Developing biosafety regulations is thus
imperative in environmental and public interest.
The instability and unpredictability of genetic engineering
also have implications for intellectual property rights in
the area of lifeforms. Patents to genetically modified
organisms are given on grounds that these are
biotechnological inventions. Such a patent claim is based on
the false assumption that genes make organisms and,
therefore, the makers of transgenic genes make transgenic
Proteins are not made by genes but by a complex system of
chemical production involving other proteins. Genes cannot
make themselves any more than they can make a protein. They
are made by a complex machinery of proteins. It is also not
genes that are self-replicating but the entire organism as a
Thus relocating genes does not amount to making an entire
organism. Organism `makes' itself. To claim that an organism
and its future genetations are products of an investor's
mind needing to be protected by international property
rights as biotechnological innovations amounts to denying
the self-organising, self-replicating structures of
organisms. Put simply, it amounts to a theft of nature's
Granting patents for genetically engineered organisms
becomes even more inappropriate because biologists who claim
patents on life often have to use `junk DNA' (95% DNA whose
function is not known). In the case of the transgenic sheep
Tracy, called a `biotechnological invention',, the
scientists at PPL (the company holding the patent on Tracy)
had to use `junk DNA' to get high yields of alpha-i-
As Ron James, director, says, `We left some of these random
bits of DNA in the gene, essentially as God provided it and
that produced high yield.' However, their patent claims are
proof that PPl is claiming to be God.
The primary threat to diverse forms of life as both biologi-
cal and cultural diversity comes from this
reductionist/mechanistic paradigm which has devalued most
species, and all non-Western non-reductionist knowledge
systems, leading to species extinction and erosion, and
cultural extinction and erosion.
Conservation of biological and cultural diversity calls for
transcending of the dominant reductionist trends in biology.
The need of the hour is a post-reductionist trends in biolo-
gy. The need of the hour is a post-reductionist biology in
which humans and other species stand as equal but diverse
partners and modern biology ad ancient systems of life
sciences stand side by side in a pluralism.
- Third World Network Features
- ends -
About the witer: Vandana Shiva is a leading environmental
scientist in India and the author of Staying Alive and many
other books and articles on issues related to resources, the
environment and women.
When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World
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