Need Safeguards for Gene-Tinkered Foods

Art Eschenlauer eschen at molbio.cbs.umn.edu
Wed Jun 23 11:57:54 EST 1993


I am a molecular geneticist with considerable experience with bacteriology
and growing experience with plants. I consider myself competant only to
respond in the most general way to this article:

I see your point. I feel that quite a bit of your facts are severely
flawed [e.g., the potential danger of CaMV35S promoters recombining
with HIV: viruses come to us optimized; I doubt that CaMV35S can do
anything for HIV that HIV cannot do for itself already. And I am very
suspicious of a link between HIV, a retrovirus, and hepatitis B, which
i believe is not so. However, I could be wrong...], but I still think
that your thoughts are worthy of consideration. Restated, I feel that
the degree of the threat is exaggerated, but I agree that these are
things that need to be thought about and discussed.

By the way, Jim Watson does NOT speak for all biologists!

The main problem with the paper is that it does not make any attempt
to look at the issue from both sides. The more people try to look at the
whole issue, the closer they may come to the truth, IMHO.

I am concerned about the possibility of antibiotic resistance genes making
their way from crops to bacteria, albeit a slight one. (To be fair, however,
the reckless use of antibiotics, including prophyllactic use of them in
animal feed, has probably given rise to much more trouble in terms of 
bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics than genetically engin-
eered crops will do for a LONG time.) But the point is valid. Why are these
antibiotic resistance
genes used "temporarily"? In order to separate the engineered plants from
those that have not been engineered. After that they are no longer needed.
Antibiotics and antibodies have nothing to do with each other, by the way.

I think that open minded discussion of this topic is merited, even though
I feel that the risks are slight, in general. The 
tryptophan disaster was *NOT* due to genetic engineering, but to the fact
that competition caused the company to go into production without making

sure that the product was pure; big mistake! We need time
learn from such
mistakes, however, so caution is definitely advised, although
paranoia is not, IMHO.



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