Die Monsanto, die.

"Grain" by peter pearson via Flickr

"Grain" by peter pearson via Flickr

I am a scientific layman when it comes to GMO, Genes, and Bacteria, but it seems like some of you folks think that bacteria are somehow a magic method for DNA to pass between species. While Horizontal Gene Transfer happens all the time, in fact it’s one of the major causes of “super-bug” resistant strains of bacteria, so far it appears that gene transfer between plant and animal are very rare even in cases where the two have had millions of years to evolve together. Even secondary transfer of genes from plant #1 via animal to plant #2 are very rare in nature. Rare in a bacterial biomass that far outweighs that of plants and animals, and this is your general, all purpose heading of gene transfer also. It could be entirely benign (DNA/RNA cruft as it were) which is often the case, or it could be harmful or beneficial. This is overshadowed by the shifting perception in the biological sciences of the role such HGTs have played in evolution, and that “ordinary” HGT happens with amazing frequency between different bacteria.
What is clear to me is that Monsanto is a large corporation in one of the most contentious industries in the world. (some of the others being water providers/rights-holders, oil/mining companies, and of course pharmaceutical) They also operate under the Corporate structure, which puts making money for the shareholders above anything else, including the health and safety of the public. If it costs less to pay the possible government fines, legal fees, and settlements than to do things properly, they have a responsibility to follow the course of action that makes the most money. And if they don’t get caught, or are able to make the repayment process take so long that most people drop out, well that’s more money for the shareholders.  Many aspects of the system are broken.

Also in the forefront of my mind is that the work to optimize the entirety of agriculture must continue, as it has since we first started planting seeds. All avenues, including the scientific, must be explored, and there must be open research and testing, which unfortunately doesn’t fit with the closed corporate secret system. Many aspects of the system are broken.

It will take more time, research, and legal wrangling before the system gets better, and the rhetoric, torches, pitchforks, and misinformation are the rule of the day. Personally I’d love to see them crack open the Monsanto research and post the whole thing on the web for peer review.

NOTE: X-Posted reply from a FetLife thread

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Comments

  1. Maybe when I have time, I will find out just exactly how much gene transfer occurs between bacteria and plants, and also between bacteria and animals. I no longer have university med school level permissions to scientific articles unfortunately :-(

  2. Just based on the Wikipedia article on HGT, it seems that there are only a few cases discovered so far under the Eukaryote section. And up top it does have this note:

    There is some evidence that even higher plants and animals have been affected and this has raised concerns for safety.[16] However, Richardson and Palmer (2007) state: "Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has played a major role in bacterial evolution and is fairly common in certain unicellular eukaryotes. However, the prevalence and importance of HGT in the evolution of multicellular eukaryotes remain unclear."[17]

    Due to the increasing amount of evidence suggesting the importance of these phenomena for evolution (see below) molecular biologists such as Peter Gogarten have described horizontal gene transfer as "A New Paradigm for Biology".[18]

    It should also be noted that the process may be a hidden hazard of genetic engineering as it may allow dangerous transgenic DNA to spread from species to species.[16]

    Which to me looks like it is just a possibility, and hasn't been found in nature or performed in the lab.

  3. From what I can tell, the science is still being done on this. Yes, horizontal gene transfer occurs, and we have been able to make it happen using viral vectors as well as observe it occurring between different species of bacteria.

    What I am not sure of is whether a mechanism has been observed or even proposed for observed horizontal gene transfer between bacteria and eukaryotes.

    For that matter, I don't see any solid evidence that Monsanto has been proven to have done anything directly illegal or dangerous. I agree that Monsanto, as a corporation, has not been as responsible as they could or should have been. It does not follow that the whole corporation needs to go or that GM foods as a whole are always a bad idea.

    Of course, as with all beliefs, getting anyone with a firmly held one to change it is damn near impossible, so I am happy to concede defeat, having put more than my two cents worth in the pot.

  4. Jeremy Wilson says:

    I don't know the company Monsanto. Do they make lab enhanced engineered foods? I hear GM does. Fro the Wikipedia quote by Peter Gogarten, and what you wrote right after that, I see corporations as dangerous dealers in the HGT science food industry, or in the business of dealing with HGT sciences at all. We need a smart powerful watch dog group here, in action!

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