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Biotech Science

Transgenic Mustard Cleans Up Soils 66

Posted by timothy
from the and-mustard-greens-are-tasty dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "Researchers have genetically modified a common plant, the Indian mustard, to absorb more selenium, a toxic heavy metal found in soils polluted by irrigation wastewater. The transgenic plants were four times more efficient at swallowing selenium than natural ones in a contaminated area of California's Central Valley, according to articles from Nature and Wired News. These field tests are only experiments, but the researchers also want to add genes to other plants to remove different toxic materials from soils, such as mercury. What would happen if such transgenic plants filled with dangerous chemicals start to crossbreed with natural ones? Or if an insect eats these plants before being eaten itself in the natural food chain, leading to some selenium in our food? Read more and tell me what you think."
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Transgenic Mustard Cleans Up Soils

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  • by wasted (94866) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @08:17PM (#11684652)
    The plant takes selenium (which is bad for other plants,) out of the soil, and the plant can be used for feed, since animals need selenium in their diets.

    Since this is a mustard plant, will we have Selenium-fortified mustard on our grocery shelves soon?
  • cross breeding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Suburbanpride (755823) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @08:21PM (#11684695)
    What would happen if such transgenic plants filled with dangerous chemicals start to crossbreed with natural ones?

    Um a plant filled with dangerous chemicals crossbreeding isn't the problem, but a plant with the GENES that make it more likely to suck up chemicals is a problem. You can also engineer the genes so that they can't breed, and that solves the problem, although it makes it more expensive to replunish the plants.

    I'm personaly a bit nervous about GMO in the food supply, but I think this kind of thing, if properly controled, good do great things for the enviroment

    • The problem is that there is simply not enough GMO in the food supply. We're never going to progress as a species if we continue to grow food in fields like ancient Egyptians.
  • Come on. If you were a self-respecting geek, you'd be embarassed to have wondered if a selenium-laden plant would be a danger if it bred.

    The answer is NO. And I will add 'duh' to that, because you deserve it.
    • In fact, inserting these genes into wheat (not that it's even plausable to do so, but hey) would result in a nice high-selenium flour variation. Seeing as the dietry requirements for selenium are not met by what most people eat, that would be cool!
  • For 1, Selenium isn't a metal. For 2, it's a necessary part of the diet of all known forms of life (it's a micronutrient). Seeing as you're not an expert on the subject, how about you STFU?
  • Sooo... Geneticly altered plant are good? Bad? No comment on Roland...
  • by MarkusQ (450076) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @08:39PM (#11684841) Journal

    Read more and tell me what you think.

    I think this article/posting is filled with anti-GMO FUD.

    I think that's kind of sad for a site like /., which (at least in theory) should be a haven for people who take a positive aproach to life, instead of chicken-little ludites.

    And I think that if you really didn't want to know what I think, you shouldn't have asked.

    --MarkusQ

    • by nyteroot (311287) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @08:47PM (#11684897)
      The article is certainly filled with anti-GMO FUD. The most telling is the following facetious summarization of the science:
      Let me summarize this. First, you add genes to a plant which will then easily absorb dangerous and toxic chemicals. Then you use these plants to feed cows. But why on earth a cow would need to ingest more selenium? And are you sure that you want this selenium in your plate?

      Check this: Livestock require selenium as a cofactor for the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Supplementation of feeds with selenium has greatly reduced the incidence of deficiencies [1]. Furthermore, as other posters have pointed out, we _ourselves_ need it in our diets and clearly don't get enough. Mod the article -1 Troll.
      -------------------
      [1] http://www.engormix.com/e_articles.asp?AREA=GDL&NR O=66
    • I think that's kind of sad for a site like /., which (at least in theory) should be a haven for people who take a positive aproach to life, instead of chicken-little ludites.
      It's also a haven for tin-foil-hat types. It's not that we're against GMO as such, we're just against the amoral, unethical, moneygrubbing, politician buying, fascist, arsehole corporations that do it.

      • we're just against the amoral, unethical, moneygrubbing, politician buying, fascist, arsehole corporations that do it.
        Point taken. I wouldn't trust some of them to count their own toes...which I'm sure they'll claim they have, being "persons" now and everything.

        --MarkusQ

  • I didn't bother submitting this story when my Nature alert came in the other day...slashdotters don't do botany.
    Since I PAY GNC to put selenium in my antioxidant cocktail, I want to know where I can get some seeds for this mustart to plant in my herb garden. Seriously? amounts, numbers, micrograms per KG of cooked leaves... some precise data is needed to determine whether we are talking about a poison or a nutritional supplement.
  • Evolution (Score:2, Funny)

    by Zepalesque (468881)
    From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] (no less)

    "It is discovered that selenium, an ingredient in some Head & Shoulders shampoos, is as poisonous to the alien life-forms as arsenic is to humans."

    Just wanted to clear that up :)

    "I don't think there's any time for lubrication"

    "THERE'S ALWAYS TIME FOR LUBRICATION!"
    • by jd (1658)
      So... I guess that means it's safe for them, as arsnic (in small quantities) is actually essential for humans. (It's not dangerous until you start talking serious quantities. No tea drinker has ever died of arsnic poisoning. It doesn't even make their hair shiny.)
  • by caseih (160668) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @08:55PM (#11684955)
    Hmm. Maybe better to develop a plant to remove Roland Piquepaille blog advertisements from slashdot...
  • Generally speaking I am against GMO's especially as they do tend to cross-breed with non-GMO's and if they are a strong enough breed will take over like GMO corn has done ( http://ohioline.osu.edu/agf-fact/0153.html [osu.edu]).

    I can see how this could be useful and why, especially in dealing with areas of high-selenium concentrations. And am sure that if it comes into use it will some company , vitamin or otherwise, will find a use for it.

    FYI Selenium is a " micromineral needed in the diet on a daily basis, but on
    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @11:28PM (#11685933)
      Generally speaking I am against GMO's especially as they do tend to cross-breed with non-GMO's and if they are a strong enough breed will take over like GMO corn has done

      All organisms are genetically modified in one fashion or another. Humans have been selectively breeding crops for growth rate, productivity and so on for thousands of years. So should we only eat wild plants? Before that, the plants were bred by the environment. Plus, natural hybridization is responsible for gene exchange in wild plants, while gene uptake from other organisms such as viruses is responsible for foreign DNA getting into plants. That's been going on for hundreds of millions of years. To an evolutionary biologist, the idea of keeping the genes pure is nonsense. Think about it. You have the nucleic acid sequence

      actgtagccgat

      in a plant. So it's automatically safe and OK and doesn't need testing if it got inserted naturally from a virus or mutation, but it's automatically dangerous and not-OK if humans put it there? That's the assumption a lot of anti-GMO people make. I'm not saying there aren't risks, but there are also risks with organic organisms. Rattlesnake venom, the HIV virus and cocaine are all organic, that doesn't make them good for you. It's all a question of carefully weighing the risks against the rewards.


      • All organisms are genetically modified in one fashion or another. Humans have been selectively breeding crops for growth rate, productivity and so on for thousands of years. So should we only eat wild plants?

        Sorry, that's a conflation. You're conflating human-bred plants with wild plants. They are not the same.

        Plus, natural hybridization is responsible for gene exchange in wild plants, while gene uptake from other organisms such as viruses is responsible for foreign DNA getting into plants. That's
      • All organisms are genetically modified in one fashion or another. Humans have been selectively breeding crops for growth rate, productivity and so on for thousands of years.

        Breeding does not MODIFY the genes. It just mixes them into new combinations. GMO on the other hand have NEW genes that never existed before. Take some basic genetics.

        But that's beside the point I'm about to make. Imagine the following scenario:

        Monsanto patents some new GMO, say, tomatoes. These tomatoes interbreed with "natural"

      • So it's automatically safe and OK and doesn't need testing if it got inserted naturally from a virus or mutation, but it's automatically dangerous and not-OK if humans put it there?

        If it was a virus or mutation then God Did It.

        -
  • by Ironsides (739422) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @09:35PM (#11685181) Homepage Journal
    How long until they can get plants that will suck up gold/platinum/silver or other precious metals?
  • What would happen if such transgenic plants filled with dangerous chemicals start to crossbreed with natural ones?

    As if that happening would cause problems. The plants are genetically disposed toward absorbing the substance, not producing it.

    It's not like I can feed my girlfriend a diet high in gold and expect our kids to take glittery craps.
  • What If ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Salis (52373) <<howard.salis> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @10:06PM (#11685351) Journal
    What if I ate 2 tons of the selenium plant and died?

    What if I ate 2 tons of beas who ate the selenium plant and died?

    What if I got stung by a bea who ate the selenium
    plant and died from an acute allergy to beas?

    What if I got hit by a car whose driver was a lab tech whose company developed the plant which absorbs selenium?

    What if I ate two tons of dirt which contained so much selenium, that would otherwise be absorbed by genetically engineered planted, that I died?

    What if I ate two tons of dirt? Eeww.

    Ok, enough. There are so many irrelevant "what if" questions. The main questions are: What are the benefits of this plant and how do they compare to the risks of this plant _relative_ to the risk of exististing on this planet (including us, other organisms, and the planet itself). Most genetically engineered (and commercially viable) plants have so much benefit that their risks are wildly outweighed. Even with the "what if"'s.

    My two cents.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What would happen if such transgenic plants filled with dangerous chemicals start to crossbreed with natural ones?

    Well of course we'd sue the natural plants for infringing the patents on this gene. Duh! Do we biotech IP lawyers have to explain everything to you guys?
  • by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @10:24PM (#11685446) Homepage Journal
    It can't exactly be called heavy, at an atomic mass of 34. Nor is it toxic (except in high doses, at which point it rots the brain and can cause birth defects). In fact, in low to moderate doses, it is considered an essential element. Elemental Selenium is connected with many processes, including some cellular defenses against carcinogens.


    HOWEVER, that only applies to the elemental form. Certain compounds containing Selenium are highly toxic, and it is my guess that this is what the genetic engineers were interested in.


    To quote from WebElements [webelements.com]:



    Selenium can be prepared with either an amorphous or crystalline structure. Crystalline monoclinic selenium is deep red; crystalline hexagonal selenium, the most stable variety, is a metallic grey (see picture above). Elemental selenium is relatively nontoxic and is considered to be an essential trace element. However, hydrogen selenide (H2Se) and other selenium compounds are extremely toxic, and resemble arsenic in their physiological reactions. Hydrogen selenide in a concentration of 1.5 ppm is intolerable to man. Selenium occurs in some soils in amounts sufficient to produce serious effects on animals feeding on plants such as locoweed (an American plant) grown in such soils.

  • by PsiPsiStar (95676)
    They should have used some other plant which;

    1. Doesn't have wild type relatives.
    2. Is not a food crop.

    After all, they're not trying to grow food, so it makes sense not to create plants which could interbreed with food crops if there's any chance that this modification could bring unsafe levels of selenium into people's diet. (yes, I know it's a micronutrient, but even more important nutrients, say Iron, are toxic if you get enough)

    Then the bar for genetic modification would be much lower. True, genes ca
  • One of the persistent worries about GM croops that have been introduced to the wild is whether or not they can "leak" their GM-ness. There wasn't much worry on this point when GM crops were introduced in North America but there is growing evidence that pollens produced by GM plants can fertilize non-GM crops and thus transfer their GM genes. Thus, whether we like it or not, releasing a plant with GM genes means that we are _always_ taking _some_ risk that the entire species will become "contaminated" by t
  • What would happen if such transgenic plants filled with dangerous chemicals start to crossbreed with natural ones?

    I can't believe nobody mentioned the Day of the Triffids yet. I thought all Slashdotters were Sci-Fi geeks? I realise we're missing the strange meteor shower, but maybe these plants are the first step? The article doesn't mention anything about the roots, though...

  • Having read the article I would say it's a gas.....
  • Considering rotten GREEN putrid meat has been packed and even placed on sale in supermarkets, and GM grain is mixed with non gm grain in our foods (and US don't care) I will not be lookin favourably on mustard anymore.

    Sorry Kramer, no Dijon
  • Read more and tell me what you think
    I'm not an expert in this field, but these experiments look quite dangerous to me in the long term, especially if they become widespread.

    I think you're an alarmist that has no concept of how science, agriculture, or genetics works. Go protest something hippy!

  • I bought a new jar of mustard this week, I was looking forward to roast beef sandwiches, now I've got to go check it for heavy metals and radioactivity....
  • As seen in Nausicaa [nausicaa.net] ...
    Now we just need these engineered in a way to release excess poison as miasma. Oh, and dont forget to add giant mutant insects :)

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