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Drug Making Genes Added To Corn Jump To Soya 510

Anonymous Cowdog writes "Google News turned up a scary item today: Apparently, genetically altered corn, designed not to repel pests or withstand bad weather, but rather to grow pharmecuticals (for diabetes and diarrhea) has been accidentally mixed with soy plants in the field, resulting in 500,000 bushels of contaminated soybeans being quarantined by the US FDA. Ooops. Here's the story, and here's another story about the same case. The company who brought us this nice event is called ProdiGene. Looks like they're also working on an edible AIDS vaccine (kinda makes sense, eat Tofu, enjoy free love!) Now, I was thinking, will our government protect us from doom-by-hand-me-down-genes? and on a hunch (honest!) I did this google search for keywords ProdiGene and "george w bush". Result? A not so reassuring article."
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Drug Making Genes Added To Corn Jump To Soya

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  • Caution... (Score:5, Informative)

    by SealBeater ( 143912 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:34AM (#4696523) Homepage
    See, this is why a lot of people are cautious about genetically altered foods.
    The potential hazards combined with the legal tanglements of a company being
    able to hold a patent on seeds, so far, hasn't been worth it. Perhaps now, the
    na-sayers who derided the decision of the leader of that African country to
    refuse genetically altered foodstuffs have some "food for thought". Sorry, pun

    • Re:Caution... (Score:5, Informative)

      by gazbo ( 517111 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:39AM (#4696565)
      Misleading title - the genes haven't made the jump anywhere. They just happen to be planted in the same place.
      • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:56AM (#4696697)
        Maybe you are right, but the study on cross polinisation make a lot of people kinda warry in EU, and a lot of people there says that definitly 3 or 4 years was not enough to study the complete "life" cycle and possible jump a gene might make between plants, and the possible bad results of , say, a gene resisting desherbant into a wild specy.

        And when such SLOPYNESS comes to light, I can certainly give reason to people asking for more study of impact.
        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:36AM (#4697014) Homepage Journal
          Cross-pollenization (pollen is effectively a sperm cell) only happens within variants of the same species, or rarely, within the same genus -- frex, cabbage and radishes (IIRC) can be *forcibly* crossed, but the result is *sterile*. And it doesn't normally happen in the wild. It definitely does not happen between species as unlike as grasses and broadleaf plants. If it did, you couldn't have grass, trees, and flowers growing together in your yard!!

          If the crop had been seed soybeans (ie. meant for next year's planting, not for eating) and the contaminant had been lima beans (not easily separated from soybeans by seed cleaning processes), the crop would have been "ruined" for planting purposes, because seed is expected to be free of "weeds" (defined as any unwanted plant -- mustard is a "weed" most places). Same principle, but that wouldn't have made good argument-fodder!!

          • by elakazal ( 79531 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:42AM (#4697075)
            Yeah, despite both having n=9 chromosomes, radish and cabbage don't seem to have homologous sets of chromosomes, and so they don't pair up right, resulting in sterile plants. However, you can make a fertile tetraploid.

            Cross-pollination, certainly not in the field, just isn't going to happen between corn and soy. The reasons are almost too many to list...wrong number of chromosomes, lack of homology between chromosomes, mistiming of flowering, various forms of genetic incompatibility, etc. You might be able to coax some sort of a sad deformed thing out of protoplast fusion or some such thing, but I'd be against it, and even if you could, you'd be lucky if you could get it to live at all outside of a lab.
        • Monsanto -- making things "Greener than You Think" [google.com]

          (HINT: Moderators, if you're not familiar with the book in question, DO NOT MODERATE!)
        • Caution is right. The genes didn't jump anywhere.

          Both "news" stories are from an agenda-driven web site and read more like propaganda press releases than real news stores. Hemos was either asleep at the switch or has an axe to grind. Regardless, this is just nonsense.

          I don't really understand the "I did this google search..." part of the post. Who was Bush supposed to appoint, some retard that can't read, spell, or understand simple plant cultivation? If there's a job with those requirements, "Anonymous Cowdog" should submit his resume & you could be his travelling secretary.
        • by Yet Another Smith ( 42377 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @12:27PM (#4697575)
          OK, Just to clear this up a little bit.

          Cross-pollenation occurs between plants of the same species. Cross-pollentation is where the pollen of two different corn plants of two different lineages are intentionally introduced to each other. This is the same idea as people marrying somebody from the next town over, rather than their cousin.

          The pollen of a corn plant, cannot, under any circumstances, land on a soybean flower and create a seed. Two different species cannot create viable offspring unless they are very closely related (where they produce a cross-species hybrid, such as a mule), and even then these offspring are always infertile.

          Genetic Modification still has to follow the laws of biology. No matter what the source of the genes, you can't just put two species in close proximity and have genes cross from one to the other. You really do have to have all that spiffy lab equipment and clever people with test-tubes and droppers and microscopes and so forth.

          The genes of the corn plants did not contaminate the soy.

          So what's the fuss about? Well, those corn plants were producing diabetes and diahorrea drugs. These drugs are probably not something that you really want healthy people taking, as it could possibly have adverse effects. The soy was planted in feilds that contained the GM corn previously. A few of the seeds left over from the previous planting sprouted when the soy was planted. Now it is entirely possible that these corn plants could still be producing these drugs. This is relatively harmless in the wild where they won't be coming into contact with people, but when they're growing in the middle of food-plants, its possible the soy could absorb some of the drugs, simply due to their proximity. This is a legitimate concern, not becuase of some possible 'genetic contamination', but the more mundane but infinitely more plausible pharmecuetical contamination. You won't get soybeans that produce the chemicals themselves, but they might pick up the chemicals from the nearby corn.

          The reason that the food manufacturers are upset about using food-plants for pharmaceuticals is that you don't want people eating corn that's been producing diabetes drugs. Eating a tortilla which messes with your insulin levels would be a Bad Thing. There's no reason these drugs couldn't be produced in, say, millet, which nobody on this continent eats as a food. Therefore, nobody accidentally takes drug-millet and makes cornbread from it, becuase nobody eats it anyway. You still wouldn't want to grow soy in that field the next season, though, for the reasons put forth above.

          I'd kinda like to see the /. editors put in a little addendum correcting the article submission a bit on that score. Its not that there's not legitimate cause for concern, but lets make sure that we've got the right concerns before we go off half-cocked. /.ers rightly complain about FUD coming from Wintel supporters. We should be equally careful not to spread unwarranted FUD regarding other subjects.
      • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:26AM (#4696941) Journal
        I agree, is slashdot getting so hard up for advertising revenue, that they are going to continue to used headline that wouldn't even make through the National Enquirer's editorial board?

        What realy happened was alarming enough to get a lot of reads without making it sound like an experiment gene jumped between two different and unrelated species.

        What's next, BatBoy run over by a truck or CmdrTaco's bodily orifaces probed by space aliens?
    • by SgtChaireBourne ( 457691 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:52AM (#4696668) Homepage
      Genetically modified crops can be a real controversial issue. The research can be both interesting and useful, the trouble lies in the implementation and with the rush to get things to market.

      Gene hacking is not the same as the gradual breeding proceses that have gone on for millenia. In the latter, each step is relatively stable, in the former, large potentially disruptive leaps can be made more or less overnight. Unfortunately, unlike with computers you don't have the comfort of chroot and/or virtual machines.

      • by Oculus Habent ( 562837 ) <oculus...habent@@@gmail...com> on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:22AM (#4696905) Journal
        You do, however, have test fields, laboratories, sampling, testing, et cetera.

        It's not as though on Monday a scientist modifies a gene and on Friday it's being sold in 100,000 grocery stores.

        There is a huge process of making sure there aren't any adverse changes to the plant, that you haven't accidentally made a super corn laced with cyanide...

        If you think that scientists are just randomly changing genes in foods intended to be sold, you've lost your grip on reality. Experimentation happens, but no sane food/drug company would risk the impact of such a level of carelessness/unconcern.

        Maroon carrots and golden rice made their way into the market - I didn't hear much screaming about genetically altered food then.
        • by why-is-it ( 318134 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:30AM (#4696975) Homepage Journal
          If you think that scientists are just randomly changing genes in foods intended to be sold, you've lost your grip on reality. Experimentation happens, but no sane food/drug company would risk the impact of such a level of carelessness/unconcern.

          While I tend to agree with that assessment, I am still troubled by the amount of resources these same food/drug companies spent in order to defeat bills that would have required mandatory labelling of any products containing GM products.

          If GM foods are *so* safe, why do they not want us to know when they are being consumed? It's sad that the last line of defense is the threat of massive class-action lawsuits in the event that GM foods are not quite as safe as their purveyors would have us believe!
          • by aslagle ( 441969 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:50AM (#4697161)
            If GM foods are *so* safe, why do they not want us to know when they are being consumed?

            Maybe it's because people have a history of overhyping 'bad' products so that people have a fear of them out of proportion to the risks.

            As an example, lets look at the demonization of the word 'nuclear'... it has been so villified by the press and other groups, that the simple mention of the word (or of it's twin, radiation) will cause people to avoid anything having to do with it, no matter the benefits.

            That's why irradiated foods do so poorly. Even though they aren't radioactive, people avoid them because it's 'one 'a them "nukulur" things'...

            Of course, the company's opposition of the bill couldn't have had anything to do with that - it has to be a conspiracy to foist poisonous food on us! They want to kill all of us customers off so they can clear the way for the alien invasion!.....

          • by elakazal ( 79531 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:54AM (#4697210)
            The reason to the resistance towards labeling is that the public is so ill-informed (54% in a recent survey did not know that non-transgenic corn had genes all, for example). The food and pharmaceutical companies aren't afraid of the choice a well-informed public will make, they're afraid of the choice the actual public will make, which would likely cost them billions of dollars in research over what amounts to bad PR.

            Do I trust Monsanto or Eli Lilly to tell me the truth about transgenics? No, of course not. Neither to I trust the "anti-GMO" activists who spout scare-mongering pseudo-science. The real research, done at universities by people with somewhat less of an axe to grind, indicates that the health risks of any transgenic crop which has actually made it to market are essentially nil. Environmental risks are something else, of course, but these too are being vastly overplayed.

            I used to consider myself to be a very environmentally active person, and I often supported a variety of "environmental" groups. Yet in the past four years or so I've been so disgusted by the lies and half-truths coming out of these groups that I've virtually stopped funding all of them.

            Read the literature...don't take my word or any one else's for it.

            I'm torn, because in my heart I do support the idea that people should know what they are eating. But when you can count on those people to make bad decisions, decisions which harm both them and the economy, I can't really support doing it right now.
            • The food and pharmaceutical companies aren't afraid of the choice a well-informed public will make, they're afraid of the choice the actual public will make, which would likely cost them billions of dollars in research over what amounts to bad PR

              It is true that the "average" person is uninformed about a great many things. Does that mean the solution is to not provide the great unwashed with any details that might cause confusion or offense? That hardly fills me with trust and reassurance. The question I wonder about is: which is greater - the short and medium-term financial gains for the corporations who want to sell this stuff or the long-term potential negative impact of GM foods? Who do you trust when almost everyone involved has a potential conflict of interet?

              The real research, done at universities by people with somewhat less of an axe to grind,

              Unfortunately, the universities are not as unsullied as we would prefer. Check out the recently settled issue between Dr. Nancy Oliveri and Apotex with respect to Deferiprone. Corporate interests and academic freedom are simply not compatible. This time, Apotex lost, but it took years and lawsuits to get it settled.
        • Actually if you lived in europe you'd have heard plenty of screaming about GM food. Any food products containing GM material MUST (by law) say so, and many stores have stopped selling GM products at all because of consumer unease.

          You say "no sane food/drug company would risk the impact of such a level of carelessness/unconcern", but many would say you were insane for making such a dangerous and naive assumption.

          The big biotech companies have spent vast amounts of money on developing these new products. Do you really believe that they would be beyond "selecting" scientific data that supports claims that they are safe? All /.rs know about RIAA and their pet senators, but how many pet senators does Monsanto have and why do they need them if the food is so safe?

          Well one reason they need the senators is obvious actually. They need them to force the US government to persuade the WTO, UN etc that GM food is safe, so that any country which blocks the sale of US food goods is in breach of WTO rules, and so is any country that refuses GM food aid.

          Just another example of US corporate imperialism by proxy.
    • Re:Caution... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:56AM (#4696698) Journal
      That "leader" of that African country didn't refuse the food aid because it was genetically altered. It was refused because he is using food as a weapon to starve out his opponents.

      Just do a google search on "Zimbabwe Food"

      http://www.africaonline.com/site/Articles/1,3,50 13 2.jsp
      http://www.alertnet.org/thefacts/reliefreso urces/4 89432
      http://www.washtimes.com/world/20020605-231 50816.h tm
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/215941 8.st m

      From the first URL.

      "The Zimbabwe government has told some non-governmental organisations involved in food distribution to stop operations. Aid workers have been told they could be arrested if they continue to distribute food without being registered with the government."
  • GM Food, Be Wary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Izeickl ( 529058 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:34AM (#4696526) Homepage
    Yes it has lots of good uses, but Im glad something like this has happend just to highlight that its not all perfect and that some peoples concerns are well founded.
    • GM food, get over it (Score:5, Interesting)

      by p3d0 ( 42270 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:11AM (#4696816)
      Yes, the idea that genetic manipulation is perfect is naive. However, the idea that GM research must be stopped is also naive.

      It's just a technology, like any other. Look, we didn't know CFCs would eat away the ozone layer until it started to happen. Then, we stopped making so many CFCs, and the problem will eventually go away. Somehow the Earth has survived. We learned from our mistake.

      Or look at the killer bees. That was a direct result of human meddling that got out of control. It's a terrible thing, but really, how does the actual harm caused by killer bees compare to the harm that would be inflicted by stopping all research that could possibly have negative consequences? How many similar experiments have had no negative repercussions at all?

      Like any research, the consequences should be foreseen to the degree possible, and all sensible precautions should be taken. If an experiment is too risky, it should be avoided, at least until the risks can be mitigated. Yet after all this, we will still make mistakes. I say, get over it.

  • Misleading headline (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mskfisher ( 22425 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:35AM (#4696531) Homepage Journal
    The headline on this story seems misleading - the genes did not jump to soybeans from the corn, the genetically-modified corn was accidentally added to some unmodified soybeans.
    AFAIK, genes don't have the ability to do an inter-species jump like that...
    • 'Mistakes' like this are common. The average journalist (or person in general - including /. readers) doesn't know enough about science to know that genes can't "jump species" as diverse as corn to soybean.

      • Not so fast. Check this out. It has been known for over a year that pesticide producing genes can and have been transferred to human gut bacteria from ingested food.

        http://www.organicconsumers.org/gefood/gegut0718 02 .cfm
        • The scientists took seven human volunteers who had their lower intestine removed in the past and now use colostomy bags. After being fed a meal of a burger containing GM soya and a milkshake, the researchers compared their stools with 12 people with normal stomachs. They found "to their surprise" that "a relatively large proportion of genetically modified DNA survived the passage through the small bowel". None was found in people who had complete stomachs.

          But to see if GM DNA might be transferred via bacteria to the intestine, they also took bacteria from stools in the colostomy bags and cultivated them. In three of the seven samples they found bacteria had taken up the herbicide-resistant gene from the GM food at a very low level.

          What does "very low level" mean? The scientists say this is not alarming at all (if they had show genetic splicing going on in the human digestive tract, I'd imagine they'd be going for a Nobel prize)... the only people who find this a big deal is a group called "Friends of the Earth".

          So, what happened? Somebody misread a scientific report, I'd imagine.


      • Another example...
      • by Gumber ( 17306 )
        You can't say that anyone knows that genes can't jump species as diverse as corn to soybean. It may not have been observed, yet, which isn't suprising, since it would probably be a rare occurance, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. Of course, most people on slashdot don't know enough to make such distincitons.

        In fact, I think there is every reason to think that they can, especially when we are dealing with genetically modified organisms. One method of inserting genes into genomes uses sequences that are known to be associated with the mobility of DNA sequences. Given the low level this is working at, I would expect a transposable sequence from one species to work equally well for getting a sequence into the genome of another species.

        The issue then becomes, how likely is this comingling of DNA between species outside the lab. It is probably relatively rare, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Especially when you consider the scale at which crops are grown.
    • Typical FUD (Score:5, Insightful)

      by siskbc ( 598067 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:47AM (#4696623) Homepage
      See, this is getting ridiculous. Posting process on slashdot:

      1. Slashdotter finds distuirbing article.
      2. Slashdotter doesn't read it closely.
      3. Slashdotter makes gross oversimplifications, including specifically some sort of doomsday scenario.
      4. Slashdotter assumes there must be some GW Bush conspiracy going on.

      The sad thing is that there is potential for harm here, but the overstated claims and conspiracy theories really hurt the credibility of the posted story, which itself was good.
      • 5. Slashdotter submits oversimplified misinterpretation of would-be conspiracy for publishing.
        6. Slashdot editor press "Publish" button without even thinking twice.
      • by djtack ( 545324 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:35AM (#4697011)
        The headline isn't just misleading, it's just plain wrong. The story is less than an hour old and there are already a fistful of comments pointing this out.

        If any of the editors are reading this thread, the headline needs to be corrected!

        BTW, I reread the summary a few times, and it seems that the person who submitted the story got it right. The poster makes no mention of any sort of horizontal gene transfer between the corn and soy, but only claims the crops were "accidentally mixed", which is what happened. It's Hemos who fscked this one up.
    • Gene Swapping (Score:5, Informative)

      by E. T. Alveron ( 617765 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:49AM (#4696646)
      Gene swapping is common among strains of bacteria (and several other microscopic buggers that undergo asexual reproduction), but not in eukaryotic or multicellular critters. Here's a brief discussion [genethik.de] of the process
      • Re:Gene Swapping (Score:2, Informative)

        by inburito ( 89603 )
        Yeah.. fortunately this only happens in prokaryotes. There are actually quite a few different ways but they are all only applicable to bacteria.

        You have bacteriophages, viruses that can penetrate a bacterial cell, recombine with it's chromosome, eventually pulling out of the chromosome, killing the cell while doing it and taking some of the bacterial dna with them and repeating this (next recombination will include the dna from previously killed bacteria).

        Bacteria can also have small chromosomes called plasmids that can have some interesting properties (such as resistance for antibiotics, etc.) If bacteria has an F plasmid it can have "sex" with a F- bacteria thus transferring it's reproduction capabilities and maybe something else too. This is how bacteria that due to some random mutation get resistant to antibiotics can spread this capability rather rapidly in a hospital.

        Bactetria can also pick up random dna at will and integrate it into their chromosome thus maybe bringing in some useful capabilities. There are classic examples about this that anyone who took an introductory college biology course should know..
    • I'm pro-genetic engineering, but we've gotta be careful while we tamper with the forces of nature. Genes CAN apparently jump species barriers, see for example this [observer.co.uk]...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You shouldn't be so sure that genes can't jump between species. Plants are a lot more 'in contact' with each other than most realize.

      1. Most plants have a symbiotic relationship with certain fungi - this is called mychorriza. This often means that seperate plants can exchange fluids wit their neighbors, among other things; for all we know this is not limited to the same species.

      2. Many plants hybridize readily with other species; mostly fairly close relatives, but not always.

      3. Some - perhaps all - bacteria can incorporate genetic material from other species. One could imagine a bacterium take genes from a plant or animal host and eventually passing it on to - who knows?

      Finally - we don't know all there is to know about what micro organisms can and do. In fact, we know next to nothing about this. The way that some are willing to play with these things - and with the life and health of the entire planet's population (inluding you and I and our children) - is totally incomprehensible.
    • There is a lot of study on cross pollinisation and inter specy gene jumping. This is also why EU has some "fear" of GMO :
      [url]http://www.europarl.eu.int/charter/civil/pdf/ con8en_en.pdf[/url]
      Sorry I don't know HTML to transform an URL into link. PS: you will find a lot of such link in google, just go past the first few page.
    • AFAIK, genes don't have the ability to do an inter-species jump like that...

      You are absolutely right. For example, there are genes in perfectly unnatural, unmodified tomatoes, but you don't find them "jumping" into humans and causing humans to develop tomato-like characteristics.
    • by abhinavnath ( 157483 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:05AM (#4696772)
      I agree that was a crappily put together headline. I thought *genes* had made the jump from corn to soy.

      Genes sometimes do make interspecies jumps: at least in the lab, bacteria can transduce genes from one species to another. A bacterial plasmid (small circular piece of DNA) integrated into a host genome can excise a small part of the host's genome, replicate, and reintegrate into another host's genome, even if the second host is of a different species. Plasmid integration is fairly common in plants, and integration of the T-plasmid from B. thuringiensis is the basis for most pest-resistant crops.

      Transposons could also potentially transduce genetic materials between species.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Perhaps not, but the real problem here is that they are, by accident, mixing ga corn seeds with regular seeds. It is distrubing that they have regular "for sale" seeds in the same facility as a "ga with meds" seeds. As it is cross pollination is enough of aproblem that they do not need to add more problems. Unfortunatly, it will almost certainly remain a problem for the next 2-6 years.
  • by pommiekiwifruit ( 570416 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:36AM (#4696532)
    It sounds like there are whole corn plants in the soybean fields (which presumably the automatic harvesting grabs together), rather than cross-species gene jumping. Still worrying but not unexpected when the US has such a cavalier attitude to segregation of GM/non-GM crops. It might also be worrying if you were allergic to normal corn (if they still grow that in the USA) (and found it in your soy food).
  • How is it possible? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by djkitsch ( 576853 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:36AM (#4696533)
    How is it practically possible to completely isolate these new genetically "enhanced" strains anyway? Surely as long a they're being grown in the big wide world, the genetic changes will crep into the food chain anyway...?

    Of course, I speak as a complete idjit when it comes to all things biological...
  • by StefMeister ( 219044 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:36AM (#4696538)

    I did this google search for keywords ProdiGene and "george w bush". Result? A not so reassuring article.

    Off course I didn't RTFA, but I guess it says that Bush ate a lot of genetically altered corn. That sure explains a lot :).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Those Fritos! They may grow you a second head.
  • Trypsin? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ann Coulter ( 614889 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:38AM (#4696559) Journal
    In the www.planetark.org article

    The bio-corn - which is grown to produce trypsin and another compound to treat diarrhea - has not been approved for human or livestock feed.

    Trypsin is a primary digestive enzyme in stomachs. I wonder what could possible go wrong with ingesting more trypsin, even if it was from another species. This other compound used to treat diarrhea couldn't be that bad either. I don't see what the real problem here is besides the small potential that someone might be allergic to this protein. I know that the FDA has to be conservative but there is no real need for a scare.

    Sorry for replying as an Anonymous Coward

    • Re:Trypsin? (Score:3, Funny)

      by the gnat ( 153162 )
      Sorry for replying as an Anonymous Coward

      You should be apologizing for posting as "Ann Coulter" instead. Eeeeeeew.
  • No undo's here (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cockney ( 102529 )
    This is why this technology is so frightening. Once a change is made and released into the wild it can never be undone. This is too serious to be tinkering with. Just because we can do it, it doesn't mean we should.
    • What's frightening? That someone accidentally planted modified corn in a soybean field? Because that's all that happened. The soybeans are unharmed, they've just grown too close to a modified crop to pass government inspection.
    • Re:No undo's here (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Glock27 ( 446276 )
      "This is why this technology is so frightening. Once a change is made and released into the wild it can never be undone.

      Other than the potential for random mutation (a major difference, granted) genetic engineering is much like programming. Perhaps it should be required to engineer in fail-safes, if possible. In other words, a defect in the resulting organism that makes it easy to exterminate, perhaps by an otherwise non-toxic chemical. Ideally, sterility after two or three generations would also be available for test organisms.

      This is too serious to be tinkering with. Just because we can do it, it doesn't mean we should.

      I'd agree that it sounds as if there is far too much of this type of testing going on in uncontrolled circumstances.

      Corn could be grown quite safely under appropriate biohazard precautions (filtered air, etc.). In my opinion, that is what should be used for pharmaceutical corn and other such things.

      Remember the parable of the killer bees [stingshield.com].

      Finally, on the subject of GWB, let's not stretch this to the breaking point...that was a while back and I'm sure ProdiGene had as good qualifications as any on paper in early 2001. ProdiGene will receive plenty of censure and punishment over this issue, and Bush shouldn't be held accountable unless there is far more of a smoking gun than we've seen so far.

  • by girl_geek_antinomy ( 626942 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:40AM (#4696577)
    We're not actually talking about genes 'jumping' here, simply, as far as I can see, this is plain old-fashionned seed contamination. Perhaps because it involves pharmaceutical compounds (which, one would hope, would have potential biological activity), people might sit up and take notice this time, but there's a catalogue of such accidental seed-mixing events. No one really cared because, though the transgenic plants weren't -intended- for human consumption, Monsanto and their ilk were asserting that of course they were safe, and no one need worry...

    It seems to me we're going to have to do a damn sight more than simply field-separation to make sure that pharmaceutical compounds don't get into the food chain... But more than likely there'll be a spate of reassuring press releases and the world will get back to normal. *sigh*
  • Misleading Headline (Score:5, Informative)

    by andcal ( 196136 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:44AM (#4696609)

    What Happened: Parts of the harvested corn plants got mixed in with harvested soy beans. The resulting mixed product is contamnated, because people eating the soy product will eat some of the corn, getting the resulting altered genes in the soy.

    What the headline "Drug Making Genes Added To Corn Jump To Soya" makes one think happened: genes from the corn plant somehow spontaneously or voluntarily integrated themselves into the soy plant's genes. This did not happen!

    • You are right about the mixup, it was "only" the GM corn growing with the soy, and getting mixed in it. Here the problem is not so much the modified genes directly, but the pharmaceuticals the corn was designed to produce. This I find scary enough - think if we all got "just a little" penicillin with the everyday foods, so that the development of penicillin-resistant pathogens would speed up even more...
  • Not so reassuring? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Alethes ( 533985 )
    I was thinking, will our government protect us from doom-by-hand-me-down-genes? and on a hunch (honest!) I did this google search for keywords ProdiGene and "george w bush". Result? A not so reassuring article."

    Nothing like a quick fix of leftist psychobabble to get my day going right. Just about everything you eat is genetically modified in some way from the way it first appeared on this planet. This is not a bad thing. Animal breeders breed specific animals together to enhance a trait that makes them useful for some purpose, and these companies are doing exactly the same thing with plants. Why in the world is Bush having somebody with a clue about these types of modifications on the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development a bad thing? If he had nobody on that board with a clue, then it's likely that soya would have just gone on by because nobody would have been there to tell them that it was a bad thing.

    This is not news. It'd be news if the government let the soya slide by contaminated and just wrote it off as no big deal.
    • Just about everything you eat is genetically modified in some way from the way it first appeared on this planet. This is not a bad thing. Animal breeders breed specific animals together to enhance a trait that makes them useful for some purpose, and these companies are doing exactly the same thing with plants.


      The biotech apologist lie that genetic modification has any relation to selective breeding is such a baldfaced lie that I can't concieve how anyone can speak it with a straight face.

      First, selective breeding does not introduce any new elements into a species genome. When you crossbreed and select two lines of tomatoes, all the genes in the resulting line were present in the originals: no new genes have been introduced into the tomato genome. This is in stark contrast to GM techniques that move genes from one species into another.

      Second, selective breeding is a well-understood practice with thousands of years of history. GM is poorly understood primitive technology: the target genome is not, as many think, carefully edited, but instead the desired genes are injected into the nucleus in the hope that they'll be picked up in the right place.

      This is like writing computer programs by taking a snippet from program A and inserting it in random places in program B until program B seems to do what you want. Any guesses as to the stability of program B at that point? The long-term effects of this "shotgun programming" are certainly not well-understood enough to grow these genetic chimera in uncontrolled conditions where they can contaminate unmodified strains.

    • by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:38AM (#4697035)
      "Animal breeders breed specific animals together to enhance a trait that makes them useful for some purpose, and these companies are doing exactly the same thing with plants."

      Except they are not doing "exactly the same thing". The difference is, that when you manually "breed" you are just speeding up a natural process, with natural ingredients. Now we are genetically modifying organisms in ways which would NEVER occur naturally through breeding (e.g. tomatos with fish gene sequences). Excuse me for being a bit cautious about something like this.
  • Nobody is really going to care about this issue until contaminated foods leak into the market and people start dying. When the lawsuits start flying, and when the connection between Bush and ProdiGene is covered by Dan, Peter and Tom (or perhaps Brian by then), THEN we'll start seeing some real action.

    Until then, pass that Cap'n Crunch/flu vaccine this way.
  • I'm not usually one to side with the anti-bush puppet-protesting Stankoists commies; but I'll give the Devil its due on this one. A similar Google search for Prodigene + "Bill Clinton" turned up nothing similar.

    Politics aside, this business of releasing geneticly altered crops into the wild smacks of the kind of overconfidence and "put on your manager hat" thinking that lead to the sinking of the Titanic and the Challenger disaster. It's only a matter of time before we do something really silly like kill all the corn or turn our wheat into poison.

  • Amber mutations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daniel_howell ( 457947 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:50AM (#4696650)
    Whatever happened to 'amber mutations' for this sort of genetically engineered 'drugs factory'? An amber mutation is one which will not kill the plant/animal with it, provided it gets some substance not commonly available in the environment. But if the susbtance is not provided then the organism simply dies.

    It was originally used with lab and sealed-vat based organisms to protect against accidental releases, but it could easilly be applied to farm based plants. Since the kind of farming that uses genetically modified organisms also tends to use a significant quantity of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers it would be simple to add one more non-toxic chemical to the mix, without which the plants would simply die (or fail to reproduce). You could then deal with any problems by withdrawing the supplement, and any escapees would quickly die. There would still be a slight risk of genetic 'contamination' of nearby crops, but it would be much lower than at present.

    If I were a cynical type I would suspect that biotechnology companies are counting on accidental contamination to make it impossible to ever go back to a 'GMO free' state, thus safeguarding their business. Another (cynical) alternative is that to build in a safeguard is tantamount to admitting that you *need* a safeguard, which would adversly affect their sales.

    Sometimes it's hard not to be a cynic.
    • Re:Amber mutations (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tsu-na-mi ( 88576 )
      Most GM seeds are hybrids, and thus are inherently infertile. There is no need for a 'suicide gene'.

      On your cynical comment, you're more correct than you think. I believe the companies _want_ their patented genes to spread, so they can extort money out of people contaminated by their crops. There was a story a year or so ago about a farmer in Western Canada who had GM varieties growing on his farm (that he did not buy from the seed company). He argued that it must have blown off a passing seed truck, or something, but the court ordered him to destroy his entire crop (since it had the _unlicensed_ patented seeds mixed in. THAT is where the problem lies IMHO.

      I work in the ag industry (data analysis), so we hear all about this stuff. The GM food itself isn't the problem, it's the associated patents, etc. that are the problem.
  • Increasing Problem (Score:3, Informative)

    by FreeLinux ( 555387 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:51AM (#4696661)
    This is not the first time that there have been mix-ups with genetically engineered crops. Such mix-ups are becoming entirely too frequent. Although no injuries have happened to date, that we know of, this is a dangerous situation.

    The frightening thing is that this is very likely to become far more common as more and more genetically engineered crops are developed and their use becomes more widespread. So far, the mix-ups have been caught, or so we hope. But, the likelyhood of such crops escaping into the consumer market and the wild is rapidly increasing and the unknown dangers that go with them are frightening.

    Man has always tampered with nature with many disaterous results to show for it. The transplanting of non-native species has almost always resulted in a proliferation of the species which then becomes a niusance. Think killer bees, cane toads, rabies, lethal yellowing, dutch elm disease, citrus canker etc...

    No one knows what negative effects these genetically altered crops will present in the future. All that we do know is that the opportunity for disaster is enormous.
    • Taken from another tack, remember that the modifications are usually patented. So, if a crop of genetically modified plants is in close proximity to other crops, it could dirty other farmers' crops. This could cause them to have to destroy their entire crop, for no other reason than being downwind of a genetically modified crop.
  • See, all of you people were over-reacting! Genetically modifying crops is perfectly safe and we understand all of the ramifications of everything we are doing. I mean sure there was a leap from corn to soy beans, but that's well within tolerances. Now, if the gentic modifications had jumped to say, badgers, then that would be something to have concern about. As it now stands this just demonstrates that all precautions are being taken and that we are perfectly safe.
  • I'm very split over this end of biotech. On the one hand, using gen-tech plants (and possibly animals) to produce drugs and vaccines is one of the most exciting and potentially revolutionary applications of genetic engineering technology. It's much more efficient to produce big organic molecules in suitable organic systems than it is in test tubes... It seems to me to be a much more worthy application of the technology than using it to increase profit margins and control farmers behaviour.

    On the other hand, producing biologically active compounds - which, one would hope, drugs and vaccines are - raises the stakes on control of seeds and pollen, and the need for safety assurance,sky high.

    So what do we do? Cover acres with air-conditionned glass-houses? Give up on the huge potential benefits just in case something goes wrong? Can we trust the biotech companies given how snuggly in bed they seem to be with most of the governments of the Western world...?
  • Why aren't GM crops grown in greenhouses?

    Wouldn't this avoid this sort of thing in the future?
  • Made up problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cpt_Kirks ( 37296 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:57AM (#4696709)
    I grew up farming corn and beans. Soybeans are a broadleaf plant. Corn is a grass. Grass killer sprayed on soybeans will kill the corn plants that come up.

    Also, corn grows about four feet taller than soybeans. Picking out the corn should be no problem.

    Really though, GM stuff should be grown in totally separate fields and the fields kept separate.
  • Big deal? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jaredcoleman ( 616268 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:57AM (#4696710)
    Maybe I'm dense, but I don't understand the huge fear about genetically altered food. Sure it would be bad if say, a large number of plants were altered to take in oxygen and release CO2, but why can't I eat such a plant? It's not like my body is going to absorb their DNA, actually my enzymes and acids will break the food down and absorb the nutrients, then get rid of the waste. As long as a company can show that any genetic alterations do not make the plant produce poisons, what's the big deal? I've been wondering this for a while, and help would be appreciated.

  • by dlur ( 518696 ) <.ten.wi. .ta. .ruld.> on Monday November 18, 2002 @10:58AM (#4696720) Homepage Journal

    Last I checked Corn and Soybean plants can't cross-pollinate. Nor do they have any other means to transfer their genes from one species to another.

    I highly doubt that the Corn stalks were 'gettin it on' with the Soybean plants, spreading free love and pollen accross the species barrier. This would be like a pig mating with an elephant, and is thus merely the stuff of dreams and fantasies in a biologist's world.

    It's highly likely that what actually happened was wrongly interpreted, and a totally misinformed journalist created a hyped up headline that didn't even begin to convey what actually happened. Most likely the farmers that grew the genetically altered corn used harvesting equipment (combines) which like nearly all combines are unable to be 100% effecient in gathering the crops, and as such allow some of the corn to fall back to the earth and become seed. Next year the farmer goes back in, tills up the land, plants his soybean crops in the same field, and soon enough a couple of corn stalks crop up. You'll see this in many soybean fields in the midwest, a couple of stalks of corn standing up in a vast field of what is otherwise soybeans. Even if there are few to no weeds, you'll still usually see some corn, because the herbicides are designed not to kill corn and soybeans, but everything else. When the soybeans were harvested, a couple of corn stalks were harvested along with it, even though a bean head on a combine is not designed to harvest corn, it usually is able to pull a few kernels off the cobb when plowing through the beans. Low and behold, some genetically altered 2nd generation corn gets into the soybeans. Big deal.

  • The "Not so reassuring article", doesn't look so bad to me.

    He was appointed to the USAID, note the "I", as in International Development. This is an obscure trade board with little or no policy making power that is likely to do little more that waste some more money. It's not as if he was appointed to head the USDA. Also, the fact the you'd go looking for GWB connections with this rather screams your conspiracy theorist paranoia, eh?

    Now, if I was in Russia I might be concerned that this guy is going to push a bunch of mutant corn down my throat but, in Niceville, USA he's not going to have much impact.

    Of course, if genetically engineered food escapes into the wild, even on another continent, it will eventually come back to haunt us.
  • by ejaw5 ( 570071 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:08AM (#4696793)
    Homer:this corn looks normal to me

    Marge:That's baby corn

    Homer: WHAAAAT?!?!!

    Lisa: Mom...my potato is eating my carrot
  • by RobertAG ( 176761 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:08AM (#4696796)
    The article says that an inspector first became suspicious because he noticed corn plants among the harvested soybeans. IANAF (I am not a farmer), but I would imagine that it doesn't take too much intelligence to discern corn from soybeans and any mixing of the plants can be quickly dealt with at a processing plant.

    Also, given that only a few corn plants were present among tons of soybeans, what is the real danger of poisoning someone? Since soybeans are processed into edible and non-edible products, is there a REAL, measurable danger?

    Vaccines and pharmaceutical drugs generally help a lot more people than they hurt. Are we going to ban GE foods because a few people might have a problem with them? Why not ban the peanut plant, since peanuts DO cause allergic reactions in some people?

  • GWB? (Score:3, Funny)

    by RealBeanDip ( 26604 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:13AM (#4696837)
    You know, when I search for stuff on Google, I don't append "george w bush" to it - not ever.

    WTF? Why would you do that?!
  • by Styros ( 144779 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:17AM (#4696867)
    Just send a couple swarms of these grasshoppers [naplesnews.com] to eat up all the mutant crops. Of course, getting rid of the grasshoppers would become a problem. But, those biotech companies can always just make some mutant lizards.
  • by airuck ( 300354 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:27AM (#4696951)
    Are GMOs really that scary? Hollywood and some environmental activists would have you believe that genetic engineering is a fusion of Frankenstein's monster and an out of control grass fire. The concepts of relative risk and benefits are rarely discussed. There is also the laughable notion that agriculture is a pristine environment which can only be tainted by GMOs.
    Wake up. Most plants and animals associated with agriculture are
    • not native to the region in which they are grown
    • heavily inbred and hardly recognizable
    • displacing the "natural" biota
    • a huge source of pesticides, fertilizers, and waste products
    • heavily dependent on fossil fuel
    Modified crops can and will turn sunlight into complex molecules for industry and medicine. There is already an addressed need to monitor our food supply for chemicals and pathogens. So new tests and controls are now necessary. So what?
  • by MakeItStopItHurts ( 561960 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:33AM (#4697001)
    You think this is bad? Is the thought of a few modified genes leaping into another crop scarry to you? How about the hundreds of thousands of experiments where people modified hundreds, even thousands of genes at once, with no idea of the outcome or its impact on other species?

    Well, that's called traditional cross-breeding, and it's been practiced by humans intentionally and unintentionally pretty much since the day when we started building mud huts and stopped following animals around.

    The reaction to genetically altered foods in this country (and Europe), espcially the reaction of people of reason, is baffling to me.

    When these "big bad" bio companies modify plant genes in an effort to create products, they're doing it with a kind of specificity that was unthinkable 10 years ago. They modify a handful of genes, and they know the exact outcome of that modification.

    Is it possible some of these modified genes will "jump" to another plant species? Yes. In fact, it's likely, especially if the plants are grown outdoors rather than in a greenhouse. Is that bad? Maybe. But probably not, and it most cases, it's no more dangerous than the situation created when plants are cross-bred in the "traditional" (read: random) way to produce desireable traits.

    Bioengineering faces a lot of hurdles, but one hurdle it should not have to face is educated people rising up in terror [dailynewstribune.com] against the benefits it could provide.
    • by duffbeer703 ( 177751 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @01:55PM (#4698682)
      Please stop the FUD man.

      When was the last time a farmer cross-pollinated a tomato with corn to stop insects?

      Or when did cross-breeding allow corn to produce human proteins and drugs?

      Their do NOT completely understand the consequences of their actions. Taking genetic sequences from a horse and inserting it into a dog is not analogus to cross-breeding a german shepard with a cocker spaniel.

      The adverse reaction to genetically altered foods comes from a populace that has been repeatedly lied to by government and industry. "Harmless" nuclear tests in the Nevada desert are now estimated to have caused 70,000 cancer deaths. The use of "Harmless" PCB-contaminated waste oil donated by GE to tar roads in the Northeast has resulted in cancer rates 250% higher in towns that accepted it over the last 30 years. Cost cutting and consolidation in the meatpacking industry has resulted in hundreds of people being sickened or killed by contaminated meat.

      Maybe bioengineered products should get a good, hard look in open tests before being let loose on the world.
  • by snarkasaurus ( 627205 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:36AM (#4697013)
    "Although unwanted corn often sprouts in soybean fields, ProdiGene failed to pull out its bio-corn in Nebraska and removed it too late in Iowa, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. ... As a result, ProdiGene was ordered to destroy 155 acres of corn in Iowa and may have to buy 500,000 bushels of soybeans quarantined in Nebraska because of possible contamination."

    And the other one,

    "The USDA quarantined the soybeans in Nebraska after discovering the possible contamination during harvest last month. Investigators suspect the contamination occurred when a small amount of ProdiGene's corn plants mixed in with soybeans subsequently grown on the same field and adjacent fields. In Iowa, the company was ordered to destroy 155 acres (63 hectares) of corn in September because windborne pollen from its bio-corn may have contaminated nearby fields."

    No gene transfer, no mutations, no animated Frankencorn coming for your children. Just some self-catch corn plants in a soyabean field which were either not removed before harvest (unlikely) or were removed at a time later decided by some dickhead bureaucrat to be the wrong time (very likely).

    In Iowa we have a case of definite burocratitis, where one guy officially blessed the planting and another guy said "NONONO!!!" later on, after the corn was in the ground. No evidence of actual contamination in Iowa was found in the articles, just potential for it.

    So what we actually have here is the politically motivated attempt by the agriculture bureaucrats to bankrupt a perfectly reasonable company, one which is following all the rules.

    So all you Greenie boys and girls need to read the friggin article, and possibly go read up on gene transfer technology.
  • by stankulp ( 69949 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:37AM (#4697030) Homepage
    The genes did not jump from corn to soybeans.

    Genetically-modified corn was planted in a small field. Soybeans were planted in that field the next growing cycle. Volunteer corn from the previous crop sprung up with the soybeans. The company did not weed out the volunteer corn, and at harvest time a small amount of corn was gathered with the soybeans and eventually mixed with 500 tons of soybeans in a silo.

    The modified genes being detected are in the corn kernels, not the soybeans.
  • by Alphasniper ( 603307 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:38AM (#4697037)
    I grew up on a farm and I know how hard it is to make a profit nowadays. With the price of a new John Deere Combine running around half a million dollars (NOT KIDDING!!), farmers will embrace any new technology that could improve profits (the price of wheat per bushel 3 years ago was less that its worth in the 1950's, NOT KIDDING EITHER!). When Monsanto, among others, started releasing GMO corn and soybeans, those product significantly lowered the cost required to spray and maintain fields for insects and weeds. Instead of spray costing around $75 an acre, it now costs around $20 an acre. Unfortunately, no one wants to buy these anymore because they are "dangerous" or, whatever.
    Additionally, for those people who are horrified by the idea of eating GMO's, I'd like to tell you a little secret that has been withheld from you. VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING YOU EAT TODAY HAS BEEN GENETICALLY MODIFIED BY HUMANS. For example, give me one example of a wild cabbage plant, (if you can find this, then you will realize what else was created from its ancestor). Or, since we are on the subject, has anyone seen a real wild corn plant or Soybean plant? The reason we have them today, is because long ago selective breeding made them what they are. The only difference with Genetically Modifying an organism is that it can accomplish a variety of plant in a much smaller amount of time. Additionally, while GMO's synthetically splice new DNA, which in turn creates new organic compounds, selective breeding HAS THE SAME EFFECT ON PLANTS.
    anyways, I'm stepping off the soapbox now
  • by Man_Holmes ( 519973 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:51AM (#4697174)
    First there weren't any genes jumping. The farmer raised the pharmaceutical corn last year for Prodigene. This year he planted soybeans into the field. Some of the corn seed from last year grew in the field this year as a weed. The farmers call it volunteer corn. The farmer received warnings from Prodigene's representative and the government that the volunteer corn must be eradicated. The last warning was less than a week before harvest. By the time the government checked back and learned the farmer wasn't in compliance the soybeans were at the elevator. The 500 bushels (3000 lbs) of soybeans were contaminated with 60 grams of corn stalks. Unfortunately they got mixed into a 500,000 bushel bin at the elevator. What we learned is that the government (believe it or not) actually did a good job of protecting our interests. Prodigene will buy the soybeans and they will be destroyed. Current use of biotech corn has reduced farmers use of insecticides by million of pounds. Pharmaceutical corn has the potential to greatly lower drug costs for seniors. Here's a URL from the Omaha Herald Here [omaha.com] and another from the BIO organization Here [seedquest.com] Man Holmes
  • by n-baxley ( 103975 ) <.gro.syelxab. .ta. .etan.> on Monday November 18, 2002 @11:58AM (#4697255) Homepage Journal
    While it's becoming clear that the headline is misleading and that we're actually talking about harvested crop mixing and not gene jumping, jumping is still a problem. I don't know about intra-species jumping, but two corn fields seperated by miles of Illinois flatland can definetly cross polinate. There are supposed to be "buffer zones" of soybeans or other plants around "special" corn, but those only work about 90% of the time. There is a definte chance for long distance cross-polination.
  • by gryf ( 121168 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @12:24PM (#4697547) Homepage
    What part of 'science' includes a title like 'Drug Making Genes Added To Corn Jump To Soya' when referring to a story about a logistical mistake?
    Here we have one crop, untested and whose long-term effects have never been fully studied, growing accidentially side-by-side with seed currently undergoing testing of the crop's potential long term effects.
    It's these kinds of tactics that hide the weak underpinnings of the anti-GM rabble-rousing, which is not to be confused with informed debate. Posting this story in this fashion is as ethically valid as fighting corporatism by smashing a row of small shops. Such attempts to raise people's awareness of the problems undermines the very attempt to educate by clouding the issue with baseless accusations.
  • by outsider007 ( 115534 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @03:51PM (#4700016)
    Looks like they're also working on an edible AIDS vaccine (kinda makes sense, eat Tofu, enjoy free love!)

    given the choice I think most /. readers would take the safe food.
  • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @04:33PM (#4700472) Journal
    I'm somewhat surprised that nobody has yet mentioned grafting in this discussion of modified foods. When plants are grafted, tissue cut from one plant is bound in close contact with another. The resulting plant contains cells and structures from both plants. Really, if you want to talk about Frankenfoods, this is it: bizarre hybrids made by stitching together pieces of other plants.

    You can do a number if interesting things. Trees that produce more than one kind of fruit. Potato plants that sprout tomatoes. Curious cacti.

    The technique has more than novelty value. In the late nineteenth century, a louse (phylloxera) was inadvertantly imported to Europe, and it loved to feast on the roots of the wine grape plant (vitis vinifera). We wouldn't have wines from France, or Germany, or Italy, if the viticulturalists of the day hadn't grafted some of the vinifera stalks on to roots of more phylloxera-resistant species. That's right--your glass of Pinot Noir is Frankenfood.

    Grafting can go awry, however. There was an incident in Tennessee a number of years ago involving a farmer who wanted his tomatoes to better cope with early fall frosts. He grafted a tomato vine to a local weed. Voila--tomatoes later in the season. His neighbour thought it was a great idea and performed the same trick. Unfortunately, when he shared the fruits of his labour with his family, they all ended up in the emergency ward with high fevers and hallucinations.

    It turns out that the plant to which both farmers had grafted their tomatoes was jimsonweed (datura stramonium) which produces psychoactive chemicals in its leaves. Because of different pruning practices, the second farmer's tomatoes contained a much higher concentration of the active ingredient, leading to the poisoning. For more details, consult The Medical Detectives, Berton Roueche, Plume, 1991).

    Despite the risks of unpredicted reactions (even after centuries of use), grafting is an accepted and essential part of modern agriculture. We don't have angry demonstrators storming our grocery stores demanding the removal of foods and wine because grafting has been around so long. There may be small risks associated with GM foods--but because of intense public scrutiny, GM foods will be better characterized and more frequently tested than anything else on your plate.

    Manufacturers will shy away from introducing obvious potential allergens (peanut proteins and the like, for example) to products for human consumption. Most GM crops are designed to be infertile anyway, severely limiting their spread.

    Tempest in a teapot, people. Move along. The ethical sense of agribusiness can be questioned, but not their greed. Simply put, they're going to be damned careful about doing anything that might expose them to ruinously costly lawsuits.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents