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Biotech News Science

Hidden Viral Gene Discovered In GMO Crops 391

Jeremiah Cornelius writes "Researchers with the European Food Safety Authority discovered variants of the Cauliflower mosaic virus 35S in the most widely harvested varieties of genetically-modified crops, including Monsanto's RoundupReady Soy and Maze. According to the researchers, Podevin and du Jardin, the particular 'Gene VI' is responsible for a number of possible consequences that could affect human health, including inhibition of RNA silencing and production of proteins with known toxicity. The EFSA is endorsing 'retrospective risk assessment' of CaMV promoter and its Gene VI sequences — in an attempt to give it a clean bill of health. It is unknown if the presence of the hidden viral genes were the result of laboratory contamination or a possible recombinant product of the resultant organism. There are serious implications for the production of GMO for foodstuffs, given either possibility."
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Hidden Viral Gene Discovered In GMO Crops

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  • Debunked (Score:5, Informative)

    by A beautiful mind ( 821714 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @08:28PM (#42663447)

    I'll just link to this post [alandove.com] that explains what the news reports misunderstood. It contains quotes from the original authors of the study whose results are misrepresented here.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @08:36PM (#42663541)

    ...Will also screw those eating their products.


    According to the source linked by TFA:

    Multiple variants of the Cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter (P35S) are used to drive the expression of transgenes in genetically modified plants, for both research purposes and commercial applications.

    So, right away we learn that it wasn't a "hidden viral gene". Its known and expected that P35S would be present.

    A bioinformatic analysis was performed to assess the safety for human and animal health of putative translation products of gene VI overlapping P35S. No relevant similarity was identified between the putative peptides and known allergens and toxins, using different databases.

    So again, nothing that might be been produced (but in fact have not been seen - hence "putative") by this gene's presence was found.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @08:47PM (#42663675)

    1) Yes: Multiple variants of the Cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter (P35S) are used to drive the expression of transgenes in genetically modified plants

    2) No its presence was not unexpected

    3) Its merely a tidbit of speculation:
    "putative translation products of gene VI overlapping P35S" were examined. (These have never been observed in the wild, they simply "Supposed them into being".) Upon Examining them they found "No relevant similarity was identified between the putative peptides and known allergens and toxins".

    Translation, These genes have sequences that might overlap to produce other "translations" (re-combinations).
    Nobody's ever seen it happen. So we had to use a computer.
    We speculated all the possible outcomes from such translations.
    We found nothing harmful.

    No film at 11. Nothing to see here folks.

  • by robbak ( 775424 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @08:53PM (#42663743) Homepage

    Contamination of a organisms genetics with pieces of virus DNA happens in nature ALL THE TIME. It is only because this is a GMO crop that it was tested, and found.

    When the testing is finished, this may well be found to be a bit of perfectly natural, happened in the field, no-scientists-required genetic mangling.

    The only difference with GM is it is done in a carefully controlled manner with a known goal, and carefully tested to determine any unwanted side effects. Random, uncontrolled genetic modification, whose consequences are totally unknowable, is completely natural.

    As it is, one of the later posters linked to an article that actually looked at the research paper in question. It searched the known genomes for known toxic genomes, and found nothing. It found one possible thing that might be allergenic, looked at it further and ruled it out as well.

    In the end, they found a possible cause for a GMO to be less effective - stunted growth, late flowering - and concluded that this is something that geneticists should look out for.

    To finish, we have yet another study that shows how GM is completely safe. And how the media is totally untrustworthy when it comes to providing information. OH, and the article makes my point about natural virus proteins, too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @09:11PM (#42663941)

    It's highly likely intentional. The CaMV 35s promoter sequence is widely used in transgenic plants to drive expression of the desired transgene.


    To give a little bit of a simplified background, there are three critical elements in gene expression:

    The PROMOTER is a genetic sequence that comes UPSTREAM of a GENE which is recognized by TRANSCRIPTION FACTORS

    TRANSCRIPTION FACTORS bind to PROMOTER sequences and start the transcription of the GENE found downstream of the PROMOTER into mRNA

    The mRNA of the GENE is then transported out of the nucleus to ribosomes to be translated into functional PROTEIN products

    What the authors of this paper believed was that the sequence of the CaMV 35s promoter is similar to a viral protein used by many RNA viruses to protect their RNA from degradation (P6) so *IF* the CaMV promoter sequence itself is translated instead of the downstream gene (this is assumed to be possible, has not been observed) they hypothesized that it *MAY* have some functionality of the P6 protein. The odds of the CaMV promoter itself being translated into a protein are so remote that the possibility that it makes the (infinitesimal) odds that such a protein product would be functional seem astronomical be comparison. Furthermore, the authors never actually showed that the CaMV promoter is ever translated nor whether its translated product is functional, they merely compared the potential structure and sequence of the translated product to databases of known allergens and toxins and found.... nothing.

    What a load of FUD.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @09:25PM (#42664067)

    1. It's a part of a gene. It was cloned because of the promoter sequence that drives the expression of the transgene. (Viral promoters are very convinient - small but powerfull). Along with the promoter the transgenes carry a portion of a viral gene. Not sure why. Most likely because regulatory elements necessary for the promotor to work are embeded in the coding part.

    2. It is on purpose. They need it to drive the expression of the gene that they put into the plants.

    3. They didn't have to. They and everybody else new about it all along. I don't realy understand why it had to be "detected". It was there by design that is published in many research papers.

    The paper quoted in the summary is useless junk.

  • by structural_biologist ( 1122693 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @09:50PM (#42664313)

    1. Why is that viral gene in there?

    When you insert a new gene (such as an herbicide resistance gene in Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops) into a plant, you also need to insert a piece of DNA called a promoter that tells the plant to turn the gene on. The scientists who created the GMOs chose to insert the promoter from the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV), as it is particularly good at this task and is very well studied. This promoter also happens to include part, but not the entirety, of gene VI from the virus.

    * 2. Was it put there by accident or by purpose? * 2(a). If by accident, how, when, what happened? * 2(b). If by purpose, why, and by whom?

    As stated above, the fragment of gene VI was placed into the GMOs on purpose. Because fragments of genes are generally inactive, the presence of the gene fragment is not expected to be problematic and showed no evidence of causing problems during the testing of the GMOs. Furthermore, because cauliflower mosaic virus is a naturally occurring virus, the full gene VI can be found in many non-GMO crops (for example, see this 2004 study [ica.csic.es]).

    3. How come the American scientists never detected this viral gene? * 3(a). Was it because of incompetence, or was it because the American scientists were not allowed to publish their finding, if they had found it before the Europeans?

    These findings were not published before because we already knew that many GMOs contain a fragment of CaMV gene VI. In fact, in the Podevin and du Jardin study, the authors "found" the gene VI fragments by simply querying a database. A more substantial finding would have been if they found evidence that the gene VI fragments are actually made into functional protein (a prerequisite for the gene VI fragment to cause any deleterious effects), but this study did not investigate this issue. Rather, the study simply looked at what proteins might be produced in the worst case scenario and concluded that any possible proteins made from the gene VI fragments are unlikely to be human allergens or toxins. The authors speculate these possible proteins could be harmful to the plant itself, but because many of these GMOs are very productive plants that produce high yields in commercial settings, this possibility seems unlikely.

  • by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @10:41PM (#42664733)
    Sadly, your comments will be ignored, and the distorted half-truths will spread, and still be repeated a decade from now. The fear of GMO will spread also, much like the fear of vaccines, and just as harmfully.
  • by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @11:17PM (#42664961) Journal
    They also incorrectly state that plant viruses commonly infect animals, which is not true. Plant viruses do frequently use insects as their vectors, but it's farm more common that any given bacteria will infect both a plant and animal alike than it is a virus. The insects who carry the viruses are generally not affected. Similarly, a human who ingests a cauliflower infected with the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus is probably not going to notice the difference.
  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @12:56AM (#42665751)

    They're untested you say? No [biofortified.org]they [isaaa.org] aren't. [usda.gov]

  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @01:11AM (#42665851)

    GM crops are not going to help 'feed the world'.

    In the 1990's, the Hawaiian papaya industry was crashing. Papaya ringspot virus was kicking ass. If you got it, you were pretty much screwed. you options were grow something else or kill off the infected plants and everything around them and pray for the best. Then along came the Rainbow papaya. It was genetically engineered to resist the virus, and it did just that. The industry was able to recover. Now, that's just a fruit for the market in developed countries, but what if that were a virus of cassava or banana, staple crops in developing countries? Can genetic engineering end world hunger? No, no single thing will do that. But you have to turn a real blind eye to a lot of facts to say that it can't and won't be part of the solution.

  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @01:25AM (#42665925)

    It seems to me that Monsanto crops are designed to sell more Monsanto chemicals

    Monsanto sells four types of GE crop: Bt crops, Round-Up Ready crops, virus resistant crops (well, crop, only squash has this trait), and drought tolerant crops. Two of those four have nothing to do with chemical inputs, one reduces the need for insecticides, and the active ingredient of Round-Up is no longer patented so you can buy it from anyone.

    For many years GMO researchers showed great results with new crops that had better qualities. But steadily those programs have disappeared

    You're right that there are a lot of very promising GE plant out there that we don't use, but that isn't Monsanto's doing. The problem is that the regulatory burden is so great that only large companies like Monsanto can get their crops to market. Then, ironically, the anti-GMO people push for tighter regulations, which only secure the big companies from competition!

    Monsanto is a schmuck company that preys on farmers, researchers and government in order to maintain it's monopoly.

    Monopoly? I guess Syngenta, Bayer CropScience, BASF, Pioneer HiBred, Dow AgroSciences, ect. don't exist then? And has it ever occurred to you that farmers willingly choose Monsanto because they like their seed?

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