Australian science organisation discontinues genetically modified pea research

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

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The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has discontinued research into a type of Genetically Modified (GM) field pea that had been shown to be 100% protected against attack by pea weevils, a type of insect. The genetically modified field pea's protein was found to have a slightly altered structure which caused an allergic-style reaction in the lungs of mice and led scientists to believe it could have similar effects on human lungs. "That was enough to alert me to say this research should come to an end," CSIRO Plant Industry Deputy Director TJ Higgins said.

An earlier example of a problem with a GM food was a protein-enhanced soy product that was abandoned because the Brazil nut gene transferred to the soy produced a protein that could cause allergic reactions in some people. That 1996 study was conducted and funded by the University of Nebraska and Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

Environmental activism organizations like Greenpeace were spawned by the negative effects of the Petrochemical era. They are now campaigning against GM research. Greenpeace members have observed that not all reports of possible complications from GM foods found during product development have resulted in a quick end to further research. Rootworm-resistant GM corn caused "serious organ damage" to rats in Germany, but the corn developed by Monsanto was approved for consumption in Australia by Food Standards Australia New Zealand said Greenpeace GM spokesman Jeremy Tager. A scientific review panel of the European Food Safety Authority reviewed the results of a 13-week rat feeding study on rootworm-resistant corn that had been submitted by German authorities. Although the study found some differences in the kidneys of rats fed the GM corn, the scientists concluded that these results were "not considered to pose concerns over the safety of MON 863 maize". Many published studies performed with rats and other test animals have found no danger from the Monsanto rootworm-resistant corn. Within science, it is desirable that all research reports be reproduced and confirmed.

Australia has a $100 million field pea industry, so substantial amounts of chemicals are used to protect the industry's crops against the pea weevil Bruchus pisorum, though some crops use organic control options. The pea weevil can cause yield losses of up to 30 per cent a year if left uncontrolled. So the CSIRO is in search of an alternative to using genetic modification. The CSIRO are not alone in the GM industry. Bayer and Monsanto are both privately owned corporations who also operate outside Australia's strict regulatory system. A spokeswoman for Bayer Crop Sciences said the CSIRO's decision had no impact on the firm's GM work. Monsanto has not responded to media inquiries. Dr Higgins said the findings proved the safety of Australia's strict research regulatory framework.

"I think that this shows that the regulatory system works," he said.

"The regulations are stringent, they are difficult, but on balance I'm very pleased as a consumer of food myself that these regulations are in place."

The genetically modified pea plants were produced by transfer of the amylase inhibitor-1 gene from a species of bean. The structure of the alpha-amylase inhibitor-1 protein produced by the pea plants is slightly different from the structure of the same protein when made by bean plants. This structural modification may be due to differences in posttranslational modification of the protein. The altered protein from peas was found to predispose mice to a form of food antigen-stimulated inflammation response that is mediated by CD4-positive T helper cells.

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