Hazardous Virus Gene Discovered in GM Crops after 20 Years
ISIS has warned against the CaMV 35S
promoter and called for all affected GM crops to be withdrawn since 1999 while
damning evidence on its safety continues to emerge Dr Mae-Wan Ho
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How to bury a bombshell
A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
scientist has just discovered that major GM crops and products the regulatory
agency has been approving for commercial release over the past 20 years contain
a potentially dangerous virus gene. The gene – Gene VI - overlaps with the
cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter. The CaMV 35S promoter is the
commonest, most widely used regulatory sequence for driving gene expression in
GM crops. This momentous discovery was published in a little known journal during
the holiday season at the end of 2012 , and would have passed unnoticed had
it not caught the attention of Jonathan Latham and Alison Wilson of Independent
ScienceNews. They described the finding and carried out a proper
retrospective risk assessment on the Gene VI fragment in a report posted on
their website . This attracted so much public attention that EFSA and
its counterpart Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) are said  to
have jointly “shredded” the scientific paper on which Latham and Wilson’s
report is based.
EFSA and FSANZ say the
allegations that the viral Gene VI hidden in the CaMV 35S promoter might not be
safe for human consumption and could disturb the normal functioning of crops
are completely false. A spokesperson from FSANZ states: “Human exposure to DNA
from the cauliflower mosaic virus and all its protein products through
consumption of conventional foods is common and there is no evidence of any
adverse health effects.”
Ironically, the first author
of the scientific paper  Nancy Podevin is from EFSA, while the
second author Patrick Du Jardin is at University of Liège in Belgium; and
Panel is acknowledged for “advice given”. The main thrust of the paper is in
fact a screening of Gene Vi amino acid sequence against existing databases for
known allergens and finding none; thereby offering false reassurance while
the real hazards are swept under the carpet.
This is not the first time
that the safety of CaMV 35S promoter is being questioned.
Serious concerns had been raised over the
safety of CaMV 35S promoter
ISIS first raised concerns over the CaMV
35S and similar promoters in a paper published in the journal Microbial
Ecology in Health and Disease in 1999  (Cauliflower Mosaic Viral Promoter
- A Recipe for Disaster?) when it was discovered to have a recombination
(fragmentation) hotspot that would enhance unintended horizontal gene transfer
and recombination, and in the process create new viruses or activate old ones,
and trigger cancer in animal cells by well-known processes of ‘insertion
carcinogenesis’. The CaMV 35S promoter was known to be highly promiscuous in
being able to function in most if not all species across the living world (including
human cells, as it turned out). To make matters worse, many synthetic versions
of the promoter have been constructed with additional enhancers for gene
expression and sequences from other sources, all of which increase its
instability (tendency to fragment) as well as its ability to drive
inappropriate gene expression. (We also reported the overlap of the 35S
promoter with Gene VI, so this knowledge must have been widely known, although
its safety implications were not obvious, at least to us.)
As a precautionary
measure, we strongly recommended that all transgenic crops containing CaMV 35S
or similar promoters should be immediately withdrawn from commercial production
or open field trials.
Our first paper brought a
swift reaction. Within two days of its being published online, someone
managed to solicit at least nine critiques, including one from Monsanto, which
were posted on a website funded by the biotech industry and widely circulated
on the internet. The critiques varied in tone from moderately polite to
outright abusive. We wrote a detailed rebuttal, which was likewise circulated
and posted to the same website, and have not received any replies from our
critics since. But in January 2000, Nature Biotechnology published a
distorted, one-sided and offensive account of our paper, concentrating on the
criticisms and ignoring our rebuttal completely, which we published in the same
journal that carried the first paper (Hazards of Transgenic Plants
Containing the Cauliflower Mosaic Viral Promoter).
Regulators’ objections irrelevant and false
It is of interest that the objections for
‘shredding’ the scientific paper of Podevin and du Jardin  and Latham and
Wilson’s report  are exactly the ones used against us. The first objection
is that humans have been eating the CaMV for millennia without ill effects; the
second is that the CaMV 35S promoter is only active in plants and certainly not
in animal or human cells.
Our rebuttal to the first objection is that the
intact CaMV, consisting of the CaMV genome wrapped in its protein coat, is not
infectious for human beings or for other non-susceptible animals and plants, as
is well-known; for it is the coat that determines host susceptibility in the
first instance. So eating the intact virus is of little consequence. However,
the naked or free viral genomes (and parts thereof) are known to be more
infectious and have a wider host-range than the intact virus. Furthermore, the
synthetic CaMV 35S promoters are very different from the natural promoters, and
are both much more aggressive as promoters driving inappropriate gene
expression as well as more prone to fragment and recombine.
The second objection - that
CaMV 35S is not active in animals and human cells - is simply false as we
discovered in the scientific literature dating back to 1989, and pointed this
out in a third paper  (CaMV
35S promoter fragmentation hotspot confirmed, and it is active in animals ). The
CaMV 35S promoter was found to support high levels of reporter gene expression
in mature Xenopus
, and to give very efficient transcription in extracts of nuclei from HeLa
cells (a human cell line) .
What of our original concern
over the CaMV 35S promoter activating viruses in host genomes? There is new
evidence suggesting that the CaMV 35S promoter may indeed enhance the
multiplication of disease-associated viruses including HIV and cytomegalovirus
through the induction of proteins required for transcription of the viruses 
(New Evidence Links
CaMV 35S Promoter to HIV Transcription).
Podevin N and du Jardin P. Possible consequences of the overlap between
the CaMV 35S promoter regions in plant transformation vectors used and the
viral gene VI in transgenic plants. GM Crops and Food 2012, 3, 1-5.
Barbara Vaile Comment left 30th January 2013 06:06:29 The complexity of the DNA and our limited knowledge of its intricacies is a golden opportunity for unintended consequences. The arrogance of tampering with GMO as if our scientists were brain surgeons rather than demolition workers with pneumatic drills DEMANDS that we work WITH nature through hybrids and cross-breeding. CEASE these attempts to create patentable life for profit. Life is sacred, not a product. Stop the profanity.
josh salans Comment left 1st February 2013 15:03:52 I have physical personal proof that teh cauliflower mosaic virus does humans harm.
I bleed from the hemorrhoids which grow to four times their size after consuming any AMERICAN CORN PRODUCT that is not organic. This involves literally thousands of consumer edibles and I am unable to trust anything with corn syrup, corn starch, corn sugar, HFCS (duh!), and any other derivative of US Corn. Monsanto has poisoned our food supply and the culprit is the cauliflower mosaic virus! MONSANTO IS A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION AND SHOULD BE SHUTTERED!
Wayne Comment left 1st February 2013 15:03:40 My guess is there will never be an end to people finding every opportunity to exploit anything to make a profit. I was going to ask how many times we have to see the hubris of anyone in a position of power royally abuse that to some detrimental end that ends up costing precious resources, health, lives, money, time... I am happy that others fight for truth and reason although it's been shown that many times even these groups can mutate to manipulating it themselves for their own gains. It does seem that the internet has become a great democratic tool that can disseminate tons of data that otherwise would never have seen the light of day. And of course the other side will join in with their lies. The question is, who's winning? Is it getting better, or worse? Pick your battles they say. You currently have 78,458,632,291 to choose from. Choose well.