World Scientists Statement
Update of Concerns - July 1999
Mae-Wan Ho & Angela Ryan
The article on TRIPS is now under review at the WTO. It is an
opportunity to exclude the new biotech patents from TRIPS. A scientific
briefing was produced for the Third World Network and circulated at WTO,
by two of our signatories, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Dr. Terje Traavik. The
full document can be found on
our website: www.i-sis.org.uk. It provides a
glossary and detailed analysis of the relevant article in TRIPS as well as
corresponding articles in the EU Directive. The briefing concludes:
All classes of new biotech patents should be rejected from inclusion in
TRIPs on the following grounds:
- All involve biological processes not under the direct control of the
scientist. They cannot be regarded as inventions, but expropriations
- The hit or miss technologies associated with many of the inventions
are inherently hazardous to health and biodiversity.
- There is no scientific basis to support the patenting of genes and
genomes, which are discoveries at best.
- create unnecessary suffering in animals or are otherwise contrary to
public order and morality.
- Many patents involve acts of plagiarism of indigenous knowledge and
biopiracy of plants (and animals) bred and used by local communities for
- Researchers at Cornell University published a study in Nature
which found that pollen from GM Bt corn could have lethal effects on the
larvae of monarch butterflies if it lands on milkweed, the plant upon
which they feed. Forty-four percent of the larvae were killed after 4
days, whereas no mortality occurred in larvae fed nontransgenic pollen.
The Cornell University researchers say their results "have
potentially profound implications for the conservation of monarch
butterflies" and believe more research on the environmental risks
of biotechnology in agriculture is essential.
Reference: Losey, J.E. et al (1999). Transgenic pollen harms
monarch larvae. Nature 399, 214.
- A recent study on transgenic rice carried out at the John Innes
Institute supports previous evidence that there is a recombination
hotspot in the CaMV 35S promoter. Furthermore, most of the
recombination events analyzed were 'illegitimate' or nonhomologous and
do not require substantial similarity in nucleic acid base sequence.
The recombination events were also found to occur independently,
in the absence of other viral genes.
Our comment: Transgenic lines containing the CaMV promoter, which
includes practically all that have been released, are therefore prone to
instability due to rearrangements, and also have the potential to create
new viruses or other invasive genetic elements. The continued release of
such transgenic lines is unwarranted in light of the new findings.
Reference; Kohli, A. et al 1999. Molecular characterization
of transforming plasmid rearrangement in transgenic rice reveals a
recombination hotspot in the CaMV promoter and confirms the predominance
of microhomology mediated recombination. The Plant Journal
17(6), pp 591-601.
- A new study reviews 8,200 university based trials of transgenic soya
varieties. It reveals that Roundup Ready Soybeans produce lower yields
compared to their non GM counterparts. The average yield drag in
RR soybeans was 6.7% and in some areas of the midwest the yield average
was 10% higher in conventional varieties compared to Roundup Ready
varieties. Furthermore the analysis shows that farmers use 2 to 5
times more herbicide measured in pounds applied per acre on RR soybeans
compared with other weed management systems. RR herbicide use
exceeds the levels on many farms using multi-tactic weed management
systems by a factor of 10 or more.
Reference: Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the
Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials
in 1998. by U.S. agronomist Dr. Charles Benbrook, author of Pest
Management at the Crossroads and former Executive Director of the Board
on Agriculture for the US National Academy of Sciences. Ag Biotech
Infonet Technical Paper Number 1 July 13 1999. website
- A recent population-based study conducted in Sweden between 1987-1990
and including follow-up interviews clearly links exposure to Roundup
Ready herbicide (glyphosate) to non-Hodgkins lymphoma and strongly
suggests glyphosate deserves further epidemiological studies.
Reference: Hardell, H. & Eriksson, M. (1999). A
Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Exposure to Pesticides.
Cancer85, No 6.
- A new paper reports chaotic gene silencing in GM plants and reveals
that each transformed plant expressed a different and specific
instability profile. Both transcriptional and post-transcriptional
gene silencing mechanisms were operating in a chaotic manner and
demonstrates that epigenetic (position) effects are responsible for
transgene instability in GM plants. These results indicate that
transgene silencing and instability will continue to hinder the economic
exploitation of GM plants.
Reference; Dr Neve M et al. (1999) Gene Silencing
results in instability of antibody production in transgenic plants.
Molecular and General Genetics 260:580-592.
- Successful transfers of a kanamycin resistance marker gene to the
soil bacterium Acinetobacter were obtained using DNA extracted
from homogenized plant leaf from a range of transgenic plants: Solanum
tuberosum (potato), Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco), Beta
vulgaris (sugar beet), Brassica napus (oil-seed rape) and
Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato). It is estimated that about
2500 copies of the kanamycin resistance genes (from the same number of
plant cells) is sufficient to successfully transform one bacterium,
despite the fact that there is six million-fold excess of plant DNA
present. Our comment: A single plant with say, 2.5 trillion cells, would
be sufficient to transform one billion bacteria. Reference: De Vries, J.
and Wackernagel, W. (1998). Detection of nptII (kanamycin resistance)
genes in genomes of transgenic plants by marker-rescue transformation.
Mol. Gen. Genet. 257, 606-13.
- Horizontal gene transfer between bacteria can occur in the gut at
high frequencies. This has been demonstrated in the gut of germ-free
mice. The germ-free gut-environment can result from taking
antibiotics. In one experiment, tetracycline increases the frequency of
horizontal gene transfer by 20-fold. And vancomycin-resistant
Enterococcus faecium is found to colonise the gut when the mice were
treated with antibiotic. Our comments: Antibiotic resistance marker
genes can spread from GMOs to bacteria and between bacteria, including
those associated with infectious diseases. Furthermore, the use of
antibiotics will make resistance spread more readily.
References: Persson et al (1996). Enetrococcus faecium in
ex-germfree mice. Microecology and Therapy, 24, 169-173.
Doucet-Populaire, F. et al (1991). Inducible transfer of
conjugative transposon Tn/545 from Enterocococcus faecalis to
Listeria monocytogenes in the digestive tracts of gnotobiotic
mice. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother., 35, 185-7. Whitman, M.S.
et al (1996). Gastrointestional tract colonization with
vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium in an animal model.
Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 40, 1526-30.
- Pathogenic bacteria capable of invading cells can act as vectors for
transferring genes into mammalian cells. Our comment: Dangerous
transgenic DNA can end up in the genome of our cells, with the potential
of causing a lot of genetic disturbance including cancer.
Reference: Grillot-Courvalin, et al. (1998). Functional gene
transfer from intracellular bacteria to mammalian cells. Nature
Biotechnology 16, 1-5.
Other relevant papers on our website, including:
- Special Safety Concerns of
Transgenic Agriculture and Related Issues Briefing Paper
for Minister of State for the Environment, The Rt Hon Michael Meacher
- Report on meeting of
scientists in Michael Meachers Office (Prepared 10.4.99)
- One-bird ten thousand
treasures - How ducklings in the paddy-field can feed the
- Principle of substantial
equivalence - excerpt from a full critique of the FAO/WHO
joint report on safety of GM foods.