baudrunner's space: Rethinking genetic engineering
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Monday, January 21, 2008

Rethinking genetic engineering

On Tuesday, June 19, 2007 [sic]I posted an article on this blog which I titled The ENCODE project: beyond the genome project. In it I revealed that the transcription into RNA of the raw DNA material more often than not involved the addition of and/or portions of many other genes besides the principal one, as well as sequences from those regions in the DNA molecule once thought to be "junk DNA" but now known to play a significant role in the process of protein synthesis. It is evident based on this information that the process of interfering with nature by altering a genetic sequence in plants that are part of the food chain to benefit the agricultural industry might have some serious detrimental effects.

The Scientific American web site invited reader comment on its member blog on the subject of genetically altered crops. One informed and concerned reader links to a website representing Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology (PSRAST). The website makes reference to the ENCODE study and raises concern over the risk assessment of genetically engineered foods, especially with respect to the concept of "substantial equivalence", which in the legal definition is the limit to which analysis of trans genetic products are compared to the pre-trans genetic parent. This comparison does not cover the subtleties of all the components involved in an affected gene's transcription process during a plant's normal metabolic growth. It is suspected that in at least one serious case a trans genetic product acquired a highly toxic characteristic which caused 37 fatalities and rendered 1500 victims permanently disabled. In other words, genetic engineering is evidently unpredictable.

In light of what we now know about RNA transcription and the possible risks involved in creating biologically engineered foods, it is imperative that a moratorium be held on the practice while the process of risk assessment is overhauled. This requires a substantial investment in time and research. In order to effectively bring a genetically engineered food to the marketplace, the entire process of transcription of not just the principal gene in question but involving all the sub units of DNA must be first analysed to determine that any resulting protein products that derive from normal plant growth do not present risk.

The ramifications do not end there. In an article published by the International Herald Tribune on July 3, 2007 it was pointed out that "..many diseases are caused not by the action of single genes, but by the interplay among multiple genes," and, " of the most virulent forms of Malaria.. may involve interactions among as many as 500 genes." Obviously, the concept of gene therapy involving the alteration of a single gene to address the issue of a genetically inherited mutant gene is inherently short-sighted if the procedure does not address all of the DNA components involved in transcribing the defective protein. This might for the time being present an almost insurmountable obstacle to providing effective gene therapies to eliminate genetically based diseases. The challenges are far more complex than previously thought, in light of the ENCODE study.

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