Comments on genes from food in tissues and organs and food gene transfer
to the embryo
Prof. Joe Cummins
Postings have appeared from time to time about the work from Prof. Doerfler’s
laboratory in Koln University. That work shows that genes from a bacterial
virus added to food can be detected in the chromosomes of cells in the tissues
and even in the cells of embryos. I have been asked to comment on the relevance
of these findings to genetic engineering because foods that are not genetically
engineered may show a similar effect. The published research used DNA from a
single stranded bacterial virus as a marker added to the food. Other kinds of
genes from the food have not yet been studied.
Genetically engineered foods warrant particular care and scrutiny based on the
Prof. Doerfler’s studies. The genetically engineered food now on the market all
contain , for example, the CaMV promoter in every cell of the crop plant
causing much higher levels of exposure to the viral DNA ever experienced in
nature. Virus resistant crops enriched in viral genes to thwart virus infection
are also on the market. Chemically synthetic genes are also appearing in
genetically engineered crops and these genes lack the subtle control
modifications (such as base , sugar or phosphate alkylation) present in genes
from living organisms. The impact of such genes has not been studied in long
term experiments. Finally, the “terminator” technology is based on using the
cre-lox recombination genes with crop plants. The lox genes are very small
genes that are very likely to pass into tissue cells and chromosomes. When
more than one lox gene is integrated in a chromosome , particularly lox genes
on separate chromosomes , the chromosome set becomes unstable. Cells with
unstable chromosomes nearly always give rise to cancers and genetic diseases
that cause chromosome instability also associated with high incidence of
cancer. Typically, the developers of the “terminator” patent claim there is no
way that “terminator” can be associated with cancer, but they pretend to be
blissfully ignorant of the voluminous literature showing that lox genes promote
chromosome instability. Unfortunately, government risk analysis in genetic
engineering seems to deal with selected information favoring the approval of
genetically engineered crops and ignoring information that shows it to be
unsafe. This may be because the process is dominated by lawyers, managers, and
bureaucrats and external input is unwelcome.
See below, an experiment on ingested gene transfer to tissues and embryo:
Uptake of foreign DNA from the environment: the gastrointestinal
tract and the placenta as
portals of entry [see comments]
Doerfler W; Schubbert R
Institut f¨ur Genetik, Universit¨at zu K¨oln, Federal Republic of
Wien Klin Wochenschr, 110(2):40-4 1998 Jan 30
Foreign DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is part of our environment.
Considerable amounts of
foreign DNA of very different origin are ingested daily with food.
In a series of experiments we
fed the DNA of bacteriophage M13 as test DNA to mice and showed
that fragments of this
DNA survive the passage through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in
small amounts (1-2%).
Food-ingested M13 DNA reaches peripheral white blood cells, the
spleen and liver via the
intestinal epithelia and cells in the Peyer's patches of the
intestinal wall. There is evidence to
assume that food-ingested foreign DNA can become covalently linked
to mouse-like DNA.
When M13 DNA is fed to pregnant mice the test DNA can be detected
in cells in various
organs of the fetuses and of newborn animals, but never in all
cells of the mouse fetus. It is
likely that the M13 DNA is transferred by the transplacental route
and not via the germ line.
The consequences of foreign DNA uptake for mutagenesis and
oncogenesis have not yet been
Original review excerpted from GE NEWS:
> PRESS RELEASE
> Research Highlights Risk of using Viral Promoter Genes in New Foods
> Fragments of artificial genes inserted into foods were detected in the
> brain cells of baby mice in research conducted Dr. Walter Doefler of the
> Institute of Genetics, University of Cologne. (Ref: Journal of molecular
> genetics and genetics Vol 242: 495-504, 1994 ) Conventional wisdom had
> previously assumed that genetic material was destroyed in the process of
> digestion. The research emerged on the UTV World in Action programme last
> "This has huge implications for the use of genetically engineered foods"
> said Quentin Gargan of Genetic Concern. "Industry would have us believe
> that genetic engineering is a simple technology in which a single naturally
> occurring gene is taken from one plant and inserted into another, but
> nothing could be further from the truth".
> We may have a gene which gives us blue eyes, and this gene exists in every
> cell in our body - part of this gene is a promoter region which ensures
> that it is only switched on in cells in our eyes - otherwise, every part
> of our body would be blue from our hair to our toenails.
> When artificial genes are inserted into a plant, they are accompanied by a
> promoter region from a virus. This promoter ensures that the gene is
> switched on at all times and in all parts of the plant. Viruses such as the
> cauliflower mosaic virus and a figwort virus have promoter regions which
> are highly active, and these are included in genes which were inserted into
> the sugar beet currently being tested in field trials by Monsanto around
> the country.
> "The idea that fragments of DNA from viral promoters could find their way
> into cells of new born babies is a frightening prospect", said Quentin
> Gargan of Genetic Concern "yet Monsanto admitted in the World in Action
> programme that they do not conduct long term testing of these genetically
> engineered foods". ....
> "Once again, we hear regulatory authorities assuring us that there is no
> scientific evidence that genetically modified foods are unsafe - this was
> exactly the situation with BSE, DDT, Thalidomide and many other calamities"
> said Mr Gargan "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and with
> something irreversible such as genetic engineering, we must learn from past
> mistakes and take a very cautious approach"
> Richard Wolfson, PhD
> Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
> for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
> Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
> 500 Wilbrod Street
> Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
> tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
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