GM Free Cymru

New viral gene discovered in commercialised GM plants

Comment from GM-Free Cymru A new viral gene (called Gene Six) has been discovered in a new piece of research by two scientists employed by EFSA. It is conformed as being present in no less than 54 of the 86 GM crops currently approved in the US, some of which come into Europe for incorporation into the food supply. At the moment it is not possible to state whether this viral gene is dangerous -- but the research highlights the fact that most GM crops are approved without adequate characterisation. It also shows that the monitoring of GM crops is ineffective -- or more likely non-existent. So it is impossible to tell what the effects of the newly discovered viral gene may have on plant health and indeed on the health of mammals that encounter it. Unusually, EFSA deserves some credit here for instigating this research. However, its instinctive response has not been to ban those GM crops known to contain the viral gene, but to order a "review." As GM Freeze has pointed out, this episode shows that the ongoing belief that GM technology is safe, predictable and precise is shown to be a myth. And while EFSA and the other regulators continue to procrastinate, the people of Europe continue to be used as guinea pigs in a gigantic GM experiment.

"Possible consequences of the overlap between the CaMV 35S promoter regions in plant transformation vectors used and the viral gene VI in transgenic plants" by Nancy Podevin and Patrick du Jardin GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain 3:4, 1-5; October/November/December 2012

ABSTRACT Multiple variants of the Cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter (P35S) are used to drive the expression of transgenes in genetically modified plants, for both research purposes and commercial applications. The genetic organization of the densely packed genome of this virus results in sequence overlap between P35S and viral gene VI, encoding the multifunctional P6 protein. The present paper investigates whether introduction of P35S variants by genetic transformation is likely to result in the expression of functional domains of the P6 protein and in potential impacts in transgenic plants. A bioinformatic analysis was performed to assess the safety for human and animal health of putative translation products of gene VI overlapping P35S. No relevant similarity was identified between the putative peptides and known allergens and toxins, using different databases. From a literature study it became clear that long variants of the P35S do contain an open reading frame, when expressed, might result in unintended phenotypic changes. A flowchart is proposed to evaluate possible unintended effects in plant transformants, based on the DNA sequence actually introduced and on the plant phenotype, taking into account the known effects of ectopically expressed P6 domains in model plants.


See also: Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene In Commercial GMO Crops by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Hidden viral gene revealed in GMOs – EFSA's "review" not enough

Biotech industry claims, and regulator reassurances, that GM technology is predictable and safe have been shaken by the discovery of viral gene sequence in many GM crops. Two thirds of GM crops approved in the US contain the hitherto unidentified viral gene, but although regulators have insufficient information to determine if it is safe for human consumption EFSA has opted for a retrospective review rather than a ban.

The existence of the Gene VI viral gene was revealed in a study authored by EFSA staff and published in the journal GM Crops and Food. [1] The gene is in many widely-grown GM crops, including Monsanto's RR MON810 soya, NK603 maize and other crops imported to the EU for food and animal feed.

The discovery raises two significant problems:

• That safety assessments for GM food and feed did not detect the presence of the gene previously, despite assurances that the technology is predictable and the crops are safe.

• The gene sequence itself could affect the way plants function, potentially creating unexpected allergens or toxins or affecting the crop's defences against diseases. Researchers found Gene VI in 54 of the 86 GM crops currently approved in the US. It is linked to the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus promoter gene used in many of the GM traits already in crop plants, but the gene may affect other aspects of the genetic performance of the plant with unknown, unintended consequences. Scientists are concerned the gene could disturb the normal functions of crop plants, and while there is insufficient data available to determine what impacts this might have, researchers have already identified three potential mechanisms for plant function to be disrupted:

• The gene sequence could make plants more susceptible to some pathogens and less to others. This could have a serious impact on crop health.

• Interference with messenger RNA, which relay information from the plant's DNA to the structures that build proteins. This means the sequence could induce plants to produce novel proteins with unknown impacts on plant, human or animal health.

• Gene silencing, which could lead to genes that are normally turned on being turned off, which could in turn interfere with plant's defences. Gene VI was tested against known toxins and allergens, but such evaluation will miss novel proteins and/or toxins being produced by the gene in plants. It is impossible to determine if these are present or harmful without further study.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

"This discovery of this previously unidentified gene in GM crops raises serious concern about the safety of GM food and feed. It totally undermines claims that GM technology is safe, precise and predictable.

"The very existence of Gene VI has been missed for many years, so we don't know what implications it might have. It is impossible to say if this has already resulted in harm to human or animal health, and since there is still no GM labelling in places like the US where GM is more common the diet, no epidemiological studies can be carried out. Possible harmful effects of GMOs could easily be lost in the general morass of ailments which vets and medics have to deal with on a daily basis, especially if these were as result of low level exposure over several years, and the link to GM could take many years to establish that way.

"This is a clear warning the GM is not sufficiently understood to be considered safe. EFSA cannot continue to take risks with public health. Authorisation for these crops must be suspended immediately, and they should be withdrawn from sale, until a full and extended review of their safety has been carried out."


Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065


[1] Podevin N and du Jardin P, 2012. "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 3: 296-300.