July 2013
Wheat close up 4
Wheat. CC photo by Wheat Initiative on Flickr
The latest development in genetic modification isn't inserting genes, it's inserting DNA to induce RNA interference, in particular double-stranded RNA, 'dsRNA' .

As described in RNA-MODIFIED FOOD - July 2013, the technique has a huge potential for side-effects. Reading this, “How can anyone still think it's safe to apply (RNA interference) in genetic modification?” (Institute of Science in Society).

Yet, dsRNA technology is in several pipe-line GM crops, one of which is a major global staple food, wheat.

This GM wheat is being developed in Australia* to have altered starch composition. The intention seems to be to create wheat grain with starch which is less digestible than normal. The hope is this will make it 'healthier' by improving large bowel health and cholesterol levels, and by reducing blood sugar in the same way as oats, rye, lentils and peas do.

A database investigation, however, has revealed a number of side-effects which will not be so healthy.

The novel dsRNA sequence matches with five stretches of DNA in one wheat gene alone. There's a clear potential for the dsRNA to combine with any or all of these matches and disable the gene.

Such bioinfomatic investigations are far from comprehensive in their ability to predict off-target side effects: there may be many more unanticipated changes in the wheat.

Then, the story gets worse.

The dsRNA in this GM wheat also matches DNA stretches in some human genes. Our genes could be silenced by the novel dsRNA in our food. In fact, disruption to human physiology by the dsRNA in this wheat has the potential to permanently silence hundreds of human genes.

At least one specific risk to humans has been identified: children exposed to the starch altered GM wheat from the maternal diet could be born with a key liver-function gene silenced. Without the enzyme this gene generates, the children will be unable to store sugar normally: the unusable forms of sugar will build up in their liver and heart tissues to the point where these vital organs fail. Any one with this deficiency will die by about five years of age.

In addition to direct effects on genes, dsRNA interference with other natural and vital RNA-interference systems is possible.

Bakers and other wheat handlers will breathe in large doses of the GM wheat as air-born particles, and the skin of their hands may be in extensive contact with it.

Or, as molecular geneticist, Dr. Michael Antoniou, commented, if the GM wheat is consumed, gene function disturbances are virtually inevitable, with currently unknown health consequences.

A similar GM barley with altered grain starch is also in the pipeline.


Wheat intolerance is an ever-rising modern scourge. What might unfold if this dsRNA-modified GMO ever gets into our food chain doesn't bear thinking about.

Start complaining to our food regulators NOW: make sure that dsRNA never gets a chance to cause the havoc it so clearly can.

 *The developer of this GM wheat is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which is ostensibly publicly funded, but gets about 30% of its funding from industry, and has plans to increase it. One former chief executive commented “Working with the transnationals makes a lot of sense, in the context of market access”.

  • Judy A. Carman, Expert Scientific Opinion on SCIRO GM Wheat Varieties, September 2012
  • Jack A. Heinemann, Evaluation of risks from creation of novel RNA molecules in genetically engineered wheat plants and recommendations for risk assessment, Expert opinion, 28.08.12
  • Scientists warn of GM wheat health dangers, GM-Free Cymru, 12.09.12
  • Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, RNA Interference”Complex and Flexible, Institute of Science in Society Report, 22.05.13
  • New kinds of GM plants and pesticides not being assessed for safety, Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety Press release, 21.03.13
  • Dr Mae-Wan Ho, New GM Nightmares with RNA, Institute of Science in Society Report, 29.04.13

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