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Let's think omnigenics

April 2019

You don't have to look too far to realise that the one, consistent, feature of all the products of GM technology is that they have failed to deliver on their promises.

In 1994, we were informed of an imminent series of world-changing GM crops destined to emerge in five-year leaps. Monsanto Vice President, Robert Fraley, listed 60 plant species which had already been genetically transformed. The first wave of GM crops would be pest-free, weed-free, and virus-proof by 2000. After this we would have GM improved foods on our tables by 2005, followed by pharmaceuticals from the fields by 2010, and finally GM-grown speciality chemicals.

The only limit to what was possible was the imagination of the genetic engineers, but the basis for this five-year leaping GM programme was never questioned, nor explained.

Now, over two decades later, how many of these leaps have actually been leapt?

We have GM crops with herbicide-tolerance (mainly limited to glyphosate-based herbicides), and we have GM crops with insect-resistance (mainly inspired by genes found in one soil bacterium), and increasingly we have 'new' crops with multiple GM traits produced by breeding the old GM ones together with each other. Only three out of the hopeful sixty species of plants have been commercially introduced on any scale.

The GM reality hasn't moved on from these two early agronomically-friendly concepts, and even these are proving to have short practical shelf-lives due to the rate of evolution of pest-resistance (hence the breeding of the multi-trait versions). There's nothing to show in terms of the all-important, expected (or rather, assumed) yield improvement, nor savings on pesticides.

*Note. Crop yields have increased steadily since the 1960s, but with no discernible difference between this trend in conventional crops and their GM equivalents. The use of herbicides and insecticides is measurably lower in conventional crops compared with GM ones.

Flagship GM golden rice, which was to save the developed world from vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in wave No.2 of Fraley's scheme, has never yet got off the ground for all the decades of hype surrounding it [1].

It can't have escaped the biotech industry and its lobbyists that their GM products aren't delivering, but it seems they're in denial, laying the blame squarely on the regulations as the obstacle blocking their progress. They're refusing to acknowledge that their Central Dogma, that precise sequences of DNA dictate the construction of precise proteins which can be re-invented in any way that suits human desire, is fatally flawed. This Dogma forms the foundations of the science on which genetic engineering is built, and on which they've staked all their money: it was shattered nearly two decades ago.

In 2001, just as GM crops were getting into their stride, it was discovered that the human genome contains genes for only a fraction of the proteins found in the human body. This should have been a game-changer and should have stopped genetic engineering in its tracks because it makes nonsense of the biotech Central Dogma. However, the life-as-a-machine model with its digital biological basis enables patents and a lot of easy PR, and industry had invested too much in the GM fantasy to let go.

In parallel with this, a tiny and marginalised minority of scientists have embraced the reality of what the science is telling them, and have developed the concept of 'omnigenics'.

Central to omnigenics is that no gene works in isolation and that a 'gene' need not even be a defined, single sequence of DNA. DNA, plus all the related RNA and proteins whose creation it directs, and all the associated biochemicals (epigenetics), and who-knows-what else that we haven't identified yet, function as one, integrated whole.

There's no place in omnigenics for DNA engineering because it disrupts the essential balanced control of that vast, interconnected gene network. The omnigenic outcome of GM can only be unexpected weaknesses in the organism and unexpected qualities, possibly harmful to the consumer and the environment.

In 2015, we were being told that, using new breeding techniques such as CRIPSR-Cas9 gene editing, "GMO scientists could save the world from hunger if we let them" (Parrett) [2]. Really?

From an omnigenic viewpoint, a tiny gene 'edit' can be just as unpredictable and unbalancing in its effects as a wholesale DNA insertion.

It's clear we now have a huge, detailed and very useful knowledge of genomes which can be used to assist conventional breeding programmes and benefit the world. The main obstacle to saving the world with this science certainly isn't the regulations, but rather the biotechnology mindset which can't release its DNA-engineering obsession.

OUR COMMENT


A recent headline in the media announced "Gene analysis speeds up race to beat cereal killer".

What the article actually described was a genome library of wild wheat strains from which suitable variants could be identified for faster breeding programmes. However, it gave out the message that these whole genomes could in some way be reduced to something small enough to be 'edited' precisely into a domestic crop. It then became (or perhaps had never been anything else but) a platform for a biotech scientist to complain that it's "a real travesty" that GM couldn't be used in the UK (because of the regulations of course) and that conventional breeding would have to be used instead.

It's time to start chipping away at this GM-fixation. Start by informing yourself about omnigenics and the flaws in the biotech's Central Dogma. Check out the scientific discussion posted on YouTube by GMO-free Europe.

Background

[1] GOLDEN RICE: A CURIOUS SORT OF SAFETY EVALUATION - October 2018
[2] OUR CRISPR FOOD FUTURE - March 2019


SOURCES:
  • Bound to fail: The flawed scientific foundations of agricultural genetic engineering, GM Watch, Part 1 published 13.11.18, Part 2 published 21.11.18
  • R. T. Fraley, et al., The Contributions of Plant Biotechnology to Agriculture in the Coming Decades, 1994
  • Tom Parrett, GMO Scientists Could Save the World From Hunger, If We Let Them, www.newsweek.com, 29.05.15
  • Tom Whipple, Gene analysis speeds up race to beat cereal killer, The Times, 5.02.19
Free photo created by kjpargeter on www.freepik.com

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