Re: [tomato] This seems insane to me

Kim Van Scoy (
Wed, 21 Oct 1998 02:31:00 -0500

Richard,  You are not alone.  This development has quite a few folks 
worried, and not just left-wing environmentalists (okay - I admit you 
might put me in that category).  A recent article in the esteemed 
science journal Nature highlighted some of the problems with 
this sort of technology.  

I'm encluding an email which I recieved from a friend.  I 
believe this was posted originally, or atleast part of it was, on 
another bulletin board.  It's lengthy so if you aren't interested 
by all means skip it.  I hope people don't think that it is inappropriate
to post it here, if you do please let me know and I won't do it again.
Just reviewing the scientific issues brought up in this post, I would
suggest that they are in fact sound and the potential risk is not 


------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 20:33:18 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson <>
Subject: GENews

Thanks to (jim mcnulty)  for forwarding this:

Sept 3, 1998

New Trait Surfaces in Altered Plant Associated Press

Associated Press Writer

Heightening environmentalists' fears about the dangers of genetic
engineering, a weed that was altered by scientists to resist a herbicide
also developed far greater ability to pollinate other plants and pass its
traits on.

The findings raise the possibility of the emergence of "superweeds"
impervious to weedkillers.

The weed's enhanced ability to pollinate other plants was an unintended
consequence of experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana, a species commonly
used in genetic research.

Joy Bergelson, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of
Chicago, said the findings show that genetic engineering can substantially
increase the chances of "transgene escape," or the spread of certain traits
from one plant to another.

Her study was published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. ...

Ms. Bergelson compared the fertilization rate of plants that were mutated
to make them resistant to the herbicide chlorsulphuron, and plants that
were genetically altered for the same trait.

The genetically altered plants were able to fertilize other plants at a
rate 20 times greater than that of the mutants.

Why this was so is not clear. Ms. Bergelson speculated that the pollen from
the genetically altered plants might have a longer lifespan than normal
pollen or have some other competitive advantage.



September 4, 1998

WASHINGTON - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : A just
published scientific study bolsters worldwide fears that biologically
engineered organisms will have an adverse affect on other species and the

The report, released yesterday in the scientific journal Nature, says
species of genetically altered plants examined in field tests showed a
dramatically increased ability to reproduce sexually and spread their
modified genes to non-modified plants.

This new finding strengthens the fears of many small farmers, scientists
and environmentalists worldwide who claimed that the modified or added
genes of biologically engineered organisms might "escape" into other
related crops or weeds through sexual reproduction or cross-pollination.

"This is a big deal," says Jane Rissler, a senior scientist with the Union
of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy group. "This study
confirms one of the largest fears of what genetically modified plants can
do. The flow of genes from biologically engineered species to wild species
could change the genetic diversity and processes of whole ecosystems."

Chemical and agribusiness corporations have developed a new
generation of transgenic or biologically engineered crops that
contain genetic traits from other plants, viruses, bacteria, and
animals. These new plants are designed to perform in ways that could
never have been achieved by scientists working with classical
breeding techniques.
Scientists, for example, have inserted "antifreeze" protein genes from
flounders into the genetic code of tomatoes to protect the fruit from frost
damage. U.S.-based Monsanto has altered soyabeans to withstand the
herbicides the chemical company manufactures. And, chicken genes have been
inserted into potatoes to increase disease resistance.

In the new study published by Nature, Joy Bergelson and other scientists at
the University of Chicago in the state of Illinois say that, normally, the
risk of a gene spreading to other plants is low if the plants
self-fertilize. Yet, after several field tests, Bergelson and colleagues
report that a genetically engineered plant that was modified to be
resistant to the herbicide chlorsulphuron is unusually promiscuous.

Normally this plant, a weed known scientifically as Arabidopsis thaliana,
would self-fertilize and cross-pollinate. But after its genes were
modified, it was 20 times more likely to pollinate with other thaliana
plants that were not genetically modified, or wild.

Therefore, the researchers say, the study shows that wild thaliana
are more likely to be fertilized by the pollen of biologically
altered thaliana rather than self-reproduce.

"Although A. thaliana is unlikely to become a (sexually reproductive
plant), these results show that genetic engineering can
substantially increase the probability of transgene escape, even in a
species considered to be almost completely self- pollinating," says
the study.

While the researchers do not know why the plant has become more fertile
after being biologically engineered, they say their findings may have
serious consequences since "this (biologically altered) gene has been
introduced into dozens of agricultural crops."

Researchers, farmers and environmentalists are concerned that
transgenic genes for herbicide tolerance, and pest and disease
resistance might escape and through cross-pollination, insert
themselves into weedy relatives or other crops. This would
dramatically alter the balance in ecosystems by creating weeds or
crops that are resistant to herbicides, pests and viruses, says

Scientists, for example, have transferred to Indian rice the gene of
a naturally occurring bacteria, called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt,
which acts as a pesticide. Biologists that study bugs worry that this
new Bt rice which is pollinated by wind, might spread to wild grasses
that are close relatives. This would lead to pest resistance of the
weeds and increase the likelihood of creating bugs super resistant to

The implications of the Nature study have also caused alarm among
those concerned about a new biologically engineering technique that

would enable seed companies to switch a plant's reproductive
processes on and off. This means that if farmers attempted to replant
the harvested seed, it would be sterile.

Mississippi-based Delta and Pine Land -- the largest cotton seed
corporation in the United States -- which was recently bought out by
the chemical giant Monsanto, has come under strong criticism for its
new technology by farmer organizations in developing countries. They
fear that since many farmers who rely on keeping seeds from a
previous harvest for the next season will suffer the consequences of
this new technology even if they do not buy the modified seed.

"Pollen from crops carrying the new trait will infect the fields of
farmers who either reject or can't afford the technology," says Neth
Dano, director of the Philippines-based SEARICE, an organization that
workers with farmers in South-east Asia. "When farmers reach into
their bins to sow seed the following season they could discover --
too late -- that some of their seed is sterile."

This new seed technology is hardly an isolated case say, farmer
organizations. Zeneca BioSciences, a British corporation, just
applied for patents in 58 countries for its new chemical that works
together with a biologically engineered crop to activate or halt
genes crucial to normal plant development.

Farm organizations in developing countries charge that this new

invention renders it impossible to save protected seed from growing
season to growing season. Findings from the new study published in
Nature rekindle indicate that this genetic trait might spread easily
to other crops through sexual reproduction.

"Farmers could find that their neighbor bought the technology and it
cross-pollinated into their field, leaving them with dead seeds,"
says Monica Opole, the Kenya-based coordinator for the Community
Biodiversity Development and Conservation Program.

"Who knows how this technology will interact with nature, especially
as it spreads out over time and inevitably crosses with farmers'


Thanks to Prof. Joe Cummins  e-mail: for forwarding

      Nature 391, 326; 1998

Call for moratorium on xenotransplants

Sir - The Asilomar moratorium on applications of recombinant DNA research,
agreed to by molecular biologists in 1974, marked a turning point in the
approach of biologists to their responsibilities to the public in
developing a technology with unpredictable consequences.

That the worst-case scenarios envisaged at the time did not materialize in
no way detracts from the merit of the caution taken. Today, we are once
again faced with a similarly perplexing quandary.

Xenotransplantation, the transplantation of animal organs, tissues and
cells, promises substantial benefits in the long term 1,2 yet also creates
a risk that infectious agents from the donor animal might jump the species
barrier to man, not just infecting transplant recipients but also spreading
to the general population . We believe that a decision on whether to
proceed at present with clinical trials of xenotransplantation should not
be left to the traditional technical-based approaches that regulatory
agencies use to evaluate new medical technologies.

Given the potential risk to the public, the issue is first and
foremost an ethical one. Before introducing a regulatory framework
driven by technical considerations, an informed public debate is
needed so that the public can decide whether it wishes to consent to
clinical xenotransplantation at all and, if so, under what
conditions. Until such a review is completed in the United States, we
advocate a moratorium on all forms of clinical xenotransplantation, a
recommendation discussed more fully elsewhere 4. At the same time,
fundamental research in xenotransplantation should be actively
supported, given that it promises not only to advance our
understanding of the immune and vascular systems, but also to fill
some of the many gaps in our understanding of the problems, benefits
and risks of potential clinical application of this technology.

Fritz H. Bach Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

Harvey V. Fineberg Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

1 Bach, F. H. et al. Nature Med. 3, 944-948 (1997). 2. Isacson, O. &
Breakefield, X. O. Nature Med. 3, 964-969 (1997). 3. Patience, C.,
Takeuchi, Y. & Weiss, R. A. Nature Med. 3, 282-286 (1997). 4. Bach, F. H et
al. Nature Med. 4, 142-145 (1998).

      Nature c Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1998
      Registered No. 785998 England.