- LONDON (AFP) - Research by
a leading German zoologist has shown that genes used to genetically modify
crops can jump the species barrier, newspapers reported here on Sunday.
A three-year study by Professor Hans-Heinrich Kaatz at the University of
Jena found that the gene used to modify oil-seed rape had transferred to
bacteria living inside honey bees. The findings will undermine claims by
the biotech industry and supporters of GM foods that genes cannot spread.
- They will also increase pressure on farmers across Europe
to destroy fields of oil-seed rape contaminated with GM seeds. In an interview
for The Observer newspaper, Kaatz said: "I have found the herbicide-resistant
genes in the rapeseed transferred across to the bacteria and yeast inside
the intestines of young bees. This happened rarely, but it did happen."
Asked if his findings had implications for the bacteria inside the human
gut, Kaatz replied: "Maybe, but I am not an expert on this."
- The Observer said Kaatz was reluctant to talk about his
work until it is officially published and reviewed by fellow scientists.
The reports come a day after Britain's Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
urged farmers to destroy crops contaminated with genetically modified seeds.
Up to 600 farmers in Britain are believed to have inadvertently planted
more than 30,000 acres of oilseed rape contaminated with GM rape seeds,
supplied by Anglo-Dutch seed company Advanta. Similar crops have been planted
elsewhere in Europe, including in France, Germany and Sweden. The French
and Swedish governments have already announced they are ordering the uprooting
of the crops.
- Modified Crop Genes 'Jump The Species Barrier'
By Anthony Barnett - Public Affairs Editor
- http://www.observer.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,319418,00.html 5-28-00
- A leading zoologist has found evidence that genes used
to modify crops can jump the species barrier and cause bacteria to mutate,
prompting fears that GM technology could pose serious health risks.
- A four-year study by Professor Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a
respected German zoologist, found that the alien gene used to modify oilseed
rape had transferred to bacteria living inside the guts of honey bees.
- The research - which has yet to be published and has
not been reviewed by fellow scientists - is highly significant because
it suggests that all types of bacteria could become contaminated by genes
used in genetically modified technology, including those that live inside
the human digestive system. If this happened, it could have an impact
on the bacteria's vital role in helping the human body fight disease, aid
digestion and facilitate blood clotting.
- Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, who was yesterday advising
farmers who have accidentally grown contaminated GM oilseed rape in Britain
to rip up their crops, confirmed the potential significance of Kaatz's
research. He said: 'If this is true, then it would be very serious.'
- The 47-year-old Kaatz has been reluctant to talk about
his research until it has been published in a scientific journal, because
he fears a backlash from the scientific community similar to that faced
by Dr Arpad Pustzai, who claimed that genetically modified potatoes damaged
the stomach lining of rats. Pustzai was sacked and had his work discredited.
- But in his first newspaper interview, Kaatz told The
Observer: 'It is true, I have found the herbicide-resistant genes in the
rapeseed transferred across to the bacteria and yeast inside the intestines
of young bees. This happened rarely, but it did happen.' Although Kaatz
realised the potential 'significance' of his findings, he said he 'was
not surprised' at the results. Asked if this had implications for the bacteria
inside the human gut, he said: 'Maybe, but I am not an expert on this.'
Dr Mae-Wan Ho, geneticist at Open University and a critic of GM technology,
has no doubts about the dangers. She said: 'These findings are very worrying
and provide the first real evidence of what many have feared. Everybody
is keen to exploit GM technology, but nobody is looking at the risk of
horizontal gene transfer.
- 'We are playing about with genetic structures that existed
for millions of years and the experiment is running out of control.'
One of the biggest concerns is if the anti-biotic resistant gene used in
some GM crops crossed over to bacteria. 'If this happened it would leave
us unable to treat major illnesses like meningitis and E coli .'
- Kaatz, who works at the respected Institute for Bee Research
at the University of Jena in Germany, built nets in a field planted with
genetically modified rapeseed produced by AgrEvo. He let the bees fly freely
within the net. At the beehives, he installed pollen traps in order to
sample the pollen from the bees' hindlegs when entering the hive. This
pollen was fed to young honey bees in the laboratory. Pollen is the natural
diet of young bees, which need a high protein diet. Kaatz then extracted
the intestine of the young bees and discovered that the gene from the GM
rape-seed had been transferred in the bee gut to the microbes.
- Professor Robert Pickard, director-general of the Institute
of the British Nutrition Foundation, is a bee expert as well as being a
biologist and has visited the institute where Kaatz works. He said: 'There
is no doubt that, if Kaatz's research is substantiated, then it poses very
interesting questions and will need to be looked at very closely. 'But
it must be remembered that the human body has been coping perfectly well
with strange DNA for millions of years. And we also know many people have
been eating GM products for years without showing any signs of ill health.'
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