US greenlights human/rice hybrid
We're all fine young cannibals now
The first ever plant/human hybrid is to be approved for commercial scale cultivation. According to reports, the US authorities have given preliminary approval for the crop to be grown on a 3,000 acre plot in Kansas.
The plant in question is rice, but it has been spliced with human DNA that will make it grow a protein found in both human breast milk and saliva. Ventria Bioscience, the California-based firm behind the crop, says the protein can be used to treat children with diarrhoea.
The decision by the US Department of Agriculture has provoked an outcry from anti-GM campaigners because of concerns over contamination of the food chain, possible allergic reactions to the proteins, and a lack of knowledge on the impact such large scale cultivation might have.
Others have registered ethical objections, a disinclination towards meddling with the building blocks of all life. But these are much harder to quantify, and legally impossible to use as a basis for restricting the import of the crop to the UK and Europe, once it has passed the required safety tests.
Friends of the Earth said the development was very worrying. Campaigner Claire Oxborrow said genetically modified rice had already contaminated the food chain, and called on the government to take a stand against the drug companies.
"The government must urge the US to ban the production of drugs in food crops," she said. "It must also introduce tough measures to prevent illegal GM crops contaminating our food and ensure that biotech companies are liable for any damage their products cause."
Ventrica argues that the risk is small: Kansas has no commercial rice farms, making contamination unlikely. In addition, it says it will use dedicated storage and processing facilities to handle the crop.
The firm also says the pay off is worth what risk there might be. It says its own research showed that children suffering from dehydration caused by diarrhoea recovered more quickly when given electrolytes mixed with the proteins it plans to grow in the rice. ®
What about disease
Plant diseases affect plants because the source of disease can take advantage of the metabolic pathways of the particular plant, and be disruptive to it (if not disruptive, we wouldn't know it's a disease; e.g. having a mitochondria inside a plant cell is not a disease even if it is geneticly distinct from the plant itself). Plant diesease do not usually affect human because most of the time they can not take advantage of human metabolic system; at lease unable to be disruptive. When they do, it's called food poinsoning, like certain types of parasitic fungus on plants can cause food poinsoning.
What's being discussed here is injecting segments of animal/human DNA into plants, not the other way around. Some rice advocates may have ground to fear giving human disease to rice, however improbable that is :-) The risk of getting rice disease into human that way is no greater than that associated with ingesting rice to begin with; that's when the final product finally gets into human, through the digestive tract. So if we really want to be paranoid, in order to prevent all plant disease from affecting human, we should stop eating all plants :-) While we are at it, eating animals are probably even more dangerous as animal metabolic pathways are much more similar to ours than those of plants to ours . . . remember the Mad Cow Disease? So we really should eat nothing :-)
Okay...what about disease?
Alright, I am not a scientist and I do not pretend to be...but I suppose this could be a psuedo-intellectual presumption, so stop me if I am wrong. If they do splice the DNA of humans and plants, could that not open up a big door to mutating plant diseases and human diseases and somehow render a greater possibility of producing a new form of virus etc...?
Re: DNA Patent
I agree with you morally, but there is one benefit to the greed of making the plants sterile, so farmers must buy new seed each season: If the plants can't seed, they can't spread and contaminate the wilderness or other crops. This is a GOOD thing! :)
Second, nobody's holding a gun to farmers' heads to sow these crops. This was tried in India a few years back with GM wheat. When the local sahibs found the crops' seeds were sterile, they dumped the lot and went back to cultivating their old strains and collecting the seed as they always have, and the corporation concerned lost the entire Indian market. So if farmers don't like the sterile seed scam, they can always choose not to sow these crops. A couple of farmers of my acquaintance, here in Australia, are highly reticent about polluting their fields with this GM stuff, notwithstanding the higher costs and the nasty neighbour/consumer backlash that can arise from doing so. Some farmers do grow the stuff, but Australia's labelling laws require any products containing GM crops to be clearly labelled as such. And guess what? Those products aren't selling too well...