Next Generation of Genetically Modified Foods May Affect Human Health
A new study published in the journal Cell Research reveals material from genetically modified (GM) food has survived the human digestive process, affecting cholesterol function in humans. The Atlantic argues the news is reason to revisit the safety of genetically engineered crops.
Chinese researches at Nanjing University found small pieces of a type of ribonucleic acid—called microRNA because of its small size—in the blood and organs of humans who eat rice. Scientists discovered microRNAs 10 years ago, and they have since been linked to human diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes, reported The Atlantic.
That said, MicroRNAs do not cause these diseases, "microRNAs are merely a marker for those conditions," said the University of Toronto's Nutrition Mythbusters Team in an email to Indian Country Today Media Network.
MicroRNA is the same genetic material that biotech companies hope to use in their next round of GM foods, reported Tom Laskawy, founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, on Grist.org. In current GM foods, new genes are added to crops like corn, soy and cotton to alter the way the plants function—to promote tolerance of herbicides or to produce their own. Now biotech companies are proposing to use microRNA to "target, and block the function of specific genes in pests," reported Laskawy.
ThMicroRNAs are not exclusive to genetically modified foods; they are naturally found in all living organisms.
According to Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists and expert in genetically modified foods, "humans and insects share a surprising amount of DNA material—evolution favors reusing and recycling genes even among creatures as different as insects and humans," reported Laskawy. Because of this, microRNA meant to target a specific insect gene will also likely affect humans, Gurian-Sherman said.
The Chinese study calls into question "any general statement that [microRNA] technology would be inherently safe," he added.
Meanwhile, GM company Monsanto continues to allege the safety of GM crops. "There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans," the website states. "DNA (and resulting RNA) is present in almost all foods. DNA is non-toxic and the presence of DNA, in and of itself, presents no hazard."
But The Atlantic clarifies, "...DNA can code for microRNA, which can, in fact, be hazardous."