Kickstarter responds to explain why they banned GMOs
Hello, Thank you to everyone who signed our petition. Kickstarter has now responded (via the Verge) to why they decided to ban offering GMO's as rewards:
Essentially they are saying that the scientific community has not yet reached a consensus on how GMOs/synthetic organisms should be released to the environment. In general, this is true, and I think one of the most important things we have done with this project is triggered a debate about how this technology should be developed and released. Indeed the countries or regions that create these paths to consumers or the marketplace for this technology will thrive in the new bioeconomy.
However, one thing to point out is that not all GMOs are equal nor should they all be lumped into one bucket. More specifically there is a huge difference between micro-organisms, for whom horizontal gene transfer (ie cross species) is a frequent occurrence, and higher order organisms, for whom it's far less common (a good thing too or eating lunch could turn you into a cauliflower!). Indeed the USDA has previously approved hundreds of plants for release in the USA, while the EPA has approved far fewer micro-organisms.
APHIS/USDA uses information submitted by the applicant related to plant pest risk characteristics, disease and pest susceptibilities, expression of the gene product, new enzymes, or changes to plant metabolism, weediness of the regulated article, any impacts on the weediness of any other plant with which it can interbreed, and the transfer of genetic information to organisms with which it cannot interbreed.
While we don't expect to have to go through USDA approval, we are still doing the same kinds of tests. We based the tests we are doing on the following documents: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/08_31501p_fpra.pdf http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/05_28001p_pra.pdf
The tests we propose are detailed below, they are still draft as we are getting input from a broad group of advisers to ensure the proposed tests are comprehensive. We welcome and will consider all comments and suggestions on the list.
Potential impacts of altered disease and pest susceptibilities
• Comparison study of our plants to an Arabidopsis control group to show that there is no increase in growth rate or biomass production in mutants versus wild-type and that there are no significant differences in terms of pest or disease susceptibilities between these Arabidopsis lines and their non-transgenic counterparts
Potential impacts from new gene products, changes to plant metabolism or composition
• Analysis of proteins introduced to the plant and assessment of impact on plant metabolism
• Compositional assessment data to indicate that induced proteins have indeed been produced in the plant as expected:
o Southern blots to show gene has been correctly inserted and to examine the integrity and expression of the DNA
o Northern analyses documenting production of RNA from the inserted genes vs a control Potential impacts from outcrossing to wild relatives
• The potential for gene flow and introgression
o Literature study on the rate of out-crossing for Arabidopsis, based on the final transformation protocols (eg if the final design ends up being chloroplast based, gene flow and introgression would be minimized given that chloroplasts typically are inherited maternally not paternally)
• The potential impact of introgression to make the plant weedier o Tests to show a comparison between genetically altered plants and a control group to show that they are no weedier than existing Arabidopsis
Potential impacts based on the relative weediness
• Arabidopsis Thaliana is not listed as a noxious weed according to this list http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/permits/organism/federal_noxious_weeds.shtml
• Weediness for the purposes of this part of the plant pest risk assessment is an attribute, which causes a crop to act as a weed due to the addition of genes, in comparison to the non-transgenic comparator. If the fitness of these articles improves in natural or agricultural ecosystems due to the inserted DNA, the potential for weediness could increase. The introduced genes are expected to impose no selective advantage to the plants, to demonstrate this we will test:
o Data will be collected related to plant height, flower stem length, flower height, flower diameter, petal length and width, number of pistils, number of stamens, and others to show that the plant is not stronger than existing non-transgenic breeds
o Data will be collected on pollen viability, pollen grain germination, and pollen diameter to show that the plant is not stronger than existing non-transgenic breeds
Potential Impacts on Target and Non-target Organisms, Including Beneficial Organisms
• Study of the literature on potential health impacts and toxicity of introduced proteins
• We are exploring additional biocontrol mechanisms, such as the use of the BIO1 mutant Arabidopsis variety which would inhibit growth of the plant in environments where the plant can't get
Potential impacts from transferring genetic information from plant to organisms with which it cannot interbreed
• As per USDA findings there are a number of scientific studies which show that genetic information will not pass in this way:
o First, many genomes (or parts thereof) have been sequenced from bacteria that are closely associated with plants including Agrobacterium and Rhizobium (Kaneko et al. 2000; Wood et al. 2001; Kaneko et al. 2002). There is no evidence that these organisms contain genes derived from plants. o Second, in cases where review of sequence data implied that horizontal gene transfer occurred, these events are believed to occur on an evolutionary time scale on the order of millions of years (Koonin et al. 2001; Brown 2003).
o Third, transgene DNA promoters and coding sequences are optimized for plant expression, not prokaryotic bacterial expression. Thus even if horizontal gene transfer occurred, proteins corresponding to the transgenes are not likely to be produced.
o Fourth, the FDA has evaluated horizontal gene transfer from the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes, and concluded that the likelihood of transfer of antibiotic resistance genes from plant genomes to microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract of humans or animals, or in the environment, is remote (Council for Biotechnology Information, 2001; http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/opa-armg.html, accessed 1/26/10).
o Finally, a recent review of issues related to horizontal gene transfer concluded that this type of gene transfer is unlikely to occur and poses negligible risks to human health or the environment (Keese 2008).
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