Study raises new concerns about safety of genetically modified food

A study at Nanjing University in China found that ingested "microRNA" (very small pieces of ribonucleic acid, or RNA) from plants were able to survive digestion and influence the function of human cells.

Food columnist Ari Levaux has a piece digging into the implications, in The Atlantic. The basic idea: if this research stands up to the rigors of scientific scrutiny, it could prove that when we eat food, we consume not just fuel and nutrients, but information that changes us on a cellular level, and influences health.

Snip:

Monsanto's website states, "There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans." This viewpoint, while good for business, is built on an understanding of genetics circa 1950. It follows what's called the "Central Dogma" (PDF) of genetics, which postulates a one-way chain of command between DNA and the cells DNA governs.

The Central Dogma resembles the process of ordering a pizza. The DNA knows what kind of pizza it wants, and orders it. The RNA is the order slip, which communicates the specifics of the pizza to the cook. The finished and delivered pizza is analogous to the protein that DNA codes for.

We've known for years that the Central Dogma, though basically correct, is overly simplistic. For example: Pieces of microRNA that don't code for anything, pizza or otherwise, can travel among cells and influence their activities in many other ways. So while the DNA is ordering pizza, it's also bombarding the pizzeria with unrelated RNA messages that can cancel a cheese delivery, pay the dishwasher nine million dollars, or email the secret sauce recipe to WikiLeaks.

Monsanto's claim that human toxicology tests are unwarranted is based on the doctrine of "substantial equivalence." This term is used around the world as the basis of regulations designed to facilitate the rapid commercialization of genetically engineered foods, by sparing them from extensive safety testing.

via The Very Real Danger of Genetically Modified Foods - The Atlantic. You'll also want to read the actual study, and make up your own mind.

Update: Here's a critical take on the linked-to Atlantic piece. Ari responds here.

(via @coopportunity)

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  1. Why even report this if the study has yet to stand up to the “rigors of scientific scrutiny?” Oh, yeah. Alarmism sells.

    1. You’d prefer the head-in-the-sand approach better?

      CharredBarn, the issue has been subjected to some scientific scrutiny thus far.  Ironically, you’re the one going out on the extreme by misrepresenting the facts and promoting this as pure, baseless FUD when that’s not the case.

      The issue does need far more research, but some has been done already despite your claims and Monsanto’s ire.   Entities like Monsanto are the purveyors of FUD, maybe save some of your concern trolling for them?

      1. I never said that no research has been done on this question. That I said that is pure invention on your part.

        The linked article and this post both say that the study has not yet been stood up to the rigors of scientific validation, and that once it does it COULD prove something. So how am I misrepresenting facts by what I said? 

        BTW, I am not bothered by the whole “concern trolling” crack. You obviously live in a world where disagreement backed up by reasoned argument is a form of heresy. Sorry, I don’t share your religion.

        1. CB, I live in a world where I’d rather know about these studies than keep my head in the sand…  And, then make up my own mind.

          Nowhere will you see where I’ve stated that I believe the article is valid or the study for that matter.  And, as you’ve already said, both Xeni and the article makes it clear that nothing has been proven, so I don’t understand all the angst.  I agree that the Atlantic’s choice of headline was awful, though.  Stay proud.  Stay butthurt.

      1. Unless I’m missing something, this is precisely what the article cited actually shows: that miRNA from ordinary non-GM rice can alter metabolism in mice. This could mean that GM foods are different from their non-GM cousins in ways that we have not previously recognized and may merit further investigation. This could also mean that non-GM foods besides rice also have hitherto unrecognized effects upon metabolism.

        1. simonster, quit stating facts and making sense.  You’ll be accused of being an alarmist in short order.

          1. Haha. I guess this is a veiled crack at my earlier comment.  I suggest you reread Simonster’s comment again. I think you may have had a (temporary) failure of comprehension, because his point is that nothing in the article distinguishes non-GM foods from GM foods vis-a-vis their actual effects on metabolism. 

            Haven’t read the article, so I can’t vouch for this interpretation.

          2. CB, ironically it’s you that had a failure in comprehension.  I guess you missed the part:

             ” … This could mean that GM foods are different from their non-GM cousins in ways that we have not previously recognized and may merit further investigation. … “

          3. Did you keep reading the comment?

            “This could also mean that non-GM foods besides rice also have hitherto unrecognized effects upon metabolism.”

          4. Did you keep reading the comment?

            Yes, I did keep reading.  That sentence doesn’t vanquish his own previous sentence that says there might be merit for further investigation… so what’s your point?

        2. You are correct. The paper says nothing about GM crops at all. I can see how this research suggests that we might want to look more closely at the health effects of plant miRNA — both GM and non-GM — but it’s a shame that it’s being spun in such a fear-mongering way. The problem that people should be focusing on re: GM crops is patents and the legal bullying perpetrated by large agricultural corporations, not health.

    1. Straw man rampages through produce section.  Dozens of tomatoes and at least one turnip missing.  Film at 11. 

      1. Acutally, that’s what the opening line says “plants were able to survive digestion and influence the function of human cells” it doesn’t say GM. GM plants are beneficial genes from one plant inserted into another in order to provide more durable crops – unless the genes contain new sequences that contain new microRNA then you are not actually introducing any new ones to a species. 

    2. Considering that the Nature study looked at the effect of a non-transgenic rice miRNA on animals by feeding rice to mice, I would say the answer is yes.

    3. Yes, that would seem quite natural. However, for non-GM foods, any such effects would have already been going on for a long time (such foods are “Generally recognized as safe.”). For GM foods this could, possibly, mean that the inserted genes would affect your metabolism in all sorts of untested ways.

      Personally, though, I expect that nearly all GM foods will turn out to be very safe, and I make no special attempt to avoid them.

  2. “There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans.”

    It must be nice to be so omniscient as to know exactly what conclusions will be reached by scientific inquiry. In fact having such far-reaching knowledge negates the need for scientific inquiry. Why are we wasting precious time and money on research studies when executives at Monsanto already know everything?

  3. How do you jump from a study that suggests miRNAs can survive digestion to freaking out about GMOs? Not that Monsanto isn’t at the cartoon-villain level of evil yet (it is), but to make a connection there has to be a study comparing miRNA expression between GMO and non-GMO food. Until then, this is a great example of the awful state of science journalism.

    1. Who’s “freaking out”?  We should take a closer look at GMO’s with more study and testing.  That’s not “freaking out”… that’s science.

      1. That is similar to saying that Christopher Columbus proved he was correct, and that the ‘scientists’ were wrong.  

        Sure, we need to look at lots of things…but a study which finds that miRNA might influence our genetics != we should test GMO food more because of this study.  The logic just isn’t there

      2. re: “freaking out:” 
        The Very Real Danger of Genetically Modified Foods

        (title)

  4. This is crazytown.  If you actually read the AM article (I have) and the study itself (ditto), then the incredibly weak link between the two should be quite evident.  It saddens me that this stuff is posted as some sort of substantiated evidence when really it is nothing more than an opinion piece by a RESTAURANT REVIEWER.

    1. If you actually read the AM article (I have) and the study itself (ditto), then the incredibly weak link between the two should be quite evident.

      So, guiltyfeet…  Xeni posted this about about an hour & a half before your post.

      You breezed through a nearly 13,000 word study and came to this “quite evident” conclusion in less time?

      Interesting.

      1. One does not need to read every detail of the paper to understand the gist of it. Look at the abstract. Look at what they actually did. And show me one place in the paper that says anything at all about GM crops. That’s not what this paper is about, and even the Atlantic piece indirectly acknowledges as much once you get past the sensationalist headline.

        1. And show me one place in the paper that says anything at all about GM

          How about two? …and their corresponding references?

          ” … Previous studies have reported that the transfer of genetic material from one species to another may modulate the cellular functions of the recipient species … “

          http://www.nature.com/cr/journal/v22/n1/full/cr2011158a.html#bib51

          ” … Plant miRNAs are 2′-O-methyl modified on their terminal nucleotide, which renders them resistant to periodate … “

          http://www.nature.com/cr/journal/v22/n1/full/cr2011158a.html#bib22

          ——

          Sorry, but it’s a nearly 13,000 word study and I’m drilling through it as fast as I can… Are you?

          1. The first quote is used to introduce the idea that plant miRNAs could have an effect in the human genome, and it’s presented with two examples: human miRNAs targeting viruses and parasitic plants targeting other plants. This isn’t GM; it’s exogenous genes modifying system-level function.

            The second is a feature of all plant miRNAs. I guess in a really literal sense there is “genetic modification” going on, since the plant is modifying its own miRNAs.

          2. I don’t think those references mean what you think they mean.

            In the first quote, the studies referenced are about virii and prions bringing foreign genetic material into the cell. miRNA (as Emily writes in the rebuttal) is not “genetic material” in those senses. Neither are they GM.

            In the second quote, the plant miRNAs being “modified” on their terminal nucleotide doesn’t imply artificial modification, but a difference between them and other (animal?) miRNA. In this case, this difference prevents them from being disassembled during digestion.

      2. Yes, that is correct.  13,000 words?   Should that take longer than an hour-and-a-half to read? 

        You should read it for yourself.  It’s a really fascinating study that suggests that inter-species communication may be going on in ways that we’ve never conceived of.  Yes, the implications are far reaching, but I assure you that nowhere in that study is it suggested (or anywhere else for that matter) that GMOs are anymore likely to have any type of effect on humans or otherwise.  The author of the AM article is making a huge leap in his conclusion.  Shame on Xeni and Boing Boing for not recognizing this.

        1. Yes, that is correct.  13,000 words?   Should that take longer than an hour-and-a-half to read?

          Yes, if you are to really read through it in detail, check out the Figures, some references links, etc.

          So, guiltyfeet, you started reading this study (in detail, including figures and some references) literally as soon as you saw this article from Xeni (the second she posted it) and finished it just before your posting without reading anything else?  Is that what you’re trying to tell me?  Speaking of FUD….

          1. I don’t understand what is so hard to believe about reading a 10 paragraph study in the time that it took you to apparently gloss over the same material and come up with your own conclusions.

            I see you’ve found two examples from the study that seem relevant to your argument.  Without having to go through the trouble of condensing my argument down to a size and format that you are willing to actually read,  I will simply assure you that they are not.

            If you are still unsure of the facts that have been repetedly presented to you here and within other threads that you have posted, please see critique made by a person who has some actual background evolving the matter:

            http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2012/01/homologous_recombinaltion_tini_2.php

          2. I don’t understand what is so hard to believe about reading a 10 paragraph study in the time that it took you to apparently gloss over the same material and come up with your own conclusions.

            You’re apparently also merely glossing over my posts instead of reading them if you think I’ve come up with “conclusions”.

            Once again, shrill folks… I haven’t stated anywhere that I thought the article or study was valid and “proven”.  Sheesh..

            Thanks for the link. I read it already earlier…

            He says that physiologically it seems unlikely, but nothing definite. So what’s the harm in further study, then? I don’t get it.

  5. Don’t forget almost all food we eat is genetically modified from its ‘natural’ state (ie as it evolved before humans messed with it).  People have been using a technique called Artificial Selection for many millennia now to select the traits (ie genes) they want and eliminate the ones they don’t want.  Should we now all stop eating broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc and go back to eating wild Brassica?

    1. Wow, chips… what a way to throw science to the wind.  To act like there’s no difference between classical plant breeding and direct genetic modification is absolute FUD on your part.

      You’re not helping your side, just so you know.

        1. I sometimes eat broccoli as the main course. ;D

          Anyway, aside from that… I’m just saying throwing FUD in the air certainly doesn’t help to clear the air.

          If you think the article is based upon flimsy science then it certainly doesn’t help to chuck more FUD into the mix.

    2. Selection and cross-breeding come with their own built-in parameters. That’s why you can’t produce a child by screwing a donkey, no matter how many times you try. GM can remove those limits.

        1. We’ve been calling him Rick ‘man on dog’ Santorum for a while now. Only now have we realized that he’s really trying to prevent genetically-modified dogman offspring!

          1. Rick Santorum secretly fights to save us all from dogmen, nobly keeps the world from ever finding out about the menace or his massive role in averting it. Egad, this man is a hero!

            *gag* I hope this gets likes, because that physically hurt to type.

      1. One of the built in parameters is mutation.  You can wait for a natural mutation (from radiation or transcription error) or do what breeders have been doing for almost a century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutation_breeding

        Yeah, those are foods you are probably buying as Certified Organic.

        —-Caution—Opinion follows—-

        Somehow I feel a bit better about GM foods that have targeted changes using known genes as opposed to mutation breed foods that create never before seen genes.  And I’ll happily eat both knowing that plants create toxins anyways to keep critters like you and me from eating them.  Out digestive process ain’t chemically pretty.

    3. Not really relevant. Artificial selection is a long term process and humans adapt to the these changes as well over many generations, basically in parallel with the changes in foodstuffs themselves. Genetic modification is much faster and there is no time for this adjustment process.
      It is completely wrong to equate selection process (whether natural or artificial) and direct genetic modification from any ecological or wider biological perspective.

      1. “humans adapt to the these changes as well over many generations”
        Europe was inundated with a huge range of new foods that were never seen before 1492 including tomatoes, corn, potatoes and all beans except favas and soybeans. This was a much bigger change in diet than any genetic modification I’m aware of. Are you saying there was a huge die off of Europeans as they adjusted to the bizarre genetics of these new foods? I mean, two of them are members of the deadly nightshade family, so it must have been horrific. Funny how you don’t read about it in the history books.

  6. It just goes to show that there is no common sense that cannot be shouted down.  Even something as self-evident as the safety of natural food has to be vigorously litigated.

    The solution to GM food is simple: mandatory labeling. Let the customers decide.

      1. The reason we don’t label GMO foods is to prevent scientific analysis.

        If you don’t know what you have and haven’t eaten, and the data is purposely obscured, you can’t easily analyze for patterns.

        If you truly believe in the scientific method and/or functionally regulated capitalism, you should strongly support mandatory content labeling, because neither science nor capitalism is capable of functioning properly when data is purposely hidden or destroyed.

    1. Common sense is typically a term used by people who believe something but cannot actually support it with empirical evidence or sound reasoning

    2. “something as self-evident as the safety of natural food.”
      There are thousands of naturally occurring things that will make you sick or kill you if you eat them.No doubt, you’ll say that these are not foods, so it doesn’t refute your point that natural foods are self-evidently safe. The reason they aren’t considered foods is because of the intrepid people whjo came before us and tested those foods for consumption, to their ultimate detriment. It has nothing to do with, say, fugu, or toadstools being “self-evidently” safe for eating.

  7. Question:  What organ has the highest concentration of neurons after the brain and spinal column?  No guessing.

      1. I didn’t expect anyone to know; that would indicate deep knowledge of human anatomy by someone commenting on regulation of the human food supply.

        However, that reply was extremely unexpected!

  8. It’s a good thing that “natural” foods don’t have miRNA!!!

    Oh wait . . .

    Fumbled this one, BB.

    1. Emily, thank you for you post.  In your blog you said you couldn’t find mention of GMOs in the study.

      What’s this, then?

      ” … Previous studies have reported that the transfer of genetic material from one species to another may modulate the cellular functions of the recipient species … “

      http://www.nature.com/cr/journal/v22/n1/full/cr2011158a.html#bib51

      ” … Plant miRNAs are 2′-O-methyl modified on their terminal nucleotide, which renders them resistant to periodate … “

      http://www.nature.com/cr/journal/v22/n1/full/cr2011158a.html#bib22

      1. Genetic modification as happens in the natural organisms is not usually what is meant by GMOs. This is a notable issue where there’s a lot of misinformation; please check what you’re saying isn’t specious?

        1. Thanks chenille.  I wasn’t being purposefully specious.. that’s why I was asking what they were.

          Trust me, if I knew what they were and I thought I was correct, I’d let you know. :D

  9. Why is this entire issue getting as stupid as “Global Warming”?
    They are both highly polarized pseudo-scientific debates.  Sure, there were scientists discussing it at some point, but most of the discussion is now coming from the non-scientific community.

    Is GMO bad?  You bet.  Because it will give you cancer or do something else out of a horror movie to your body?  Probably not. 

    Scientists who want to have a discussion about the herbicide/pesticide implications of using GMO are having to shout over a bunch of activists who don’t have a grade school knowledge of biology and a bunch of conservatives who honestly don’t care.  It could be worse, Al Gore could get involved.  In the meantime, I have to read a bunch of pseudo-scientific garbage written because a science journal used a term that the author thinks MIGHT be applicable.  

    Let me simplify these types of discussions.  If you have to use the word “it just makes sense” or “obviously” to make your point…then shut up.  If your conclusions use “common sense” or you cannot point to anything approaching empirical evidence….then shut up.  If you have to reference research that is dubious at best(and you know this), ….then SHUT UP.

  10. Doesn’t boingboing (and the Atlantic) have a science editor for stuff like this? As a genetic researcher, I’m having a very hard time gleaning from that paper any evidence against GMO’s. 

    Anti-GMO crowd: please isolate your hatred for Monsanto (yes, they’re evil, we know) from your skepticism towards GMO’s. Separate issues. 

    Label fanatics: understand that “genetically modified” (like “organic”) is a very complex, nuanced, and blurry definition. I challenge any of you to provide an explicit, testable definition that could be used to describe produce. 

    And, ffs, entire world: this shit is really, really complicated. I don’t have a firm grasp on the nuances of it, and I work in a closely related field. This is not to say that researchers are grasping at straws; it just takes a specialist to grasp all the complexities. I do see GM crops as having enormous potential for the alleviation of malnutrition, and as such I’ve found the popular reluctance to explore their possibilities to have a tinge of that old motif of first world “comfort issues” supplanting a potential response to third world tragedies (a bit like DDT and the malaria eradication effort). 

    1. Surely it is possible to reasonably be sceptical of GM crops’ potential purely because it is being driven by entities like Monsanto though.

      I am not particularly worried that eating GM food carries any inherent health risk. At the same time, I am dubious that GM crops will realise the potential often ascribed to them while the likes of Monsanto own the IP rights. I think it is more likely that a strong profit incentive could result in serious long term harm.

      1. One of the big problems is that due to the pressure from the anti-GMO camp, approval of GMOs is long and expensive process that only big multi-nationals can afford.. Small biotech companies and universities have GM stuff sitting on their “shelves” that they can’t afford to get approved due to the high financial costs. So, in their zeal to get GMOs eliminated, the anti-GMO folks have allowed companies like Monsanto to control it.  It’s the law of unintended consequences.  

        1. One of the big problems is that due to the pressure from the anti-GMO camp, approval of GMOs is long and expensive process that only big multi-nationals can afford.. Small biotech companies and universities have GM stuff sitting on their “shelves” that they can’t afford to get approved due to the high financial costs. So, in their zeal to get GMOs eliminated, the anti-GMO folks have allowed companies like Monsanto to control it.  It’s the law of unintended consequences.

          Please, get real….

          Blaming “regulation” for all the ills in the world is getting really, really old.

          Don’t you think this might have just a little bit more to do with Monsanto’s business practice of squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies and general corruption with shady license agreements?

          Sources, facts, evidence (to ignore or otherwise):

          http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/aug/28/dupont-monsanto-trade-barbs-over-competition/?page=all

          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/13/monsanto-squeezes-out-see_n_390354.html

          1. Yes, M0nsanto is evil.  That’s a given. But if the game was changed to let smaller companies and universities into the game, you would have competition. If you would look at all the science based data on GM you would see that it isn’t dangerous. And yes, it is the regulation that is keeping small companies and universities from getting in the game. I’ m getting so sick of this BS about Monsanto when the real issue is that people don’t get that GM isn’t Frankenfoods.  GMO wasn’t invented by Monsanto. It was invented by independent scientists. Look at what the actual science is. I’m getting tired of people who only believe science when it fits their belief system. I’ll bet you agree with global warming but not GMO? Why not? The science of GM was created, not by Monsanto, but independent scientists. Sorry to be redundant. 

          2. @berniemooney:disqus 

            Yes, M0nsanto is evil. That’s a given. But if the game was changed to let smaller companies and universities into the game, you would have competition.

            Look again at that second link I posted up there.

            Also, you should take a look at this:

            Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

            ” … The Times reported that because of draconian intellectual property laws, scientists can’t grow GMO crops for research purposes without gaining permission from the corporations that own the germplasm—permission which is sometimes denied or granted only on condition that the companies can review findings before publication. … ”

            http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/business/20crop.html

            Now if you’re talking about changing intellectual property laws… good luck with that. Monsanto has been drastically ramping up its donations to both parties (especially republican) since 2002.

            http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?cycle=2012&strID=C00042069

            You should also know this thwarts better research on safety testing as well. And, if not, why wouldn’t it?

            I will agree with you that intellectual property laws need to change but as you’ll see in the article linked above, the EPA said that the government required only management of the crops’ insect resistance and that any other contractual restrictions were put in place by the companies.

            So, once again, maybe we really should be taking a closer look at Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, etc. as well?

            If you would look at all the science based data on GM you would see that it isn’t dangerous.

            I think it’s more scientific to say it’s probably not dangerous.

            http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X02004882

            And, unlike global warming, there isn’t a solid consensus:

            http://www.ijsaf.org/archive/16/1/lotter1.pdf
            [Before you flip out, Please note the distinction made between traditional agricultural crops and pharmaceutical crops (and bacterial transgenics) made in the paper.]

            Lotter’s paper shows political and corporatist power, not rigorous scientific consensus has pushed GMOs forward. He shows that a lack of regulation of GMOs stems from revolving-door ties between the industry and government (remind you of any other industries?).

            When there have been long-term trials by independent researchers, the results have been disturbing. In 2008, the Austrian government peformed a long-term animal feeding experiment which showed evidence of reproductive trouble including reduced birth, weight and fertility.

            This Austrian study was mostly avoided by United States media. I wonder why?

            Also, IAASTD asked 400 or so scientists from countries all over the world and they concluded:

            ” … Assessment of biotechnology is lagging behind development; information can be anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty on benefits and harms is unavoidable. There is a wide range of perspectives on the environmental, human health and economic risks and benefits of modern biotechnology; many of these risks are as yet unknown. … The application of modern biotechnology outside containment, such as the use of genetically modified (GM) crops, is much more contentious [than biotechnology within containment, e.g., industrial enzymes]. For example, data based on some years and some GM crops indicate highly variable 10 to 33 percent yield gains in some places and yield declines in others. … ”

            I’m getting tired of people who only believe science when it fits their belief system.

            Agreed.

            I’ll bet you agree with global warming but not GMO? Why not?

            Vastly larger, clearer scientific consensus with global climate change. Comparing the two really hurts your case.

            A huge problem is the hostility many face by even trying to tepidly ask for more independent research. You have powerful corporatist interests that have influenced many scientists in the United States. My God, just look at the tremendous hostility in this thread if you think I’m imagining things.

            Or don’t take my word for it. How about the fact that the researchers who dared question things in that article I linked to now live in fear? What’s that bullshit all about?

            As far as this article goes from Ari Levaux, I don’t like the sensationalist headline. Also, it looks more and more (even to the layperson like myself) that he really needs to have more scientists confer with him next time before he publishes something so controversial.

            But, at the same time I really think all this angst is going overboard. There are better ways to correct Ari than the blatant hostility that’s been shown here and elsewhere.

            The hostility with GMOs almost seems like a conditioned response and it’s not really helpful.

            For example:

            http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2012/01/homologous_recombinaltion_tini_2.php

            I hope some scientists who really want to filter FUD will chill the fuck out and stop with the insults and attacks and just make their points. That is, if they really want to change things instead of just showing everyone else how amazingly smart they are.

    2. And, ffs, entire world: this shit is really, really complicated.

      I think that’s why some people are arguing for caution.

      1. Should we likewise have “argued for caution” when the anti-vaccination hysteria hit the media?

        At this point in time there seems to be little more substance behind these accusations than was possessed by Andrew Wakefield or Jenny McCarthy.

        1. At this point in time there seems to be little more substance behind these accusations than was possessed by Andrew Wakefield or Jenny McCarthy.

          You don’t see a difference between raising an issue in a relatively new field of science and trying to get the world to stop using long-proven methods for preventing mass outbreaks of disease?

          1. “Raising an issue” in the context of this particular article (and yes, I read the extended version) seems to amount to exclaiming “Wwwwooooo!!!  Monsanto!!! Scarrrryyyyy!!!”, which is not much different from “Wwwwooooo!!!  Big Pharma!!! Scarrrryyyyy!!!”

      2. Hey now Mr. Mod, that’s not entirely fair. We both know that that sentence relied on the following sentence, “This is not to say that researchers are grasping at straws; it just takes a specialist to grasp all the complexities” to express my point. I’m arguing that most of the conversation we hear about GMO’s sounds a bit like bike mechanics arguing about how poorly designed the International Space Station is. Though it may be elitist and technocratic, I do believe this is a realm where we should keep the grown-up discussion away from the kid’s table. 

  11. Oh, my. So it’s safer not to eat anything containing RNA, right? Mud pies should be safe, though?

      1. Oh, right. Salt and rocks should be a safer option, then… and maybe the staples on the apple/pear are safe, too.

    1. Depends which RNA. Don’t confuse the issue. The thing is that obviously RNA does get into the human organism and it does influence it. This is a new thing. Don’t be arrogant know it all. Who knows how many things we don’t know? Maybe RNA absorption is a crucial part of human nutrition that we don’t anything about just like we didn’t know anything about vitamins?
      In that case, GMO RNA becomes an issue. As well as all food processing which alters or destroys RNA in food.
      The point is, we don’t know. And if you think that you know it all that is to be known then you are simply a bad scientist.

    1. For all the jokiness in that post, you’re pretty much hitting the nail on the head of the big practical problem with GMOs; whether they are safe or not is something that can be established through proper studies BUT the business side has built a legal and financial stranglehold that starts by making sure no studies can be done without risk of interference and continues into the farce of trying to prosecute farmers whose crops have been hybridised by a neighbouring farmer’s GMO crops.
      It’s like nuclear power; I’m fairly sure that safe and efficient nuke power is possible from an engineering standpoint but I can’t imagine any business or govt. setup that would provide a trustworthy overall industry. At least, not without imagining trustworthy businesses and we know what the odds of those are.

      1. Tim, it’s amazing how some of the people in this thread can’t seem to wrap their heads around what you’re saying there.  Thanks for trying though.

  12. Instead of making me immediately be (more) suspicious of GM food, this research should make people even more aware of what we’re missing in overly processed foods. If it turns out that we get several different micro-RNA types from foods we ingest (and another paper in Nature suggests that we do), then what are we missing when we have HFCS instead of corn or apple “juice drink” instead of an apple? Ingesting a concoction that contains all of the known nutrients of a whole food is now looking even less like eating the whole food itself.

    1. He also says physiologically it seems unlikely, but nothing definite.  So what’s the harm in further study, then?  I don’t get it.

      1. Research time and research dollars are not infinite, and we currently have *zero* evidence that microRNA is doing any kind of harm via food, much less GMO food, to warrant any kind of ‘further study’.

        Ari is functionally a random person on the internet jumping to scientifically nonsensical conclusions based on his own personal political position and his own personal scientific illiteracy.  This does not warrant ‘further study’ in the scientific community.  If actual science turns up that what they found in the original paper is valid, scientists will investigate it, I assure you (personally, I want to capitalize on it for therapeutic purposes).  But as of now?  No.  Will be investigate it because we currently share the concerns of Ari?  Definitely no.

        If you want to learn more about this issue from plant geneticists (Im just a virologist with very little patience for people like Ari), check out these two sites:
        http://scienceblogs.com/tomorrowstable/
        http://www.biofortified.org/

        –Abbie, aka ERV

  13. The image of an apple and pear stapled together is moronic.  Hybrids between two related species are not an issue in genetically modified food.

    1. Recombinant DNA molecules are DNA sequences that result from bringing together genetic material from multiple sources.

      To show an image (unless you’re a moron and take it literally) of two fruits fused together is a fine graphic for the topic.  Chill…

  14. You know, there’s a way to identify food that doesn’t have GMOs in it. But the USDA has done a poor job of getting the word out.

  15. So in summary. The research had nothing whatsoever to say about GM foods. 
    Getting back to the science, microRNA is really fascinating substance. It makes sense when you think that products of DNA transcription can themselves be chemically active in a similar way to a protein based enzyme. In fact, life would have great difficulty bootstrapping if it were not for the chemically active ribozymes which help assemble the protein building apparatus which implements the ‘dogma’. 

    Given that one reason for herpes virus persistence is the production of MiRNA in the viral genome which interferes with the host cell’s apoptosis process – might we see a GM bowl of rice that treats herpes! That would be a wonderful thing.

    1. might we see a GM bowl of rice that treats herpes! That would be a wonderful thing.

      Rice will cure herpes because of Monsanto, how wonderful, indeed.

      Or maybe a nice GM bowl of rice that causes it?  Monsanto is a scumbag operation already, so why not weaponize rice while they are at it?  As long as there’s money to be made…

  16. That article is sloppy.

    “Chinese researchers have found small pieces of ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the blood and organs of humans who eat rice.”

    There’s RNA (microRNA and otherwise) in blood and organs regardless of diet.

    “The Chinese RNA study threatens to blast a major hole in that claim. It means that DNA can code for microRNA, which can, in fact, be hazardous.”

    It was already known that DNA encodes microRNA.

  17. But the “snip” is also true of every single thing you eat, not just GMOs. The only way to avoid it is to become a breatharian.

    The fact is that cells have evolved mechanisms to deal with minor genetic errors like this. That’s why dental x-rays don’t lead relentlessly to oral cancer.

    It’s mainly evidence of why a food columnist shouldn’t play a scientist, not even on TV.

  18. i think we’re getting a bit off topic here…  lets all settle down… 
    now where were we?  oh, yeah…  speaking of genetically modified organic compounds, what DID become of catdog?

  19. No one has ever gotten sick from any GM food that has been credibly proven by science. There is miRNA in every living tissue, plants, meats, etc that you eat. If some of can cross into the blood and effect metabolism, it has been doing so for the entire evolution of all  mammalian species. Whats the big problem? In addition to this date I don’t believe any GM food uses miRNA technology, so there is no more or less miRNA in any GM food then in it’s non-GM counterpart. A little perspective here would be good.

  20. someone posted in the fall that Kefir changes the DNA of the bacteria in our intestine. if that is possible, then why would it not be possible with GMO food to change them too? or us, even?

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