Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene In Commercial GMO Crops

Published January 21st in Independent Science News: Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene In Commercial GMO Crops by Bioscience Resource Project Scientists Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson.

Synopsis: A scientific paper published in late 2012 (Podevin and du Jardin) shows that US and EU GMO regulators have for many years been inadvertently approving transgenic events containing unsuspected viral gene sequences. As a result, 54 different transgenic events commercialized internationally contain a substantial segment of the multifunctional Gene VI from Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV). Among commercial lines with Gene VI coding sequences are some of the most widely grown GMOs, including Roundup Ready Soybean (40-3-2) and MON810 Maize. The oversight occurred because regulators failed to appreciate that Gene VI overlaps the commonly used CaMV 35S gene regulatory sequence (i.e. the CaMV 35S promoter). Podevin and du Jardin, working for the European Food Safety Authority, concluded that functions of Gene VI were potential sources of harmful consequences. They further concluded that, if expressed, the fragments of Gene VI are substantial enough for them to be functional [Podevin and du Jardin (2012) GM Crops and Food 3:1-5]. This discovery has multiple ramifications for biotechnology. Foremost, there is the immediate question of GMO biosafety and whether the 54 events should be recalled, but secondly, the failure implicates regulators and the industry in a circle of mutual incompetence and complacency. The fact that regulators have allowed commercialization of poorly characterized and sometimes complex transgene insertion events (Wilson et al. 2006) increases the risk of Gene VI being expressed. The discovery will also strengthen the argument for GMO labeling: if regulators and industry cannot protect the public then why should they not be allowed to protect themselves?

Further resources for those interested:

1. The Bioscience Resource Project has previously published scientific articles with direct bearing on the Podevin and du Jardin paper: (1) the risks associated with virus sequences present in commercialized transgenic plants and (2) the risks arising from complex insertion events and other transformation induced mutations. Both are found at: Scientific Publications.

2. Resources on the BSR Biotechnology page discuss how and why the FDA decided on lax and unscientific regulation of GMOs (see Pelletier 2005, 2006) and how current US regulatory policy represents a “failure of science” (see Lotter 2009 and Freese and Schubert 2004).

3. Anyone wishing to see the actual documents and data that companies present to the US government to obtain GMO approval should go to the USDA’s webpage: Petitions for Determination of Nonregulated Status.