Scientific Publications

The Bioscience Resource Project researches the scientific literature to produce systematic biosafety reviews of genetic engineering techniques. All papers are extensively reviewed by experts before submission to peer-reviewed scientific journals. In addition, the Project’s researchers sometimes publish with others in the scientific or academic literature. Project research papers can be downloaded from the following links:

Will Gene-Edited And Other GM Crops Fail Sustainable Food Systems? (2020)

The Myth Of A Food Crisis (2020)

Will Gene-Edited And Other GM Crops Fail Sustainable Food Systems? (2020)

Wilson, A. K. (2020). ‘Will gene-edited and other GM crops fail sustainable food systems?’. in A. Kassam and L. Kassam (Eds.), Rethinking Food and Agriculture (pp. 247-284). Woodhead Publishing.

Abstract: The role of GM crops in supporting sustainable food systems is an ongoing controversy. Underlying this controversy, I will argue, are radically different definitions of agricultural sustainability. One is a narrow definition, based on amelioration of current unsustainable practices, such as the use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture. The other is a broad definition, based on the long-term promotion of human and ecosystem health. In order to assess the sustainability impacts of GM crops, this review first provides (i) a brief summary of the sustainability impacts of herbicide tolerant and Bt pesticidal GM crops and (ii) an overview of GM plant breeding, with a focus on the problem of unintended traits (UTs) in commercial GM crops. These UTs, I argue, are a major yet underappreciated contributor to their lack of sustainability. The review asks next whether new and complex GM traits such as biofortification, or the subset of new GM techniques (nGMs) called gene editing, can benefit sustainable agriculture. Golden Rice provides a case study of unintended traits in GM crops carrying complex traits. Given the failings of Golden Rice, caused in part by UTs, a key question is whether gene editing techniques are more precise and their outcomes more predictable. To address this, the review summarizes the known unintended effects of gene editing and their potential for introducing UTs. I conclude that, despite the promise of new traits and techniques, GM crops, including gene-edited crops, are unlikely to meet either the narrow agronomic, or the broader social and environmental, requirements of sustainable agriculture. The review ends with a discussion of how plant breeders can best support and promote sustainable agriculture, and thus help create sustainable food systems. The paper is available on ResearchGate:

The Myth Of A Food Crisis (2020)

Latham, J. (2020) ‘The myth of a food crisis.’ A. Kassam and L. Kassam (Eds.) in Rethinking Food and Agriculture (pp. 93-111). Woodhead Publishing.

Abstract: A key assertion in many discussions on global agriculture is the prediction of a potential future global food production deficit: the challenge of ‘feeding the 10 billion’. The crisis narrative has in many ways been led by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), whose quantitative modelling of the food system has predicted a 70% increase (now 60%) in the annual total of food needed by 2050. By examining the assumptions underlying its modelling, however, this paper shows that FAO and other modellers have consistently underestimated actual and potential global food supplies and overestimated food demand. For example, FAO’s latest model underreports potential rice yields by approximately 7 billion persons worth of food. In all, this paper estimates that, since they all use similar assumptions, at least 12.5 billion persons worth of food has been left out of current food models. Thus current models imply quantitative scarcity where none exists. The paper is available on RearchGate:

The distinct properties of natural and GM cry insecticidal proteins (2017)

Published in Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews (2017) Vol. 33 , Iss. 1, 2017. “The distinct properties of natural and GM cry insecticidal proteins.”, Jonathan R. Latham, Madeleine Love & Angelika Hilbeck. The paper is open access and available at:

Abstract: The Cry toxins are a family of crystal-forming proteins produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Their mode of action is thought to be to create pores that disrupt the gut epithelial membranes of juvenile insects. These pores allow pathogen entry into the hemocoel, thereby killing the insect. Genes encoding a spectrum of Cry toxins, including Cry mutants, Cry chimaeras and other Cry derivatives, are used commercially to enhance insect resistance in genetically modified (GM) crops. In most countries of the world, such GM crops are regulated and must be assessed for human and environmental safety. However, such risk assessments often do not test the GM crop or its tissues directly. Instead, assessments rely primarily on historical information from naturally occurring Cry proteins and on data collected on Cry proteins (called ‘surrogates’) purified from laboratory strains of bacteria engineered to express Cry protein. However, neither surrogates nor naturally occurring Cry proteins are identical to the proteins to which humans or other nontarget organisms are exposed by the production and consumption of GM plants. To-date there has been no systematic survey of these differences. This review fills this knowledge gap with respect to the most commonly grown GM Cry-containing crops approved for international use. Having described the specific differences between natural, surrogate and GM Cry proteins this review assesses these differences for their potential to undermine the reliability of risk assessments. Lastly, we make specific recommendations for improving risk assessments.

The Twin Research Debate in American Criminology.

Published in Logos: a journal of modern society & culture (2015) Summer 14 (vol.2-3).
Jay Joseph, Claudia Chaufan, Ken Richardson, Doron Shultziner, Roar Fosse, Oliver James, Jonathan Latham, and John Read

The debate on the validity of twin research has recently resurfaced in the field of American criminology, and has major implications for other areas of behavioral research as well. If the twin method is unable to disentangle the potential influences of genes and environments, as critics have charged since the 1930s, it follows that the method should be discarded, or that its results should be reinterpreted.

This paper presents the arguments and evidence against the validity of twin studies and their key assumption, the equal environment assumption.

Transcomplementation and Synergism in Plants: Implications for Viral Transgenes?

Published in Molecular Plant Pathology (2008) 9: 85-103
Jonathan R. Latham and Allison K. Wilson, The Bioscience Resource Project

In plants, viral synergisms occur when one virus enhances infection by a distinct or unrelated virus. Such synergisms may be unidirectional or mutualistic but in either case synergism implies that protein(s) from one virus can enhance infection by another. A mechanistically related phenomenon is transcomplementation, in which a viral protein, usually expressed from a transgene, enhances or supports the infection of a virus from a distinct species.

To gain an insight into the characteristics and limitations of these helper functions of individual viral genes and to assess their effects on the plant/pathogen relationship, reports of successful synergism and transcomplementation were compiled from the peer-reviewed literature and combined together with data from successful viral gene exchange experiments. Results from these experiments were tabulated to highlight the phylogenetic relationship between the helper and dependent viruses and, where possible, to identify the protein responsible for the altered infection process. Analysis of more than 150 publications, each containing one or more reports of successful exchanges, transcomplementation or synergism, revealed the following: (1) diverse viral traits can be enhanced by synergism and transcomplementation. These include the expansion of host range, acquisition of mechanical transmission, enhanced specific infectivity, enhanced cell-to-cell and long-distance movement, elevated or novel vector transmission, elevated viral titre and enhanced seed transmission; (2) transcomplementation and synergism are mediated by many viral proteins including inhibitors of gene silencing, replicases, coat proteins and movement proteins; (3) although more frequent between closely related viruses, transcomplementation and synergism can occur between viruses that are phylogenetically highly divergent.

As indicators of the interoperability of viral genes, these results are of general interest, but they can also be applied to the risk assessment of transgenic crops expressing viral proteins. In particular, they can contribute to identification of potential hazards and can be used to identify data gaps and limitations in predicting the likelihood of transgene-mediated transcomplementation.

Transformation-induced Mutations in Transgenic Plants: Analysis and Biosafety Implications (2006)

Published in Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews (2006) 23: 209-237
Allison K. Wilson (1), Jonathan R. Latham (1) and Ricarda A. Steinbrecher (2)
(1) Bioscience Resource Project, (2) EcoNexus

Transgene insertion is infrequently, if ever, a precise event and it therefore causes various alterations to the plant genome. Mutations present at transgene insertion sites include insertion of superfluous DNA and deletion and rearrangement of host chromosomal DNA. These mutations vary in frequency depending in particular on the method of delivery. Transgene insertion sites introduced using Agrobacterium tumefaciens tend to be simpler but can be associated with very large chromosomal rearrangements, while transgenes delivered by particle bombardment appear invariably to be associated with deletion and extensive scrambling of inserted and chromosomal DNA. Nevertheless, the frequency and impact of these mutations are poorly understood, especially those caused by particle bombardment. This is exemplified by the fact that only a single functional transgene insertion site resulting from particle bombardment has been comprehensively analysed for insertion-site mutations. Additionally, most data on insertion-site mutations come from the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana, and it is not yet clear if there are important species-specific differences in patterns of insertion-site mutation.

Genetic mutations, linked and unlinked to the transgene insertion-site, also arise from procedures associated with plant transformation, such as tissue culture and infection with A. tumefaciens. These genome-wide mutations can number from hundreds to many thousands per diploid genome, and are likely to be important sources of phenotypic variation.

The potential phenotypic consequences of genetic damage from insertion-site mutations and genome-wide mutations are discussed and recommendations for safety assessments are made. A better understanding of the genetic consequences of plant transformation should improve the quality and interpretation of scientific experiments that rely on plant transformation and should advance the debate on the safety of transgenic crops.

Correction to the text: The 3rd paragraph on page 212, should read: In Medicago truncatula, 4/8 lines analysed had filler sequences of 3, 22, 38 and 392 bp. The 38 bp filler DNA corresponded to internal T-DNA sequence while the others were of unknown origin (Scholte et al. 2002).

The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation (2006)

Published in The Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology (2006) 7 pages doi:10.1155/JBB/2006/25376
Jonathan R. Latham (1), Allison K. Wilson (1) and Ricarda A. Steinbrecher (2)
(1) Bioscience Resource Project; (2) EcoNexus

This paper is a more concise version of Transformation-induced Mutations in Transgenic Plants: Analysis and Biosafety Implications (2006) BGER 23: 209-237. It does not contain all of the data and analysis presented in the BGER paper.