Human Gene in Rice
GM fears as human liver gene is put into rice
By Duncan Gardham
Scientists have begun mixing human genes with rice in an attempt to take genetically modified crops to the next level.
Researchers have inserted into rice a gene from the human liver that produces an enzyme which is good at breaking down harmful chemicals in the human body.
They hope the enzyme, CYP2B6, will do the same to herbicides and pollutants when combined with rice.
But anti-GM campaigners say using human genes will scare off consumers worried about cannibalism and the idea of scientists playing God.
Sue Mayer of GeneWatch UK said: ‘I don’t think anyone will want to buy this rice.
“People have already expressed disgust about using human genes and already feel that their concerns are being ignored by the bio-tech industry. This will just undermine their confidence even more.”
Standard GM crops are modified with genes from bacteria. They are resistant to only one herbicide which means farmers can spray their fields as often as they like to beat back weeds, but only with one type of chemical.
The aim of mixing rice with human genes is to produce a crop which is resistant to several herbicides, reducing the chances of weeds building up resistance.
Researchers at the National Institute of Agro-biological Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan, have found the new crop could be resistant to 13 different herbicides.
Prof Richard Meilan, who has conducted similar research at Purdue University in Indiana, said the rice could also be used to clean land contaminated with industrial pollutants. He used a gene from rabbits for his research but said there was no reason why human genes should not be used instead.
He said talk of “Frankenstein foods” was rubbish and added: “I do not have any ethical issue with using human genes to engineer plants.”
The resistance to GM crops in Europe has been far greater than elsewhere in the world.
Rice yields have been falling worldwide and the race has been on to find ways of increasing yields as well as providing varieties that are virus resistant, low allergen or low protein.
But the anti-GM Institute of Science in Society said the CYP2B6 enzyme could cross back into humans to create new viruses or cancers.
It added: “Pro-GM scientists in the major rice growing countries have been researching and promoting GM rice with scant regard for safety or sustainability.”