The Genetic Engineering of Food and the Failure of Science

Don Lotter | 04.01.2009

Food First Backgrounder, Summer 2009, Vol. 15, No. 2

“It is beginning to dawn on biologists that they may have got it [genetics] wrong. Not completely wrong, but wrong enough to be embarrassing… For, suddenly, cells seem to be full of RNA doing who-knows-what.” – The Economist “RNA: Really New Advances,” June 14, 2007.

The search for solutions to hunger, poverty and climate change has brought new intensity to the debate over genetically modified crops. Biotechnology is expected to be a central building block in the State Department’s food security strategy and prominent legislation in the Senate could mandate biotechnology research be a permanent part of US foreign aid. Meanwhile high profile defeats for the biotech industry are mounting. [editor’s note]

A major conflict over this issue has developed. On one side are scientists, universities and corporations who have invested nearly 2 5 years and tens of billions of dollars in the genetic engineering of crop plants. On the other side is a flood of evidence that the process of food plant transgenics (genetic engineering) is deeply and fatally flawed and has been resting on a theoretical foundation that has crumbled away as the science of genetics reinvents itself.

From the beginning, the entire crop transgenics enterprise has been based on the now-discredited “one-gene one-protein” theory “that one gene leads to the production of one protein. The fatal blow to this one-gene one-protein model came in 2003 with the shocking results of the Human Transformation Genome Project which showed that humans have vastly fewer genes than previously believed. As a result of this, the project scientists now report that the genomes of higher organisms (including plants) are not what scientists had believed them to be, and that “genes appear to operate in a complex network, and interact and overlap with one another and with other components in ways not yet fully understood.” They conclude that these findings challenge scientists “to rethink some long-held views about what genes are and what they do.”