June 1, 2000
GM Genes May Contaminate Bacteria
BERLIN--A German zoologist has found that genes used to genetically modify crops canjump the species barrier and cause bacteria to mutate in insects, but stressed that thepotential risk to human health was minimal. Hans Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at JenaUniversity in Germany, conducted a four-year study on an alien gene used to modify a rapeoilseed (canola oil). The gene was found to contaminate bacteria in the guts of bees. Thestudy indicates that various kinds of bacteria may be at risk of becoming contaminated bygenes used in genetic engineering. The study further suggests that these novel genes maycause changes to take place in the intestinal tracts of people and animals. If so, somescientists say, bacteria used in fighting disease, aiding digestion and other healthfunctions may be compromised.
In the study, Kaatz released bees onto a group of genetically altered rape and laterremoved the pollen the bees gathered. He fed the pollen to young bees and found that someof the bees had taken up modified genes in the bacteria of their digestive tract.
The study adds fuel to the ongoing debate over genetic engineering. "The truth isthat genetically engineered foods were rushed to market without adequate safety testingfor their impact on health and the environment," said Craig Winters, executivedirector of the Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods. "Now that there isgrowing evidence of potential problems from genetically engineered crops, the U.S.agencies should put a moratorium on the commercial planting of these crops until moreresearch can be done to prove their safety."
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