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Gene transplant may affect crop chemistry

(Monday, Sept. 9, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

Illinois Prairie Farmer, O9/02/02, via AgNet: A researcher from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) was cited as saying that while genes in three common commercial brands of genetically modified crops seem to work just like those in standard hybrids, there may be changes in the plants' chemical makeup.

Hoping to discover whether transgenic crops differ from their unaltered counterparts, the story says that SIUC biotechnologist David A. Lightfoot and his research team began comparing gene performance in both kinds about two years ago. The study's transgenic varieties consisted of Roundup Ready, LibertyLink and YieldGard corn as well as an experimental variety Lightfoot developed (and called GDH); the others were hybrids that passed genetic purity tests. Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research, commonly known as C-FAR, provided grant support for the project.

When researchers looked solely for gene function differences, they found "absolutely nothing," Lightfoot says.

"While we did see some changes in gene activity in the GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and refers to any living thing containing a gene or genes not in its original blueprint), they were not greater than those occurring between the non-GMOs," he says.

But in this case, nothing may actually be something. "What really raised our eyebrows was the level of gene activity in our GDH corn," he says. "We knew that our transgene caused tremendous metabolic differences, so we thought we were being clever by including it in this study. We thought we would see big changes, which would underline the lack of changes in the other materials.

"But although we could find changes in the chemical make-up of the plant and in a few genes, the way the genes did not change. The plant was so adaptable it could deal with the presence of a gene that was changing the flow of traffic in its cells and yet still get to the same endpoint."

Astonished by these initial findings, Lightfoot ran the tests again - and got the same results. "This makes everything more complicated," he says. "There may be changes that are so subtle we miss them."