1.18—GM Peas Are discontinued
An allergic response in mice to GM peas was not found.
Analysis of Peer-Reviewed Research:
Smith wants to tell us how dangerous GM crops are and why we should avoid them. He reaches too far when he says that scientists would not normally have detected the potential allergenicity of this protein. No allergenicity was detected, although the CSIRO study did discover altered immune reactions. This experience shows that developers have powerful methods for detecting potential allergens and will err on the side of safety by discontinuing research and development if safety comes into question. The studies that were done don’t definitively prove that the protein is or will be a food allergen but the project has been terminated. This experience should be taken as evidence that premarket safety assessment works.
1. The story shows scientists discontinue research if any question of risk is encountered. This is an example of prompt action by the biotechnology and scientific communities to prevent further research on a plant variety showing indications of unusual reactions. Note that these concerns were detected during research and the plant variety in question was not submitted to regulators for approval.
2. Routine safety analysis alerted scientists to a potential problem. Statements by Smith that such reactions would be rarely detected in safety assessments should be set against the knowledge that the particular protein under study is a relatively abundant protein (allergens are often highly abundant proteins in a plant that causes allergy) that shares some similarity with allergens, and researchers were able to discontinue the research. Moreover, full characterization of all newly introduced proteins and their potential allergenicity is required as part of the pre-market safety assessment process. Smith – not a scientist – is simply wrong when he asserts discovery of the details here are an unlikely event.
3. The observed similarity to known allergens was easy to identify. A search of the database of known allergens at www.allergenonline.com reveals matches between the transgenic protein introduced into peas and minor allergens of peanut and soybean. These kinds of matches are normally sufficient reason to terminate research. It should be noted, however, that many proteins that are even more similar to allergens than was the bean protein are not allergens (Ladics 2006, Ivanciuc 2008).
4. Food allergists do not accept the finding that the protein caused an allergic response. The method used to detect the immune reaction is not accepted by food allergy experts as a valid method of detecting food allergenicity (Goodman and others 2008). No food allergic reaction was actually demonstrated in these studies, but any doubt is sufficient for researchers to err on the side of precaution and discontinue the research.
5. The safety assessment system allows scientists to test the allergenicity of new products. It should be emphasized that the case reported here proves both that science has developed suitable methods for assessing the safety of GM crops and that development is terminated when there is doubt (Ivanciuc 2008). Note also that this was a research project at CSIRO that was never submitted to regulators or put forward as a product.
Prescott VE, Campbell PM, Moore A and others (2005). Transgenic expression of bean alpha-amylase inhibitor in peas results in altered structure and immunogenicity. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 53(23):9023-9030.
Goodman GE, Vieths S, Sampson HA, Hill D, Ebisawa M, Taylor SL and van Ree R (2008). Allergenicity assessment of genetically modified crops—what makes sense? Nature Biotechnology 26(1):73-81. Reveals the fallacies associated with some tests being applied to categorise allergenicity of genetically modified crops. It includes a specific discussion of Prescott VE, Campbell PM, Moore A and others (2005).
Ladics GS, Bardina L, Cressman RF, Mattsson JL and Sampson HA, Lack of cross-reactivity between the Bacillus thuringiensis derived protein Cry1F in maize grain and dust mite Der p7 protein with human sera positive for Der p7-IgE, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 44 (2006), pp. 136–143
Ivanciuc O, Garcia T, Torres M, ScheinCH, and Braun W (2008) Characteristic motifs for families of allergenic proteins. Molecular Immunology.
GM peas generated an allergic-type inflammatory response in mice
1. In advanced tests not normally part of GM crop evaluations, protein produced by GM peas has generated a dangerous immune response in mice.
2. That “same” protein, when produced naturally in beans, had no effect.
3. The GM peas produced a subtle, hard-to-detect difference in the way sugar molecules attach to the introduced protein, which is likely to have caused the problem.
4. The response in mice suggested that the GM peas could provoke inflammatory or allergic reactions in humans; commercialization of the peas was therefore cancelled.
5. This type of subtle but dangerous change in the GM protein would rarely, if ever, be detected in the safety assessments typically used to approve GM crops.
Genetic Roulette highlighted experiments carried out by the Australian CSIRO organization. CSIRO had found an altered immune reaction in mice exposed to a genetically pea. In these experiments CSIRO relied on a measurement method that is not a proven method for detecting food allergens.