Natural Foods Merchandiser

Genetic research upends biotech safety assumptions

When the human genome was fully mapped in 2003, the news was met with thunderous applause and an expectation that cures to genetic diseases were just around the corner. Now, the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute's latest discovery is likely to be met with consternation, at least from those in the biotech industry.

It turns out genes are networked to interact with one another, rather than each gene being responsible for a specific function as previously thought, according to findings from a four-year research project published in the June 14 issue of Nature.

"Evidence of a networked genome shatters the scientific basis for virtually every official risk assessment of today's commercial biotech products, from genetically engineered crops to pharmaceuticals," The New York Times reported in its analysis of the subject July 1.

"The real worry for us has always been that the commercial agenda for biotech may be premature, based on what we have long known was an incomplete understanding of genetics," Jack Heinemann told the Times. Heinemann is a professor of molecular biology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and director of its Center for Integrated Research in Biosafety.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 12

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