GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 19th  November 2004

Scepticism over GE " Breakthrough" : Crop and Food barking up wrong tree

Claims by a crop and food scientist that he has made a breakthrough to solve the scientific issues around GE are being met with scepticism.

Scientists asked for comment on claims by Dr Tony Conner of Crop and Food Research warn that this may not really be 'breakthrough' at all and say more details need to be released for peer review.

But Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment says the claims seem to reflect a "Lego" approach to genetics at Crop and Food Research that is already outdated.

" We know that genomes are more complex and fluid than current methods of genetic modification recognise.The problem remains that there are inadequate regimes to determine the effects of the GE process on the recipient organism, on those consuming the products, and on the environment," says Jon Carapiet.

The techniques are outlined in media-releases by Dr Conner and indicate a new way to transfer gene sequences but give no information about the use of promoter sequences, antibiotic-markers, location of gene -inserts, number of inserts, or ways of testing the impact on the genome.

Independent scientists say they need more information to comment on Dr. Conner's work but point out that using vectors made from endogenous transposons is not new. It has been used to create sterile mosquitoes for example, and are not at all benign, because many transposons have a wide host range and are related to retroviruses.

It is not clear if Dr Conner's work has similar drawbacks but scientists have already discovered that making a vector out of such transposons could result in dangerous recombination's to create disease agents and destabilize genomes.

The claims for the technique are being spun as "good news" for GE but based on the information released to date, the broader problems remain.

" I think it will be an up-hill battle to convince consumers, farmers, scientists and regulators that this approach is really any different to transgenic GE, though that remains to be seen. The onus of proof is on those pushing for the technology and at the moment the proof is simply not there," says Mr Carapiet.

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