Now I'm wondering what you've experienced with GMOs in your life...
A northern Indiana stream. New Study Shows Genetically Engineered Corn Could Pollute Aquatic Ecosystems
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A study by an Indiana University environmental science professor and several colleagues suggests a widely planted variety of genetically engineered corn has the potential to harm aquatic ecosystems. The study is being published this week by the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.
Researchers, including Todd V. Royer, an assistant professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, established that pollen and other plant parts containing toxins from genetically engineered Bt corn are washing into streams near cornfields.
They also conducted laboratory trials that found consumption of Bt corn byproducts produced increased mortality and reduced growth in caddisflies, aquatic insects that are related to the pests targeted by the toxin in Bt corn.
Caddisflies, Royer said, "are a food resource for higher organisms like fish and amphibians. And, if our goal is to have healthy, functioning ecosystems, we need to protect all the parts. Water resources are something we depend on greatly."
Other principal investigators for the study, titled "Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems," were Emma Rosi-Marshall of Loyola University Chicago, Jennifer Tank of the University of Notre Dame and Matt Whiles of Southern Illinois University. It was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Bt corn is engineered to include a gene from the micro-organism Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a toxin that protects the crop from pests, in particular the European corn borer. It was licensed for use in 1996 and quickly gained popularity. In 2006, around 35 percent of corn acreage planted in the U.S. was genetically modified, the study says, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Before licensing Bt corn, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted trials to test its impact on water biota. But it used Daphnia, a crustacean commonly used for toxicity tests, and not insects that are more closely related to the target pests, Royer said.
Royer emphasized that, if there are unintended consequences of planting genetically engineered crops, farmers shouldn't be held responsible. In a competitive agricultural economy, producers have to use the best technologies they can get.
"Every new technology comes with some benefits and some risks," he said. "I think probably the risks associated with widespread planting of Bt corn were not fully assessed."
There was a public flap over the growing use of Bt corn in 1999, when a report indicated it might harm monarch butterflies. But studies coordinated by the government's Agriculture Research Service and published in PNAS concluded there was not a significant threat to monarchs. Around that time, Royer said, he and his colleagues wondered whether the toxin from Bt corn was getting into streams near cornfields; and, if so, whether it could have an impact on aquatic insects.
Their research, conducted in 2005 and 2006 in an intensely farmed region of northern Indiana, measured inputs of Bt corn pollen and corn byproducts (e.g., leaves and cobs) in 12 headwater streams, using litter traps to collect the materials. They also found corn pollen in the guts of certain caddisflies, showing they were feeding on corn pollen.
In laboratory trials, the researchers found caddisflies that were fed leaves from Bt corn had growth rates that were less than half those of caddisflies fed non-Bt corn litter. They also found that a different type of caddisfly had significantly increased mortality rates when exposed to Bt corn pollen at concentrations between two and three times the maximum found in the test sites.
Royer said there was considerable variation in the amount of corn pollen and byproducts found at study locations. And there is likely also to be significant geographical variation; farmers in Iowa and Illinois, for example, are planting more Bt corn than those in Indiana. The level of Bt corn pollen associated with increased mortality in caddisflies, he said, "could potentially represent conditions in streams of the western Corn Belt."
Once published, the paper will be available at www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0707177104v1. Reporters can obtain a copy of this article prior to its publication by contacting the PNAS News Office at 202-334-1310 or PNASnews@nas.edu. Reporters registered with PNAS's EurekaAlert can obtain the article through that service.
~ Spiralmama Herbal Magick ~
Supporting vibrant health in my community by providing education, nutrition, herbal connection and ritual through grateful interaction with Gaia.
There is a front page article in today's Seattle Times "You Can Get Paid to Catch Malaria." On page 10 two paragraphs verbatim: "SBRI scientists are working on a vaccine that uses genetic engineering to render malaria parasites harmless. They also analyze blood from the human volunteers to learn more about the body's immune response to the disease." and "Eliminated long ago in wealthy nations, malaria remains one of the top killers in the developing world. The parasite that causes the disease has evolved resistance to many drugs, contributing to a resurgence."
What happens when mosquitoes, the main transmitters of the parasites, use the blood containing the genetically modified parasite in their own biological processes? How does the genetically modified parasite change in transmission between one human and another via the mosquitoes? Is the change different between mosquitoes as individuals or types? Since the parasite has evolved a resistance to many drugs is it possible for it to evolve around genetic modification? Once evolved to handle a genetic modification what will the results be on a) the mosquito transmitter? b) the loss of the mosquitoes or the genetic evolution of mosquitoes out of their present ecological niche (a role with which we are not very familiar although we have worked to eradicate it in some areas)? c) the immune systems of the humans involved both at the level of infection and at the level of a collapsing/changing ecological niche containing mosquitoes genetically modified in some way we find mysterious? and finally d) biodiversity on this planet?
Seeking cures for diseases is important work but tampering with genetics when we have so little knowledge of the other inhabitants of this earth and indication that evolution and other factors help most modifications we introduce become obsolete over time is short-sighted. We only just "mapped" the human gene - does that apply equally to the genes of all the other creatures on our earth? Do we really know that much about ourselves? Do we really understand the complex interactions of this world that well yet? When do cures for our diseases - eradicating not curing - become plagues for other creatures and organics just as important to sustaining our survival as the loss of disease? Where do we draw the line between chemical warfare, eradicating disease and genetic modification?
Genetic modification is being introduced in some places in the world to choose the gender of children. Have we really come to understand human sexuality so well that we should be introducing such an option to people who prefer offspring gender based on outdated social standards of inheritance? Does inheritance really matter in the face of world overpopulation expected to peak around 2020? Will there be any land or livestock to inherit? Where will we be with genetic modification then, in 2020? Will we be in the same place we are now with nuclear power? Thinking critically and with some concern about how safe it is to have a power source that produces waste that becomes harmless across the whole time we humans have been on earth? We are having serious doubts about some of the "advances" of this past century but we cannot really get rid of what we have developed and we are really not making an effort to examine our thinking - maybe update our own minds about what is important and what is not. Less than 12 years to make some decisions about how to learn from our trials with nuclear power, nuclear weapons and chemical warfare is not very long. Meanwhile, genetic modification trials continue and we will all live, in some way, with the results.
Scientific research is important but some of our major institutions for keeping the human race updated spiritually and mentally (as in mindful) have failed us and we may end up victims of our own overindulgences, our own near-sightedness.
But maybe not. We are, after all, the conscious species in this world. We always have the choice to modify our behavior instead of modifying our surroundings.