Saturday, March 10, 2007

Rice with human genes.

http://www.postchronicle.com/news/health/article_21267757.shtml

"Ventria Bioscience says the rice, which will be planted on 3,000 acres in Kansas, is endowed with human genes that produce human proteins, including bacteria-fighting compounds found in breast milk and saliva, The Washington Post reported.

A company-sponsored study in Peru found that children with severe diarrhea recovered faster when the salty fluids they were prescribed contained the proteins."

If you google "Rice+Breastmilk+Human+Genes", you will undoubtedly find more articles. The main point is that scientists have isolated protein chains from breastmilk that help infants and young children recover from severe diarrhea. They've genetically modified rice to contain this protein chain. Now they have USDA approval to grow this rice and share the "fruits of the labor" (so to speak). However, there are several fundamental Christian groups that are opposed to this. One message board that I found (through google search) contained the following commentary:
"It's like soylent green. This is very dangerous. Putting people in rice. Yuck. How disgusting. This only helps kids get over the runs a day sooner than normal...this is unnecessary."
I seriously want to grab people like this and shake them. How spoiled are we (those who live in America or other developed nations)? What Christians, like the one quoted, don't understand is that, in Africa and Asia, there are children who DIE from one more day of diarrhea. Sure...a case of loose bowels means little to my possums: they're well nourished, sheltered, and have access to medical care that is superior to (I would guess) 90% of the rest of the world's children. But, to a possum in a war ravaged, impoverished country with little food, shelter, or resources...not to mention CLEAN WATER, this rice could spell the difference between life and death. Furthermore, this rice is not the equivalent of the FICTIONAL soylent green. This rice is not "made of people!" It's a protein chain. You probably have more "people" on/in your food when the fry cook sneezes on your french fries.
It's amazing, to me, that people who claim to care so much about "life" are so narrow-minded when it comes to stuff like this.

*gets down off of soapbox*

10 comments:

Kilted_Dad said...

Without a link, its difficult to understand the context of the quote you have above. I'm not a fan of bioengineering at the speed at which it is being pushed on the marketplace and consumer today. I have real ethical and scientific issues with adding animal proteins to plants. We've already seen issues with allergies due to genetic modification: http://www.sciencefriday.com/kids/sfkc20040305-2.html

Until we understand the process better, I think we are all better off without GM food.

Besides, malnutrition and lack of basic necessities is not a problem that will be solved through GM. We have plenty of food to feed everyone on this planet. Patenting types of crops will not solve this. Changing the way we eat and distribute wealth is the only way that we can truly feed and clothe and shelter the world.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

There is a link. Right under the title.

Changing the way we eat and distribute wealth is the only way that we can truly feed and clothe and shelter the world.

I do agree with this bit. However, since it's become painfully obvious that we aren't having much success at changing the political or religious climates (and the inequities that result)...things like genetically modified crops (that withstand droughts better) do help in the short term.

I don't know. I guess, growing up in an agricultural environment (citrus and avacados), I grew up understanding that almost all foods that humans consume, today, are selected. They are selected due to any number of specific traits (flavor, hardiness, color, ripening times). There's really very few non-modified products. Organic food is great, but it is difficult to grow in numbers sufficient to impact world hunger. Yes...I completely see how there *is* a difference between selecting and modifying (at this level). But,... I can't willy-nilly say, "It's okay to cultivate pig genes for diabetics, but not okay to cultivate breast milk protein to help sick children." Maybe I wasn't specific enough, but the rice isn't to be EATEN (as far as I understand). The rice is to be pressed to collect fluid and these health bacteria, which can then be fed to sick children. To me it's no different than using an egg yolk to grow the viruses needed to make a flu shot. The rice is a culture medium.

Nance said...

Golly, you mean there are people OUTSIDE my gated community. . . wowzers. . .

Nance

alisonM said...

It would be easier to take an argument against GM foods seriously (and believe me, there are some very serious arguments against it) if the person opposing it had even the tiniest inkling of the science behind it. A "soylent green" argument is clearly just as uninformed and knee-jerk a reaction as pretty much all the far right religious arguments against pretty much anything they oppose on religious grounds. You could argue about the effects of cross-pollination on other plants, the possible effects on the children of people fed a high concentration of GM foods, the limitations the GM food inventors impose on the rest of the food industry, especially small growers, and back it up. But when people start screaming that you'll be killing babies with every bite of rice, it only makes the supportable arguments less believable in the public eye.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

It would be easier to take an argument against GM foods seriously (and believe me, there are some very serious arguments against it) if the person opposing it had even the tiniest inkling of the science behind it.
Agreed.
We actually eat as much non-processed food as we can. By "non processed", I mean that we try to eat local produce sold at a farmer's market (it's predominantly non-organic, but... it's all locally grown by small farmers because- having grown up around ag- I try to support small farms/gardens). I, personally, choose to eat meat very sparingly. My husband is a total carnivore, though. Our kids eat just about anything and everything, but we try to avoid things that are boxed or packaged to have a long shelf life. I even bake my own bread (YES! I'm an uber-geek).

So, I realize that there are hazards (cons, if you will) to bioengineered foods. I realize that there are real ethical issues. I realize that there may be consequences. However, like you said, all of these concerns and issues have to be dealt with using real evidence and arguments.

But when people start screaming that you'll be killing babies with every bite of rice, it only makes the supportable arguments less believable in the public eye.

That's the really backwards thing about this issue. The Christian fundies don't stop to consider the fact that some of their practices (sending missionaries, but NOT CONDOMS and actual help) to some of these nations is killing children.

Kilted_Dad said...

"The rice is to be pressed to collect fluid and these health bacteria, which can then be fed to sick children. To me it's no different than using an egg yolk to grow the viruses needed to make a flu shot. The rice is a culture medium."

Ahh, so they're going to raise this rice in a sterile environment? I don't think so.

I also grew up in and around farming (corn and soy). My father is a farm manager, so I can appreciate the sentiment you expressed.

Most GM research is really not about saving the world from hunger and disease, its about lining the pocketbooks of some big corporations through patenting of crops. This is about money. If they can make this at a low enough cost, then they have new markets (the developing world) that they can exploit. This is not the panacea that they are touting. This is marketing, pure and simple.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Most GM research is really not about saving the world from hunger and disease, its about lining the pocketbooks of some big corporations through patenting of crops.
I know that. In fact, most farming (now-a-days) is also a marketing ploy. There are so many subsidies and screwed up interventions by government that small farmers have a really rough time.

This very well could be "all about money". However, it doesn't make the conservative, christian battle cry of "soylent green" true. Breatmilk protein is NOT the same as feeding someone "people". And, quite honestly, if we mix milk with our corn flakes, one could make the argument that humans have been mixing grains and "animal protein" for centuries. Sure... I would concede that it's not genetically engineered in that way. I'm just really struggling to see the problem with this. Drug companies make money regardless of whether they're monkeying with plants, animal, or mineral. KWIM?
If that's the problem, money/marketing... then we should be aiming to change THAT.
If genetic engeneering is a problem, then we should be aiming to fix THOSE problems.

Now, however, you have me intrigued about something... what do you mean when you say "sterile field"?? Can you tell me what your scientific argument with this rice/breastmilk combo is? Is it just that you have a problem with the marketing...or is there something inherantly dangerous in the science of this? *asking with sincerity* Maybe you could provide a few links?

Sean the Blogonaut said...

So it's allright to eat the body of a god but not a human protein in rice.

Refering back to the Jesus' bones story. If they could find Jesus' dna then the could develop proteins that could be included in communion wafers and bingo you really are eating the body of christ.

Okay back to your serious scientific discussion.

Kilted_Dad said...

Sorry PMomma, I got busy with my own two possums and well, that work thing...

But I do want to respond. I still haven't found a link to the Soylent Green comment you're qouting. But it really doesn't matter, I get the gist, and I agree, this isn't Soylent Green.

"If that's the problem, money/marketing... then we should be aiming to change THAT.
If genetic engeneering is a problem, then we should be aiming to fix THOSE problems."

I don't have a problem with drug companies or agribusiness making money. The money isn't the problem (though it may be the root cause).

I do however, have a problem with the patenting of life or biological processes. I do not buy the arguement that GM is going to somehow save the thrid world. I may be wrong.

Now, for the science. I've already provided one link that discussed the brazil nut allergy.

There was some discussion on the web about Bt Corn and its affect on Monarch populations, but all of the research I've found since seems to say that Bt corn is unlikely to effect monarch populations:
Cornell raises the concern in 1999:
http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/May99/Butterflies.bpf.html

Later research seems to debunk the concern:
http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/btcorn/
The USDA is going to side with industry in nearly every case, so always look at who is funding the science.

Here's a good document with several links to sources that describe concerns about GM crops:
http://www.panda.org/news_facts/education/high_school/homework_help/webfieldtrips/gm_food/index.cfm

In particular, I have concerns that there is no one verifying the safety of crops that are being grown in the wild. I've got real concerns with the possiblity of cross-pollenation. I'm not the only one, follow some of the links from the WWF page I linked above. We're not running the experiment here in a controled environment, we're running it on our own ecosystem.

JS said...

I'll just pipe in with a few thoughts on one question that's been asked but not answered: What, the question went, is the difference between growing human insulin in a pig model and growing human breast milk protein in a rice model?

The cynical answer, of course, is that diabetes happens to white people.

The less cynical answer is that there is a very real reason for being skeptical about the rice, whereas the pigs avoid most of those problems.

The greatest identified problem with GMOs is that they will spread if they are released into the wild.

Depending on what genes were inserted and whether we can accurately predict how they will interact with the environment, that may or may not be a major problem for a given GMO crop, but there is no doubt that the introduction of GMOs in a wild setting will pollute the environment.

And for those who argue that for all we know this will be a minor effect, I would like to draw your attention to the history of pesticides and antibiotics. When introducing new factors into a system as complex as the global ecosphere, caution is really, really warrented.

Which brings us back to the question of pigs vs. rice. The pigs are, from an environmental point of view, less problematical because they can be reproductively isolated from the surrounding ecology. The rice cannot.

Further, in the pigs, it is much easier to check for unintended consequences of the modifications, since pigs are normally grown in semi-closed environments, where feed goes in and pigs come out (along with copious amounts of pig waste...).[1]

In principle, therefore, it is possible to contain the pigs' interaction with the outside environment to a degree suitable for animal models that, were they used in - say - a university setting, should be classified as biohazardous material. This, by virtue of the fact that plants need to grow on an open field, is simply not possible for the GMO rice, hence the difference.

- JS

[1]Yes, I fully realise that this fact carries a lot of thorny ethical issues on its coattails. That, however, is another discussion for another day.