Gene Guns, Code Scramblers and Your Food


UHealth Digest July-September 2012

Gene Guns, Code Scramblers and Mutant Food

If I said I’d just blasted tomato cells with a gene gun, spraying tiny gold particles

coated with fish DNA (protected with an antibiotic resistant marker gene and armed with a promoter from a cabbage virus), you might be quite alarmed.

If I told you this new tomato was safe, would you want documented evidence of its safety?

Let’s look at the safety concerns that surround genetically modified foods.

We should clarify a few terms before we begin:-

DNA: an extremely long molecule found in cells of most living things, made of repeated and varying sequences of only four units. (The units are known as bases). The sequence pattern varies from person to person and from species to species. Of at least 3 billion base pairs in humans, only 3% represent genes.

Genes: the parts of the DNA molecule that instruct or code for the creation of proteins.

Genetically Modified (GM) food: food or additives from plants or organisms with modified DNA due to laboratory gene insertion.

Genome: the full DNA code common to a specific species.

Proteins: produced from combinations of amino acids. Enzymes, hormones and our bodies’ integrated organ systems all require constant and precise protein production.

RNA: represents the orders of the gene, almost like a manager. These shorter strands are made of base units, (like DNA) and are produced by active genes. RNA specifies the details of amino acid production: if, when and how much.


(i)                the gene sequences created artificially for insertion into a species and

transgene is also used for (ii) the new genes that result after insertion.

Transposons: virus-like structures found within plant DNA that rarely activate in nature. Tissue culture seems to act as a stressor, awakening the dormant transposons into activity, which leads to mutations.

Promoters: in nature promoters are the parts of the genome that help determine which genes should be active at what time. Genes can be switched on or off. When transgenes are inserted they must include a promoter in order for their new function to be activated.

Here’s how unlabelled genetically engineered foods on your grocery shelves are generated:-

How are plant cells grown in a lab?

Plant cells are isolated and grown in tissue cultures. After transgenes are inserted, the cells are replaced in tissue culture, and allowed to develop into new plants. Tissue culture may also be used when cloning the transformed plants.

Unfortunately, plant cells grown in tissue culture suffer several mutations. These mutations alter RNA and protein production.

Transposons are at least partly to blame.

How are transgenes inserted?

One approach is to use a bacterium that in nature causes plants to grow tumours. The tumour producing part of the bacterial DNA is replaced by the transgenes. The transgenes are then incorporated into the plant genome.

Another approach is to coat tiny particles of tungsten or gold with millions of transgenes and shoot them into plant cells at high speed. Only a minority of millions of target cells incorporate the foreign gene.

How are the modified cells separated from the unmodified ones after gene insertion?

The cells are flooded with high concentrations of antibiotics, which kill all the cells – except those with the transgene. How? Transgenes come with ARMS or Antibiotic Resistant Markers genes. The ARM gene protects the transgene cells from otherwise deadly antibiotics. So the modified cells are the ones that survive.

How do scientists ensure precision and consistency when they use a gene gun?

They can’t. It’s impossible to recreate the random process of gene gun particle insertion. Each event creates a different and unpredictable result. Many of the new organisms generated are useless, as the traits sought, even after successful gene insertion, are not always produced.

Successful gene insertion is less than straightforward. Only insertion in specific  areas of the genome will allow the new gene to be activated. To further complicate the process, successful insertions come with their own “side effects”. Think of the side effects as additional changes which were not intended but occur anyway. Just as side effects to drugs vary between unique human beings, gene insertion and the “side effects” vary between cells.

What do we mean by “side effects” to gene insertions?

Since genes determine protein production, the side effects lead to changes in the proteins produced in the new organism. The “What, When and How Much” questions of the plant’s protein production can now have radically different answers.

So cells chosen because of successful gene insertion will have common active transgenes but the other changes to their genome and the insertion point of their transgene would vary.

How extensive are the changes on the original plant genome?

Research shows that the natural gene sequence is disrupted 27-67% of the time. New genomes can have additional fragments of transgenes, re-arranged chromosomes, multiple copies of transgenes and deleted genes. In one study of 112 GM plants, these insertion mutations were found in 100% of the plants!

Why would plant cells respond to foreign instructions?

The use of promoters, such as CaMV (Cauliflower Mosaic Virus) promoter, as part of the transgene, allows the cells’ built-in defence against the activation of foreign DNA to be overcome.

In nature, genes are switched “on” and “off” as needed.  Promoters create a permanent “on” switch so that the plant continually produces the novel protein commanded by the new transgene.

The CaMV has been shown to switch “on” native genes up and down the length of the plant genome and not merely the transgene that it was meant to promote!  GM foods can therefore have new properties besides the ones intentionally generated. Common transgenes in cotton and corn are those which order the production of the Bt toxin, a bacterial toxin which acts as a self-generated pesticide. Under the influence of the CaMV promoter, these plants produce their pesticide continuously. The orders for pesticide production never get switched off.

The more we know, the more we recognize that we don’t know.

When GM food technology was conceived there was a lot we did not yet know about genetics.

Decades later, despite progress, there remains much to understand about molecular genetics.

We still don’t know the function and potential disruptive possibilities of disturbing large stretches of dormant DNA.

Remember, only about 3% of our genome are functional genes.  Much of the rest of the genome is as yet not fully understood. However, this 97% is vulnerable to gene insertions, deletions and rearrangements when new genes are inserted. The consequences of this are both unknown and unpredictable.

Code scramblers, properly called “spliceosomes”, take RNA generated by our genes and rearrange it. Each arrangement allows different proteins to be produced from the same RNA.

The RNA is a bit like a restaurant menu. Think of the code scrambler as the waiter taking your orders from the menu and ensuring that you get what you want, rather than something else on the menu.

What happens when code scramblers meet the transgene introduced by the laboratory? Is the RNA ever rescrambled to create a new protein that was never intended?

Unfortunately, testing of new GM organisms does not mandate that any new proteins be discovered, measured or tested.

DNA chip monitoring shows that 1 in 20 genes in GM crops are creating increased or decreased proteins compared to the original crops. The argument that GM foods are fundamentally the same as non-GM food is questionable.

Joseph Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario, has this to say, “The bio-technology industry is based on science that is forty years old and conveniently devoid of more recent results…What the public fears is not the experimental science but the fundamentally irrational decision to let it out of the laboratory and into the real world before we truly understand it.”

Do you find this disturbing? If so, be sure to pay attention to what is happening in the world of GM food. You need to decide if and how you will take a stand.



Sources and recommended reading:

Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith and Genetic Roulette, by the same author.

First Published in U Health Digest’s  July-September 2012 edition

Heroes and Villains – Standing Up Against Cancer, The Anti-Cancer Workshop Designed to Change Your Life

Nowhere is the saying “prevention is better than cure”, more ignored than in the area of fighting cancer.

We overlook all that can be done to reduce our cancer risk because the message that 1 in 10 of us will die of cancer is so pervasive that we perceive there is little we can do.

Indeed we suspect that our efforts at exercise, eating healthy, quitting cigarette smoking, cutting back on alcohol and going for Pap smears and PSA tests are likely to amount to little.

We fear that we may reduce our risk of one cancer by lifestyle changes but still be burdened with another type of cancer. We feel impotent, all because we are unaware of how closely related lifestyle changes are to reducing cancer risk.

We feel impotent because the demands of modern life do not seem to facilitate healthy lifestyles and we perceive that changing this flow is outside of our power.

Happily though, the opposite is true.

Once correctly informed and motivated we can make the changes required on both the individual and community level to change our lifestyle and thus reduce our cancer risk.

The willpower to do so will be derived from a paradigm shift in health beliefs and with that the capacity to envision a tremendous reduction in our cancer risk. This shift in belief and visioning will fuel the changes needed.

In Trinidad and Tobago, cancer is a leading cause of death and as many as 3 out of every 10 cases occur in men and women under the age of 60, in other words in persons who are often economically productive employees or business owners, mothers and fathers.1


Statistics from the National Cancer Registry 1997-20071

  New Cases of Cancer Cancer Deaths
Male 10243 6893
Female 9590 5750
Total 19833 12643


Yet the World Cancer Research Fund in a 517 page report published in 2007 stated that at least 40% of cancers can be prevented by simple changes in nutrition and physical activity.²

Some research estimates that lifestyle changes may reduce cancer mortality by as much as 60%. Dr. David Servan-Schreiber writes, “Two major epidemiological studies, one conducted within eleven European countries and spanning twelve years (the HALE study)³ and the other in a single region of the United Kingdom (twenty thousand subjects followed over the course of eleven years),reported results that were even more dramatic: a more than 60 percent reduction in cancer mortality over the course of the study among people who had adopted a healthier lifestyle. Increased life expectancy wasn’t the only benefit: the English researchers concluded that people who practiced healthier living were fourteen years younger in terms of their biological age throughout the duration of the study. That translates into more energy to devote to work and family, an increased ability to concentrate, improved memory, and a reduction in physical discomfort. In their conclusion, the Cambridge researchers explain, ‘The evidence that behavioural factors such as diet, smoking and physical activity influence health is overwhelming.’” 5

Wow! If we can reduce our risk and improve our productivity then shouldn’t we?

Yet we are blissfully unaware, to our detriment, of simple everyday changes in our lives which can reduce our cancer risk.

The tired rhetoric about sugar and white flour being bad for us seems like health nut hype to some people yet it is based on sound evidence.

In 2009, a massive study of almost one hundred thousand postmenopausal women in the United States, confirmed a link between increased insulin in the body, triggered by a diet high in sugar and white flour and an elevated risk of breast cancer. Women in this study whose insulin levels were highest had almost twice the risk of developing breast cancer in the six year follow up period compared to those whose insulin levels were lowest.6

So we can reduce our cancer risk by reducing certain foods in our diet but even better news, we can reduce our cancer risk by adding certain foods as well.

 “In one 2009 study, Australian researchers demonstrated that Chinese women who consumed 10 grams of mushrooms per day reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by 64 percent. If they also drank green tea (1 gram of leaves infused per day – a more precise measurement than number of cups), their risk was reduced by a whopping 89 percent.” 5,7

A major aim of our Heroes and Villains, Standing Up Against Cancer Workshop is to make abundantly and decisively clear that the battle against cancer is not lost.

Learn more about what we offer: check us out at

The crucial place of regular exercise, wise nutrition and stress management in our personal wellness management is laid down. Participants then individualize their goal setting and are armed with resources for support and encouragement.

We emphasize what we can do, not what we have no control over. The culture of wellness is one of knowledge and self- empowerment.


1. Speech given by Mr. Fuad Khan, the Honourable Minister of Health at The First Oncology Update Conference, November 13th, 2011, reported in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian 14th November 2011

2. World Cancer Research Fund, Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective (London: World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Research on Cancer, 2007)

3. Knoops, K.T.B., et al., “Mediterranean Diet, Lifestyle Factors, and 10-Year Mortality in Elderly European Men and Women – The HALE Project,” JAMA 292 (2004): 1433-39.

4. Khaw, K.-T., et al.,”Combined Impact of Health Behaviours and Mortality in Men and Women: The EPIC-Norfolk Prospective Population Study,” PLoS Medicine 5, no. 1 (2008), e12.

5. Anti-Cancer, A New Way of Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber

6. Gunter, M. J., et al., “Insulin,, Insulin-like Growth Factor-I, and Risk of Breast Cancer in Post Menopausal Women,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 101 (2009): 48-60.

7. Zhang, M.,et al.,”Dietary Intakes of Mushrooms and Green Tea Combine to Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer in Chinese Women,” International Journal of Cancer 15 (2009): 1404-8.

©Dr. Amanda Jones 2011

What Stay Well Fire Your Doctor! is all about


Stay Well Fire Your Doctor!  supports  your quest to stay well by giving you small stimulating bytes to help you determine how better  to care for your health.  Our regular messages are intended to challenge and influence your thinking, stimulate your own research and trigger better lifestyle choices.

After all, if you change your thinking, you may bother to change your life! Maybe.

What is Stay Well Fire Your Doctor! focused on?

1)      NUTRITION –  the theories abound. What are the facts? Does anybody know? Well there isn’t one answer for everybody and that’s a great fact to start with!

2)      TOXICITY- Why do doctors take it so lightly? Why do so many detox theories seem so bogus? What’s real and what’s not?

3)      BRAIN HEALTH- how come it takes weeks to get an appointment with a psychiatrist? Why are we so booked up? Is anybody sane anymore?

And more importantly,  from autism and ADHD to Alzheimers what are the prevention strategies?  That’s where we need to focus! Sleep, Relaxation and meditation fit in here but there’s more.

4)      METABOLISM- the real issue in obesity. How is it linked to inflammation and immunity? Is exercise the key factor here or is it diet?

5)      SUPPLEMENTS –  why do all the marketers seem to think their product can cure everything? Could there be different supplements for different people? How much of this is marketing and how much is fact?

6)      To what extent are NATURAL approaches a safe alternative to drugs? Are drugs that bad or is it just hype from overly emotional lobbyists and reactionaries?

7)      BUSINESS, POLITICS and HEALTH. How do we survive when truth is subject to partisan interests? Includes organics, toxics, vaccines and genetically modified food and other debates.

8)      FUTURISTIC THINKING – what are the changes we should be shaping for the world and how do the emerging fields of nutrigenomics, phytoceutical research, bio-technology and genetics impact our future?

Guess what! It’s all connected!

I believe the 21st century is a time when we’ll conclude much of what we previously learned in the previous 100 years is just so wrong! Maybe the world is on the brink of self-destruction. But maybe we’re on the brink of re-birth.

You will hear from me about breastfeeding and natural birth from time to time. Not just because promoting these causes are passions of mine but because they are linked strongly to better mommy and child health, and the benefits last a lifetime! Why do I believe that? Well that’s another story.

If you like the sound of what’s on offer please invite your friends to join us on this journey.

I wish you God’s Peace and Blessings.