Genetically Engineered Food

By Cummins, Ronnie | Nutrition Health Review, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Genetically Engineered Food


Cummins, Ronnie, Nutrition Health Review


When gene engineers splice a foreign protein into a food product, they most often link it to another gene, called an antibiotic-resistance marker (ARM) gene. By dousing this new genetically engineered creation with an antibiotic, the genetic engineer can tell whether the gene-splicing procedure has been successful. Basically, if the antibiotic does not kill the gene-food, then the splicing has been successful because the inserted antibiotic-resistant marker gene provides protection. Although this sounds quite clever, there is a down side to ARM-ing genes.

Scientists and public health officials worry that ARM genes employed in gene-spliced foods or animal feeds might "mate" or combine with an expanded range of pre-existing germs or pathogens to give rise--deadly new strains of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" (Salmonella, Echerichia coli, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus, Myco-bacterium tuberculosis, and enterococcus).

It is possible that ARMed genes might be contributing factors to the growing public health problem of infections that cannot be cured with ampicillin, kanamycin, penicillin, or other traditional antibiotics. This phenomenon of inadvertently transferring antibiotic resistance into non-target organisms or pathogens is a prime example of horizontal gene transfer--an extremely rare occurrence in nature until the advent of genetic engineering. Geneticists call this type of unnatural genetic transmission "horizontal gene transfer" to differentiate it from the normal vertical gene transfer, which occurs when nongenetically engineered living organisms pass their genes and genetic characteristics on to their offspring. …

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