New Study Casts Doubts
On Genetically Modified Food
LONDON (Reuters) -- An artificial gut designed by Dutch researchers has cast doubts on the safety of genetically modified food, New Scientist magazine reported on Wednesday.
The computer-controlled model of the stomach and intestines, designed to mimic human food digestion, showed that antibiotic-resistance genes introduced into food could jump to bacteria in the gut.
"The results show that DNA lingers in the intestine, and confirms that genetically modified bacteria can transfer their antibiotic-resistance genes to bacteria in the gut," according to the magazine.
One of the concerns about genetically engineered crops is that antibiotic-resistant genes could transfer to animals and humans and create superbugs that cannot be killed by even the strongest antibiotics.
Some scientists claimed it could never happen because the modified DNA breaks down so quickly. But the Dutch research showed DNA from the bacteria had a half-life of six minutes in the large intestine.
"This makes it available to transform cells," said Robert Havenaar, the designer of the artificial gut.
Hub Noteborn of the State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products in the Netherlands said the results of the study contradict the safety assurances.
"It was a surprise to see that DNA persisted so long in the colon," he told the magazine.
Not all bacteria transferred the resistance genes to normal gut bacteria. A tomato engineered to resist rot caused no problems.
Havenaar and his colleagues plan further studies and are planning to ask the European Union for funding.
Last week, a committee from Britain's House of Lords (upper house) announced that the benefits of genetically modified food outweighed the risks. They also concluded it was "extremely unlikely" that genes from food could jump into gut bacteria.
Environmental groups have urged the government to ban all genetically modified food. Top British chefs on Tuesday put their weight behind opposition to what some have nicknamed "Frankenstein's food."