New findings render principles underlying genetic engineering obsolete

A recent report by The New York Times says that the $73.5 billion global biotech industry may soon have to confront a discovery that casts doubt on the scientific principles on which it is founded.

The article, written by technology journalist Denise Caruso, says that in June a consortium of of scientists published findings that challenge the traditional view of how genes function. The four-year effort was organized by the United States National Human Genome Research Institute and carried out by 35 groups from 80 organizations around the world.

The researchers were surprised to find that genes, instead of operating independently with each DNA sequence linked to a single function, appear to operate in a complex network, interacting and overlapping with one another in ways that are not fully understood.

The findings will challenge scientists “to rethink some long-held views about what genes are and what they do.”

Caruso writes, “The presumption that genes operate independently has been institutionalized since 1976, when the first biotech company was founded. In fact, it is the economic and regulatory foundation on which the entire biotechnology industry is built.”

The scientists who developed genetic engineering in the early 1970s built their innovation on this mechanistic, “one gene, one protein” principle, which became known as the Central Dogma of molecular biology.

The Central Dogma has also been the basis for the patenting of thousands of genes.

Caruso writes, “Evidence of a networked genome shatters the scientific basis for virtually every official risk assessment of today’s commercial biotech products, from genetically engineered crops to pharmaceuticals.”
“The real worry for us has always been that the commercial agenda for biotech may be premature, based on what we have long known was an incomplete understanding of genetics,” said Jack Heinemann, a professor of molecular biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and director of its Center for Integrated Research in Biosafety.

(Source: The New York Times)

© Copyright August 2007, The Organic & Non-GMO Report