GMO - Genetically Modifying Foods - The Physics, the Safety

  • Virtually everyone seems to have a serious error in their thinking regarding Genetically Modified Foods. They seem to think that if food is grown Organically, that it is not GM! That is simply not true! In fact, virtually ALL the Organic food which is now available from stores, markets and even individual farmers (in the U.S.) IS ALSO Genetically Modified! Whether a vegetable or animal is grown with pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers and Growth Hormones; or without those chemicals and grown 'Organically' whether the SEEDS had had their DNA chromosomes industrially modified identifies whether it is also GM.

    Genetically Modified means that the DNA in the cells of that plant or animal or fruit or vegetable has been intentionally altered from what Nature had created over millions of years. Industrial GMO generally means that part of a chromosome of an animal or plant has been chopped out and it was replaced by part of a chromosome of a DIFFERENT animal or plant.

    The central problem is how incredibly tiny DNA molecules are! YOU are made of BILLIONS of cells, EACH of which contains an entire set of all of your DNA IN EVERY CELL. Everything is SO tiny that no one yet even knows HOW MANY DNA base pair molecules in a human! It is generally now assumed that every cell in your body contains around 3 billion DNA base pairs. Some of your individual chromosomes (out of 46 that you have in every one of your cells) is thought to contain about 250 million DNA base pairs of molecules.

    Individual genes are thought to contain from 100 to 1 million DNA base pairs.

    Do you realize how SMALL each of your cells are? And they each contain all of the molecules mentioned above!

    This is true of the DNA in tomato cells (or seeds) or corn or any other plant or animal. THIS IS THE PROBLEM.!

    Once the SEEDS or EMBRYOS have been Genetically Modified, then the plant or animal or person COULD BE fed with fruits and vegetables and meats which were enhanced by using herbicides, pesticides, growth hormones, and many other chemicals (which increases production and therefore profits for the farmers) OR they COULD BE fed 'Organically' with fruits and vegetables and meats which had not been chemically 'enhanced'. So there are TWO VERY DIFFERENT ISSUES HERE! The seeds or embryos could be naturally created by mother and father creatures or the equivalent in plants OR they could be created in a laboratory as Genetic Modifications which have never existed in Nature before. AND THEN, the nutrition that is provided to get the plant or animal to grow could be from (Organic) natural plants and animals OR they could be produced in larger quantities, faster, by using a large number of different chemicals in their feed materials.

  • The public has been totally misled by Monsanto regarding two central facts of Genetic Modification of food and other products. The implications are incredibly scary! One is that anyone actualy KNOWS what every one of the genes does in ANY plant or animal (including us humans!) The other is actually even scarier in the implication that anyone could extract or replace a single gene to try to accomplish some desired goal. Neither is remotely true, but in another hundred years, maybe!

  • If chromosomes were large like loaves of bread, yes, it might then be possible to remove and replace one slice of bread. But actual chromosomes are astoundingly small. YOUR human body contains around 10,000,000,000,000 cells, each of which are very tiny, and most of which each contain an even smaller nucleus which contains our full set of 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 altogether), which contains the entire DNA of our approximate 24,000 genes or billions of nucleotide bases. Approximate??? That is because because we still do not know exactly HOW MANY genes even humans have. Different researchers have said that we have 26,000 while others say we have 19,000 genes. It may be fifty years or more before science knows what most of them are for! And this is for HUMANS, where we have the greatest possible motivation to learn every detail! So far we have crudely identified around 5% of our genes and we have a pretty complete idea of what maybe 100 of our 23,000 genes actually are for, like causing blue or brown eyes or causing certain medical conditions. We are still totally in the dark regarding what most of our genes are actually for! Worse, we can't even guess regarding what any long-term consequences are of any of them!

  • So now imagine how complete the knowledge is regarding the genes of any of hundreds of varieties of corn plants or potato or tomato plants, where the only people examining them work for Monsanto, and their entire purpose is to create new plants or animals which can make billions of dollars for Monsanto. The point being made here is that, yes, a FEW genes have been confirmed, like a few which seem to be connected to the red color of tomatoes or insect resistance in some potatoes. But the concern being pointed out here is that there are many thousands of genes in those potato and tomato and corn plants which clearly exist for some purpose, but we do not yet have the slightest idea what those purposes are! What if there happens to be a really important gene which happens to keep us all from getting the Black Death or Dengue Fever? What if such a gene was accidentally removed from being in the foods we eat, just because it happened to be near a gene that some experimenter decided to slice out?

  • This gets us to that second and more scary fact. It is NOT possible to cut a single gene out of a chromosome, at least not a SPECIFIC gene. They are just too tiny to reliably do that! Individual genes are too small to even be seen in optical microscopes, and so getting a knife out and precisely slicing a chromosome on both sides of a specific gene is a process that researchers dream about someday maybe being able to do!

  • The REALITY of what is actually done is that an experimenter TRIES to cut a chromosome apart AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE to where a known gene probably is. The two side pieces are kept and the middle part is discarded (HOWEVER MANY ACTUAL GENES OR DNA PAIRS IT MIGHT ACTUALLY CONTAIN). Then, ANOTHER snippet of DNA from a butterfly or a bacteria or a mouse or a gorilla is tossed into that test tube, and some experimental things are done to try to encourage the three pieces to merge together into a new chromosome. Nature has done much of the work here, in that the original chromosome ends generally cannot connect to anything, so IF pieces are going to merge together, there really are just three practical possibilities: the two original portions might merge together (without a middle section at all); or the imported middle section might join in, either in the correct order; or in a reversed order.

  • Note that this experiment is extremely random in many ways! The actual LENGTH of the resulting chromosome is completely unknown, as that depends on exactly WHERE the four cuts had been made. Each of the two end sections might be longer or shorter than was intended, and the two cuts which extracted the middle part from the butterfly DNA might have been to the left or right of where the desired gene is thought to be.

  • Worst of all, where nearly all of science is done in public view where scientists publish results and only get credibility when other scientists are able to duplicate their claims, the method Monsanto follows is absolutely secret in every detail, where no one ever has any way of knowing of catastrophic failures that Monsanto experiments had done, and even the specific experimenter does not know the specifics of exactly which genes had gotten replaced. And so when Vice President Dan Quayle announced with a big smile in 1991 that genetically modified food was being developed, considering the amazing lack of knowledge that even Monsanto had about what they were creating, it was truly shocking when Quayle was asked whether the GMO foods would be labeled so that a customer could make an informed decision, and Quayle said with that big smile, NO, there would never be any labeling of GMO foods "because no one would buy them if they knew!" NO KIDDING!

  • Because of that attitude of Quayle and the government, we 300,000,000 Americans have been Guinea Pigs upon which Monsanto is free to experiment!

  • The vast majority of every tomato YOU have eaten during the last twenty years (in the United States) has been Genetically Modified by Monsanto. The amazing thing is that there has never been the slightest oversight from any safety inspector, because Monsanto insists on absolute secrecy in order to preserve their Proprietary Rights to collect their billions of dollars of profits, without taking any chance of letting any competitor learn how to do it.

  • Of course, Monsanto actually CANNOT provide precise details, as even they do not know precisely what occurred to create a specific plant or animal GMO product. An experimenter creates tens of thousands of DIFFERENT attempts at making the desired cuts, virtually all of which fail because the plants or animals are not viable and so far more than 99% of the experiments totally fail. But sooner or later, the cuts were made in places where something could grow, and the experimenter then waits the weeks to see what develops. Most of those results also fail or they result in fruits or vegetables which are worse than the original natural plants. But like the old joke that a billion monkeys pounding on typewriters would eventually result in some literary masterpiece, Monsanto's experimenters are in that boat.

  • The troubling part is that seemingly successful experiments are so extremely rare that the experimenter knows that he will become extremely rich if HIS experiment creates a tomato which can be dropped without bruising or some similar result. There is extreme motivation for both the experimenter and for Monsanto to not look too carefully about any undesirable side effects.

  • In 1996, Monsanto started aggressively promoting a new GMO Russet potato which was disease resistant, which they called New Leaf. They got McDonalds and many other giant corporations to start using New Leaf Russet potatoes, and over the next two to three years, many millions of us ate French Fries at McDonalds which were genetically modified. The public was never told that there was any genetically modified food that we were eating!

  • But by around 1999, McDonalds was getting enough inquiries from customers who were ASKING whether they were eating GMO foods that McDonalds realized that they might have a real public relations crisis ahead, so McDonalds told Monsanto that they would stop using the GMO New Leaf Russet potatoes, and other major chains also ended their contracts. The public was never actually TOLD that they had been eating Genetically Modified foods, but at least one GMO product stopped being sold (as far as anyone knows!) However, Monsanto is certainly not suffering, as they now produce something like 98% of all the cotton plants as GMO plants, and GMO soybeans and GMO corn are nearly as broadly present over all the United States markets.

  • It shows an impressive fact where High School Science Fair students now can do GMO cutting and recombinant splicing genetical experiments, showing that the Monsanto experimenters are not very different from those High School science students. If those students dedicated a year or two of repeating many thousands of experiments, that monkees and typewriters situation would likely result in impressive GMO tomatoes or potatoes or sweet corn. Would YOU buy such fruits or vegetables which a High School science student had created? No, you wouldn't, because that student would be OPEN AND HONEST about having created an impressive new plant. Monsanto keeping that absolute secrecy eliminates the American public ever from knowing what Monsanto had (and has) foisted on them, all because the US Government colluded with Monsanto to never let the public know what scary experiments were being done on them.

  • Monsanto apparently had become worried (2012) that one or more of their random experiments will kill or maim a few thousand Americans due to some unexpected gene affecting unsuspecting Americans. Astoundingly, Monsanto managed to get the Monsanto Rider attached to a major bill which Congress will certainly have to pass. The result is to give Monsanto total liability freedom regarding any possible bad future effects of any genetically modification experiments! It is apparently not enough that Monsanto receives many billions of dollars of profits for its Executives and Stockholders, but now they want to make sure that if and when they happen to kill or maim Americans (Guinea Pigs) in the future, their Lawyers will be able to avoid having to make any payments to any of the victims! That says something about how modern society has progressed!

  • Around September 2012, some French Researchers who had fed 200 mice one of Monsanto's most popular GMO corn, have reported their findings after a two-year experiment. They have found that around 80% of the test mice died well before they should have died, and more than half of them had very large cancerous tumors in them, along with many failed organs. If this Research gets repeated by other Researchers with similar findings, the implications regarding having used the 300,000,000 Americans as (unknowing) Guinea Pigs for the past twenty years, will likely scare the daylights out of everyone! But Monsanto has hundreds of the most expensive Lawyers who live, and there is no way that they will admit to anything, for decades to come. After all, by around 1960, many Researchers had proved conclusively that cigarette smoking causes cancer, where 300,000 Americans die each year as a result, but the Lawyers of the Tobacco Companies managed to avoid ever admitting to ANYTHING until into the 1990s, so they got an additional 30 years of billions of profits from selling cigarettes. So just because we are likely to LEARN that Genetically Modified foods from Monsanto cause tumors and deaths, Monsanto will certainly keep the profits going for several decades. All because there has NEVER been any 'regulationary oversight' regarding ANY Genetically Modified product! Amazing!

  • During the 1980s and 1990s, modern science discovered a new toy, the ability to disassemble and reassemble parts of chromosomes, DNA.

  • This capability has been wildly pursued with virtually no traditional scientific cautions. It truly is unbelievable that our society would do that, as the potential hazards are so numerous and so potentially disastrous.

  • We need to realize that we humans have approximately THREE BILLION letters in our DNA sequence IN EVERY CELL OF OUR BODIES. The details are incredibly tiny! Most cells of your body are too small to even see without a great microscope. Then each of those tiny cells contains an even smaller nucleus, and INSIDE that nucleus is a collection of those three billion nucleotides, in a very specific order. Three billion is an amazing number. Say that you knew your complete DNA code and you decided to print it out on standard typewriter paper, with 60 letters on each line and 50 lines per standard 8.5x11 sheets of paper. That is 3,000 letters per sheet, so you would need a MILLION such sheets to print out YOUR entire DNA sequence! About 5,000 sheets is a foot thick of paper, so this would mean you would need a stack of typewriter paper around 200 feet tall, just to print out YOUR DNA sequence! An entire bathroom chock full of sheets of paper to display YOUR complete DNA! Is there any wonder that after around 20 years of the HGP (Human Genome Project) less than two dozen people in the world have yet had their COMPLETE DNA sequence determined? (Those files are all in computer memory, where three billion bytes of data would only take up around five CD-ROM disks.)

Yes, tiny bits and pieces of our human DNA have been identified. We have a pretty good idea which single letter needs to change to cause blue eyes rather than brown. But that is a truly tiny fraction of all our DNA, more than 99% of which we STILL do not know what it does, even after aggressive study for twenty years!

HERE is where the great concern is regarding Genetically Modified foods and the rest. Imagine some wealthy parent who will insist on his coming child having blue eyes. And some laboratory will be willing to take his $300,000 to try to do it. What if WE DON'T KNOW YET that 29 letters down your DNA is the nucleotide which determines whether that baby will get Downes Syndrome or Leprosy or a thousand other maladies. And the researcher who found the section of DNA that contained the BLUE nucleotide did not realize that the chunk of DNA that he was able to separate away happened to include that Leprosy nucleotide. So the baby is born, and it HAS blue eyes, but a few years later it will die of Leprosy! NOT from any intentional action, but just the ignorance of not having any idea what MOST of the letters of our DNA actually are for.

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The public is misled into believing that when some guy in a lab does a Genetic Modification experiment, he very carefully extracts the ONE nucleotide that he believes needs to be changed. THAT never happens! What is actually done is that a CHUNK of DNA is chopped out and then the entire chunk is replaced by some different DNA chunk, which is often from an entirely different creature or plant!

That chunk commonly contains thousands of nucleotides which just happen to be near the one he wants to change. Now, when his experiment is done, and he sees that he DID cause the change in that plant or animal that he had wished, it is again not nearly as impressive as the public is led to believe. He does a THOUSAND similar experiments, each chopping out SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT chunks and replacing them with slightly different chunks. He examines ALL his thousand experiments and finds that ONE of those experiments has the desired changes in the plant or animal. He actually does NOT know WHICH of his thousand experiments resulted in that desired change, and he also does NOT know why the other 999 experiments failed to give the desired change. So he is to a great extent, in the dark! He does NOT know what any of the other nucleotides near his target one do. When some of the experiments are terminal failures, where the plant or animal dies, he learns that there is something nearby that may be bad. But he never knows WHICH nucleotide, and essentially does not care that much about it, as long as his successful experiment provided the result that will make him rich and famous! Not much else matters!

It may be realistic to think that one hundred or two hundred years from now, the knowledge of human DNA will have advanced enough to be relatively complete. A technician that might consider trying the BLUE EYES assurance then SHOULD probably know that no really dangerous nucleotides happen to be anywhere near that blue eyes one, and it might be relatively safe to do. On the other hand, during those 200 years, it may be discovered that a dozen dangerous nucleotides are nearly adjacent to the blue eyes one, and so the idea of even trying it would be too dangerous to contemplate. We are nowhere near knowing what even 1% of our DNA is actually for yet, so any attempt to provide BLUE EYES could be a death sentence, or worse, for the child to be.

Tomatoes and sweet corn and every other fruit and vegetable have DNA that is comparably as complex as ours is. Do you really believe that thousands of researchers spent 20 years in making absolutely sure that there was no possible down-side regarding ACCIDENTALLY altering a nucleotide that happened to be near one they want to replace in a tomato? Not a chance! Once they did thousands of recombinant-DNA experiments and found that ONE of the experiments resulted in a tomato that had a prettier skin or a tougher skin, yes, they probably did do LIMITED safety testing to try to confirm that their new tomato did not cause people to die who ate them. But what if they had accidentally replaced a perfectly safe natural nucleotide with one that caused Dengue Fever or Ebola? There is NO independent safety group or government agency that ever confirms the safety of the results of their very secret experiments. THOSE researchers write up their own report regarding whatever safety testing they claim to have done and NO ONE IS EVER IN ANY POSITION TO CONFIRM OR DENY their statements! Given that those researchers each KNOW that they WILL become multi-millionaires if a GM fruit or vegetable that he or she created becomes sold to millions of farmers. There is tremendous incentive to avoid saying anything which might hurt the chance of those millions of dollars. And great incentive to present their creation as perfect and magical.

Again, that would be great if it were actually to turn out to be true. But the fact that those researchers cannot possibly totally know what even 1% of the DNA of their fruit or vegetable is actually for, it results in a remarkably terrifying experiment where we, the public, are the guinea pigs. And the immense scale of the usage of GM fruits and vegetables pretty much means that when some major disaster will happen (and it certainly will), and millions of victims around the world discover that they have some deadly malady they got from eating the GM fruit or vegetable, there will NOT be any way to go back! One of the first things that the chemical companies insisted on is that their fruits and vegetables have DNA which is altered so that they cannot reproduce. That way the companies can be sure that no one can plant anything next year without having to buy new seeds from them, pure profit! The vast majority of seeds used by all farmers around the world are now GM seeds. That means that there are essentially NO REMAINING NATURAL SEEDS which could ever be used in the future, just in case we ever needed them.

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IF a company can provide an accurate record of those million pages worth of letters for a GM tomato, AND then be able to describe what EVERY ONE of those letters did regarding genetics, fine, GM tomatoes MIGHT THEN be a great idea. But to have wildly roared ahead in using and promoting GM fruits and vegetables, while still NOT knowing what more than 99% of their DNA actually does, is simply idiotic.

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in September 2010.

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in September 2010.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago