Posts Tagged ‘food’

Hype: “Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in Commercial GMO Crops!”

2 May, 2013

See on Scoop.itVirology News

by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson How should a regulatory agency announce they have discovered something potentially very important about the safety of products they have been approving for over twenty years?

Ed Rybicki‘s insight:

I am rather troubled by this article, because although it is obviously well-researched, it erects a house of cards from some rather flimsy initial premises.

The first is that the gene VI 3′ fragment, included as part of constructs for the 35S promoter, is in fact expressed in ANY of the transgenic plants it appears in: there is NO proof of this.

The second is that this same fragment encodes a polypeptide which has any/all of the functions associated with the full length protein: again, there is NO proof of this, although a throwaway statement is made that hints that it does.

The third is that the polypeptide fragment, IF expressed at all, would have deleterious effects in animals / humans: again, there is no conclusive proof of this at all, despite extensive toxicity trials.

There are other problems with the piece, including the statements:

“In general, viral genes expressed in plants raise both agronomic and human health concerns (reviewed in Latham and Wilson 2008).”

Sorry, this is not GENERALLY taken to be the case at all!

“This is because many viral genes function to disable their host in order to facilitate pathogen invasion. Often, this is achieved by incapacitating specific anti-pathogen defenses. Incorporating such genes could clearly lead to undesirable and unexpected outcomes in agriculture.”

Really? It has been clearly demonstrated that the anti-host function works in very different hosts, meaning this last sentence is true? Where?

“Furthermore, viruses that infect plants are often not that different from viruses that infect humans. For example, sometimes the genes of human and plant viruses are interchangeable, while on other occasions inserting plant viral fragments as transgenes has caused the genetically altered plant to become susceptible to an animal virus (Dasgupta et al. 2001).”

Oooooh…the taurine excreta value is high in this one…while an argument can be made that certain viruses of plants and of animals have a common origin, and are not THAT different in a long-term evolutionary sense, there are NO viruses that have been shown to infect both plants and mammals – NONE.

As for Dasgupta et al., what they showed was that flockhouse virus – an insect virus which replicates in plant cells but does not spread in plants – CAN spread in plants IF these are expressing CERTAIN plant virus-derived movement proteins. Which, I will note, are NOT components of any DNA in released GM plants of which I am aware.

And replication does not = “susceptible”: it means the virus CAN replicate and spread, NOT that it causes disease. I note that there are many viruses which replicate in both an insect and a plant, and others that replicate only in a plant but can be spread by an insect, and yet others which replicate in an insect only but can survive in plants as a reservoir. I note further that there are NO examples which can do any of these things in a plant and a mammal.

So – an interesting article, as I said, but one that is unnecessarily alarmist.

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PLOS ONE: Tobacco Mosaic Virus in the Lungs of Mice following Intra-Tracheal Inoculation

13 February, 2013

See on Scoop.itVirology News

“Plant viruses are generally considered incapable of infecting vertebrates. Accordingly, they are not considered harmful for humans. However, a few studies questioned the certainty of this paradigm. Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) RNA has been detected in human samples and TMV RNA translation has been described in animal cells. We sought to determine if TMV is detectable, persists, and remains viable in the lung tissues of mice following intratracheal inoculation, and we attempted to inoculate mouse macrophages with TMV. In the animal model, mice were intratracheally inoculated with 1011 viral particles and were sacrificed at different time points. The virus was detected in the mouse lungs using immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy, real-time RT-PCR and sequencing, and its viability was studied with an infectivity assay on plants. In the cellular model, the culture medium of murine bone marrow derived macrophages (BMDM) was inoculated with different concentrations of TMV, and the virus was detected with real-time RT-PCR and immunofluorescence. In addition, anti-TMV antibodies were detected in mouse sera with ELISA. We showed that infectious TMV could enter and persist in mouse lungs via the intratracheal route. Over 14 days, the TMV RNA level decreased by 5 log10 copies/ml in the mouse lungs and by 3.5 log10 in macrophages recovered from bronchoalveolar lavage. TMV was localized to lung tissue, and its infectivity was observed on plants until 3 days after inoculation. In addition, anti-TMV antibody seroconversions were observed in the sera from mice 7 days after inoculation. In the cellular model, we observed that TMV persisted over 15 days after inoculation and it was visualized in the cytoplasm of the BMDM. This work shows that a plant virus, Tobacco mosaic virus, could persist and enter in cells in mammals, which raises questions about the potential interactions between TMV and human hosts.”

Ed Rybicki‘s insight:

Interesting paper!  Which proves…which proves…which proves TMV is seriously resistant to degradation in animals and in mammalian cells; that it can enter macrophages; and that it…what?  What, exactly, are the “…questions about the possible interactions…”?  What would TMV do in mammalian cells?  Yes, it might be uncoated and be translated; it is far less likely that it MIGHT be able to replicate its RNA – and then?  While it can apparently be taken up quite efficiently by macrophages – a property which, incidentally, has led to its being trialled as an RNA vaccine delivery system – this is a dead end, and one that is quite normal for particles of any kind being introduced into mammals.

Which is something that happens every day, as we and our cousin mammals eat: it has been shown elsewhere that animals are actually quite good spreaders of plant viruses, some of which – like TMV and the even tougher Cauliflower mosaic virus – pass right through at high survival rates, and remain infectious.  We will all probably have eaten many grams of various viruses in our lives, and derived nothing more than nutrition from them.

I also remember, even though it was very late at night, 31 years ago, and in a bar in Banff in Canada, a conversation with one Richard Zeyen.  He told me they had used ELISA to test everyone in their lab for antibodies for TMV, seeing as they worked with it, and had newly developed a test.  And everyone was immune – presumably, to aerosolised TMV that had been breathed in or otherwise ingested.  Proving…that oral vaccines based on TMV could work, and that most of us are probably immune to all sorts of viruses that don’t replicate in us – and nothing more!

Including, in the case of many people in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, sampled by one Don Hendry via the local blood bank, to a virus of Pine Emperor moths – because it multiples to such high levels in its host that anyone walking in the pine forests was bound to be exposed via the environment.

So this is an interesting paper – and no more.  It will, of course, lead to alarmist articles and blog posts, and people calling out for urgent surveillance of food, in which people will find many viruses.  And so what?  They have been with us for as long as we have been eating plant-derived food, and have NEVER been associated with any disease, transmissible or otherwise – so my best advice is that we ignore them.

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