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MARCH 2010

Scientist should not be blamed for GM crops
Bangalore, Mar 12 (PTI)
Vandana Shiva in her article ‘Democratic choice’ (DH, March 11, 2010) spews venom and biotechnology and ‘the so called biotechnologists’. She lauds Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, but calls other biotechnologists as ‘technicians’ without any vision. According to her it is unsafe to entrust ‘risk assessment’ with such obtuse people. A refrigerator maker cannot be aware of its risks, a car maker cannot be aware of the risks of driving a car, and likewise a biotechnologist cannot have any idea of the risks of his product. She says biotechnology is as ‘primitive biology’ though many consider it as modern biology. ‘Epigenetic’ according to her is the new approach required. Also, she mentions that a GM (genetically modified) crop, contains virus genes, i.e., genes of a parasite.

A car maker is the best person to know the risks of a car, as he has studied all aspects of his product, before launching it. Likewise, a responsible biotechnologist can understand the potential risks, if any, of his product. Biotechnology is an interdisciplinary subject that includes biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, botany, zoology, genetics and all aspects of modern biology including epigenetic. Biotechnologists are not naive to think that gene expression is not influenced by extraneous factors. However, when things work in the predicted way under different environmental conditions, it is clear that things are under control.

Biotechnologists are also not foolish to think that an organism is a combination of different parts, like a machine, and parts can be changed at will. To make a gene express in a different organism, in a regulated manner, was not easy. Scores of Nobel laureates (including our own Hargobind Khorana) have worked in understanding the nature of genetic code and gene expression. To say that a gene can behave in 30,000 different ways due to extraneous factors, is just statistics of permutation and combination, and is meant to create fear psychosis.

Some of the virus gene sequences put in GM crops are not the sequences coding for the actual virus, but are pieces of DNA which act as promoters, having no ability to produce the actual virus or part of it. There is no record of a virus infection due to the insertion of a promoter.

Under the above circumstances, ‘public hearings’ are not the solution to risk assessment. In addition, scientists should be not blamed for commercial aspects such as marketing of GM products.
Bangalore University