A new study shows major unexpected effects in bees from dietary GM dsRNA.
Early this year, a peer-reviewed study was published by Prof Jack Heinemann and colleagues suggesting that government GMO regulators are failing to consider important risks of new kinds of GM plants and co-technologies.
These new-type GM plants and products are designed to make a form of genetic information called double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). While most existing GM plants are designed to make new proteins, the new GM plants and products make dsRNA in order to alter the way genes are expressed.
This process of gene expression alteration is called RNAi or RNA interference, or post-transcriptional gene silencing.
Research has shown that dsRNAs can transfer from plants to humans and other animals through food.
The Australia/New Zealand GMO regulator FSANZ dismissed Heinemann and colleagues' study, using spurious reassurances about dsRNA risks.
The Science Media Centre of New Zealand joined in the chorus to silence concerns raised by the study.
Now a new study in honey bees shows that Heinemann and colleagues were right to warn about the unintended effects of dsRNA-type products.
The new study revealed that the expression of nearly 1,400 of the bees' genes was altered in response to a certain type of dsRNA administered in their food - representing around 10% of known honey bee genes.
Interestingly, this particular dsRNA has been used as a control dsRNA in honey bee experiments, since its gene sequence does not exist in honey bees and thus it was not expected to trigger RNAi responses in the bees.
It seems this was yet another assumption about GMO safety that has been proven wrong by further scientific research.
The authors of the new study noted: "Expression changes appear to be the result of both direct off-target effects and indirect downstream secondary effects."
Do these effects matter? Apparently, yes. The authors explain: "In general, the affected genes are involved in important developmental and metabolic processes associated with RNA processing and transport, hormone metabolism, immunity, response to external stimulus and to stress."
Another surprise was that only a small number (less than 11) of matches between the dsRNA and non-target gene were enough to cause off-target effect in the bees.
Let's hope the risk-deniers in regulatory agencies read the study and take note.