A project to develop genetically modified, pest-resistant peas has been abandoned after tests showed the peas cause lung damage in mice.
Protein Kills Pea Weevils
Field peas are susceptible to pea weevils, which lay their eggs on pea pods. The gene for a protein capable of killing pea weevil pests was transferred from the common bean to the peas. This protein does not normally cause allergic reactions in mice or people.
But when the protein is expressed in the pea, its structure becomes subtly different from the original. Researchers say that this indicates a potential for unpredicted and unintended effects due to such structural changes. In this case, it was probably caused by differences in the ways that the two plants produce proteins.
Trials showed that the GM peas were almost completely resistant to pea weevils. But mice injected with the protein showed a hypersensitive skin response, and those exposed to it in airborne form developed airway inflammation and lung damage. The effect was the same whether the protein was taken from raw peas or cooked peas.
In the early 1990s, a similar situation happened when researchers engineered a new strain of soy bean by adding a gene taken from brazil nuts. But that project ended when it was discovered that the hybrid was likely to trigger a major attack in people with brazil nut allergies.
For a long while, I've been warning you about the blight of genetically modified (GM) crops on our world's food supply, always concerned about their effect on your bodies and health. Now, we have another clue about their potential dangers.
Luckily, this study -- a rare glimpse into Frankenstein-like crop combinations gone bad -- was conducted by a national research organization. Had a private company like Monsanto been involved in this study, you would most likey have never heard a thing about it.
Chances are very good you've eaten GM foods: At least seven out of 10 items at your neighborhood grocery store contain them. That said, there's some steps you can take that will help you steer clear of them:
Finally, if you feel you can't afford to buy organic foods, please read Colleen Huber's excellent piece on how you can do so on your current budget.