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Subject: Re: Gene Tinkering: YOU Are The Mice And They Don't Want You to Know
From: (Tracy Aquilla)
Date: Sep 13 1996
Newsgroups: alt.agriculture.misc,alt.agriculture.fruit,

In Article <>, (Joe Toth) wrote:

>                         GENE TINKERING BLUES
>                    Volume 1  Issue 3   August  1996
>        by Prof. Joe Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics, University of
>Western Ontario
>        The questionable experiment is to insert a gene for scorpion toxin
>into an insect virus then to spray the tinkered virus onto produce crops in
>the field. The tinkered virus is now highly potent in destroying insects
>both pests and their natural predators and the pollinators.
This is incorrect. The virus in question (AcMNPV) is capable of infecting
only a very small number of insects, all of which belong to the Lepidoptera.
There isn't a single predator or pollinator species which has been shown to
be susceptible to the virus. Your post consists of inaccurate reporting at
best, and outright lying at the worst.

>        The scorpion toxin may not be threatening to humans as a toxin
>when it is eaten but its impact on cuts and open sores is a concern.

It is a "concern" only to the uninformed. See below for some facts.

>        The danger from a small field test is tangible provided the
>experiment is not well thought out and controlled.

Although this is also untrue, such experiments have all been quite well
controlled in the past, and there is no reason to assume that this will
change in the foreseeable future. Apparently Prof. Joe Cummins is completely
unfamiliar with baculoviruses and the vectors derived therefrom.

>Genetic recombination is
>a significant concern in such experiments.

This is quite false. If the gene were to somehow recombine into the insect
genome, it would kill the insect! Please cite some literature to support
your assertions, if you can. I doubt you will, because there is no
literature to support any of the assertions you have made thus far.

>The scorpion toxin gene can be
>spread by recombination to insects that suck blood as well as insects that
>suck plant juice. The virus that acquires a toxin gene will achieve a new
>ecological niche and is likely to be a formidable parasite.

This is absolutely unsupported by any scientific literature. There has never
been identified any baculovirus capable of infecting any insect that sucks
blood or plant juices. You are either ignorant or you are lying. Either way,
your report represents highly irresponsible behavior for a scientist.


I defy you to provide even a single reference to a peer-reviewed journal
article which supports this assertion. The evidence is overwhelmingly
contrary to the statements above. (See below for some citations.)

>        Even though it is relatively inexpensive to monitor the scorpion
>toxin using a technique called ELISA and to monitor spread of the toxin
>gene using PCR (a highly sensitive technique used in genetic
>fingerprinting) such monitoring will not be done in Ontario.

It is NOT inexpensive; ELISA and PCR are actually very expensive to perform
on a large scale, and in any case such monitoring is absolutely unwarranted
by the evidence available in the scientific literature.

>Furthermore, it is equally clear that the agricultural authorities are not
>eager to have adverse monitoring reports slow the development of a product
>capable of enriching companies beyond their wildest dreams.

To which products do you refer here? There are no engineered insect viruses
available in any market of which I'm aware. Even if such a product were to
be developed, it is highly doubtful that it would have a market.

>However, gene products like scorpion
>toxin are very likely to make tissues autoimmune, in turn creating diseases
>related to arthritis, Lupus and a range of related conditions. If people
>are not made aware of their exposures they will  never learn what caused
>their diseases.
>        Gene tinkering has already caused profound alterations on the
>environment through the extensive testing programs in Canada and the United

If this is true (which it is not), you have not supported your statement
with ANY evidence! How can you call yourself a scientist?

>Current test are growing riskier all the time even though release
>of a carelessly gene tinkered health food product caused death of at least
>37 Americans and crippled thousands.

I assume this reference is to tryptophan, but as in the rest of your post,
there is no reference to any literature or evidence to support your claim.
Tryptophan is not a food product and the case in question did not involved
any "tinkered" gene! You ought to do some reading before you post such
nonsense in the future. Such poor reporting will do little to further your
reputation as a scientist.

Below, I have posted a brief excerpt from a literature review I wrote a few
years ago. It addresses the issue in question from a scientific standpoint,
as opposed to the fiction which has been presented thus far. Those
interested in researching the topic may consult me for a list of references
(I can provide hundreds of citations).

    For centuries, the pathogens of insects have been considered to be
potentially useful as insecticides, based on the frequent observation of
naturally occurring epizootics contributing to significant reductions in
insect pest populations (Gelernter and Federici, 1990; Kaupp and Sohi, 1985;
Tanada, 1963). However, until recently (i.e. 1980s), little scientific
research has been aimed specifically at developing insect pathogens as
insecticides, due mainly to significant economic and political barriers and
a general lack of knowledge concerning the biology of insect pathogens. Over
the last twenty years, due to the increasing public demand to find
alternatives to synthetic chemical insecticides, scientists studying insect
pathogens, particularly the bacteria and viruses, have acquired a
substantial volume of knowledge concerning the biology of these microorganisms.
    The nuclear polyhedrosis virus of Heliothis zea (HzSNPV; Elcar-Sandoz)
was the first commercial viral insecticide to be registered for general use
in the United States, but is no longer in production (Ignoffo, 1973;
Podgwaite, 1985). Other NPVs have since been approved, although some are for
use only by the United States Forest Service (USFS-USDA), and several
baculoviruses are now registered with the United States Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) for use as insecticides on a variety of plants
(Podgwaite, 1985). However, considering that more than 1200 cases of viral
infections of insects have been reported and only six viruses are registered
as biocontrol agents (Martignoni and Iwai, 1986a; Podgwaite, 1985), it seems
obvious that there are still substantial problems associated with developing
the vast potential of viral insecticides for biological pest control.
    It is generally accepted by the scientific community that these
insect-specific pathogens are not a threat to non-target species, including
humans (Brusca et al., 1986; Doller, 1985; Groner, 1986; McIntosh and Shamy,
1980; Rice and Miller, 1986). However, as more insect pathogens are
developed as insecticides, the public will likely challenge the safety of
the practice of spreading bacteria and viruses on food crops intended for
human consumption, whether or not these microbes have been genetically
engineered. This is a major barrier to the development of viral
insecticides. For this reason, it is essential to develop basic molecular
models describing the mechanisms of viral pathogenesis, with emphasis on the
specificity of insect viruses, particularly with respect to the nuclear
polyhedrosis viruses (NPVs; Family: Baculoviridae, subgroup A, which are
rapidly being developed as insecticides; Hawtin et al., 1992; Wood and
Granados, 1991), in order to conclusively demonstrate the safety of viral
insecticides as a rational means of biological control.

    The above excerpt was part of the introduction to my doctoral
dissertation, which directly addresses this subject. Anyone interested in
learning about the viruses in question might start their search by reading
my dissertation. It is available in nearly any library in the world.

Individuals posing as scientists claiming to want to protect the environment
from the ravages of the ag-chem business act counter to their cause when
they disseminate false information, such as "Prof. Joe Cummins" has done
here. This is a severe disservice to the public and the environment, as it
presents an unwarranted obstacle to the development of useful biological
controls which could partially replace some of the toxic compounds currently
in use, and it generates unwarranted fears in the public. I abhor such
behavior, and request that you either support your assertions with evidence
from the scientific literature or make a retraction. It is the duty of
scientist to act responsibly regarding such matters of fact.

Thomas T. Aquilla, Ph.D.
Entomologist/Insect Pathologist

Subject: Re: genetically altered corn??
From: (Marty Sachs)
Date: Mar 17 1997
Newsgroups: alt.agriculture.misc,sci.agriculture,sci.environment

In article <>, Torsten Brinch <>

:Tracy Aquilla wrote:
:> In Article <>, Torsten Brinch <>
:> wrote:
:>>Personally I prefer the term gene-tinkered, because it very
:>>precisely describes the situation where a genome has been
:>>purposely changed by a human tinkerer.
:>Whether one chooses the term genetically modified or the term gene-tinkered
:>makes no difference. Virtually every plant and animal used in agriculture
:>today has had its genome "purposely changed by a human".
:No Tracy, it is very easy to distinguish acts of breeding and selection
:from acts of genetical modification. You are destroying language
:and sputtering nonsense.

Well, I simply don't see it except that more modern techniques of breeding
are cleaner and faster than conventional techniques.  How does what you're
calling 'gene-tinkering' differ from conventional breeders introducing a
trait from one genus to another (a wide-cross) except for time and how many
other genes go along for the ride?

For example the 'ht3' gene, which confers resistance to the fungal pathogen
Helminthosporium turcicum, was introduced into maize (Zea mays) from
Tripsacum floridanum.  Subsequent backcrossing with corn and selection for
resistance resulted in maize carrying a gene from another genus.  So
essentially, a gene from Tripsacum was cloned into corn by 'conventional'
breeding methods.  However, it took decades to do and I can guarantee that
hundreds of other Tripsacum genes were introduced into corn at the same
time.  Who knows what ill effects any of them may have.

If this were done by biotechnology methods, only the 'ht3' gene would have
been introduced and the entire process would have taken a few years instead
of decades.  Additionally, it would be far easier to test the new cultivar
for potential problems, because one knows exactly how it differs from the
progenitor cultivar.

In article <>, Torsten Brinch <>

:I think the key point is 'when you take a gene and put it'. This
:IMO qualifies as genetical modification.

How does this differ from what is done in 'conventional breeding'?  How
does this differ from what humans have been doing to domesticated plants
and animals for the past 10,000 years?

Marty Sachs            (217) 244-0864

         Maize Genetics Cooperation - Stock Center
S123 Turner Hall   [stock requests]
1102 S. Goodwin Ave.        (217) 333-6631 [phone]
Urbana, IL  61801-4798      (217) 333-6064 [FAX]

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