genes. A feature of GM technology is that it involves the introduction of one or, at most, a few well-defined genes—rather than the introduction of whole genomes or parts of chromosomes as in traditional plant breeding. This makes toxicity testing for transgenic plants more straightforward than it is for conventionally produced plants with new traits, because it is much clearer what the new features are in the modified plant. On the other hand, GM technology can introduce genes from diverse organisms, some of which have little history in the food supply.

Decisions regarding safety should be based on the nature of the product, rather than on the method by which it was modified. It is important to bear in mind that many of the crop plants we use contain natural toxins and allergens. The potential for human toxicity or allergenicity should be kept under scrutiny for any novel proteins produced in plants with the potential to become part of food or feed. Health hazards from food, and how to reduce them, are an issue in all countries, quite apart from any concerns about GM technology.

Since the advent of GM technology, researchers have used antibiotic resistance genes as selective markers for the process of genetic modification. The concern has been raised that the widespread use of such genes in plants could increase the antibiotic resistance of human pathogens. Kanamycin, one of the most commonly used resistance markers for plant transformation, is still used for the treatment of the following human infections: bone, respiratory tract, skin, soft-tissue, and abdominal infections, complicated urinary tract infections, endocarditis, septicemia, and enterococcal infections.

Scientists now have the means to remove these marker genes before a crop plant is developed for commercial use (Zubko et al. 2000). Developers should continue to move rapidly to remove all such markers from transgenic plants and to utilize alternative markers for the selection of new varieties. No definitive evidence exists that these antibiotic resistance genes cause harm to humans,



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement