Entries in Genetically Modified (6)


Genetically Modified Cells Could Prevent Death from HIV/AIDS, Study Finds

(NEW YORK) -- Using genetic modification to treat HIV could create cells that are resistant to the two major types of the virus, preventing it from evolving into AIDS, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Texas at Austin used a method known as targeted trait stacking to paste a series of HIV-resistant genes into T cells — immune cells targeted by the AIDS virus — blocking infection at multiple stages and providing protection against R5-tropic and X4-tropic, the two separate forms of HIV. Any truly useful treatment for HIV would have to protect against both of these forms.

“We inactivated the CCR5 gene, and then introduced 3 additional genes,” Dr. Matthew Porteus, an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford and lead investigator in the study, told ABC News. “When cells had all four of these traits, we found that after 25 days the cells were completely resistant to both types of HIV.”

One of the major obstacles to treating HIV is the high mutation rate of the virus. Patients must use a cocktail mix of drugs, known as Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy (HAART), in order to fight the virus at different stages.

“HIV is a great shape shifter,” said Sara Sawyer, an assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study.  “It can come up with new solutions, so a single drug does not work very well. That’s why HIV patients are given multiple drugs at once.”

Ideally, researchers hope to discover a cocktail of genes, not just drugs.  They informally call it genetic-HAART, and it would bolster a patient’s immune system with HIV-resistant T cells. While other non-resistant cells were being killed by the virus, these supplemented T cells would remain, strengthening the patient’s immune system and serving as an alternative to traditional HIV treatments.

“This method would give people a protected reservoir of T cells that would thwart off immune system collapse, and the secondary infections that give rise to AIDS,” said Sawyer.

The next steps in refining this particular approach to combating HIV/AIDS include finding the right cocktail of genes, and inserting them into T cells from AIDS patients. These modified T cells could then be used in animals to determine whether or not they remain resistant over time. These steps are required by the Food and Drug Administration before it can approve clinical trials, which could take 3-5 years.

“To develop novel therapies you have to be an optimist,” said Porteus. “The findings in this study are a proof of concept; we’ve proven this could work.”

The study was funded by the Foundation for AIDS Research and will be published in the Jan. 29 issue of the journal Molecular Therapy.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Genetically Engineered Salmon Nears FDA Approval

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Genetically engineered salmon could make its way onto plates in the new year, but your body won't notice anything fishy about the filet, experts say.

The Food and Drug Administration has determined genetically engineered salmon won't threaten the environment, clearing it of all but one final hurdle before it shows up on shelves throughout the nation -- and igniting a final 60-day debate before it's officially approved over whether it poses health risks.

Although it's been nicknamed "Frankenfish" by critics, health professionals say they aren't worried the lab-engineered salmon will cause more allergies or other harmful effects than does any other breed of fish.

"The hard science part is that we have been creating [animals] using genes and natural selection for years to genetically predict what kinds of food, animals, and recreational animals and such we have on our planet," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

He cited thoroughbred horses, show dogs and crops as examples of genetically engineered plants and animals dating back centuries.

"When farmer Jones did it in his cornfield to try to get a better crop, it didn't bother people," Schaffner said.  "When scientist Jones did the same thing in a much more sophisticated fashion in a lab, that does bother people."

A biotech company in Massachusetts called AquaBounty created the AquaAdvantage salmon, which is really an Atlantic salmon with an added Pacific salmon gene to make it grow faster and an added eel gene to make it grow year-round.

The end result is a fish that tastes like an Atlantic salmon but grows twice as fast, making it cheaper to produce and sell.  Because the FDA likely won't require a label that says the salmon was genetically modified, consumers won't know the difference.

Schaffner thinks genetically engineered food is one way to help solve world hunger and, as long as the FDA thoroughly reviews it, there shouldn't be a problem.

But Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said he's been disappointed with FDA decisions on genetically modified food since 1992, when the FDA determined it is equivalent to any other food.  He said there's not enough science to allow AquaAdvantage onto our dinner plates, but the biotech industry has had so much influence in Congress that it's been impossible to stop it.

"Now this latest action by the FDA somehow determined that the salmon is safe -- safe for who?" Kucinich asked.  "Safe for the investors?"

Kucinich has introduced legislation related to genetically modified food and labeling in every Congress since 1997, but it has never passed.  He said Monsanto, the $2 billion company that produces genetically modified seed and pesticides, is partially to blame because it has so much money and influence.

AquaBounty, the biotech firm that makes AquaAdvantage, contributed less than $150,000 toward lobbying Congress over the last three years, according to campaign finance records available on  In contrast, Monsanto spent more than $19 million lobbying over the same time period.

Kucinich said the AquaAdvantage issue is a complex one, and worries whether the genetically altered fish will hurt naturally occurring wild fish populations by overfeeding, because they grow twice as fast as their naturally occurring relatives.  However, the most recent FDA finding showed that this is not a concern because the fish are mostly sterile and not expected to escape their man-made farms.

The eggs will be made in a lab on Prince Edward Island and the fish will be harvested in Panama, according to a May AquaBounty report published by the FDA last week.  Although the study said the fish pose no environmental risk, it noted that up to five percent of the fish could be fertile, even though they're engineered to be sterile females.

There's also some concern that the fish could cause more food allergies, bloggers and activists have said.  But Steve Taylor, a food science and technology professor at the University of Nebraska, said it's unlikely.

People allergic to fish are allergic to a protein called parvalbumin, which is required for fish muscle function, Taylor said, adding that because being allergic to fish means being allergic to all fish, it's unlikely that the AquaAdvantage fish would be any different: people allergic to the fish protein will also to be allergic to AquaAdvantage.

"The only thing you need to worry about with genetically modified food is that there is a novel protein that's not present in other forms of salmon," he said.  "Does that unique protein have an allergenic potential?  With the salmon, that's not a concern because that's what they looked at very carefully."

But Patty Lovera, the assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit food activism group, said the testing has been largely conducted by AquaBounty, the company behind the genetically engineered fish, and that testing has only been reviewed by the FDA, which she said isn't good enough.  She thinks the FDA should conduct its own studies because she is concerned that engineering across species will create an unforeseen mutation that could be harmful to consumers.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Genetically Modified Fish a Threat to Natural Species?

Artist's Rendering. iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A species of bright neon green pet fish that were created by scientists could threaten native fish species off of Florida’s coasts, according to scientists.

The Electric Green Tetra, part of a line of GloFish created by scientists at Yorktown Technologies, was created when black tetra fish were combined with genetic material from coral, according to a report in today’s Washington Post. The report raises the possibility that the fish could be damaging to other species if let loose in American waters.

The fish, which becomes fluorescent when placed under a black light, was developed for use in home aquariums, according to the GloFish website.

But some biologists and food scientists, like those at the Center for Food Safety, are worried the fish will make it into the wild and disrupt natural biodiversity.

“We feel that the use of GE [genetic engineering] for wild animals — and these are essentially wild animals, they are not domesticated, they’re wild, they can escape, people throw them back into the wild — can have long-running impacts that can be pretty scary. GE invasive species have caused a lot of problems in this country. We want to be careful about contributing to those issues,” CFS attorney Peter Jenkins told ABC News today.

GloFish were the subject of a lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004. The CFS argued that the genetically-modified fish should be regulated by the government, Jenkins said.

Yorktown Technologies, maker of the fish, argues that the green fish would not become an invasive species if released into the wild.

“We have submitted detailed information regarding our fish to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration… (The FDA) found no evidence that our fluorescent fish pose any more threat to the environment than their non-fluorescent counterparts,” Yorktown’s website for GloFish reads.

Jenkins said that he hopes the FDA will take note of the Washington Post report on GloFish, in addition to websites like, which promotes the consumption of GloFish in order to raise awareness that they are dangerous.

“We think regulatory agencies aren’t doing their job,” Jenkins said today. “GE fish are generally banned entirely for pet use in Canada, California, and Europe, so the FDA seems to be taking a very hands-off approach.”

The FDA said in an email that GloFish are the only genetically engineered product sold commercially in the United States, and that they are not intended as a food product.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Gene Altering Lotion May Treat Skin Diseases

Comstock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Imagine a lotion that can treat irreversible genetic skin diseases like psoriasis or life-threatening skin cancers like melanoma.

Researchers at Northwestern University say they're another step closer to creating a treatment that will naturally slip through the skin and genetically alter cells to treat a particular skin disease.

Using creams and lotions to target a particular problem area is seen as a great advantage among many dermatologists in treating a localized skin problem.

"We like to treat skin diseases with topical creams so that we avoid side effects from treatments taken by mouth or injected," said Dr. Amy Paller, chair of dermatology and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

But the difficulty among researchers has been creating a gene-altering topical agent that can successfully penetrate the skin to specifically treat genetic skin diseases.

"The problem is that our skin is a formidable barrier," Paller said.  "Genetic material can't get through the skin through regular means."

Using nanotechnology, the researchers packaged gene-altering structures on top of tiny particles of gold designed to target epidermal growth factor receptor, a genetic marker associated with many types of skin cancers.  The structure is designed to sneak through the skin and latch onto targets underneath without eliciting an immune response.

The researchers mixed the structure into the ointment Aquaphor, which is commonly used among many patients who have dry skin or irritation.

The researchers then rubbed the ointment onto the mice and onto human skin tissue and saw that the gene-altering structure in the lotion successfully penetrated the skin and was able to shut down the potentially cancer-causing protein, according to the findings published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The preliminary study is regarded as the first to deliver topical gene therapy effectively with no toxic effects.

But even with no documented side effects found in the study, nanotechnology treatments, especially those that rely on gold particles, can potentially cause problems in the body in the long term, according to Dr. Mark Abdelmalek, chief of the division of laser and dermatologic surgery at Drexel University School of Medicine.

"It's naive to expect that putting something like this in the body would have absolutely no side effects," he said.

Another unknown is whether the approach will work on humans, and what the long term effects may be, he said.

"It is temporarily changing the protein while the structure is in contact with the cells, but it doesn't permanently change the genetic defect," Abdelmalek said.  "This is all brand new and exciting, but there's still many things we just don't know."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Organic Milk -- Are You Getting What You Pay For?

Creatas/Thinkstock (WASHINGTON) -- The USDA’s inspector general has released a new report raising questions about whether paying $7 per gallon for organic milk is buying you a drink that’s completely free of the chemicals and genetically modified material that may be in plain old milk.

It’s not that investigators found traces of prohibited genetically modified material in organic milk. They did not.

What they did find is that the agents who certify which milks can carry the “USDA Organic” label aren’t looking for it. If they looked and found GM material, that would mean the organic cows were eating the same sort of feed that is allowed to be fed to all the rest of the cows.

Also, the tankers that transport organic milk are sterilized with the same FDA-approved sanitizers that are used for regular milk.

“So there is a risk that organic milk can come into contact with prohibited substances as it is being transported,” the report says.

The IG also noted organic certifying agents have been tipping off farmers before inspections.

Click here to read the full IG report.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Critics: USDA Deregulation of Mutant Alfalfa Threatens Organic Foods

Alfalfa field. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The nation's organic farmers are sounding the alarm after an Obama administration decision they say could destroy their supply chains and drastically limit the choices and availability of some popular consumer foods.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided last week to allow the widespread, unregulated use of genetically modified alfalfa, commonly known as hay, which is the primary feed for dairy cows and beef cattle across the country.

Opponents argue that the mutant crops, engineered to survive by being sprayed with insecticide, could escape from their fields and eventually cross-pollinate with and contaminate neighboring organic crops.  That could mean less organic feed for the organic cows that produce a range of organic products.

"Consumers don't eat [genetically modified] alfalfa, of course," said Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, which examines the U.S. farming and food industry.  "But it's the main feed for dairy cows.  And organic milk, one of the most successful and popular organic foods, could be compromised if the organic cows eat non-organic feed."

Some environmental experts are also concerned that broader planting of herbicide-resistant crops, which are then doused with powerful chemicals, could expedite the spread of "superweeds," which are herbicide-resistant pests that force farmers to potentially use more toxic substances to root them out.

"This is a bad solution to a nonexistent problem," said Pollan, who noted more than 90 percent of alfalfa crops are grown without an herbicide.

Many organic farming advocates speculate that the new Roundup-ready alfalfa is an attempt by the crop's commercial producers -- Monsanto and Forage Genetics International -- to dominate the market and increase profits.

But Monsanto, the nation's leading producer of genetically modified seeds and popular herbicide Roundup, said Roundup-ready alfalfa has been welcomed by many farmers because it yields "healthier, faster-growing stands [plantings] and hay with fewer weeds in every bale."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio