Friday, June 19, 2015

Goofy GMO Deception

Conflating  insulin & chymosin (in cheese) to plant GMO is pseudoscience


Few things are quite as woo-licious as conflating completely unrelated things. We all know Monsanto's Uncle Robb loves him some chicanery, but when Uncle Robb says different things are the same, the faithful media lapdogs repeat the myth no matter how ludicrous it is.

On account of this, Chipotle was excoriated and dubbed anti-science, ostensibly because the restaurant chain failed to disclose the use of genetically engineered chymosin- an enzyme used to curdle milk in cheese making- when it announced it was removing GMOs recently.

The tidal wave of abuse, as Alternet put it, was simply spectacular. Similarly, the state of Vermont was labeled anti-science for failing to label chymosin. But when you scratch the surface of this cheesy kerfuffle, even if it sounds counter-intuitive, Chipotle is scientifically correct to call its cheese "GMO-free"-- even if, and in spite of- it being genetically engineered, as is the state of Vermont.

The effort to blur the differences between products of genetic modification of simple, one-celled organisms and GMO plants -the *organisms* - started awhile before the Chipotle fracas. Here you see the conflation of GMO corn with chymosin in the context of the labeling debate in Vermont.

And if  "communicators" of this unscientifically distorted message confined it to social media,  I might have overlooked it. But.... the goofballs made it personal when they took their woo-show on the road to my alma mater.
I love UC Davis, and am proud of the education I got there...indeed,  I credit what little success I've achieved to U.C Davis' high educational standards.

So, it troubled me to see UCD  students who incur astronomical debt--for what should be independent science-based education--deceived by industry tainted pseudoscientific frauds.

Amazingly, everyone misses that one of the three things on the poster is nothing like the other two, even though the two on the left are microscopic bacteria....while the third is a large plant plainly visible to the naked eye.
The bacteria ( or yeast) on the left are modified by near-surgical precision to produce proteins-  insulin and chymosin--while the one on the right is a plant whose "engineering" is akin to a blindfolded Goofy playing darts with transgenes.   I'll delve into this a little more in the second installment.

But, first, let's get some genetic engineering basics out of the way to help you picture how DNA is cut by restriction enzymes and ferried into cells using plasmids. Plasmids are DNA rings bacteria use to pass antibiotic resistance to each other, which serve as fundamental transformation vectors. They are sort of like parasitic genes replicating autonomously in bacteria ( and in some genetically engineered yeast)--without integration into the organism's genome, and thus without genomic disruption.
It matters because plant genomes- the genetic blueprints- are orders of magnitude larger and more complex compared to bacteria or yeast.

Plant transformation always involves transgene insertion into the plants' genome and consequently causes genetic disruption at the site of insertion as well as distant to the insertion sites.

Please watch and imagine the purple frog DNA is DNA that codes for insulin or chymosin.

...for now, let us count the ways insulin and chymosin are nothing like GMO plants



  1. Every bottle is labeled as recombinant DNA (rDNA)....No one is sneaking it into our bodies.
  2. Administered under doctors directions and supervision with informed consent
  3. Like all medical therapeutics underwent clinical trials
  4. The amino acid (protein building block) sequence is known and is precisely controlled. Humulin insulin, for example,  is 100% identical to pancreatic, while other types have been modified to alter insulin's properties-but intentionally.
  5. Like all drugs, adverse reactions are traceable and reported to the companies
  6. We are not exposed to the organism in which insulin is made. The E.coli bacteria (GMO itself) in which insulin is produced is killed and discarded when its product- insulin- is purified. 
  7. Insulin is an enzyme, a single protein--not an entire plant made up of thousands of different proteins, minerals, fatty acids, potential allergens or toxins.
  8. Insulin doesn't get out in the world reproducing spontaneously and  contaminating other insulins resulting in loss of certification or markets for competitors
  9. People who don't need or want insulin aren't forced to have it.


    A longish explainer on chymosin- the protein/ enzyme from rennet used in cheesemaking is here
    Now, let's count the ways chymosin is different from the soybean oil producing plant on the right....

  • First of all saying that a plant built of thousands of proteins, minerals, fatty acids, metabolites, potential toxins and allergens is just like a single protein is akin to saying a brick-house and brick, it's built with, are the same thing. Or that a cow (Organism) and its milk (product) are the same. Absurd!
  • The very first producer of chymosin (Pfizer) showed that genetically engineered chymosin has the same structure and function as calf-derived chymosin. The enzyme is identical to the chymosin from the animal. We can't say that about GMO plant. In fact, we know too little about these plants because sophisticated metabolite and protein tests are not required and are not published, but many independent tests detect dramatic differences between transformed plants and their parents- including expression of hidden allergens. 
  • Cheese is NOT made using the organism (GMO) but rather its product, a protein the enzyme- chymosin. Consequently, ALL cheeses on sale are in fact 'GMO organism free'.  Like all enzymes, it is required in small amounts, and since proteins are unstable, it degrades as the cheese matures. If chymosin remained active for too long, it would adversely affect the cheese by degrading the milk proteins too much. So, we don't just never eat the organism (GMO), in the end, we don't even eat the chymosin either. But when we eat GMO plants we eat the whole bloody organism-the GMO, not a ghost of protein. All of this means that Chipotle is correct not to worry about how its cheese is made and that it is entirely scientific for Vermont not to label it.
  • We do not know the exact structure of the oil depicted by Kevin in his goofy poster- whether it's healthy or not- because there aren't any studies showing that. But even if the oil is healthy, lifting the oil out of the GMO and forgetting the GMO itself is deceptive, because once the oil is extracted the plant, the actual GMO- is fed to animals in the form of soybean meal. Similarly, although the sugar molecule from a genetically modified beet is identical to sugar from a non-engineered plant, the GMO in the form of beet pulp is fed to pets, while Kevin omits that fact as well. And I know that he knows better!  

Hypocrisy, indeed. 


1. Uncle Robb's credible science source:

2. The tobacco-peddling Dr. Gilbert Ross was one of the attackers of Dr. Oz, along with his radioactive comrades, including Henry I Miller. I infer from this that Dr. Oz is stepping on the right toes:)

3. On Chipotle's and Big Food Mafia 

4. It turns out  UC Davis put on the #IFAL2015  meeting and paid journalists to attend their junket funded by BIO, a Chemical Corporate industry trade group. Hopefully, students weren't fooled by this industrial charade.
5. Blow-back for our science advocacy for science literacy, animal, and  pubic health.