From the company that brought you plastics and rubber (DuPont) comes a genetically modified soybean that is altered to exhibit alleged health benefits. “Plenish,” as DuPont’s GM soy is called, is said to contain more oleic acid – a monounsaturated fatty acid – than other soybeans while its portion of saturated fatty acids is said to have been reduced by roughly 20%. According to the company’s press release, the genetic modification significantly increases the stability of the oil and provides greater flexibility in food applications, and yields a product with zero trans fat.
DuPont is banking on the success of this new development because rather than splicing a bacterial gene into the crop, as is the case with most biotech crops currently on the market, DuPont “silenced” the expression of a gene in the fatty acid pathways of the soybean seeds.
And on June 8, 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture deregulated Plenish, which means that the crop is approved for cultivation and commercialization. It has already been approved for such purposes in Mexico and Canada, and has been previously given the go-ahead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2009. Although DuPont is said to continue testing the crop and the oil this year, both are planned to be ready for global use by 2012.
It is highly debatable, however, whether “silencing” of genes is any safer than splicing bacterial genes from a foreign entity and inserting the DNA into the host. It may make for a better PR message as, arguably, there is a less of knee-jerk reaction to “silencing” of genes than to having a salmon gene inserted into a tomato, but safety concerns still remain. Those concerns are not blunted by whether the source material comes from the same species or another. Professor Jack Heineman, for example, likens the process of genetic engineering to cutting a few sentences out of a magazine and inserting them randomly into a book.
Most of the time the resulting pages makes no sense. Occasionally they do, but we don’t always know all of the resulting changes. It doesn’t matter whether the inserted words are from the same book or a magazine; the context of the words has changes sufficiently to make the results uncertain. …
For that reason Prof. Heineman rejects any notion that manipulating the DNA make-up of a species, such as by silencing of genes, be treated any differently than genetic manipulation which occurs when genes from a foreign species are inserted into the host.