If you have been figuring that the argument against genetically modified soybeans is more of a philosophical one – get ready for something a little too real. New research has determined that genetically modified soybean plants – and thus GMO soybeans – accumulate formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is a class 1 carcinogen according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The research comes from Cambridge’s International Center for Integrative Systems, led by V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, Ph.D. Dr. Ayyadurai is a biologist trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – also in Cambridge.
This peer-reviewed research was published in multiple scientific journals, including Biomedical and Life Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, and the Journal of Plant Sciences (see below for references and links). Dr. Ayyadurai and associates made their determination using a scientific methodology called CytoSolve. The method was used to analyze no less than 6,497 laboratory studies from 184 scientific institutions – from 23 countries around the world.
The CytoSolve analysis is a system of computer computation that coordinates multiple pathways related to cell metabolism. The analysis combines molecular pathways – how cells conduct metabolism, rendering their effectiveness and major byproducts. The system merges together different cell processes by splitting them up and then combining the results as they proceed in parallel.
This has been referred to in scientific circles as Dynamic Methodology because the process tracks multiple metabolism paths at the same time – rather than simply tracking one at a time.
Dr. Ayyadurai and associates utilized this dynamic model to follow and track a plant metabolic pathway called C1 metabolism. C1 metabolism is the process used by plants to convert carbon dioxide into single-carbon protein building blocks. The C1 pathway also includes the processes of methionine synthesis, methylation and the removal of formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is a prevalent part of our atmosphere now – present in the air and many soils as a result of the burning of carbons and carbon-based manufacturing. One of the major sources of formaldehyde on commercial farms is the use of the herbicide glyphosate – AKA Round-up® (Monsanto).
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How does formaldehyde develop in GMO soy?
Formaldehyde can also be produced through the oxidation of methanol and can appear within the C1 process from tetrahydrofolate (THF) production during the conversion. However, the C1 pathway in normal, healthy plants will typically remove formaldehyde as part of the mechanism.
I’ll restate this for clarity: The C1 pathway in a normal plant also includes a process to eliminate formaldehyde that is both exogenous (from outside the plant) and endogenous (produced within the plant).
This formaldehyde-removal process is damaged within the GMO soybean plant. This is what the research revealed.
Weaker immunity in GMO soy plants
Furthermore, one of the supposed benefits of genetic modification put forth by those that market these seeds is that they produce a stronger plant, better able to endure the elements. This research, in fact, disproved that notion.
The research found that not only do GMO soybean plants accumulate formaldehyde significantly greater than natural soy plants (and formaldehyde is also a toxin to plants): GMO soybean plants also have a dramatic reduction of glutathione.
The reduction of glutathione further reduces the immune strength of the plant. Plants utilize glutathione to help rid the plant of many types of toxins, allowing it to face environmental challenges.
This of course contradicts the proposal that GMO soybean plants are hardier and can better deal with environmental and chemical challenges.
This reality is not new. Evidence published in the Journal Nature Biotechnology revealed that genetic modification may not out-yield non-modified plants.
“The results demand immediate testing along with rigorous scientific standards to assure such testing is objective and replicable. It’s unbelievable such standards for testing do not already exist. The safety of our food supply demands that science deliver such modern scientific standards for approval of GMOs,” stated Dr. Ayyadurai in a press release.
Dr. Ray Seidler, a former EPA Senior Scientist, commented on the importance of the study:
“The discovery reported by Dr. Ayyadurai reveals a new molecular paradigm associated with genetic engineering that will require research to discover why, and how much formaldehyde and glutathione concentration, and what other cellular chemicals relevant to human and animal health, are altered. We need the kinds of standards Dr. Ayyadurai demands to conduct such research. Formaldehyde is a known class1 carcinogen. Its elevated presence in soybeans caused by a common genetic engineering event is alarming and deserves immediate attention and action from the FDA and the Obama administration. Soy is widely grown and consumed in the U.S., including by infants fed baby food products, with 94% of soy grown here being genetically engineered.”
Scientists issue statement demanding new GMO safety standards
As a result of the research a group of scientists issued the following release statement:
Medical Doctors and Scientists Concerning Recent Research
On Systems Biology of GMOs by Ayyadurai & Deonikar, 2015
We have reviewed the manuscript: “Do GMOs Accumulate Formaldehyde and Disrupt Molecular Systems Equilibria? Systems Biology May Provide Answers” (Ayyadurai and Deonikar, 2015), which we understand is based on earlier work by (Deonikar et al., 2015; Kothandaram et al., 2015; Mohan et al., 2015). The methodology in these papers employs a promising computational systems biology approach to model the effects of genetic modification (GM) on critical molecular pathways affecting plant physiology. The computational results suggest substantial difference in concentrations of formaldehyde and glutathione in the genetically engineered soybean (GMO) tissues. These significant changes in key biomarker concentrations could cause deleterious biological impacts. The computational systems biology results reveal how a “small,” single recombinant DNA event may create “large,” unpredictable, systemic perturbations to molecular systems equilibria. In light of such changes, it is clear to say that GMOs and non-GMOS may not always be “substantially equivalent.” This research acknowledges the complexity of biological organisms and indicates how systems biology can enable modeling and prediction of potential unexpected perturbations from GM. These in silico predictions should motivate regulatory agencies, in conjunction with stakeholders from industry and public interest groups, to develop objective Industry Standards for measuring and comparing biomarker concentrations in vitro and in vivo across GMOs and their non-GMO counterparts as criteria for assessing substantial equivalence. Until such Standards are developed for testing, we believe it premature to approve GMOs and to consider them safe.
White House issues GMO safety assessment order
The U.S. government’s current standards for safety assessment of GMOs include a principle called “substantial equivalence.” The researchers above stated that the method is outdated and unscientific for genetically engineered food crops. This is because it was originally developed in the 1970s for assessing medical device safety.
Responding to this, in July the White House ordered the review of GMO regulations and the methodology for assessing safety. The July 2, 2015, order, “Improving Transparency and Ensuring Continued Safety in Biotechnology,” included the following:
• Update the Coordinated Framework by clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the agency and identify which products or product areas each agency is responsible for;
• Develop a long-term strategy to ensure that the agencies are equipped to assess risks associated with future biotechnology products and changing technology; and
• Commission an external, independent analysis of the future landscape of biotechnology to identify potential new risks and risk assessment frameworks and to review areas of risk or non-risk that are well understood.
“Equivalence” assesses only basic nutritional and superficial characteristics such as taste, sight, smell and touch. Assessments that would include independent scientific testing of formaldehyde and glutathione would reveal that GMO soy would not be equivalent to its natural relative.
Dr. Ayyadurai clarified the question is not an emotional one regarding GMOs. It is a scientific assessment:
“This is not a pro- or anti-GMO question. But, are we following the scientific method to ensure the safety of our food supply? Right now, the answer is ‘no’. We need to, and we can, if we engage in open, transparent, and collaborative scientific discourse, based on a systems biology approach.”
Formaldehyde is seriously carcinogenic
Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer since the 1970s. Since then its relevance as a major cancer-causing chemical in tobacco and other consumer products has been widely researched and publicized. It is often found in fertilizers, fuels, fungicides, plastics, textiles, furniture, flooring, pharmaceuticals and other consumer products.
Ayyadurai, V.A.S. and Deonikar, P. (2015) Do GMOs Accumulate Formaldehyde and Disrupt Molecular Systems Equilibria? Systems Biology May Provide Answers. Agricultural Sciences, 6, 630-662. doi: 10.4236/as.2015.67062.
Mohan, M. , Kothandaram, S. , Venugopal, V. , Deonikar, P. and Ayyadurai, V. (2015) Integrative Modeling of Oxidative Stress and C1 Metabolism Reveals Upregulation of Formaldehyde and Downregulation of Glutathione. American Journal of Plant Sciences, 6, 1527-1542. doi: 10.4236/ajps.2015.69152.
Kothandaram, S. , Deonikar, P. , Mohan, M. , Venugopal, V. and Ayyadurai, V. (2015) In Silico Modeling of C1 Metabolism. American Journal of Plant Sciences, 6, 1444-1465. doi: 10.4236/ajps.2015.69144.
Deonikar, P. , Kothandaram, S. , Mohan, M. , Kollin, C. , Konecky, P. , Olovyanniko, R. , Zamore, Z. , Carey, B. and Ayyadurai, V. (2015) Discovery of Key Molecular Pathways of C1 Metabolism and Formaldehyde Detoxification in Maize through a Systematic Bioinformatics Literature Review. Agricultural Sciences, 6, 571-585. doi:10.4236/as.2015.65056.
Shi G. Chavas JP, Lauer J. Commercialized transgenic traits, maize productivity and yield risk. Nature Biotechnology. 2013; 31:02.
Ayyadurai VA, Dewey CF. CytoSolve: A Scalable Computational Method for Dynamic Integration of Multiple Molecular Pathway Models. Cell Mol Bioeng. 2011 Mar;4(1):28-45.
Idfa International Dairy Foods Association. White House Orders Review of GMO Regulations. Jul 08, 2015
PR Newswire. Systems Biology Group, International Center for Integrative Systems: GMO Soy Accumulates Formaldehyde & Disrupts Plant Metabolism, Suggests Peer-Reviewed Study, Calling For 21st Century Safety Standards. July 14, 2015