Dolphin game-designers

Genetically-altered peas make mice sick

The anti-frankenfoods people have been arguing for years that sooner or later, a genetically modified food would behave in some unexpected and creepy fashion. It looks like researchers have documented the first case of this: A pest-resistant GM pea has been found to make mice sick when they eat it.

Researchers at Australia’s national research organisation, CSIRO, genetically altered a pea so that it expresses a protein — normally found in the common bean — that can kill pea-weevil pests. Normally this protein doesn’t cause any problems when eaten by mice.

But when expressed in the pea, the protein took on some unexpected properties — and when the mice ate it they suffered an allergic reation. Even spookier, as The New Scientist notes …

… the effect was the same whether the protein was taken from raw or cooked peas — so whether the protein was active or denatured. “To my knowledge, this is the first description of inducing experimental inflammation in mice” with a GM food, Foster says.

Because this research was publicly funded, it was published in a peer-reviewed journal. But as one of the researchers pointed out, experiments like this go on all the time in private labs, which virtually never publicize negative results — so who knows how many other experimental genetically-altered foods have caused similar adverse reactions.

(Thanks to Erik Weissengruber for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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