by: Ethan A. Huff
The Monsanto company has forged a new partnership with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company whose primary focus seems to be on figuring out how to best crack the genetic code so as to manipulate the way genes inherently express themselves.
And based on the agreement the two companies have made publicly with one another, it appears as though Monsanto is planning to utilize Alnylam’s proprietary gene-silencing technologies in its emerging agricultural pursuits, which will likely spawn a whole new category of problems for humanity and the planet at large.
In a recent press release, Monsanto disclosed that it has officially obtained “worldwide, exclusive rights” to use Alnylam’s platform technology and intellectual property (IP) in its own agricultural products, and particularly in its new “BioDirect” line of products designed to treat seeds and crops with what the company has dubbed “biopesticides” (http://www.monsanto.com/products/Pages/biodirect-ag-biologicals.aspx). Monsanto apparently sees something exceptionally valuable in Alnylam’s technologies that it does not currently possess, and is now seeking to leverage it for the purpose of expanding its own market share. But what is it?
Monsanto wants to turn food crops into gene-altering ‘drugs’
In a nutshell, Alnylam specializes in a technology known as RNA interference (RNAi) that involves deliberately silencing the expression of genes throughout the body for the purpose of preventing the production of proteins that some scientists believe are responsible for causing disease. By artificially blocking production of these proteins, RNAitechnology is believed to have the potential to effectively block the development of disease, which is why many major drug companies have also signed on as strategic partners with Alnylam.
But Monsanto is an agricultural company, not a pharmaceutical company, which begs the obvious question as to why this multinational company has suddenly decided to shell out nearly $30 million with promises of perpetual royalty payments to gain access to this emerging technology. As it turns out, Monsanto has plans to roll out all sorts of new genetically-modified (GM) crops, crop pesticides and herbicides, and various other technologies with built-in RNAi modifications, which could turn future GM food crops into “drugs.”
Many modern varieties of wheat, for instance, are problematic for people with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease because they produce unnaturally high levels of a wheat protein known as gluten. By integrating genetic changes using RNAi; however, companies like Monsanto could theoretically produce a GM wheat variety that does not contain any gluten at all, which they could then market as the solution to gluten insensitivity.
Modifying food crops with RNAi is unsafe, unpredictable
But such experimental gene-tampering is already taking place elsewhere, and it is proving to be a complete failure. In Australia, for instance, field trials of a novel variety of GM wheat with RNAi alterations have been disastrous, as the modified gene expressions in the wheat are also modifying human genes in the liver. Researchers are now warning that human children who eat this GM wheat could actually die before reaching the age of five.
A paper compiled by Greenpeace about the same strains of RNAi-modified wheat explain that RNAi modifications in general “are prone to unexpected and unpredictable effects that have not been considered in the risk assessments done by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.” The paper goes on to explain that releasing RNAi-modified crops “poses severe, and potentially irreversible, risks to the environment and human and animal health.”
Many foods contain natural gene regulators, and modifying them could change the entire human genome
Researchers from Nanjing University in China recently conducted an unrelated study that found gene-altering properties in regular, non-GMO rice. It turns out that certain plant-based foods, or perhaps all of them, contain unique properties that naturally turn genes on or off throughout the body when ingested, depending on these foods’ various nutritive functions. (http://www.theatlantic.com)
Synthetically altering these functions in the form of RNAi-modified GM crops, in other words, could result in disastrous consequences as the entire human genome is thrown off balance. As Ari Levaux from The Atlantic puts it, the discovery of food’s natural gene-altering capacities illustrates how GM foods, and particularly those that have been RNAi-modified, “could influence human health in previously unanticipated ways.”
In other words, Monsanto’s latest endeavors involve tampering with plants at their most elemental level, which will in turn tamper with humans at their most elemental level as well. Sure, Monsanto has been inserting, removing, and splicing the genes of plants for decades; but RNAi modifications involve essentially reprogramming the way plants express their genes, which is uncharted territory as far as the consequences to the environment and humanity are concerned.