Genetic engineering (GE) changes the genetic make up of an organism by adding, removing, inhibiting, exchanging or relocating genes or DNA sequences. The DNA sequence used to produce a genetically modified organism (GMO) may be sourced from the same species, a completely unrelated species or may be assembled from synthetic DNA.
Numerous studies have focused on the intended traits and functions associated with particular gene sequences, also covering the performance of GMOs with regards to the introduced trait, for example herbicide tolerant maize. Econexus focuses on the unintended, unpredictable or unexpected changes that take place and has examined the technologies used in GE and the unintended effects these have on the genome.
In a detailed report about Genome Scrambling, EcoNexus examined the numerous mutations in GM crop plants caused by the transformation processes themselves. The report analysed the scientific literature on the two most frequently used plant transformation methods (Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and ‘particle bombardment’ or ‘gene gun’). The results are also published in BGER, - Analysis and biosafety implications– and are also summarised in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology - The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation.
The transgenic inserts engineered into plants come with intrinsic risks. Just like normal genes, transgenic inserts need to be activated. For this they require a promoter sequence. In most GM plants this sequence has for many years been the same strong CaMV 35S promoter (derived from the cauliflower mosaic virus). It was introduced without an appropriate risk assessment. A number of pure assumptions were also made about how it would behave. However, the notion that the viral CaMV 35S promoter would only be active in plant cells, but not in bacteria, fungi, mammalian or human cells has by now been proven wrong, but the potential consequences are still not sufficiently assessed.
EcoNexus also studied horizontal gene transfer, such as transfer of the transgenes from the plant to other organisms, for example the horizontal gene transfer of viral inserts from GM plants to viruses.