Human Cancer Genes Being Spliced
into Animals & Plants

London Observer 11/24/02: Antony Barnett and Robin McKie
Scientists condemn new gene technique,6903,846528,00.html

Researchers have developed a technique to speed evolution by inserting
human cancer-causing genes into animals and plants.
Hundreds of mutant breeds - which would normally take natur! e millennia
to produce - could be developed in months by the method, known as

But the technique - designed to improve production of new animal and
crop breeds - has shocked many scientists and environmentalists. Some say
the process could result in organisms with human cancer-causing genes being
released into the environment. Others worry that attempts to accelerate
evolution could be dangerous.

However, its creator, the US-based company Morphotek, says it could be
valuable to drug and agriculture companies, making it possible to
isolate highly profitable breeds, drought-resistant plants or milk-rich

Details of the method were passed to The Observer last week by a senior
British researcher working for one of Europe's largest biotech
corporations. Although a keen supporter of GM technology, the scientist
was dismayed to learn about Morphotek's plans after its directors
launched a sa! les tour of Europe.

'I was completely shocked,' he said. 'What would happen if an organism
containing such a dangerous gene escaped? What if a gene got into the
food chain? Some people could suffer fatal reactions.'

The method involves the isolation of a gene involved in repairing DNA.
Some people inherit a version called PMS2-134, which is defective, and
become prone to colon cancer.

Putting this gene into animals, plants and bacteria will destabilise
their DNA and cause them to create many more mutant offspring than normal.
Most mutations will die out, but a greater than usual number will survive,
the company says. Thus the rate of creating new plants that can resist
disease or animals that can metabolise food more effectively will be

'You can see the logic _ but it's like sitting a monkey at a typewriter
and hoping it will write Hamlet one day. It isn't worth the risks,' GM
expert Les Firba! nk of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology said. His
point was backed by geneticist Michael Antoniou, of King's College London.

'It would be cruel to animals and potentially dangerous,' he said.
Friends of the Earth food campaigner Pete Riley said: 'It is amazing
this technology has progressed so far in the US without being challenged.'
But Nicholas Nicolaides, chief executive of Morphotek, said the work
was safe. When a mutant breed with commercial opportunity was found, it
would be simple to breed out the cancer-causing gene, he said, adding: 'We
are not using animals for this process at this time, just mammalian cells.'

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