Rice Containing Human Genes Approved By The USDA

From BoingBoing:

For the first time, the USDA has granted preliminary approval for large-scale planting of an engineered food crop that contains human genes.

The rice from California-based “pharming” firm Ventria Bioscience was designed to synthesize a human immune protein. The crop will soon be cultivated on 3,000 acres of land in Kansas, if the USDA finalizes its approval after a public comment period that ends March 30.

To participate in the public comment period, click here and search for Docket No. APHIS- 2007-0006. Click “add comments.”

Science! —MEGHANN MARCO

Rice Containing Human Genes Approved By USDA [BoingBoing]
(Photo:megabn)

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  1. TedSez says:

    It’s people! Ricelent Green is made out of people!

  2. ikarl67 says:

    Rice Is PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!

  3. capnfive says:

    The rice isn’t for human consumption as food; an important item of the story.

    That being said, this still makes me nervous. Despite the promises of tight control over the crops and the fact that no commercial rice is grown in Kansas, 3,000 acres seems like a whole lot of rice seeds to keep track of (if they’re going to keep this from contaminating the human foodchain).

  4. critical_matt says:

    @TedSez: If I owned that farm I would pay Charlton Heston anything to make that commerial.

  5. royal72 says:

    lol, damn it tedsez you beat me to it!

  6. Skylar says:

    Damn, beaten several times over.

  7. It’d be a shame if the world’s first superpowered hero was “Rice Man”.

  8. QuirkyRachel says:

    haha, the same thought came to my head. But just for the record, “Soylent Green is….”

    I dunno though, I’m still thinking about eating people, even though I know it’s on a molecular scale….

  9. valkin says:

    It will cross pollinate, just like GMO rice found it’s way into non-GMO rice and no one involved knew how. These plants live to reproduce. It will find a way to “spread its seed.”

    Bad, bad idea.

  10. John says:

    Hunh, I thought this was going be about our Secretary of State….

  11. lincolnparadox says:


    People get all pissy when it comes to GMOs. Here are the facts, make your own decisions.

    Ventria Bioscience uses rice and barley because they self-fertilize. That means that pollen cannot mix with non-GMO plants.

    Ventria’s top two products are lactoferrin and lysozyme. These are two innate immune proteins made by the body as topical antibiotics. They’re on your skin, in your nose, on your eyeballs. They kill germs on contact, but do no harm to you. Ventria then sells these proteins to be put in cell culture medium, into food, topical antibiotics and baby rehydration products. Basically, products that people eat or rub on their skin.

    APHIS guidelines prevent GMO products from ever coming in contact with other plants, people or animals. Sure, there have been some mistakes (such as StarLink Corn being put into tacos), but the way biological control is designed is to only choose proteins that effect insects/pests. They won’t put poison into food. Ever.

    In short, Ventria is growing GMO rice in a rice-free state to produce recombinant food and medical additives. Them’s the facts.

  12. skittlbrau says:

    I for one am amazed you can grow rice in Kansas.

  13. Mr. Gunn says:

    lincolnparadox: Thanks for that information.

    The “Oh NOES!! TEH RICE IS PEOPLEZ!!1!” crowd doesn’t care, of course. They’ve decided it’s bad, and that’s that. No mere fact will change their mind.

  14. formergr says:

    @lincolnparadox: Thanks lincolnparadox– but couldn’t resistant strains of bacteria develop from adding the lactoferrin and lysozyme to all these places? I know they are naturally on our skin, but they are not naturally in food sources, and all these other environments…

  15. ACurmudgeon says:

    @lincolnparadox: Thanks. There is always so much FUD whenever GM products come up, anyone who can help dispel it gets my thanks.

  16. mattshu says:

    The people who see the headline and, without any basis, think this is the worst thing ever are similar in my mind to one Mr. Cruise saying,”You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do.”

  17. “I for one am amazed you can grow rice in Kansas.”

    Prairie’s soaking fucking wet most of the year. It has to be artificially drained to grow most anything on it.

    Although I expect they have to irrigate heavily in July and August, when the prairie dries out entirely.

  18. YodaYid says:

    @lincolnparadox: Your logic only works if you ignore the highly dynamic and often unpredictable nature of life. There’s a LOT of rice being planted, and sooner or later, one of the crops is going to mutate in exactly the wrong way, and it’s going to be a problem. The genes may be designed to be harmless, but there’s no guarantee they will stay that way. As far as I’m concerned, the risks outweigh the benefits here. Sometimes FUD is good.

  19. major disaster says:

    formergr: Actually, lactoferrin is produced in breast milk, so it is in fact found naturally in a food source.

  20. xenth says:

    Perhaps its the geek in me, but I look forward to seeing what scientists can come up with. If they can make this stuff work without side effects then more power to them.

  21. “Ventria Bioscience uses rice and barley because they self-fertilize. That means that pollen cannot mix with non-GMO plants.”

    That was supposed to be true of Monsanto’s “sterile” GMO corn. Took the corn hardly any time at all to start having corn sex, and with non-GMO corn, thus infecting non-GMO fields and creating thousands of acres of unsalable corn at millions of dollars of expense to private farmers. (And then Monsanto sued them for violating Monsanto’s patent by not paying Monsanto FOR THE POLLEN THAT BLEW ON THEIR FIELDS FROM GM CORN THAT WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ABLE TO POLLENATE that made their crops worthless.)

    A lot of these GM companies operate with a great deal of arrogance about their own powers to contain GM plants. It may well be a good thing to make rice make additives. Almost all food we eat is “genetically modified,” although usually in the more traditional methods of crossbreeding, selection, and hybridization, not direct genetic manipulation. I’m not against GM foods per se.

    But I’m hugely against companies inflicting these on our planet without our (as a society’s) consent. And any GM food that relies on the promise of “it won’t reproduce with anything but itself/can’t transmit the genes/etc.” should NOT be grown out of doors. So far, that has not been true once. They all eventually overcome the safeguards to keep the GM plants from having plant sex with the non-GM plants.

  22. Citron says:

    @formergr: If I remember my biology, Lysozomes destroy bacteria by coming up to them and “eating” them, which is different than say, an antiseptic — which kills bacteria by poisoning them. I don’t know how an organism can be selected for being resistant to digestion, but I’m sure it’s possible.

    If you engineer a bacterium to synthesize a human protein, is it really still a human protein? Ergo, isn’t it just a (weird) rice protein now? I mean, everything is made out of the same DNA whether you’re a rice plant or a person . . . so . . .

    Bleh, whatever. I don’t want to eat it because I don’t trust the FDA to keep anyone safe from much of anything. But if it’s not for eating, than whatever. I hope they grow it in greenhouses.

  23. Falconfire says:

    But I’m hugely against companies inflicting these on our planet without our (as a society’s) consent. And any GM food that relies on the promise of “it won’t reproduce with anything but itself/can’t transmit the genes/etc.” should NOT be grown out of doors. So far, that has not been true once. They all eventually overcome the safeguards to keep the GM plants from having plant sex with the non-GM plants.

    You make a interesting point, but where do you draw the line. While not genetic engineering at a DNA level, we have been “genetically” engeneering corn for centuries now. Corn as we eat it today was genetically produced from a product that was not capable of being eaten by indians well before even the Vikings made it to America.

    Why is this any different?

  24. gardencat says:

    “We eat what we are”, instead of “we are what we eat.”

  25. Keter says:

    Top of the food chain…and poisoning every bit of it. Way to go, human race.

  26. cofosho says:

    GMO’s are an interesting topic in looking a genetic ethics. If you know the science behind such things, it either gets a whole lot less scary or a whole lot more scary.

    Less scary: a certain bacterium (say a non-dangerous E. coli strain) has a gene that creates an antibiotic inserted into its genome. A researcher cultures the bacterium (actually probably thousands) into billions in a matter of a few hours. Those bacteria, when cultured properly, produce the antibiotic en masse. The bacteria never leave the lab… or factory… or whatever because they can’t grow on a non-enriched medium made especially for them.

    More scary: this rice breeds pollinates rice we eat and we start unknowingly consuming ingestible antibiotics… or topical antibiotics… I don’t know which is worse. Plants allow for mutations to be passed on rapidly relative to organisms like people and bunnies.

    Less scary: technically, with the dawn of agriculture, we started making GMO’s. Wheat is a product of at least three strains of grass, selective breeding and at least one hybrid cross. Plants called polyploids are formed from the gametes of two different plants, say a radish and a cabbage. The resulting cell gives rise to a sterile plant which through a very improbable mechanism gives one viable seed in 3,000. That seed gives rise to another viable species… the rabbage. Unfortunately the rabbage had the roots of a cabbage and the leaves of a radish. :(

    Scary as SHITE: in a few years, anyone with a decent chunk of change can buy the tools and biochemicals necessary to create a cell from scratch. That can mean good things like engineering cells for gene therapy. That can mean VERY bad things like making super-viruses.

  27. “While not genetic engineering at a DNA level, we have been “genetically” engeneering corn for centuries now. Corn as we eat it today was genetically produced from a product that was not capable of being eaten by indians well before even the Vikings made it to America. Why is this any different?”

    I actually made that point in my post, that as we have been “genetically modifying” food forever, with hybrids and crossbreeding and whatnot, I’m not against genetically modified food PER SE.

    The primary difference between “traditional” methods of modifying foods and modern methods involving laboratory genetic manipulation is that very rarely does a traditional crossbreed go berserk and screw with entire ecosystems or unleash an undesireable characteristic on the entire supply of that crop. Whereas with laboratory GM food crops, that has already happened several times.

    Monsanto admits one of their GM corn crops will ensure that parasitic insects controlled for millennia by naturally-occurring Bt bacteria (and since 1961 by Bt you can apply) will no longer be controlled by Bt, probably within 15 years, because Monsanto’s use of the Bt genes in the corn is rapidly evolving insects immune to Bt. This “unnatural” evolution will cause crop failure for subsistence and traditional farmers worldwide who can’t afford to buy Monsanto’s latest GM crop.

    What gives Monsanto the right to decide for six billion people that part of our natural heritage and ecosystem should be removed from our use entirely for a couple hundred million dollars in profit for Monsanto?

    THAT is where I draw the line on GM plants, and the real problem is that while plants that are bred up in traditional fashion allow the ecosystem to reach a “new normal” (because bugs and bacteria and virii have many more generations per year than plants), created GM plants unleash instability on the environment that usually results in unanticipated (and possibly unanticipatable) catastrophe. Or, in the case of Monsanto’s Bt corn, DELIBERATE catastrophe with massive implications for our worldwide food supply.

    Truthfully, GM crops are not really any different than the sudden introduction of insects or pathogens into an environment not evolved to cope with them — the Dutch Elm Disease from Asia devastating the entire continent’s elm trees. The Asian Longhorn Beetle. The Emerald Ash Borer, which within 20 years or so will probably have destroyed the entire ash population of the North American continent (just like Dutch Elm). The Eurasian Gypsy Moth, which may destroy entire species of commercially important hardwood trees in the US and Canada. Or even those Asian Carp in the Illinois/Mississippi river system that’s busy outcompeting everything else in the ecosystem.

    Given the massive economic and environmental dislocations caused by the accidental introduction of exotic species into an environment that hasn’t evolved to deal with them, WHY ON EARTH would we do that ON PURPOSE?

  28. nosmokes says:

    no one honestly believes that APHIS is in any way effective do they? i guess they are, about like Brownie’s FEMA was during Katrina… suposedly the point of this rice is make an anti-diarrhea med for infants and children in dveloping nations but this is one helluva pricey way to go about it, when the real long term solution would be to supply the means and wherewithal to ensure clean drinking water and effective sewerage facilities. it ain’t rocket sscience. or even biogenetics, more to the point.

    in response to Eyebrows McGee, there is a whole world of difference between selectice breeding and hybridization and transpsecies genetic manipulation. For instance, withe the Bt GMOs new research is finding out thatthe crops are much more extractive than their nonGM counterparts and they have a very negative effect on the rhizophere, killing lots of necessary and vital microbes in the soil. Also, unlike when the Bt is applied topically via spray, when it is incorporated into the plant as part ofit being a GMO, there is no way to control how much Bt the plant produces. So while normally Bt is not harmful to mammals, Bt cotton is believed to be esponsible for the deaths (and rather horrific deaths at that) of some 1100 – 1200 sheep and goats and a few head of cattle in a couple of different provinces in India.