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December 15, 2011
Genetically Modified Medicinal Plants On The Horizon To Create More Dangerous Drugs


Scientists are about to embark on another dangerous expedition with genetically modified technology--this time one that would directly benefit big pharma. They are about to make publicly available data on the genetic blueprint of medicinal plants so that their beneficial properties and genes are identified for drug research.

Everything in the world that is edible or consumable food product is currently be genetically modified by scientists who have absolutely no foresight or studies on the long-term damage and consequences that may occur from their development and use.

The resources follow a $6 million initiative to study how plant genes contribute to producing various chemical compounds so they may be manipulated for the biotech industry.

"Our major goal has been to capture the genetic blueprints of medicinal plants for the advancement of drug discovery and development," said Joe Chappell, professor of plant biochemistry in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and coordinator for the Medicinal Plant Consortium (MPC).

Project partner Dr Sarah O'Connor at the John Innes Centre will now work with her research group towards the first full genetic sequence of a medicinal plant and will also experiment with genetically modifying properties from different plants to create the first new-to-nature compounds derived from plants. A priority focus will be compounds which could be used to develop anticancer drugs.

"Fewer and fewer new drugs have been successfully making it to the marketplace over the last 10 years, in large part because of a reliance on chemical synthesis for making new chemicals," said Chappell.

Some well-known medicines that fail a large percentage of their users come from plants. The reason they fail is because the chemical structure of the substances are forever changed and the body treats the new substance as foreign, essentially damaging Mother Nature's delicate balance. For example the once ubiquitous foxglove gives us the cardiac muscle stimulant digoxin. However, ingested digoxin can cause heart block, rapid heartbeat, slow heart rate and disturbances in heart rhythm. The periwinkle plant offers a source for the widely used chemotherapy drugs vincristine and vinblastine. Both drugs cause peripheral neuropathy, hair loss, paresthesia, constipation and low blood counts. These examples serve as only a few of thousands of drugs that are manipulated and denatured which severely and negatively affects their interaction with human physiology.

"Just as the sensory properties of plants interact with and trigger your sense of smell, plants' natural compounds can target and cause a reaction within your body. This gives them tremendous pharmaceutical potential," said Chappell.

The biggest difference is that the interactions of natural compounds generally react naturally and within tolerances of the body's assimilation. Pharmaceutically manufactured drugs do not. That's why approved pharmaceutical medications are one of the biggest killers in developed nations.

During this two-year project researchers set out to develop a collection of data and would allow them to biosynthesize and engineer plants to produce larger quantities of compounds that would then be patented by pharmaceutical companies who in turn would sell them at exaggerated margins to conventional medical retailers.

"The current understanding of molecules and genes involved in the formation of beneficial compounds is very incomplete," said O'Connor, who is also a lecturer in chemical sciences at University of East Anglia.

"However, the ability to conduct genome-wide studies of model plant species has resulted in an explosive increase in our knowledge of and capacity to understand how genes control biological processes and chemical composition".

Over the 30 years, there have been zero deaths from natural health products, yet there have been well over 3 million deaths related to prescription drug use. In most developed countries, pharmaceutical drug deaths far exceed traffic fatalities. In the U.S, drugs exceeded the amount of traffic-related deaths, killing at least 37,485 people nationwide in the United States.

It seems that even any suggestion that “biotechnology plants as a category are likely to cause significant adverse effects on the quality of the human environment is not open for discussion by regulating agencies.Since biotechnology plants as a category are supposed to be substantially equivalent to their non-genetically engineered counterparts, the endgame for all of this is no regulation at all.

The answer is to stop biotechnology initiatives which attempt to manipulate and modify nature to create more drugs. It is has been the same story for decades. Approved pharmaceutical medications kill people and they always will for one simple reason--they are designed to work immediately without regard to long-term consequences. The millions of those who have died on these medications can serve as a testament to the failure of this approach.

Genetically modifying any part of nature is flawed in its intention from the get go. Couple that with a greedy corporate mindset which only has one goal--profit, and you have a wreckless, careless and mindless recipe for disaster.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.


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