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Unwanted immune responses triggered by GM pharma corn (13/1/2008)

NOTE: The impact of such minute doses again confirms the recklessness of engineering food crops to produce pharmaceuticals.

EXTRACTS: The results indicate that special care will be needed with transgenic corn to reduce exposure to workers and the public if this protein is used commercially in corn or other food crops, to avoid unwanted immune responses in people and decreased effectiveness of oral vaccines that use the protein...

...transgenic plants would usually be grown outside in large fields to reduce costs. Given the remarkably low dose of LT-B required for immune responses, careful studies are needed to determine if such production strategies are worth the risks of population wide exposure and possible immune system effects.

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http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/newscience/2007/2007-1109beyeretal.html#2007morovecetal

Beyer AJ, K Wang, AN Umble, JD Wolt and JE Cunnick. 2007.

Low-dose exposure and immunogenicity of transgenic maize expressing the Escherichia coli heat-labile toxin B subunit.

Environmental Health Perspectives 115(3):354-360.

November 8, 2007

Synopsis by Rick Stahlhut, M.D. and Wendy Hessler

Minute quantities of a bacterial protein inserted in corn provoke immune reactions in mice. The protein is added to increase the effectiveness of plant-based transgenic vaccines. The results indicate that special care will be needed with transgenic corn to reduce exposure to workers and the public if this protein is used commercially in corn or other food crops, to avoid unwanted immune responses in people and decreased effectiveness of oral vaccines that use the protein.

Context: Plants and animals are being altered genetically for special purposes now that DNA codes and laboratory mechanisms for manipulating genetics are widely understood and available. Some food plants, for example, have been engineered to produce a bacterial toxin to improve insect resistance. Now transgenic crops are being explored to produce medicines or industrial compounds, such as plastics.

One active subject of research is the potential to use engineered corn or other plants to produce oral vaccines. This approach has several advantages compared to traditional methods, including reduced risks of contamination by animal pathogens, increased stability and shelf life, easier administration (swallowing vs. injection) and a stronger response to pathogens that enter or attack the body through the digestive tract.

Vaccines work by priming the immune system to rapidly recognize and attack foreign proteins found in (or produced by) bacteria, viruses or other microorganisms. Some foreign proteins do not provoke enough of an immune response by themselves to make an effective vaccine. In these situations, other compounds (called adjuvants) are sometimes added to increase the immune response against the targeted proteins. LT-B, a protein extracted from E. coli, is an effective adjuvant in animal studies (Moroveca et al. 2007).

If successful oral vaccines are marketed using an LT-B adjuvant, public exposure to LT-B through the vaccine would be intentional and presumably helpful in spurring the immune response against the target antigen (foreign protein).

However, unintended public exposures are also possible. LT-B produced in genetically engineered food crops could contaminate food supplies through cross-pollination or seed mixing. Farm workers could be exposed by breathing or ingesting grain dust.

Since LT-B is meant to enhance the immune system's response to other proteins administered with it, frequent exposure to low-dose LT-B could cause allergic responses to other food proteins being eaten at the same time as the LT-B. Frequent exposures to low-dose LT-B could also interfere or modify the response to LT-B based vaccines.

Assessing risks of LT-B will be necessary to protect workers and the public.

An important first step is to determine the lowest dose of LT-B that produces a detectable immune system effect in laboratory animals. The most sensitive indicator would be the immune priming dose the lowest exposure dose of LT-B for which a later exposure results in an increased immune system response.

What did they do? The research team performed two experiments with mice. In the first, they examined immune system response to LT-B across a range of doses, while in the second they confirmed the first study's results and then determined if 10-100 times lower doses also provoked immune system response.

In the first study, four experimental groups of mice were intermittently (days 0, 7 and 21) fed corn pellets containing LT-B at four different doses (0.02, 0.2, 2 or 20 micrograms (g)) of LT-B per feeding. To determine if these doses had primed the animals' immune systems, the researchers waited until day 49 (28 days after the last previous dose) and gave a 20 g pellet to all experimental groups and one unexposed control group. The other control group was never given LT-B.

In the second study, the same procedure was followed on different mice, except some groups were fed much lower doses of LT-B: 0.0002, 0.002, 0.02 and 20 g. The lower doses were 1% and 10% of the dose found to stimulate a response in the first study. The highest dose in this study (20 g) was a positive control, intended to show the experiment was working properly.

In both experiments, blood and fecal samples were collected from each mouse before the first dose and weekly thereafter. At the end of experiment two (days 57-59), mice lungs were rinsed with saline to collect antibodies in the respiratory tract. LT-B antibodies in blood serum (IgA, IgG), fecal matter (IgA) and lung fluid (IgA) were measured using ELISA assays. IgG is the primary type of antibody produced by the immune system. IgA antibody is produced by mucosal surfaces that line the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.

What did they find? In the first experiment, serum IgG antibody released after exposure to the final 20 g 'booster' dose of LT-B was found to increase in a dose-dependent manner with the size of earlier intermittent LT-B exposures. Levels peaked on day 55, six days after the final booster dose of 20 g.

The highest IgA levels in serum were found after earlier exposures to the intermediate level of 0.2 g, rather than the higher doses of either 2 g or 20 g-a non-monotonic dose-response relationship.

Like serum IgA, fecal IgA in the 0.2 g group was higher on day 55 than the 2 g group and nearly as high as the 20 g group. The lowest dose that caused statistically significant increases in antibody production was 0.02 g.

In the second experiment, 20 g again provoked strong antibody production.

The lowest dose to provoke an increased response (as compared to the control) was 0.02 g. No effects were seen at .002 and .0002 g. Lung fluid showed significantly increased IgA in the 0.02 g and 20 g groups as compared with control.

Across both experiments at the 0.02 g dose, 5 of 8 mice (62.5%) demonstrated immune priming for serum IgA, 3 of 8 (37.5%) for serum IgG and 2 of 8 (25%) for fecal IgA, where immune priming was defined as a four-fold increase in antibody production as compared to controls. That serum IgA was the most sensitive measure of oral LT-B immune system priming is not surprising given that IgA antibodies are produced in mucosal tissues like the gastrointestinal tract.

What does it mean? Eating extremely small amounts of LT-B several times over less than a month caused exposed mice to develop immune reactions to the protein. LT-B is being tested in transgenic crops to increase effectiveness of oral vaccines. Unless unintentional exposure is prevented, widespread production of LT-B could sensitize the public and workers to the protein.

Special handling of transgenic corn or other crops used to produce LT-B enhanced vaccines may be necessary to prevent repeated low-level exposure.

People inadvertently exposed to LT-B could develop allergies to other food proteins eaten at the same time. Frequent exposure could possibly interfere with the effectiveness of LT-B based vaccines as well.

In the study, approximately half of the rodents exposed to 0.02 mcg (20

nanograms) of LT-B orally, three times over 21 days, demonstrated immune priming. Humans are roughly 7,500 times the size of these 20-gram mice. If people react the same as mice, the equivalent dose of LT-B for a 150-pound (70 kilogram) person would be about 150 millionths of a gram. This is a small amount.

The results in the mice were produced by only a few intermittent doses.

Workers could be exposed daily to much larger doses in grain dusts.

Population risks would depend upon the likelihood of seed contamination or cross-pollination by LT-B crops to food crops grown in nearby fields.

Barring other considerations, transgenic plants would usually be grown outside in large fields to reduce costs. Given the remarkably low dose of LT-B required for immune responses, careful studies are needed to determine if such production strategies are worth the risks of population wide exposure and possible immune system effects.

Resources:

LT-B: Lymphotoxin Beta.
http://egp.gs.washington.edu/data/ltb/

Moraveca, T, MA Schmidt, EM Herman and T Woodford-Thomas. 2007. Production of Escherichia coli heat labile toxin (LT) B subunit in soybean seed and analysis of its immunogenicity as an oral vaccine. Vaccine 25(9):1647-57.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2006.11.010

Union of Concerned Scientists. Genetic engineering.
http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/genetic_engineering/

Wikipedia. Transgenic plants.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgenic_plant

Wikipedia. Vaccine.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccine

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