ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

4 April 2002


So who is Angharad Gatehouse who according to the article below is fuming about GM risk studies?

She wouldn't, by any chance, be the wife and co-worker of John Gatehouse who engineered the transgenes into Arpad Pusztai's potatoes and whose hopes of any fame or fortune went up in smoke when Pusztai blew the whistle on their nutritional impact - the same John Gatehouse who has played a role in much subsequent criticism of Pusztai (eg on the infamous Equinox programme:

Not the Angharad Gatehouse who is  a member of the editorial board of Transgenic Research which recently issued a special editorial attacking Ignacio Chapela?

Seems like the witch-hunt crew's blood is up...



April 2, 2002
BioMedNet News
Bea Perks

Two US studies that famously linked genetically modified crops to deaths among monarch butterflies were "fundamentally flawed" and typify a trend towards "ambulance chasing" science, fumes one of the UK's leading molecular biologists.

"Scientists sensationalize stuff because they get noticed ... They're staking out their territory, causing alarm, so that there's more funding in that area," said Angharad Gatehouse, group leader in agricultural and environmental science at the University of Newcastle. "I guess that's human nature but I think it's fundamentally dishonest," she told BioMedNet News.

"There is more and more a trend to what some people call 'ambulance chasing' science," she added.

The two studies that suggested that crops engineered to express a gene for an insecticidal toxin from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) could harm the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, caused alarm in scientific and public arenas, recalls Gatehouse.

Numerous studies were set up to investigate the matter further, and Gatehouse has reviewed this work in the May issue of Trends in Genetics, due out later this month.

"All these studies came to the same conclusion," said Gatehouse, "that wide scale planting of GM corn expressing Bt was not a real threat to non-target [species]."

The first study to suggest the link in 1999, from entomologist John Losey's group at Cornell University, was subsequently shown to have treated butterflies with quantities of GM pollen that "bore no relationship to the levels of maize pollen that would accumulate," she said.  The argument that carrying out studies at extremes could identify potential effects does not impress her.

"I think that that concept actually is fundamentally flawed," Gatehouse said.  "You must use realistic levels of whatever - pollen, toxins - otherwise the results you get are essentially meaningless."

Another researcher, who after a second independent study published evidence supporting Losey's work, is unrepentant.  "I don't think it was a mistake," said John Obrycki, professor of entomology at Iowa State University, referring to his and Losey's studies. "These studies were certainly valid," he told BioMedNet News. Losey was unavailable for comment.

Obrycki and Losey became the focus of "intense criticism" from the scientific community after publication of their data, recalls Obrycki.

Nevertheless, he remains surprisingly philosophical. It was "interesting" to attract attention from experts outside his own field of entomology, he says.

"[Losey] raised an important question," said Obrycki. "His study showed that this is something we need to think about." Obrycki recalls that he and Losey discussed the experiment's design; it was all done by eye, he says.  Losey used the amount of pollen that he thought he had seen on plants at the edges of maize fields, notes Obrycki, although he now accepts that Losey ultimately used too much.

Obrycki's latest unpublished findings suggest that Bt crops do play a role, albeit "relatively minor," in monarch butterfly mortality. He is one year into a field trial examining the relationship.

"We did see increased mortality this year," said Obrycki. But the data are preliminary, he warns. "That's just one year and we'd need a couple of years to confirm that."

He dismisses the accusation of "ambulance chasing." "I'm not certain that investigating the potential effects of a transgenic crop would be 'ambulance chasing,'" he laughed.

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