Sunday, April 22, 2012

An Electronic GMO Detector

This is genius, and I should be tearing a page out of the Yanko Design book.

A movement like the anti-GMO movement is not based on evidence.  It is based on fear, naturalist fallacies and low-impact, non-reproduced, suggestive science.

Those that subscribe to the dangers of transgenic crops clearly have shown that they have a very low threshold for evidence, and are easily manipulated.  Therefore, Yanko Design has decided to sell them products that make unscientific claims -- because someone is likely to buy them.  Capitalism in action.

Such is the Elephant Nose, an electronic nose that claims to detect GMO food.  It has a meter that reads from DANGER to SAFETY.  Now you can patrol the produce aisle with your magic wand, searching for Monsanto's boogeyman in every pile of eggplants.  You can even run surveillance in the organic garden or grocery section and then destroy any deadly GMO plants before they have a chance to kill.

The Elephant Nose claims to detect GMO food, warning unsuspected
 consumers of the dangers lurking within.  

The fundamental science is real.  There are electronic noses, detectors that can discriminate the presence of specific compounds in the air.  For instance, Florence Negre-Zharkarov at University of California at Davis has a detector that can tell you if a melon is perfectly ripe.  It works because plant materials, especially fruits, emit a constellation of specific volatile compounds through development.  Detection of certain ones is possible.

However, the key word is volatile.  An electronic nose can only detect a compound that has been released from the plant. Volatiles are low-vapor-pressure compounds.  GMO technology works because it installs enzymes, proteins, oftentimes large, that can never be volatilized under anything close to ambient conditions.

Furthermore, volatile emissions change rapidly through time, and are influenced by the environment and metabolic state of the food item in question. Even if the transgene influenced volatiles, such a detector would only work at certain times.

Most importantly, there is not one commercial transgenic plant product that drives a change in volatiles.  Enzymes installed are not associated with volatile synthesis (technical note: EPSPS mediates flux through the shikimate pathway in glyphosate-resistant crops, and that could feasibly affect phenylpropanoid production and the chorismate and aromatic amino acid-based volatiles).  Even if transgenes did affect volatile production, there is no way to discriminate GMO enzyme activity from the native enzyme activity. The mechanism is not plausible to me.

It is rather genius to sell bad science to people that trust bad science-- crapitalism at it best/worse.  I'm not one to usually promote exploiting those with limited critical thinking capacity, but if this takes the place of unnecessary labels that will drive food prices to the moon, then let the wanding begin.

Knock yerselves out.


Mary said...

Yeah, I'm wondering what the papaya RNA smells like. Never occurred to me that it was possible.

You know what, we could market a "non-GMO" detector, and we'd be right WAY more often....?

Anonymous said...

Very well written Dr. Folta.

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of "GMO food" available on the market is very thoroughly packaged. The point of consumer product packaging is to prevent *anything* from getting in, or getting out. Cans, bottles, shrink wrap, mylar, the list goes on. Even if this supposed device actually worked, it would somehow have to get past the packaging, or the consumer would have to open the package. Most grocery stores frown on this practice. People call me a cynic, but I'm still optimistic enough about human nature to think this is merely a hoax.

Anonymous said...

You only address a small part of the anti-GMO concern. Terminator genes, "ownership" of cross-pollenated crops, indiscriminate application of herbicides, crippling lawsuits, and Monsanto-run government agencies are far more concerning than any perceived boogieman in the food itself.
But given modern science's (especially anything overseen by the FDA) policy of sell first, test later, you can't blame people for being a little concerned about what they are practically forced to eat.

Joshua said...

As someone who has actually met, in person, with the FDA about a new feed additive, I can assure you that "sell first, test later" is the exact opposite of their policy. We need to demonstrate, using validated methods, safety in the target animal, in humans consuming products from those animals, and for the environment before the FDA will approve our product. Just because some "natural" website claims something doesn't mean it is true. In fact, it is probably safer to assume that everything of importance on those sites is false and go from there

Different categories have different legal requirements, but Pre-market approval is the standard for GMO. The categories you SHOULD be upset about are the dietary supplement industry - because it is only covered by post-market surveillance, and the homeopathy industry - because it has a special carve out that means it can make patently false marketing claims without consequence.