Thursday, July 23, 2015

GMO Formaldehyde Challenge!

Last week Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai published a systems biology paper in Agricultural Sciences.  The report left much to be desired, and was critically analyzed here.   The anti-GMO activist community exploded with the news that "GMOs are full of formaldehyde", of course not realizing that the paper represented a deeply flawed and testable conclusion, that was not tested. 

Nowhere in the existing literature, where tens of thousands of plant products have been analyzed, did anyone find actual measurements that match the predictions. When your computer prediction is wrong, then why publish it? 

Because it did exactly what it set out to do-- create fear and controversy around technology that folks like Ayyadurai and his spouse, the fabulous Fran Drescher, fail to appreciate. 

Fran and Shiva have been vigorously defending the work online, with Drescher even making the bold (tired) claim that scientists are all just working "4 monsanto".  She's even been so bold as to demand testing for formaldehye on all GM products based on hubby's computational synthesis. 


Which is not what the computer prediction found. 


A little agenda showing? 

Downside?  Changing safety protocols based on a crackpot computer program's output that does not match reality. 

Argument from authority.  Great to have degrees, too bad to see them misused to achieve unethical political gains-- scaring people from good, safe food with nonsense.


#ShowUporShutUp. I like it! 

Let's talk about #ShowUporShutUp.  It is really simple to measure formaldehyde levels quantitatively in plant extracts. I've started to build a collection of materials to actually do the test. 

I'll have probably a dozen soy/corn samples on hand in a week or so, both transgenic (GMO) and corresponding isolines. This way we can test the systems biology-driven hypothesis, potentially validating Ayyadurai's findings. 

I was hoping to just do this on my own to not waste lots of time. However, transparency and wider involvement would be a good thing.  

Therefore, I've invited Dr. Ayyadurai via Twitter to come to UF and do the extractions and analysis with me.  We can do this in a couple of days, no problem.  It probably should be video recorded just for transparency, and we can make a YouTube video afterwards.

Protocols and statistical methods will be determined mutually ahead of time, and results will be compared to those from an independent lab.  We'll make all raw data public. How cool is that? 

We do need to keep analysis pretty narrow to formaldehyde and glutathione, along with a few internal and spiked controls.  

We'd do extractions and separations together here, along with a colleague who specializes in such things.  The three of us would publish the results together, all three authors, and would report about how the results support, or do not support the hypothesis, "GMO crops have higher levels of formaldehyde, and lower levels of glutathione".  

All samples will be blind to researchers, and coded by a third party. We'll do formaldehyde using published protocols and glutathione using a commercially-available kit I'll buy this week.  All materials will be screened for transgenes/lack of transgenes using PCR, along with appropriate controls. 

In addition, I'll cover the cost of taking a subset of the materials, chosen by Dr. Ayyadurai, and sent to independent analysis. We will include formaldehyde-spiked samples as positive controls. 

I'm usually not so rude, but since Ms. Drescher used the term, how about #ShowUporShutUp?  

Or as it should be put, let's do the experiment. Let's agree to the materials to be used, and quantitative methods.  Let's agree on an independent lab to validate results. 

If it actually hyper-accumulates formaldehyde, then that Science paper will look pretty good on my CV.  

What do you say Shiva?  Let's do it.  Plus you'll have a good time down here in G-ville.  We'll welcome you with open arms and a kind spirit of finding the Truth through collaborative, transparent research. Show me I'm wrong, that would be just fine. Let's do it.



17 comments:

Mary M said...

I will buy your team lunch* if you can work this out.

*as long as it's not Chipotle

Anonymous said...

Great response Kevin. Once again demonstrating that you follow the evidence, data, and facts, wherever they lead you. Please keep us posted!

Kavin Senapathy said...

I will buy your team another lunch (also no Chipotle) or a round of beers. I am rooting for this. This is a fine example of how to reach across the aisle with science. #ShowUpOrShutUp.

Prateek said...

LIKE A BOSS. Well done, sir. #ShowUpOrShutUp.

Lauren A said...

This is just the greatest response. I hope for the sake of whatever integrity he has left he considers your offer.

Lee Yancey said...

According to Shiva Ayyadurai he and Fran Drescher are not really married. He says right in the Bio on his own website that they had a Spiritual Ceremony to celebrate their "Growing Friendship". Also, in an interview he gave last November he said that they did not have a "formal wedding or marriage" but that they "really love being globe-trotting travel partners". So every time Fran refers to him as her "Husband" she is merely "Acting" as he is really only her "Friend"!
http://vashiva.com/about-va-shiva-ayyadurai/
http://tamilnadu.com/entertainment/personalities/interview-with-dr-v-a-shiva-ayyadurai-the-inventor-of-email-and-systems-scientist.html

robert said...

You can even take Dr. Ayyadurai down to the CMC and the coop so that he can meet all those people who would agree with him while he is in gainesville. And then you guys can go have lunch at karma kreme

Tyson Adams said...

What's that? Crickets. Lots of crickets.

This silence is deafening.

Jay said...

I'd be happy to help with Dr. shiva's air fare!

Jason Brooke said...

I saw Dr. Shiva in a recent video on youtube. He went to great lengths to mention the scientific method a number of times and in fact denigrated others for allegedly eschewing it. From the perspective of a lay person who has read about his systems biology 'study' about formaldehyde, it really seems like he's a dirty old pot calling a shiny kettle black. I'd love to see him respond to Kevin's challenge

Anonymous said...

So, did he respond? Will he #ShutUporShowUp?

Lee Yancey said...

He's probably somewhere in Germany looking for Kevin right now!

prosario_2000 said...

I will have to buy my pop-corn when this happens. I hope that it does... I'll be watching the show!

Genghis Swan and the Seaclowns said...

I have a lot of respect for you and your work, Mr. Folta, and I enjoy reading your blog. Best of luck with this, and if you are ever around the SF Bay Area, lunch is on me.

Anonymous said...

Curious.... You want to test the beans at what stage of digestion? Isn't the Dr.'s paper related to after digestion? Only skimmed the work, quickly, but that was the first thing I noticed.

Anonymous said...

The paper doesn't have anything to do with the fate of any formaldehyde in the human body after ingestion of RR soy, if I understand your question correctly. It only predicts the accumulation of formaldehyde in cells of plants with the RR metabolic pathway under oxidative stress.

I admit i do not understand what is meant by "oxidative stress." But I was confused by his referencing oxidative stress in non gm plants as an external factor, caused by the plant's metabolic adjustments to deal with e.g. drought, but for RR soy the paper seems to refer to it as internal, i.e. induced by the RR gene itself.

Two other things stand out. I'll reread it, but i don't recall the paper as being specific to which cells, in other words, was his model even relevant to predicting formaldehyde in the seed at harvest, the most important in terms of human health. Secondly, the predicted accumulations were after simulations for a finite time, 9 days. Even in the RR soy, the results were nonlinear and appeared to be trending to a finite maximum even if the simulation had been extended indefinitely. I presume there is a known or theoretical maximum of formaldehyde that can accumulate before it is fatal or at least greatly inhibits the plant'development. Obviously, RR soy doesn't invariably die. To be fair, I think the paper does only predict that formaldehyde accumulation initiated by oxidative stress begins earlier, Gros faster and reaches a higher equilibrium. I am also wondering if formaldehyde levels decline if the oxidative stress ends. Again, that may be a dumb question due to my lack of understanding of that concept. But if so, that may explain why he is saying he would need to design a method to measure- i.e. formaldehyde levels are a temporary dynamic, not an end result. You can't just measure it in the harvested seed, you'd have to take measurement in the plant cells during the growing season under certain conditions., they are still only

One thing that people around the Web have pointed out is even the higher concentration predicted, presuming those levels include the harvested seed and hold true after processing, they are still only a fraction of that naturally occuring in whole foods like pears and mushrooms. If these foods aren't from plants with the faulty metabolic pathway, how are these levels explained. Also, if the elevated formaldehyde in Rr soy is a concern, why isn't the amount in a pear downright frightening. Again to be fair, the paper doesn't necessarily claim that the function of the model or the results are for informing human health implications, it is just to demonstrate the utility of testing for biological markers of differences.


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