This blog is a critical demonstration between what good science says, and how the anti-GM activists twist meanings beyond what the data say, even contradicting the authors' interpretations.
GMO-Free USA is an activist organization that does a great job blanketing the internet with false associations. Their tactics are crystal-clear to scientists and to anyone that takes the time to look past their facade.
Their recent attempt is the kind that upsets me most. They use actual published science that looks decent, not a bad paper, and published in a peer-reviewed source. However, they take the real data and sensationalize it with imagery that does not match the research findings.
The work was performed by Dr. Fiona Young at Flinders University. From her website, it is clear that she has expertise in reproductive toxicology, and studies the effect of potential environmental compounds on reproduction-relevant cell lines. These efforts are important because they are the first step in assessing thresholds for potential cellular interactions.
It is sort of like the work Seralini did where the methods and data are sound- that you can add compounds to cells and watch them respond. It provides researchers a first glimpse of potential interactions between a compound and a biological system. These are important tests to start to assess environmental and health risk.
This is how I might have reviewed the work and interpreted the results if I was asked to review it:
The paper itself makes no secret about setting out to identify the effects of glyphosate, mostly as the Roundup formulation. The lengthy Introduction provides some rationale for the test and the use of a placental cell-line system. The placental cells are immortalized tumor cells that behave like placental cells in culture, releasing progesterone. The researchers use two assays to assess cell function in response to glyphosate or Roundup treatment-- cell viability by an MTT-based staining and then ELISA assays to detect progesterone. This all seems quite straight forward.
The first test was to add either glyphosate or Round up to the cell cultures and test how they grew over 24 and 72 hours. The results are here in Figure 1:
Figure 1 shows that glyphosate does nothing to cells, that they grow just fine, even at super high concentrations. The little "+" means they added cyclic AMP (cAMP) to stimulate cell proliferation. These results may be interpreted that while glyphosate has no effect, the addition of the surfactants (detergents) are harmful to cell lines.
Such results are not surprising. We know mammalian cells don't care about glyphosate too much. Seralni has shown this well too in his tests on Leydig and placental cells. Clearly it is when you add the surfactant, that membranes are being disrupted and cells are dying. Anyone that ever grew cells in culture knows that these are pretty sensitive systems. Increasing the surfactant (POEA) would be expected to cause issues. Cell do not survive well when grown in detergents for 72 hours. Got it.
Figure 2 expands the results from Figure 1, reminding us that dead cells do not produce progesterone.
Figure 3 shows the results of cell growth in response to being grown in the presence of serial (10x) dilutions of Roundup (Glyphosate + surfactant). The results mirror what is seen in Fig 1, only shows a higher-resolution time course and growth in the presence of human chrorionic gonadotropin, a placental hormone that stimulates growth, cannot save a cell being killed by the surfactant.
The paper gets a little confusing in the last two paragraphs of on page 19 where they refer to Figure 3 and I think they mean Figure 4. Here they use the concentrated herbicide (320 g/L) dilutions and measure cell viability and progesterone levels at the 24 h time point. I'm not sure how this is different from the data presented in panel A from Figure 1 and 2.
Again, Figure 4 reminds us that as you grow cells in herbicides they don't survive well, and dying/dead cells don't make as much hormone.
The authors provide a good Discussion that starts out in line with the limitations of the assay.
Transformed cell lines are less sensitive
than primary-derived cells in vitro [20,21], and therefore provide
conservative estimates for potential cytotoxicity in vivo
These in vitro cell culture systems did not model in vivo absorption,
distribution, metabolic or excretory parameters, northe (sic) regulation of
serum carrier and binding proteins.
Which is exactly correct. This is an artificial system in many ways and have limits about what they really mean relevant to whole-organism physiology based on cells dying in a dish.
The authors also recognize that it is the surfactant that is causing observed issues:
The EC50 values for Roundup spanned two orders of magnitude,
whereas the differences in cell lines and culture conditions had less
effect on the Glyphosate EC50 values; observations partially explained
by the membrane-disrupting mechanism of action of Roundup.
The authors then go on to say the same thing I did... dead cells don't make hormones. They say flat out that there is no evidence of endocrine disruption:
In our study, the inhibition of progesterone
secretion did not precede cytotoxicity, and endocrine disruption effects
were a consequence of cell death. ....Given this lack of data, the proposal
that Roundup has endocrine disrupting activity independent of its
cytotoxic activity, needs further study.
The rest of the language is that of a good toxicologist that is interested in the risks associated with the herbicide. It is all guarded, conservative, and puts the concentrations into context.
BOTTOM LINE: You can kill cells with Roundup, and it looks like it is the surfactant that is the problem in tissue culture. The decrease in hormones does not precede cell death, so there is no evidence of endocrine disruption.
Now contrast this with what GMO Free USA says:
This says it all. GMO Free USA are simply manipulating public sentiment by distorting science. This is shameful misrepresentation of good work done by a solid scientist.
To show a fetus in the womb, claim evidence of endocrine disruption, and then make bold pronouncements of "human cells not Roundup Ready"... it is beyond unethical.
Why does anyone believe them?
Did they fool you too?
And this was on Henry Rolands' GMO Evidence website:
Quoting exactly what Dr. Young didn't say!
And for what it's worth-- I'm blocked from responding to their facebook page, so I can't provide real analysis of this paper and show how they use it to bring fear to their followers.