Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract


The inclusion of genetically modified (GM) plants in the human diet has raised concerns about the possible transfer of transgenes from GM plants to intestinal microflora and enterocytes. The persistence in the human gut of DNA from dietary GM plants is unknown. Here we study the survival of the transgene epsps from GM soya in the small intestine of human ileostomists (i.e., individuals in which the terminal ileum is resected and digesta are diverted from the body via a stoma to a colostomy bag). The amount of transgene that survived passage through the small bowel varied among individuals, with a maximum of 3.7% recovered at the stoma of one individual. The transgene did not survive passage through the intact gastrointestinal tract of human subjects fed GM soya. Three of seven ileostomists showed evidence of low-frequency gene transfer from GM soya to the microflora of the small bowel before their involvement in these experiments. As this low level of epsps in the intestinal microflora did not increase after consumption of the meal containing GM soya, we conclude that gene transfer did not occur during the feeding experiment.

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Figure 1: PCR amplification of epsps derived from the intestinal tract of ileostomists.
Figure 2: Recovery of the epsps transgene and the indigestible marker PEG 4000.
Figure 3: Relationship between recovery of the epsps transgene and the soya lectin gene Le1.
Figure 4: Influence of PEG4000 on DNAase activity.


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We would like to thank the Food Standards Agency for supporting this work and we also thank Jay Varma for recruiting the ileostomists.

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Correspondence to Harry J Gilbert.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Netherwood, T., Martín-Orúe, S., O'Donnell, A. et al. Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract. Nat Biotechnol 22, 204–209 (2004) doi:10.1038/nbt934

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