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Contraceptive Corn

Written by Subject: Food
Observer (london)Sunday September 9, 2001
Robin McKie, science editor
GM corn set to stop man spreading his seed

Scientists have created the ultimate GM crop: contraceptive corn.

Waiving fields of maize may one day save the world from overpopulation.

The pregnancy prevention plants are the handiwork of the San Diego
biotechnology company Epicyte, where researchers have discovered a rare
class of human antibodies that attack sperm.

By isolating the genes that regulate the manufacture of these antibodies,
and by putting them in corn plants, the company has created tiny
horticultural factories that make contraceptives.

'We have a hothouse filled with corn plants that make anti-sperm
antibodies,' said Epicyte president Mitch Hein.

'We have also created corn plants that make antibodies against the herpes
virus, so we should be able to make a plant-based jelly that not only
prevents pregnancy but also blocks the spread of sexual disease.'

Contraceptive corn is based on research on the rare condition, immune
infertility, in which a woman makes antibodies that attack sperm.

'Essentially, the antibodies are attracted to surface receptors on the
sperm,' said Hein. 'They latch on and make each sperm so heavy it cannot
move forward. It just shakes about as if it was doing the lambada.'

Normally, biologists use bacteria to grow human proteins. However, Epicyte
decided to use corn because plants have cellular structures that are much
more like those of humans, making them easier to manipulate.

The company, which says it will not grow the maize near other crops, says
it plans to launch clinical trials of the corn in a few months.

..for the 4th generation of mice, anyway. Greenpeace is trumpeting a new "study" that finds that mice fed a variety of pest-protected corn have fewer pups in the fourth generation. According to the organization's press release:

A study published today by the Austrian government identified serious health threats of genetically engineered (GE) crops. In one of the very few long-term feeding studies ever conducted with GE crops, the fertility of mice fed with GE maize was found to be severely impaired, with fewer offspring being produced than by mice fed on natural crops. Considering the severity of the potential threat to human health and reproduction, Greenpeace is demanding a recall of all GE food and crops from the market, worldwide.

With typical understatement, the Greenpeace spokesperson said:

"GE food appears to be acting as a birth control agent, potentially leading to infertility - if this is not reason enough to close down the whole biotech industry once and for all, I am not sure what kind of disaster we are waiting for," said Dr. Jan van Aken, GE expert at Greenpeace International. "Playing genetic roulette with our food crops is like playing Russian roulette with consumers and public health".

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