USDA Comments Sought for Further Assessment on the Simplot GE “Innate” Potato.
What are the Possible Risks?
By Guest Blogger, Lyn Howe, PhD Physiology
The USDA seeks public comments on an environmental assessment and a plant pest risk assessment for a new GE potato, engineered to have fewer acrylamides and reduced bruising.
The potato, branded as “Innate,” was developed by J.R. Simplot Co., in Boise, Idaho. Innate Technology involves inserting genes from potatoes that quiet specific functions, such as bruising or the production of asparagine. Asparagine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in potatoes. When mixed with sugars― such as those also found naturally in potatoes—and then subjected to high temperatures, asparagine forms acrylamide.
After reviewing the comments, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will revise the documents as necessary and prepare a final environmental assessment. Based on the final assessment, the department can either issue a finding of no significant impact or require that a full-blown environmental impact statement be prepared.
Deadline to submit comments is June 30, 2014. For more information, including how to submit comments, view the Federal Register.
Concerns for Human Health
As a physiologist, it concerns me that Simplot’s GE Innate potato may have negative effects on proper and crucial functioning of our natural bodily processes.
According to Simplot their GE Innate potato is modified using RNA gene silencing. According to Haven Baker of Simplot, they use a vector called pSIM1278, which incorporates two silencing “cassettes” into the potato. Expression of the first cassette lowers transcript levels for the Asn1 (asparagine synthetase-1) and Ppo5 (polyphenol oxidase-5) genes and, consequently, limits the formation of the acrylamide precursor asparagine, and the formation of impact-induced black spot bruise that occurs when the enzyme polyphenol oxidase oxidizes phenols to produce dark pigments.
In reading Simplot’s blog, this GE potato sounds perfectly harmless, unless you ask what happens when you silence genes in foods that we have evolved with. The potato is deeply entrenched in our ancestral food foundation and eaten by most on a regular basis. By reducing levels of asparagine in one of our staple, highly consumed foods can you negatively affect important physiological functions in the body? Understanding what asparagine is and why it is important for healthy bodily functions can help us decide if we want to support this GE Simplot potato and how we might comment.
What is Asparagine
Asparagine is non-toxic and synthesized by the liver from the foods we eat. Asparagine derives its name from asparagus, as it was initially isolated from asparagus juice in 1806. However, its presence in actual proteins was not identified until 1932.
Bodily Functions Asparagine Assists
Asparagine is a non-essential amino acid that is involved in a variety of bodily processes. It is needed for normal nervous system activity because of its importance in signal transmission between nerves. Furthermore, it is necessary as a building block for protein production, and is involved in nitrogen transportation within the body. Asparagine content that is present in liver is able to help convert amino acids into other forms of amino acids.
Symptoms Of Deficiency:
- Asparagine deficiency is rare and not clearly identified.
- Can contribute to autoimmune disorders and related immune system problems.
Foods High In Asparagine
Sources of asparagine include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, asparagus, potatoes, legumes, nuts, whole grains and soy.