Tyrannosaurus Rex, Museum of Natural History, May 2014
The Law of the Instrument, also known as Maslow’s Hammer, is a concept in psychology that not so eloquently states, “when you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Ever since I’ve started my graduate program, my studies have been my golden hammer. I see nutritional biochemistry unfold in every stranger who walks by on the street and hear it echo in side conversations between friends waiting in line, sticking out like nails on a boardwalk waiting to be pounded. This past weekend, my hammer was ready to go in an unlikely place: the silver screen.
My boyfriend, Ben, and I went to see Jurassic World in 3D on a quiet Sunday night. Neither of us had any knowledge of the plot before heading into the show; we were more excited and overly impressed by the addition of luxury recliners at the local theater (amazing!).
For those of you who haven’t seen the blockbuster yet, don’t worry – no spoilers here. Basically, Jurassic World is an amusement park/experience set on an island off of Costa Rica that is home to dinosaurs that are artificially produced from prehistoric DNA and released into the “wilderness” for patrons to view. In an effort to boost profits, the CEO of the juggernaut park approved the engineering of a genetically modified dinosaur that would be bigger, badder, scarier, and every other superlative trait indicated by the guest satisfaction survey. They named her Indominus Rex.
In order to give her traits that deliver on all of these requests, the scientists mixed in genetically advantageous material from non-dinosaur species, such as the cuttlefish and frog. However, the scientists failed to think through what other traits from these various species may work themselves into Indominus Rex’s DNA to create a terrifyingly lethal dinosaur who would unleash its fury on the island’s thousands of guests. Golden hammer in tow, I couldn’t help but relate all of this to GMOs and the food industry. Bryce Dallas Howard may as well have been wearing a Monsanto building access card on her belt loop.
I’m sure all of you have at least heard of the term “GMO” before. Today, I am here to break down the basics for you – the good, the bad, and the diseased.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), like most things, were conceived with good intentions.
We wanted to feed the world and remediate world hunger and malnourishment-associated diseases. In order to do this, seeds of certain crops were genetically modified and reproduced to withstand harsh growing conditions, resist pesticides and antibiotics, and provide different nutrients in foods that normally do not supply them.
For example, crops that have no chance of thriving in drought-like conditions had a gene for drought tolerance inserted into their DNA so that they could flourish in equatorial areas to feed hungry populations. Crops that get pummeled and devoured by insects before they can be harvested were genetically modified to resist powerful pesticides so that the chemicals would kill the hungry insects, but allow the plants to thrive and produce far greater yields. Seeds for genetically modified “golden rice” were engineered to contain beta-carotene, giving it an orange-like hue in order to provide vitamin A precursors to populations in China, where rice flourishes but children commonly experience blindness due to lack of access to vitamin A-rich foods.
All good so far, right? Not for long.
Anyone with a knack for business could see how people would want to capitalize on the fact that producing successful crop yields in any type of weather condition would create more jobs, more food, and billions of dollars. To boot, you wouldn’t even have to worry about insects interfering with their growth. Sign me up.
Taking it a step further, wouldn’t you want to partner with the scientists who are creating these pesticide-resistant seeds and manufacture the pesticide to which they are resistant? And patent both the seeds and the pesticide so that every farmer has to buy them from you if they want to compete with higher yields? Wouldn’t it be even better if the scientists could doctor the seeds with a sterile, suicide gene that makes them unable to germinate and thus self-destruct after one year so that farmers must continue to purchase them from you annually instead of just once? Cha-ching.
Enter Monsanto: the company that reigns over most of the food production in America and throughout the world, and has done all of the above and more.
Upon first learning about GMOs in depth, there were two main things that worried me. One, what happens to the people who eat these foods with patchwork DNA and gene combinations that have historically never been ingested by humans? Two, if these crops are being doused with so much pesticide in order to kill the insects, what is in this toxic chemical concoction that is now on basically all of the foods we eat, and is it even safe for human consumption?
In regards to the first question, there has not been enough significant research conducted or results produced for me to know the answer. We do not know for sure how this genetic material could intermix with our own and cause our body’s cells to mutate, proliferate, and lead to cancer or other mysterious diseases. As my writing is evidence-based, I cannot comfortably weigh in on this. What I will say is this: most of the genes are thoroughly researched before a scientist can patent and sell the seeds. However, I personally don’t think that scientists take into account how ubiquitous GMOs are in our food and beverage supply and how much we consume of these products on an hourly basis over decades of time to accurately gauge their cumulative effects.
The second question, however, is what I plan to address in this post.
The Monsanto-born pesticide, which is employed by virtually all farmers that plant GMO crops, is called Roundup. Its active ingredient is glyphosate, residues of which can be found on nearly all sugar, corn, soy, canola, cotton, and wheat grown on American soil. Since Roundup’s patent has recently expired, agriculturists around the globe can now better afford the herbicide to use on their crops and for lawn maintenance. Due to its omnipresence on our land, it also contaminates our streams and water supply from run-off.
Glyphosate works so effectively because it interferes with the shikimate pathway, which then disrupts the plant’s synthesis of the amino acids tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan. Plants exposed to glyphosate show significantly less levels of these nutrients, along with an excess of ammonia. Due to the fact that humans do not possess a shikimate pathway, Monsanto has asserted that glyphosate would have no effect on our biochemistry and therefore do no harm.
What they fail to acknowledge is that, although we as humans may not have a shikimate pathway, the millions of beneficial bacteria and fungi that reside in our digestive tract do.
A study analyzing the effects of glyphosate on E. coli, a resident bacteria in our gut, revealed metabolic starvation, suppression of the shikimate pathway, energy drain, downregulation of the genes that create ATP, mitochondrial impairment, and a switch to a less efficient anaerobic metabolism. Basically, it kills them. If glyphosate is insidiously interfering with the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in our guts, it leads to dysbiosis. Autism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and cognitive disorders have all been linked to dysbiosis in our guts. Is it a coincidence that all of these diseases have dramatically increased since the introduction of GMOs and Roundup to our food supply? I personally think not.
The health of our gut’s microbiome determines our ability to synthesize various vitamins, detoxify toxins, and maintain homeostasis of our immune system through our gut permeability. If we are readily taking in less vitamins as a result of processed and adulterated foods, being exposed to more toxins from environmental chemicals and herbicides in our foods, and we combine this with a substance in everything we eat that shuts down our ability to get rid of these toxins and synthesize vitamins that help us function, can you see how detrimental this is to our health and wellbeing? Yikes.
Glyphosate has been shown to inhibit Cytochrome (CYP) enzymes in our body, which have several hundred integral functions. One of which is the catabolism, or breakdown, of vitamin A. Without the breakdown of vitamin A, its endogenous levels within our body increase dramatically. I’m sure most women reading this have heard of the dangers of vitamin A associated with pregnancy. Researchers investigated the effects of low dose glyphosate on embryonic development in frogs and chicks, revealing severe embryonic defects as a result of high levels of this vitamin due to its inability to be broken down. This was directly related to the ingredient in Roundup.
CYP enzymes are also responsible for the activation and metabolism of vitamin D3 in our liver. Anyone else notice a greater prevalence of vitamin D-deficient individuals or issues with its utilization in the last 15 years? Hmm, weird.
Cytochrome P450 enzymes in our liver, whose existence dates back 3 billion years in plants, animals, and bacteria, serve as key players in detoxification reactions and energy production. This showcases yet another angle where the synergistic effect of increased toxin intake and the inability to detoxify can be causing damage that we cannot research at a fast enough rate to keep up with the onslaught.
Close to 200 million pounds of Roundup are used each year on American crops and plants.
Leaving questionable trails of disease in its wake, the chemical’s effects are not limited to humans; our ecosystem is suffering, too. Honeybees, which help to pollinate all crops, plants, and flowers, have an innate resistance to most pesticides. The reason why they have this immunity is due to their CYP enzyme activity. As we know, glyphosate inhibits these enzymes, thus leaving the bees vulnerable to lethal effects of all other insecticides, causing them to die in large numbers once they bring the chemicals back to their hives. Around 2006, there was a surge of honeybee colony collapses across the country, which still continues. Without honeybees, our plants, crops, and flowers will be unable to grow successfully and independently. If we can’t rely on honeybees, the price to germinate will raise our food costs astronomically.
Honestly, who wins in this scenario?
There is so much more to write on this subject, and even more we have yet to learn, but I will stop here and leave you with what you can do to help yourself and the world around you:
- Buy organic foods when you can to avoid pesticide exposure.
- Stay away from the foods that you know are genetically modified in abundance (mainly processed foods that contain corn, soy, wheat, sugar, canola and cottonseed oils).
- Help lobby for GMO labeling on foods so we at least have the right to know what is in what we eat.
- Save the bees! Support beekeepers by buying local raw honey. Here are 10 other easy ways, especially if you have a green thumb.
As the title of this post asks, are we the next dinosaurs? Is our world’s population set to become diseased and eventually extinct? To me, it is truly mind blowing that billions of dollars are being “invested” in warding off global warming when the disastrous (and preventable) effects of GMOs are taking place right under our government’s nose. People are feverishly concerned about a climate catastrophe being the end of our species like it was for the dinosaurs. Worried about the poles melting and leaving us all under water? As you can see, my friends, we are already drowning.
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Samsel, A.; Seneff, S. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy 2013, 15, 1416-63.
Fagan J, Antoniou M, Robinson C. GMO Myths and Truths. 2014.