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Study: We Really Are What We Eat

This is somewhat off the lawn topic, but it got my attention as it potentially relates to the safety of genetic engineering of plants that become foods — either for us or the animals that we eat.

I know I grew up hearing from my grandmother that “you are what you eat.” Now, a scientist in China, Chen-Yu Zhang, a molecular biologist at Nanjing University, seems to have proven just that: http://the-scientist.com/2011/09/20/plant-rnas-found-in-mammals/. The RNA of certain plants can live within us and apparently impact the way our own genes behave.

In this week’s edition of the journal The Scientist, Clay Marsh, Director of the Center for Personalized Health Care at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, said, “This is a very exciting piece of work that suggests that the food we eat may directly regulate gene expression in our bodies.”

At a layman’s level, this study perhaps further reinforces our grandmothers’ and mothers’ calls to eat our spinach and broccoli. At a more concerning level, however, this study brings the impact of genetically modified foods into question. In other words, if we’re eating organisms that are not supposed to be in our food, how do those organisms impact our internal genetic makeup?

“This makes me think back to the studies that showed genetically modified potatoes had ill effects on lab rats (late nineties, early 2000′s maybe),” wrote a colleague of mine this morning. “At that time the GMO community was irate, proclaiming that all genetic material would broken down and therefore changes in the genetic structure of plants couldn’t/wouldn’t possibly be carried through animals.”

This new study would seem to disprove that rationale and point to the conclusion that we really ought to more careful than ever about the food we put in our mouths.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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