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Antibiotics: Dutch Study casts doubts on genetically modified food

LONDON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - An artificial gut designed by Dutch
researchers has cast doubts on the safety of genetically modified food, New Scientist
magazine reported on Wednesday.

The computer-controlled model of the stomach and intestines, designed to
mimic human food digestion, showed that antibiotic-**resistance** genes
introduced into food could jump to bacteria in the gut.

"The results show that DNA lingers in the intestine, and confirms that
genetically modified bacteria can transfer their antibiotic-**resistance**
genes to bacteria in the gut," according to the magazine.

One of the concerns about genetically engineered crops is that
antibiotic-**resistant** genes could transfer to animals and humans and create superbugs
that cannot be killed by even the strongest **antibiotics**.

Some scientists claimed it could never happen because the modified DNA
breaks down so quickly. But the Dutch research showed DNA from the bacteria
had a half-life of six minutes in the large intestine.

"This makes it available to transform cells," said Robert Havenaar, the
designer of the artificial gut.

Hub Noteborn of the State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural
Products in the Netherlands said the results of the study contradict the
safety assurances.

"It was a surprise to see that DNA persisted so long in the colon," he
told the magazine.

Not all bacteria transferred the **resistance** genes to normal gut
bacteria. A tomato engineered to resist rot caused no problems.

Havenaar and his colleagues plan further studies and are planning to ask
the European Union for funding.

Last week, a committee from Britain's House of Lords (upper house)
announced that the benefits of genetically modified food outweighed the
risks. They also concluded it was "extremely unlikely" that genes from food could
jump into gut bacteria.

Environmental groups have urged the government to ban all genetically
modified food. Top British chefs on Tuesday put their weight behind
opposition to what some have nicknamed "Frankenstein's food".

{Reuters:International-0127.00411} 01/27/99

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