TWN Biotechnology & Biosafety Series 9

Genetically Engineered Cells and Organisms: Substantially Equivalent or Different?

By Terje Traavik, Kaare M Nielsen and David Quist

Publisher: TWN (ISBN: 978-967-5412-07-3)

Year: 2009   No. of pages: 40


The integration of foreign DNA into an established genome, through genetic engineering, may have unanticipated side-effects in the recipient organism. Despite this, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are often claimed to be ‘substantially equivalent’ to their unmodified counterparts. This paper examines whether this claim is justified, by looking at whether a GMO, compared to its unmodified counterpart, has experienced changes in the interacting regulatory parts, its ‘interactome’: the genome, epigenome, transcriptome, proteome and metabolome, which work as overlapping layers of information involved in cellular function. Examples are given, from a precautionary point of view, of the changes that may occur in modified genomes and the consequences they may have.


Professor Kaare M Nielsen is a Professor of Pharmaceutical Microbiology at the Department of Pharmacy, the University of Tromsø, Norway. Nielsen holds a PhD in Biology from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, and has completed postdoctoral studies in Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA. Nielsen is an adviser to GenØk-Centre for Biosafety. His research group focuses on understanding the molecular mechanism behind, and the ecological effects and evolutionary impacts of, horizontal transfer of genes into various organisms.

Dr David Quist is a senior scientist at GenØk-Centre for Biosafety in Tromsø, Norway. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied the fate of transgenic DNA in traditional varieties of maize in Oaxaca, Mexico. His current work focuses on the detection and characterisation of transgenes in varying biological and ecological contexts, risk research in emerging biotechnologies, and eco-epidemiological approaches to monitoring transgene flow.

Professor Terje Traavik is the author of more than 200 scientific articles and book chapters. He was Professor of Virology at the University of Tromsø, Norway, 1983–2003. Originally a medical and molecular virologist, Traavik later crossed into molecular and cellular cancer research. In 1997, he initiated and became the Scientific Director of GenØk-Centre for Biosafety, and since 2003 he has also been Professor of Gene Ecology at the University of Tromsø. He is currently a member of the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board and adviser on environmental safety of GM vaccines for the European Medicines Agency (EMEA).


Chapter 1.     Introduction                                                         

Chapter 2.     Lack of Precision in Recombinant DNA Techniques                

                       2.1   The ‘-omes’ and the ‘-omics’                                 

Chapter 3.     Changes in the Genome                                     

                       3.1   Observations from studies of genetically modified (GM) plants     

                       3.2   Why do DNA rearrangements occur?            

Chapter 4.     Changes in the transcriptome                                         

                       4.1   Example of new transcripts originating from a plant transgene  

                       4.2   Examples of the activity of the 35S CalMV plant promoter in mammalian cells

                       4.3   Example of upregulation of an endogenous gene under the influence

                               of a transgene promoter                                 

                       4.4   Does ‘transvection’ occur during transgenesis in mammalian cells?         

Chapter 5.     Changes in the Proteome                                                 

                       5.1   An a-amylase inhibitor-1 gene transferred from common bean to pea    

                       5.2   Production of recombinant protein in milk     

Chapter 6.     Changes in the Metabolome                          

Chapter 7.     Changes in the Epigenome

Chapter 8.     Changes in the Interactome                           

Chapter 9.     Concluding Remarks                                       





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