Same "GMO miracle" story keeps being reported by the BBC
Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland have developed GMO chickens that lay eggs containing proteins intended to treat cancer.
This was first reported in 2005, then again in 2007, and now in 2019, each time on the BBC News website (as the British satirical magazine Private Eye spotted – see below).
The Roslin scientists who are involved in this venture claim that the GMO chickens will produce the drugs more cheaply and efficiently than the bioreactors generally used to manufacture such drugs.
However, in spite of the repeated hyping of stories promising drugs from farm animals since at least the early 2000s, as far as we know, no such scheme has ever been upscaled to the level required for commercial drug production.
This is largely due to the problems raised by the use of farm animal products, such as eggs and milk, for drug proteins production.
First, drug proteins must be pure. But viruses can be present in animal products. Some of these could be dangerous to human health.
Second, the proteins produced in GM chicken eggs will undergo changes known as post-translational modifications. These will be chicken-style modifications that could not only compromise efficacy but cause problems in humans such as allergic reactions to the drugs.
For all these reasons, manufacturers typically use mammalian (including human) cells in bioreactors to make their drugs.
Thus we remain skeptical about the hype generated by the Roslin around its GMO chicken egg venture.
Beyond these crucial issues, the Private Eye snippet shows how:
* The GMO venture relies on keeping certain "GMO miracle" narratives, such as GM golden rice feeding the poor, GM saving the banana from extinction, and in this case, GMO chicken eggs treating cancer, alive in the public awareness for many years through regular repetition.
* The BBC is more than happy to act as the mouthpiece in this game. In the case of the GMO chicken eggs, it is promoting the work of the Roslin, which cloned Dolly the sheep. Since Dolly's premature demise, the Roslin is no doubt looking for a new commercial venture.
Incidentally, the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" has been labelled "the granddaddy of causality dilemmas". Hence Private Eye’s title ("Which came first...").
Which came first...
Private Eye, No. 1489, 8–21 Feb 2019
"A genetically modified chicken whose eggs contain large amounts of a protein which can be used to treat cancer could become a commercial reality." – BBC News website, 3 June 2005
"UK scientists have developed genetically modified chickens capable of laying eggs containing proteins needed to make cancer-fighting drugs." – BBC News website, 14 January 2007
"Researchers have genetically modified chickens that can lay eggs that contain drugs for arthritis and some cancers." – BBC News website, 28 January 2019