GMO Corn, Bacillus thuringiensis-Do you know what’s in YOUR gut?


I’ve recently had the opportunity to perform a bacterial census on a patient, from a stool sample. This analysis reveals what bacteria live in the intestines and in what ratio, by DNA analysis of stool. This has yielded some interesting results, including one soil based organism that is a known pathogen (although I should note that it was not present in large quantities). Bacillus thuringiensis is a rather famous and well known microorganism, because it produces an insecticide (or at least, most strains of it do). Why is this important? Because, you see, the bacterial genes that encode for the production of this insecticide have been isolated…and transplanted…into corn that you probably eat regularly. The insecticidal toxin is a crystalline protein, known biologically as a Cry protein. When genes coding for this protein are inserted into the genome of a corn plant, the GMO corn is commonly called Bt corn, for Bacillus thuringiensis. The Bt toxin produced by the plant is estimated to be 1500 times more toxic than that of the bacteria originally producing it. This GMO corn was engineered to provide corn with resistance to the European Corn Borer, a larvae of a type of moth (moths are part of a group known as Lepidopterae). The corn is considered by the FDA to be as safe as non-GMO corn, though no sane person would spray their corn with an insecticide and then claim it to be as safe as unsprayed corn. When money is concerned, logic seems to be the first thing to fly away—like a moth as it were. This Bt corn is used for everything from corn syrup to tortilla chips and corn meal. So, how did this organism get into my patient’s gut? When people consume this “food”, they also consume Bt toxin and genes for the production of Bt toxin. Bacteria are notably capable of having a genetic swap meet, where they exchange useful little “sub-programs” of DNA known as plasmids. This allows bacteria to share useful genetic sequences with others within their colony. In addition, some bacteria such as B. thuringiensis, can form spores which allow them to assume a dormant nonreactive form. This can result in the colonization of the human gut by Bacillus thuringiensis when a person is exposed to GMO food that has B. thuringiensis spores on it. This was first noticed in farm workers, though it is not associated with any acute gut reaction or illness. The result of this genetic exchange and bacterial colonization of the human gut is the expression of the Bt toxin in the human body. But, wait you say, didn’t Monsanto say that Bt corn was completely and totally safe? Let’s take a closer look at that! The first thing to consider is if there is any consequence to the microbiome from the body having Bt toxin present. There are always gut bacterial reactions to new toxins! Bacteria are masters at adaptation, and they can evolve resistance to the toxin. This has been seen in farming, because farmers who grow Bt corn were initially instructed to plant a smaller plot of non-GMO corn also. This was to provide a place where the corn borer and moths could complete their life cycle without the increased evolutionary pressure of an entire crop expressing Bt toxin. Farmers, however, are not biologists and apparently often do not heed this instruction. The result is an increasing level of Bt toxin resistance in corn borers-so the GMO is not working as well as originally to prevent crop loss. How is this possible you say? It is possible because the corn borer also has a microbiome that lives in its gut and digests the plant fiber that it consumes. This microbiome is a bacterial colony that can systematically work at developing toxin resistance until it succeeds, then share that genetic material with the rest of the colony. The result-voila!-is a larva that is no longer affected by Bt toxin from GMO corn. When this happens internally, our own microbiome can develop resistance as well. One reason this could be important is that Bt toxin has been researched as a potential anti-cancer drug to treat colorectal cancer. If gut bacteria are able to metabolize the toxin and break it down without harmful effects, this could result in the drug not working when it is needed most. The second thing to consider is what effect Bt toxin has on the human body. Its toxicity is demonstrated by the experience of some German farmers, who found that their cattle died when fed Bt corn, though the company that made the corn apparently tried to cover up this inconvenient truth. Researchers have found that male rats experience changes in organ size and function, particularly the organs of detoxification: the kidneys and the liver. Abnormal changes were also seen in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and the bone marrow. These changes included fatty degeneration of liver cells, a process resulting in fatty liver disease which is a precancerous condition. Since GMO corn often also includes genes for resistance to RoundUp (glyphosate) to allow killing of weeds and pre-harvest spraying to increase yield, GMO corn has elevated levels of glyphosate as well as Bt toxin (sounds yummy, doesn’t it?). Researchers have looked at this combination and concluded that it is probably more toxic to human cells than Bt alone! Bt toxin has been found to trigger an inflammatory immune response, with the combination also affecting the mucosal lining of the intestines. As detailed in The Symbiont Factor, this is the habitat where our gut microbiome resides, so inflammatory mucosal changes are harmful to gut bacteria. An imbalanced microbiome will affect brain function, immune function, emotional balance…the list is quite long. The effects of Bt toxin are not isolated to human beings but affect the ecosystem (that place we live) by disturbing the food chain. For example, butterflies that land on Bt corn are killed by the toxin, and it has been implicated as one of the factors killing honeybees. Without pollinating insects, plants cannot reproduce. Plants are what consume the carbon dioxide that we breathe out, and produce the oxygen we need to live. What is bad for plants is bad for us (apologies to biologists for simplifying a much more complex topic!) So, what is your exposure? Bt toxin has been found in pregnant mothers and in their babies, and Roundup has been found, well, everywhere including in Froot Loops. Since the whole planet appears to have gone somewhat bezerk with the spraying of RoundUp, it has probably even been found in penguins. What is important is to at least minimize exposure, eat organic corn and corn products (or, avoid the subject entirely by adopting a true Paleo diet with organically raised meats!) and be aware. When humongous corporations are allowed to set public policy and heavily influence FDA guidelines (read up on the FDA/Monsanto/Merck revolving door mechanism!) we can expect more of the same: inaccurate information and deliberate disinformation and a systematic death of our ecosystem with only one entity benefiting: the corporate giant pushing the buttons. People have far more influence and power than they realize, but only in large groups. Can a single ant accomplish anything? Yet a colony of ants can build spectacular nests and take down far larger prey. So it is with people, if we could just rise up to the level of the ant and learn to work together!


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One thought on “GMO Corn, Bacillus thuringiensis-Do you know what’s in YOUR gut?

  1. Nice article! You are the best I’ve found at digging up the spy counter spy struggles for control of our guts. Lots of well documented info boiled down and explained to raise the importance and understanding of these GIANT itty bitty topics!

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