Cisgenics/intragenics is a safe form of GM because no foreign genes are involved
Cisgenic/intragenic foods are just as risky as any other GM food
Some scientists and GM proponents are promoting a branch of genetic engineering they have termed “cisgenics” or “intragenics”, which they say only uses genes from the species to be engineered, or a related species. They say that cisgenic/intragenic GMOs are safer and more publicly acceptable than transgenic GMOs, on the claimed grounds that no foreign genes are introduced.27,28
An article on the pro-GM Biofortified website, “Cisgenics – transgenics without the transgene”, bluntly states the public relations value of cisgenics: “The central theme is to placate the misinformed public opinion by using clever technologies to circumvent traditional unfounded criticisms of biotechnology.”29
An example of a cisgenic product is the GM “Arctic” non-browning apple, which a Canadian biotechnology company has applied to commercialise in the US and Canada.30,31
GM proponents appear to see intragenics/cisgenics as a way of pushing GM foods through regulatory barriers. As two researchers write: “A strong case has been made for cisgenic plants to come under a new regulatory tier with reduced regulatory oversight or to be exempted from GM regulation.”31
However, in reality, cisgenics and intragenics are just transgenics by another name. The artificial nature of the transgene construct and its way of introduction into the host plant genome make cisgenics/intragenics just as transgenic as cross-species transfers.
The word “intragenic” implies that only genes within the genome of a single species are being manipulated. But although it is possible to isolate a gene from maize, for example, and then put it back into maize, this will not be a purely intragenic process. This is because in order to put the gene back into maize, it is necessary to link it to other sequences at least from bacteria and possibly also from viruses, other organisms, and even synthetic DNA. Inevitably, “intragenic” gene transfer uses sequences from other organisms. Thus, though the gene of interest may be from the same species as the recipient organism, the totality of the genetically modified DNA introduced is not purely intragenic, but is transgenic, in the sense that some of the genetic elements that are introduced into the recipient plant are derived from another species.
The supposedly intragenic Arctic apple is clearly transgenic, in that sequences from foreign species were part of the DNA construct that was introduced into the apple. This introduces major uncertainties into the plant’s functioning, because the effects that those foreign sequences might have on the recipient organism are unknown.
The process of inserting any fragment of DNA, whether intragenic or transgenic, into an organism via the GM transformation process carries the same risks. These risks have been discussed in detail, above. Insertion takes place in an uncontrolled manner and results in at least one insertional mutation event within the DNA of the recipient organism. The insertional event will interrupt some sequence within the DNA of the organism and interfere with any natural function that the interrupted DNA may carry. For instance, if the insertion occurs in the middle of a gene, the gene’s function could be destroyed. As a result, the organism will lose the cellular function that the gene encodes. In addition, mutagenic effects on the plant’s DNA caused by the tissue culture process occur with cisgenics/intragenics, just as with transgenics.
In conclusion, cisgenic/intragenic plants carry the same environmental and health risks as transgenic GM plants.