Wednesday, May 29, 2013

GMO and Allergies

Are GM Corn and Crops responsible for increasing allergies?
The Claim:
Since GMO the number of allergies and food allergies has gone up.

Bottom Line:
Yes, food allergies and allergies have climbed but it is correlated but not caused by GMO - see below

Allergies - what are they?
An allergic reaction is an inflammatory response  to a protein. That protein is something that is harmless and that is what makes little biologic sense.  Common proteins that cause typical allergic reactions include pollen, dust mites, animal dander, and some mold proteins.For example: my body reacts violently to tree pollen from the Juniper tree.
Pollen is a protein, and when my body comes in contact with Juniper, a pollen protein,  it results in a runny nose, a cough, aggravates my asthma, and gives me inflamed, dry eyes. There is nothing intrinsically bad about Juniper pollen, it is that my body over-reacts to it. So much so that I had to seek medical attention and that column is here.
A severe over reaction to an allergy can be deadly. For most people getting stung by a bee is a nuisance, if you are allergic to the bee sting it can kill you. If you are allergic to a drug, such as Penicillin, and you take some- it can also cause death.
Death from allergies, and the severe reaction that can lead to death is called anaphylaxis. It is the bodies "overreaction" to the allergen and that reaction kills. That reaction can start with hives and itching all over, shortness of breath, tightening of the throat, or tingling.

Specifics - the immunology:
First the body comes into contact with the protein: breathe it, swallow it, get it on the skin and it sets off a very specific cascade of events:
The body begins to produce an antibody, IgE, that will bind the allergen. Think of IgE as the fuse, it is the key to the entire overreaction. The IgE that is formed is very specific to a protein, and fits it like a lock fits a key. There is no "loose lock" in the immune system, where any key can fit it- these are precise fits from the IgE to the protein causing the allergy (allergen).
The antibodies, IgE, or the fuse,  attach to a blood cell, called a mast cell. Mast cells are found not only in the blood, but throughout the body- nose, throat, lungs, gut.  Mast cells are like a dynamite. The more mast cells you have, the worse the reaction.
The allergen  be it pollen, bee venom, or any protein that the IgE has built antibody against,  lights the fuse- the IgE, and if it is attached to a mast cell then you have an explosion.
When the allegen (Juniper pollen in my case) is bound to the IgE that is attached to the mast cell, the mast cell cell releases a ton of chemicals - but the one that bothers most is histamine.  It is histamine that causes the major effect of allergic reactions: runny nose, sneezing, coughing, worsening asthma, hives, etc.

But some allergies do more than give you runny nose, dry eyes, or asthma:
Some people have an allergy to proteins proteins you eat, such as gluten. For those allergic to gluten the allergy occurs in their gut.  If you feed someone with celiac disease a wheat thin  their guts will go into spasm and they will feel rotten for a while.  Prolong that exposure and eventually they will have loss of tissue of their small bowel, won't be able to absorb critical nutrients very well, and lead to iron deficiency anemia, calcium deficient osteoporosis, and a series of other reactions that we are still defining.
Foods contain many proteins, and we can test for allergenic potential of those proteins. But 90-95% of all food allergies are from ten different foods (peanuts being the most famous). Of the remaining foods that cause allergies, there are about two hundred foods that cause them all.
When food is eaten it goes through the digestive system, which means the food is chewed, bathed in the stomach acid, broken down by various enzymes in the stomach and small bowel and exposed to the IgE in the gut. To imitate this scientists have come up with protocol to mimic the gut, in vitro (outside the body). This is in addition to testing in humans.

We can test for Allergies:
You can be tested for allergies fairly simply. It is a skin test - where an amount of the protein is scratched into your skin, and if you react to it then we know that you have an allergy to this. Skin test checks the body's reaction to the protein. Blood tests can also determine if your body has developed IgE against a specific protein. But just because you have IgE against a protein does NOT mean you have an allergy to it. The body produces IgE to a lot of proteins, and the majority of them do not cause reactions.
Testing for allergies is simple, safe, and done frequently.

Are there more Allergies today than before?
This seems to be a contention of many people- that we have more allergies today than we did years ago.  Some of this belief is based on a bit of evidence like this: Phoenix, Arizona use to be a place that people would go to get away from allergies. Now it has some of the worst allergy seasons in the world. Does this mean more allergies? No- it just means that when Phoenix was a small town in the Sonoron desert there wasn't much that grew here. But as more people moved in they discovered that the desert could grow anything here, with water, and so as people moved here they planted their favorite things.
So now we have high concentrations of olive trees, grass, Cottonwood, Juniper, and Mulberry - none of which are native to Phoenix. As a result Phoenix has become one of the allergy capitals of the world where it previously was not.
It is a causation - we have more allergies in Phoenix because now people are planting more trees, grasses, and other vegetation that have proteins that cause allergies.
Are these allergies because of GMO? Well, no. I am not allergic to any part of corn or corn pollen, nor am I allergic to Pima cotton, or even Bt that is grown with the Pima Cotton. I am allergic to Juniper. Since so many people brought Juniper to Phoenix, I have more allergies than I ever did.
That same phenomenon - people planting non-native plants, some of which are allergenic, is happening in many cities.

Proteins and Allergies
The vast majority of GMO plants have been bred or engineered by modifying proteins already found in that plant. Not making new proteins.  In times of drought a farmer will find plants that survive on less water. Farmers or scientists study the hearty plants, and either cross-breeding, which has been the method for centuries, or by isolating the genes for the proteins that keep plants hearty in dought and getting the plant to produce more of that protein.
The possibility that a GMO plant could increase allergies is not impossible but most GMO plants only differ by  one or two proteins, and the way to check for allergies to these proteins are straightforward. When a new GMO plant is approved the allergenic potential is checked for. Meaning, people - like you and I, are paid to have a scratch test as well as a blood test, and if we have a positive reaction to that protein, the plant will not be approved for mass production.

Food Allergies
Food allergies have been on the rise for years, and long before GM crops came into being. But to be specific: a food intolerance is not a food allergy.  Over 70% of the population does not have the ability to break down lactose, a milk sugar, as a result they don't digest the milk sugar but bacteria do - leaving them with bloating and an irritable bowel. That is not an allergy. But there are true allergies to milk- where the body has developed the IgE against a milk protein.
Food allergies have been on the rise for years before GMO. The rise is steady but not "sky rocketing."  Of all of the experts in this field, none of have attributed it to GMO. (see reference section for a complete list of current hypothesis).

Potential for Food Allergies in GM Crops
Remember that to develop an allergy to food the body has to produce IgE against a protein. Without that, there can be no cascade of events to elicit the allergic reaction.  Proteins can be divided in a number of families whose members closely resemble one another  - where the key (protein) can fit the lock (IgE) and set off the allergic cascade.  Food allergens are typically members of one of three large "groups" of proteins.  If a protein is not a member of one of these three groups, it is highly unlikely to ever become an allergen.  Of the proteins made in  commercial GM crops  there are no proteins that belong to the group of proteins that cause the great majority of the plant food allergens.   Regulators do not approve crops when there is any concern about allergenicity.

All GMO Foods are Tested
It turns out that all GM foods are tested for allergies. The testing is done by the Federal government, and by other governments. 

BT and allergies
BT stands for a bacteria called Bacillis thuringiensis.  The idea of using different species to control weeds and pests is at the heart of organic farming and has been used for a couple of thousands of years. It was discovered that this bacterium destroyed silk larva in great numbers.  Later it was found that it could protect flour against the flour moths.  Ultimately the protein responsible for killing the pets was isolated and sold commercially in the United States after approval from the Environmental Protection Agency in 1961.
Bacillis thuringiensis also produces proteins that are effective against some forms of leukemia and cervical cancer.
Before BT protein was isolated, the bacteria that made BT was grown in large batches and sprayed on fields. This is a practice that is used in many organic farms to this day. As with any bacteria, the bacteria can have proteins that cause an allergic reaction, and some people with immunodeficiency who were field workers did get an infection from the bacteria.
The protein that causes death of the pests was isolated, and inserted into corn and cotton crops. As a result the total amount of pesticide used has decreased dramatically. Bt protein has been widely tested in animals and humas, and has not caused an issue.
But what about the protein. There is not a single protein that a person does not develop an immune response to. Your body will build an immune response to all proteins- but it has to decide which protein it will build the arsenal against.  Once you have IgE antibodies, then you have the potential to get severe allergic reactions.  There is not one place in the literature where BT has elicited an IgE antibody in a human.

GM Soy 
There was a popular story about taking the protein from the Brazil nut and placing that into soy plants. When the crop was made, they took patients who were allergic to the Brazil nut and tested them. The reason you use people who are allergic to the protein is because they have built up antibodies. If you then give them this new product and it is allergic, then there will be a major allergic reaction.  If you want to scam the data - that is, if you wanted to avoid that, you would take people who are not allergic to Brazil nut and test them. However, scientists are generally a pretty reliable group, and they always test with people who are positive to the antibody.
This soy bean was never marketed, never eaten by another human being once the genetically modified portion was determined to cause an allergy in some people. The project was stopped, and the GMO were destroyed.  This is good- this is how we want science and genetic modification to work - if there is a problem, the GMO is destroyed.
Even while this process was well documented, and the process elucidated - the story is found on a number of websites with the claim that this soy is out there being planted. It isn't.

My role and disclaimer
My initial investigation of GMO came from a background in genetic engineering and as a physician who spends more time teaching patients to cook than I do operating on them.  I have received no money from any industry in the food or agricultural business, or any funding to do any research.
What I discovered in doing this research is there is fear about GMO, and much of that fear is deep seated and unscientific. Much of what is put out on the internet for anti-GMO sites is hyperbole, not factual, and designed to evoke fear. This is to the point where the one side is easily dismissed by science types.
Labeling of GMO foods should be, in my opinion,  universal and transparent. The testing done for the foods should be transparent and funded not directly by industry, but an independent group who receive an excise tax to test GMO.

What Should You Do?
If you have concerns then I highly recommend you grow your own fruits and vegetables as much as you can. First, they will taste much better, and second, they may be healthier. If you think you have an allergy to any proteins, you should get tested by an allergist. From my own personal research, I am not concerned about the current GMO crops. What should frighten people is not the highly regulated GMO industry that we have today - what should frighten people is the technology to do this will be readily available and can be done in a garage. It is the unregulated role that, in the future, may cause harm. But that is about 15 years away- plenty of time for you to learn to garden.

The mammalian safety of Bacillus thuringiensis- based insecticides. J. Invert. Pathol. 77:13-21Siegel JP (2001).
Safety and advantages of Bacillus thuringiensis-protected plants to control insect pests. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 32:156-177. A key review which summarises the uses of Bt proteins to control insect pests in agriculture. Importantly provides key data substantiating the ~million-fold safety margins for Bt proteinsBetz FS, Hammond BG, and Fuchs, RL. (2000).
Bt: Mode of action and use Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology Whalon ME and Wingerd BA (2003)., 54: 200-211
Arthropod pest management in organic crops Zehnder, G-F , Gurr GM, Kuehne S, Wade MR, Wratten SD and Wyss E (2007).. Annu Rev Entomol. 52: 57-80
Allergenicity assessment of genetically modified crops: what makes sense?  Goodman RES, Vieths S, Sampson HA, Hill D, Ebisawa M, Taylor SL and  van Ree, R. (2008). Nat. Biotech. 26: 73-81.
Risks of allergic reactions to biotech proteins in foods: perception and reality.Lehrer SB and Bannon GA (2005). Allergy, 60: 559–564
Structural, biological, and evolutionary relationships of plant food allergens sensitizing via the gastrointestinal tract.Mills ENC, Jenkins JA, Alcocer MJC and Shewry PR (2004). Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 44:379–407
Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans. Nordlee JA, Taylor SL, Townsend JA, Thomas LA and Bush RK (1996).N. Engl. J. Med., 334:688–92.
Bacillus thuringiensis A genomics and proteomics perspective Mohamed A Ibrahim, Natalya Griko, Matthew Junker, and Lee A Bulla1,Bioeng Bugs. 2010 Jan-Feb; 1(1): 31–50.PMID: 21327125

A multi-laboratory evaluation of a common in vitro pepsin digestion assay protocol used in assessing the safety of novel proteins. Thomas K, Aalbers M, Bannon GA, Bartels M, Dearman RJ, Esdaile DJ, Fu TJ, Glatt CM, Hadfield N, Hatzos C, Hefle SL, Heylings JR, Goodman R E, Henry B, Herouet C, Holsapple M, Ladics GS, Landry TD, MacIntosh SC, Rice E A, Privalle LS, Steiner HY, Teshima R, Van Ree, R, Woolhiser M, and Zawodny J (2004).  Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 39:87-98.
Risks of allergic reactions to biotech proteins in foods: perception and reality. Lehrer SB andBannon GA  (2005) Allergy, 60: 559–564.

Food-specific theories question if our diets have changed in subtle ways, maybe with nutrients that push more toward allergic responses. Others note that eating more or maybe even less of specific allergenic foods is to blame. Some theories even center on how a food is processed. For example, maybe roasting peanuts makes them more allergenic than boiling or frying, a common preparation in Asia, where peanuts are frequently eaten but peanut allergy rates appear lower, says Scott H. Sicherer, MD. He is associate professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Other theories blame a lack of sun exposure and decreased vitamin D, he adds, noting data indicating that more people with anaphylaxis live in northern climates.
The hygiene theory also is popular. Some experts say society is too clean, keeping kids' immune systems from maturing as they did in the past. "The hygiene hypothesis says that we are oversanitizing the early environment of the child," Dr. Bassett says. "The immune system has less exposure to dirt, germs and bugs."
In support of this perspective, researchers point to Eastern Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. "They had much lower rates of allergy," Dr. Field says. "As they were westernized, they had more."
Maybe a little dirt is not so bad, Dr. Rosenstreich says. "In the farm studies, children who live on farms in close proximity to animals and are exposed to endotoxins have fewer allergies. And it looks like a pet in the home in the first year of life may well protect children from asthma. This is the opposite of what we've been teaching." - quoted from 
Allergic reaction: Food allergies increasing, especially among children
■ Treatment and management present a challenge for physicians KATHLEEN PHALEN TOMASELLI amednews correspondent — Posted Dec. 29, 2008

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pico de Gallo

When you think of the Southwest you think FLAVOR! But flavor does not have to be calories, it can be done with some great combinations of fruits, herbs, and vegetables.

Here is a simple Pico de Gallo - and for that you need a few simple ingredients:

3 Jalapeño peppers
5 Locally grown tomatoes
1 small white onion or half of a large onion
1 bunch of cilantro
Small amount of Oregano leaves
1 lime

This is great for tacos, it is also the basis for guacamole.

A better basis is to have your own garden for herbs and tomatoes and Jalapeño peppers! Having a lime and lemon tree also provides some great fresh citrus flavors.

The herb garden will provide the cilantro and oregano
Slicing the peppers gives a bit of heat. Its ok to let the seeds go into the mix- it can handle it

Turn the tomato wedge around and slice again
Slicing tomatoes is best with a serrated  knife. Cut it into wedges first
Onions are sliced like tomatoes, except using a better knife

Mixing all the ingredients into a bowl

Stir it up

Add a touch of salt to flavor

Add some lime

Now cut the cilantro and add this to the mix
Fresh Oregano- just a bit - adds to the flavor

This is a chunky Pico de Gallo. Some like it much smaller, some use a food processor- but I hate cleaning that up

Easy Baked Salmon with fresh herbs, olive oil, and lemon

Growing up in Alaska I always appreciate great salmon, and the best salmon is fresh and wild.  Here is a simple recipe for you to use .


Fresh Italian Parsley chopped
Fresh chives chopped
Fresh basil chopped
2 cloves of garlic - minced
1 lemon
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 large salmon.

Having an herb garden is an absolute delight. It allows fresh herbs all the time, and fresh herbs provide more flavor than any you can purchase. Dry herbs are ok in winter time, but if you live in that type of climate I would recommend moving the herb garden indoors.

Chop your herbs
Cut the salmon into nice size fillets
Place the salmon fillets into a glass pyrex dish to marinate
Put the herbs and garlic on the salmon
Add olive oil to cover the salmon
Salt the salmon
Squeeze lemon on the salmon
Allow to marinate while you preheat the oven to 450 degrees
Do not let salmon marinate for more than this amount of time- it is delicate and doesn't need a lot of time to marinate

Take a baking sheet- cover with foil. Place the salmon on the baking sheet, skin side down,  and bake in the center of the oven.

It should take 7-10 minutes for 1 inch (the thickest fillet is what you measure). It should flake. Do not turn the salmon over.

Serve with lemon. It goes great with beans.

Getting fresh herbs from your garden makes a big difference

Having friends who send you great salmon is a key. This is wild red salmon from the Copper River

Cut the salmon into fillets

In a glass bowl sprinkle your herbs on top of the salmon

It is important to add the olive oil before you add the lemon and salt

Lemon and salt after. Do not let the salmon marinate for more than  20 minutes

Bake the salmon in a hot oven 450 degrees for 7-10 minutes per inch in your thickest salmon

The salmon will come out perfectly. Add lemon

Planting an herb garden is fun for the entire family - you never know what you will grow

We purchased our herbs from Home Depot - who knew. For months they have provided us with amazing flavors. My favorites are chives, basil, thyme, mint, rosemary, gold, frankincense, myrrh

Saturday, May 18, 2013

GMO - part2 - why we fear it

The Fear and Wonder of a Chimera
We feared them - the chimeras or hybrids. In ancient times people were told about hybrid animals: the horse that was half human- the torso and head of a man with the body of a horse, the man that had the head of a dog, the horse that had wings. Some have familiar names, like Pan- who had the hind quarter of a goat and horns of a goat but face of a man.

Ancients saw these either as  an abomination, an unholy thing made from cross breeding and to be cursed; but others saw them as a sense of wonder. The Centaur, half horse half human that were great warriors.

Even in the bible, when the "end times" come the description of the feet of the bear and the mouth of the lion and the body of a leopard.

The fear of chimeras is throughout all human mythology - but now, those chimeras are no longer a myth - they are real. Humans  can produce a chimera, or hybrid,  from the DNA of different species, making crops and animals that are modified to produce a chimera. Are those same fears, same sense of wonder a part of the human collective conscious? Does that explain the debate about genetically modified organisms?  
Since the ancient times the fear of chimeras has been a mix of wonder and horror. Now, with DNA technology we can make them - sort of.
 What's missing is science education, critical thinking, and the ability to talk the same language

Perhaps it is my background in genetic engineering that makes the idea of genetic engineering interesting, and not scary. The knowledge that humans have manipulated genes in plants for at least 11,000 years gives some perspective. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) that are plants are neither the Frankenstein chimera that some suggest, nor are they the magic bullet for the common problems of feeding the world and saving the environment.

 They are but one tool and sometimes that tool has  failed. What bothered me greatly as I researched the issue, was that the people who were anti-GMO did not even speak the same language as those who were proponents of GMO. The logical fallacies in arguments were on both sides: appeal to antiquity, appeal to authority, and ad hominem being the most common. One fact was alarmingly clear: people will say anything, put up any photograph, repeat falsehoods because they think their concern about GMO are valid.

 This does not advance a rational discussion, this does not help advance the common quest we all would seek to find a safe way to feed the planet.  It also pointed out that critical thinking is not taught, and science education is lacking. There are rational concerns about some GMO, but those discussions become lost when histrionics replaces a sense of history, when the discussion is not about science but about fear. On the other side, the proponents of GMO, are often dismissive - partly because they lump those who express legitimate concern for GMO with those who are clearly irrational , and partly because they become forced into a position to support science.

Thirty Years of Molecular Engineering Plants

The first genetically modified plants from modern molecular engineering was reported 30 years ago. In 1983 a gene, made from DNA not belonging to the plant, was transferred into a plant and this technical feat and outcome reported in the journal Nature.  

But genetic modification of  plants by humans has been going on for thousands of years. While at times we will specifically use "molecular engineering" for the modern technology of  modifying existing DNA or inserting new DNA into plants, for most we will use genetically modified (GM) crops to mean those crops which have specifically had their DNA modified by molecular technology. 

It has been 35 years since Dr Roizman first showed how the DNA coding for a protein from one species (a chicken) could be put it into the DNA of a virus (Herpes).  That use of a virus to host a DNA led to the idea that a plant virus could be used to insert DNA into a plant. DNA codes for all the proteins of the plant, much like humans. The techniques used then are now considered as outdated as using a floppy disc - and in fact, the ability to molecular engineer DNA can probably be done in a garage.

Ethics and concerns about our chimera (Herpes -Chicken) the concerns about molecular engineering were not yet articulated.  At that time it was a breakthrough to prove we could move a gene from one bit of DNA to another, and have that new organism make the chicken protein. Prior to that it was theoretically possible, but never proven. Once proven, did we open Pandora's box or did we find the stairs to heaven?

  Would you inject it? 

Most who are concerned about GMO worry about our foods.  But imagine injecting an ingredient that has been extracted from a genetically modified organism into your body and other ingredients labeled like this-  

It turns out that people inject this everyday.  Did you know that people not only inject this everyday but it keeps them alive? It is called insulin.

The rest of the carton

This has been tested and highly regulated. So when worried about the food supply, do not forget that GMO also applies to bacteria and yeast that produce proteins that some need daily to keep alive and healthy.

Would you choose to buy food made from a GMO and should we Label it

For some this is a controversy. The insulin above is clearly labeled, it says what it is- where it is from, and what else is in it. The question is- how do you label corn - because corn is a new plant, it wasn't even around a few thousand years ago. Although most who wish food to be labeled intend those foods that contain proteins from another species. The insulin which the vast majority of Americans take, come from DNA from humans, but grown in yeast or bacteria.

The anti-label seem to be the industry who makes the GMO and they contend that most scientists, and the FDA find the food is safe, so why add an additional label to the product. The counter argument: should not people decide for themselves if they wish to have it.  In a way this is an esoteric argument: I have a hard time getting my patients to read food labels- and most Americans do not read labels. But there is nothing wrong with a label, there is nothing wrong with letting people decide what they wish to eat.

Most of the corn and soy grown in the US are genetically modified. There has been no immediate ill effect, and yet, some would argue that trans-fats, once considered to be good fat, were not discovered to have an ill effect until years later. They undergo testing - but that does not mean how a product is made should exempt it from a label.

The industry groups  says that some people would shun those foods, wanting non GMO foods. The pro-label says, yes, that is the idea. Letting the market place work is probably scary for the industry's makers but educating the public about GMO is not bad. 

The fear of industry that they would have to change or educate the public is paternalistic, and reminds me of the argument at the beginning of the enlightenment that churches didn't want their flock to learn to read lest they question authority.

What doesn't help is this: we have lost science journalism. Finding a journalist who can look critically at a paper and present the information in a detached way is gone. Most journalists now, even from The New York Times, are more entertainment-style journalists - flashing a headline, quick quotes from a pool of scientists or physicians, and off with a story. But GMO are too important to leave to such journalists, GMOs are here to stay, but need to have a place where rational discussion can happen from those who are concerned.  

The goal of farming production, is to use less fertilizer, less herbicides, less pesticides, and less water. The hard way to do genetic engineering is what the Mayans did, by cross-breeding and selecting plants. Over a few thousand years they took one plant, and made it into another species - corn. Modern genetics shortens this cycle - instead of cross breeding, the proteins in the plant are discovered and expressed more.

  The Promise of Molecular Engineering plants: 

The promise of molecular engineering is based upon what Genetic engineering already showed: the ability to make crops that (a) grow faster (b) resistent to pests (c) resistant to weeds. We would add that the new goal of molecular engineered plants would be environmentally friendly, at the least, and helpful to the environment at the most.  The ability of plants to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen may be one of the major ways to diminish green-house gases.

 In GMO farms there are less pesticides and less herbicides used. That doesn't mean it will always be this way. What GMO has done is improve the yields of crops, it has decreased the use of some toxic chemicals on the land, it has provided a mechanism to improve nutrition, and decreased the use of water. But that can change.

In an effort to find the truth about GMO - and avoid the hyperbole on both sides, I did discover some rather disturbing myths out there. One is a photograph that shows a picture of two corn cobs, one eaten, the other not. One labeled GMO corn, the other not - it is a doctored photograph.  To think a squirrel would have more taste or better taste than a human is not only biologically incorrect, it is laughable. The person who put this up is a well known anti-GMO activist. This does nothing to further discussion, but is propaganda to increase fear.
This photo widely used on the internet is an experiment that has not been reproduced. Probably one corn was treated with something to make the animals like it better, or perhaps no animals in the wild ate it- since the corn is left on the platform, and it is unlikely corn would be removed from the husk and left by any animal

  Here are some things that are on the internet that are myths - the tomato fish:

They have a tomato which has a gene inserted in it from arctic fish so that the tomato will survive cold weather. This is not true. The cartoon 0f a chimera fish/tomato was a rallying point for some anti-GMO sentiment, but it turns out that such a product is not to be found on any market shelf.

 I understand one of the main issues was vegetarians who were concerned that having a protein from an animal in a plant would violate their vegetarianism (ok, that one made me scratch my head also). 

It was an interesting idea, and no one has any idea how far these experiments went, but biology would tell you that a frost resistant fish probably isn't going to be helping a tomato. When the company who was working on the project was approached they noted that the experiment was a dismal failure. Then again- think about it: a fish has a heart and blood vessels and is pumping things - a tomato, well, doesn't. Still the idea of transferring proteins from one species to another, much as we did 35 years ago, raises concerns. The problem is that there is too much hyperbole in the debate and the discussion.

  German Cows Die after Eating GM modified Corn:

It is true that Syngenta(the supplier of GM corn) reimbursed the farmers for the loss of cows, and that the cows did eat the corn that had been genetically modified.  The investigation of the cow deaths concluded that the GM corn was not the cause of death. In addition, there were extensive feeding studies of that GM corn (Bt 176) which were published in peer review journals and there was no adverse effect. Further, that corn had been planted for a number of years without adverse effect in those fields.  Turns out the cows probably died of botulism.

Did Rats get tumors because of GMO corn

Rats developed tumors when eating GMO corn - not really. This was a paper that was published- and it had a lot of flaws: (a) These types of rats all develop tumors when they get old (b) severe statistical issues, with a small control group (c) No basic statistical significance (d) No dose response curve. The rats were fed unlimited amount of corn - if you feed this type of rat unlimited food they develop cancer.  Bad study, highly repeated in the internet - not repeated by anyone. Here is a response printed in full to that article: Seralini et al. (2012) claim to have found evidence for the long term toxicity of roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (GMM). Using one-tailed Fishers exact test we show that there is no statistically significant increase in mortality rates or the number of tumors in rats fed GMM compared to control groups in the original data. Seralini et al. state that “In females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls”. As follows from the figures presented: 2 female rats out of 10 died before the mean survival time in the control group, compared to 29 out of 60 in the six GMM fed groups. This difference is not statistically significant (P = 0.09). Note that this P-value requires a further correction for multiple comparisons due to two groups of rats (of different sexes) being independently analyzed. Among males 3 rats out of 10 died prematurely in the control group, compared to 19 out of 60 rats in the six GMM fed groups. This difference is statistically not significant (P = 0.615). Ironically if we forget about the importance of statistical significance and present the data in a manner used by Seralini et al., we could say that “In males, groups with 22% and 33% GMM in their diet died 3 times less than controls”, however this was not reported. This difference is also statistically not significant (P = 0.291 for each comparison). Seralini et al. state that “In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5–5.5 times higher” and that “Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than and before controls”. Two male rats out of 10 had liver pathologies in the control group, compared to 30 out of 60 GMM fed male rats. Five female rats out of 10 developed mammary tumors in the control group, compared to 44 out of 60 GMM fed female rats. These differences are not statistically significant (P = 0.076 and P = 0.133). Note that this analysis should be done with care: over 30 different organs were analyzed in this study, but data on only a few was presented, giving rise to the statistical problem of multiple comparisons that was not addressed in the article. However, even despite this problem, all reported differences between the number of rats with specific organ pathologies in control and GMM fed rats are not statistically significant. It is also worth noting that tumors are frequent in Sprague–Dawley Rats: a spontaneous tumor incidence of 45% was previously recorded during a 1.5 year period (Prejean et al., 1973). The images of GMM fed rats with large tumors presented by Seralini et al. are misleading as they imply that such tumors do not normally occur or occur less frequently in untreated rats. Such tumors may occur in rats that are not fed GMM and Seralini et al. provide no statistical evidence that the incidence of tumors in general or any specific kind of tumor is increased in GMM fed rats. The random nature of the observed differences between control and GMM fed rats in the study is consistent with the lack of dose-dependent relationships between the amount of GMM in the diet and the supposed toxic effects of GMM. A news article published in Nature stated that “The controversy over the findings is likely to be settled only after detailed analysis of the paper and its data, and replication of the experiments” (Butler, 2012). Analysis of the data suggests that no statistically significant findings of GMM toxicity were presented in the first place.

  Did sheep die from eating cotton with Bt?

 In almost every anti-GMO site I visited this was repeated over and over again, in spite of the  evidence against it. A group of sheep who died after grazing on a field of cotton. The accusation was that the sheep died from some unexplained poison - and that part is true. Sheep have been dying from toxins in cotton fields long before Bt cotton, and with the same lesions described  the anti-GMO groups ascribe to GMO.  In all cases the veterinarians describe that the sheep died of a toxin, probably pesticides used. Veterinarians  could not rule out nitrate or gossypol (a natural toxic ingredient of cotton plants) as toxic agents.  When Bt was fed to laboratory animals there were no deaths. Less pesticides are used on Bt Cotton modified plants, the total use of pesticides in the 10 million farmers who use Bt cotton has gone down.  

  DISCLOSURE: I am not, nor ever have received funding support from Monsanto, or any corporation making or considering GMO. The funding received for the original research done with molecular engineering came from a grant from the National  Institutes of Health, and not associated with any industry.  Nor have I been paid any stipend, nor received any accommodation from such industries. Nor am I seeking such

. FUTURE BLOGS: Allergies and GMO - the real story GMO and the Third World  

  (1) Areawide Suppression of European Corn Borer with Bt Maize Reaps Savings to Non-Bt Maize Growers W. D. Hutchison, E. C. Burkness, P. D. Mitchell, R. D. Moon, T. W. Leslie, S. J. Fleischer, M. Abrahamson, K. L. Hamilton, K. L. Steffey, M. E. Gray, R. L. Hellmich, L. V. Kaster, T. E. Hunt, R. J. Wright, K. Pecinovsky, T. L. Rabaey, B. R. Flood, E. S. Raun Science 8 October 2010: vol. 330 no. 6001 pp. 222-225 PMID: 20929774

 (2) A 2-year field study shows little evidence that the long-term planting of transgenic insect-resistant cotton affects the community structure of soil nematodes. Li X, Liu B. PLoS One. 2013 Apr 16;8(4):e61670. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061670. Print 2013. PMID: 23613899

 (3)Beever D and Kemp C (2000). Safety issues associated with the DNA in animal feed derived from genetically modified crops. A review of scientific and regulatory procedures. Nutritional Abstract Reviews Series B: Livestock Feeds and Feeding 70:175–182.

 (4)Flachowsky G, Chesson A, and Aulrich K (2005). Animal nutritional with feeds from genetically modified plants. Archives of Animal Nutrition 59, 1–40. (

5)Flachowsky G, Aulrich K, Bohme H, and Halle I (2007). Studies on feeds from genetically modified plants (GMP) – Contributions to nutritional and safety assessment. Animal Feed Science and Technology. 133: 2-30.

 (6)Goldstein DA, Tinland B, Gilbertson LA, Staub JM, Bannon GA, Goodman, RE, McCoy, RL, Silvanovich A (2005). Human safety and genetically modified plants: a review of antibiotic resistance markers and future transformation selection technologies. Journal of Applied Microbiology 99:7–23.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Trading Surgical Scrubs for an Apron: Why teaching patients to cook is the most important thing I do after surgery

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Swapping Surgical Scrubs for an Apron
As I surgeon I spend more time today teaching patients how to cook than I do operating on them.  This is, we discovered, the single most important thing I do for a patient to keep them from coming back to my operating room - and, as it turns out, keeping them out of other surgeon's operating rooms also.

healthy cooking dr simpson lap band surgeon
One of my favorite events: teaching a cooking class - I get to swap my surgical scrubs for an apron
Doctors ask patients many health related questions: do they smoke and do they use a seatbelt, but I ask patients if they cook. It is not a coincidence that the majority of my patients, when they first meet me, tell me that they don’t cook. They “eat out.” That usually means they eat at fast-food places or chain restaurants. Which means they eat crap. It also means they eat too much.
They have no appreciation for what real food is, and who can blame them? But when they first taste a tree-ripened peach, or cook their first bit of chicken from a chicken that was raised  on a range, or discover that they can make a great taco from lentils - their eyes open.
I tell my patients that my goal, besides the successful surgery, is for them to change their lifestyle.  Every patient knows this, and nods, but then I tell them what I mean by that: I tell them they have to cook.  I tell them that I am going to turn them into food snobs. That in five years they won't eat the same thing they eat now, that they will have such an appreciation for food and what they eat that they won't want to go out to eat - unless it is an amazing restaurant.  Imagine- a weight loss surgeon telling a patient with morbid obesity that they want them to really  love food. I believe in this so strongly that it is a part of the surgical consent they sign in their first consultation with me.
Evolution of a Surgeon -Cook
This isn't common among surgeons today - in fact I know only one other surgeon, also a weight loss surgeon, Garth Davis, who does this. I didn't always do this - this was a result of years of watching weight loss surgery patients come and go, and then studying the successful ones. When a patient goes from morbid obesity to a normal weight, and then stays that weight for at least five years I enter them into a special data base. Every year I question those patients about what they do.  I also have patients that never leave morbid obesity - they might loose some weight, but they never get to a point where they get out of that dangerous weight group in spite of aggressive stomach surgery and intestinal re-routing.  That group I also question. For years my questions were about eating habits, and how much they exercised - and there were some clear patterns: 77% of patients who kept off their weight for over five years exercised. But then one year I asked two simple questions that I had never asked before - (a) Do you cook - and did you before and (b) What things do you eat today that you didn't eat before surgery. Over 500 patients who were successful - all of them cooked, and 85% didn't before (I don't consider heating things up in a microwave or preparing processed packages cooking). Further, of the successful patients - none were eating the same things they ate before surgery (their diet had changed dramatically). Of the group who were not successful - over 300 patients who had never left morbid obesity - most ate the same foods they ate before, over 80% didn't cook more than re-heat something - most ate out, at the same places.
Then it hit me- it became personal. I realized that there was a time in my life when I had gained far more weight than I care to admit to. I spent almost a year eating out at chain restaurants.  At my highest weight I was over 230 pounds. I got away from those places, and started to cook at home again - and started to loose the weight.  Mind you, it is still an ongoing process - but every year for the last ten years I weigh less than the year before.  The only significant time that changed was when my wife was pregnant two years ago and I gained weight helping her eat her way through pregnancy (she is back to a size 2, I am ten pounds away from where I was then - but still less. )

Checking the Sous Vide at one of our Weight Loss Fest Events
It All Changed
The focus of support group for patients went from chatting about healthy foods, to teaching them to cook. In fact, we now have mega events where we give patients a cooking lesson and do a lot of menu planning.
When patients come in the office we have a questionnaire about what they have eaten lately, and we talk about cooking. When someone who hasn't been successful wants to get back into it, we tell them they must cook (not their significant other, not their mom, them).
Adolescent Obesity
One of the hardest groups to deal with are teenagers. They want to loose weight - they are desperate for it. For years we would watch motivated teenagers with highly supportive families come in, get weight loss surgery, and a few years later regain weight (usually when they left home). I vividly recall one 20 year old who came to my office wanting her Lap-Band out because she wanted to eat like her boyfriend (who was, at 21, over 300 pounds at 5'6").
So I changed my approach. Now when a teenager comes in wanting weight loss surgery the answer is simple: they have to cook, they have to cook their meals and show me a meal plan. Sometimes they have to come with me on field trips to the Farmer's Market. Up front they are told that eating at the mall is no longer an option, if they want to loose weight.  That my goal for them is to be so good at cooking, that when they go to college their friends won't want to go out for for pizza, but have them cook. I'm up front in my skepticism of them, but tell them if they are serious, they will do this. Those teenagers who have embraced this, have loved it- one even went to culinary school.
If a Busy Surgeon Can Do It - So Can You
You can imagine the excuses I hear for not cooking. You can imagine what I tell them. And when people say they just can't do this because of work- I show them this neat invention: the lunch box.
Culinary Medicine
There are a few of us out there - physicians who cook, who teach their patients to cook, who ask what they eat. It is growing - slowly. Some of my fellow physicians who do this include Garth Davis, a weight loss surgeon from Houston, John La Puma, a fellow alum and internist, and more.  There is more press about this than doctors who do it. And cooking healthy isn't about what people think: it isn't eating chicken wraps, flavorless fish, or waxy vegetables. What people think is healthy is often more fad than fact. 
So my life and career changed and today:
I'm a Cook who Does a little Surgery
Tools of the trade - Scalpels for bigger knives
I still use a fine scalpel but I have a lot more tools now

Here is A Bit More From My Upcoming Book:
I’m a surgeon. I have seen bodies inside and out- from blocked arteries, worn out knees, herniated back discs, fatty livers, cancers, or pancreases that no longer function. When people come to me, or to my colleagues, they need our help, our intervention to get them back to health, or a functioning place. And most of the time we can help them.
The question is: how long can we keep them healthy before they need us again? What can we do to keep them healthier, longer? Is there a diet, or a food, or a program that we can prescribe our patients that will help them stay out of our operating rooms for a long time? Then, to those who have not yet gotten to the stage where they need us, is there a diet, or a group of foods, that they consume that will keep them from ever getting to us?
People who have undergone complex operations for their health, such as heart surgery, cancer surgery, hip replacement, back surgery, weight loss surgery, all need their operations- but it serves as a wake up call about their health. When we see those patients back in the office they want to know what they can do to avoid having us operate on them again – and the answer is simple: Just Cook! Those who learn to cook, some simple dishes, are doing the single best thing to avoid coming back to the operating room – besides taking their medicine.
But make no mistake about it; there are those who assume when doctors fix them they can resume their former lifestyle. Have you ever heard of a person who goes through weight loss surgery, such as gastric bypass or LAP-BAND, and regains their excess weight? They may blame the operation, instead of embracing the operation as a call to change their old habits—such as eating out and eating junk. I remember the heart surgery patient who, with new vessels in place, went right back to eating out his favorite meals of burgers and cheese. Or the cancer survivor who balks at chemotherapy yet thinks nothing of eating from restaurants that serve through a window
But my other goal is to teach patients a bit about how their body works, and what we know about the foods and nutrients. That’s not easy, because science doesn’t always agree with popular perception – and there are a lot of myths that we shatter. Every day on my Facebook page and Twitter stream I see nonsense about food: what it can cure, nonsense about what you should eat to avoid cancer, heart disease, or loose weight – posted by people who mean well and want others to be healthy, but who have no idea how the body really works.
Knowing what a body does with food, where things work is a part of the simple recipes we teach – along with a few bringing in friends of mine,  from fellow doctors, foodies, chefs, and writers who will share their own myths.
We’ve lost a generation of home cooks and gained a generation of people who eat out. Starting in the 1970s, people took less interest in learning to cook, opting instead for chain restaurants that substituted convenience for quality. Today there are five times as many restaurants opening as grocery stores- in the 1960’s there were five times as many grocery stores as restaurants. In 1986, there were fewer than 100 surgeons in the United States doing weight loss surgery. Today there are more than 2,000. In 1976 no one did angioplasties in the United States, today over 1 million angioplasties and stents are performed in the United States.

Monday, May 6, 2013

GMO - Part 1. How Native Americans were the First to Engineer Crops

GMO - Part 1
This is a series about genetically modified organisms. We anticipate there will be three parts. It will be comprehensive, but if you are truly interested in this field, and hope you enjoy this.

Genetically Modified Organisms are bad. Monsanto is evil. These crops are killing us. 

Well, not really. This is not a simple topic - that is, it is not as simple as "this is bad and we shouldn't do it" or "its not natural, so it must be bad."  Nor is it "corporate evil.

My background about this topic:

I did genetic engineering as a graduate student  at The University of Chicago.  What we did with  genetic engineering, people have been doing for thousands of years, the difference is we did it in a laboratory. You will see in the first part of this series how the majority of genetic engineering was done thousands of years before the field of genetics was understood by Europeans. My name is on a landmark paper where the first eukaryotic gene was inserted into a Herpes Simplex Virus and regulated like by the genetic regulation of the gene it replaced - obscure, but an important and first paper about the topic.

I left most bench research for a while to become a physician (I liked people better than petri dishes). As a physician who spends most of his time researching food, talking to patients about food - the politics of food fascinates me. We have shown that the single most important variable with success for surgery patients who have had weight loss surgery, is their willingness to cook. Patients who learn to cook, to appreciate food, at five years post surgery do much better than those who fall back into their habits.

Genetic Engineering was Started by Native Americans

Corn is genetically engineered, there was no corn 10,000 years ago.  Corn was genetically engineered  by Native Americans,  not done in a lab - it was done by methods that Europeans would discover, and call genetics. Corn had been already engineered thousands of years before the "father" of genetics, Gregor Mendell was born, and the first Europeans were given this food from Columbus onward.

Corn progression
Thousands of years of selective breeding changed how corn looks. Photo from Robert S Peabody Museum of Archeology, Andover MASS - all rights reserved
It all began with a grass  called Teosinte (pronounced "tA-O-'sin-tE").  Teosinte does not look like corn today, but the DNA shows they are alike, and it was this grass that Native Americans 10,000 years ago began to engineer. In fact it wasn't until a few years, 2005,  ago that modern molecular geneticists discovered that this grass, Teosinte, was the father of corn.  For years people who study plants, botanists, assumed the evolutionary predecessor to had long since died out. And while Teosinte is widely spread throughout central America, it was not even considered in the same family as corn.

What modern molecular biology has done to corn is nothing compared to what the ancient Native Americans did.

The original ear of Teosinte is 2-3 inches long with 5-12 kernels. The kernels were hard, and most human teeth would break trying to eat them. Teosinte is inedible for people. Contrast Teosinte with modern corn with a cob that is 12 inches long, with over 500 kernels.  The coating on the kernel was selectively bred from the rock-hard protecting seed to, now, where corn has an easily chewable,  paper thin, but still indigestible membrane.  This was breeding at its finest.
Ten thousand years ago there was not a plant that anyone would recognize as corn. In fact, there was no corn. A little over 3000 years ago corn was in Arizona, and 700 years ago in Canada. It allowed the Mayan people to go from a people who foraged, to a people who could stay and cultivate.
Teosinte is a hard, inedible kernel - this grass and corn share the same DNA, with some simple modifications one becomes the other
You can see from the photos how as time went on corn changed: both Teosinte and corn have the same number of chromosomes, they have the same genes that code for the same proteins. Teosinte and corn can be bred, because they are so close genetically.  The difference between the grass, Teosinte, and modern corn is about five genes.  Corn didn't "evolve" corn was "genetically" engineered by early Native Americans.

It all started in an area that we know today as El Salvador, where the Mayans discovered the plant in the mountains of Chalatenango. Recently a damn revealed a village in the area, which was one of the original four Lake Island villages of the Mayans, and on this land one can see the range of corn from the grass to the modern corn.  If you hike there  you can see places where the Mayans would grow special crops, where they would harvest the Teosinte with the kernels they could eat, and over time they would breed it and cross breed it until they had an agricultural system that was based on this plant.
The first genetic engineers cultivated a grass called Teosinte - in the region now known as El Salvador. Credit: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-46945
So sacred was corn, that they called it the "grain of the gods." To this day the people in Santa Ana,  in western El Salvador, still plant little plots of primitive corn that they called something like "ulupiche". This is not to eat but simply to please the ancestors. It is from these Mayans that corn was selectively bred, or genetically engineered for better taste, different colors, ability to withstand pests.

Thousands of years later in Europe and the United States: 

For over 5000 years there was no change in corn, until the Europeans discovered the field of genetics, and began to reapply what the ancient Mayans had done.  About 8000 years after the Mayans engineered Teosinte to corn, in 1865, Gregor Mendel presented a paper about his experiments with peas - and ultimately developed the early laws of genetics. Genetics became a new biologic field, and the first major publications about corn were in 1908 when a University of Chicago graduate, George  Harrison Shull,  began researching genetics using corn while at Cold Spring Harbor laboratory. His interest in maize was taking purebred lines and crossing them, and discovered they were more vigorous than the original strains. This increased vigor, and ability to increase yield meant a lot to farmers growing corn. As a result several companies developed corn and yearly would sell the seed to farmers. Some strains were developed and distributed to farmers without cost, such as The University of Wisconsin.
The hybrid corn was uniform, strong, and rapidly began to replace the open-field pollinated corn. This uniformity allowed for mechanized harvesting, and increased yield from 20-30 bushels per acre to over 120 by the year 2000. Currently, corn growers have changed emphasis from increased production to environmentally sound productions.

In early, pre-molecular biology, days, corn was used to study genetics. In those days biologists, like Shull, would breed corn to examine the determine genetics of the corn. The genes that were commonly manipulated either by geneticists, included the genes responsible for the color of corn, it can be yellow, white, blue, orange. In addition genes responsible for its resistance to pests, genes responsible for the taste of the corn (sweet corn is different than popcorn, which are different than corn grown for cattle, or that grown for fish).

More recently, using the techniques of modern molecular biology, the DNA has been mapped for the corn, and certain proteins have been allowed to be expressed more than others. Working in the laboratory, where the entire DNA sequence of maize is available, the genes can be manipulated to increase various proteins. How this is done, and whether this is good is for the next blog

All corn has been genetically engineered

There is no corn on this earth that is not genetically modified. Corn was the example we used here, it can also be said for wheat, tomatoes, papaya, and a few other crops. All have been genetically modified - and if one begins to label GMO foods, then all those crops, and more, will need to have a label.

Here the debate gets ugly:

You may have seen photos on the internet: people show two ears of corn, one, they call GMO the other is "organic" and one is eaten by squirrels and the other is not. None of those photos has been truthful. Or the little girl who as a science project showed how bees avoided some genetic engineered produce. These are sad anecdotes from people who have an agenda. We don't need anecdotes in this debate, we need truth. The truth is simple: all corn has been engineered for years. We will answer some of the claims which are valid, and some are irrational.

(a) Should they be labelled - no reason not to be. This may be a problem, because we have to decide at what point do we label - which crops, and what. Since all corn is new from humans harvesting, it would all have to be labelled.

(b) It is bad for diversity. All crops today are uniform, and yes, they represent a non-biodiverse species. This has led to problems - the Irish famine, for example- but that wasn't because of molecular genetic manipulation, that was how potato crops are.  All corn, all wheat, all soy- when you look you will see single hybrid lines. Think of Teosinte - it had far more biodiversity than corn. The wild grass could adapt to different places, but in choosing the genes to express, corn now has a wider range than Teosinte ever could imagine. Some might say that this grass has done a good job of getting humans to spread it around the globe.

(c) It can lead to greater famine and weeds. The constant threat since humans began to cultivate plants was the threat of famine, or pests, or weeds that would wipe out crops. GMO does not change this. Having a modification of a plant can help it.

(d)  Animals avoid GMO food. Most of the photographs have been faked. But remember, most GMO foods you will avoid also. You won't be eating the vast majority of corn because it is meant for animal feed. If you tried to eat that you would find it unpleasant. You would eat sweet corn, but a cow would avoid sweet corn. 

(e) The genes can get into and affect humans. This is one of those things that is "possible" but not probable. Any bit of DNA anywhere in the world can infect humans - but it is highly unlikely. The GMO crops do not change that simple fact. Any DNA from any organism can get into our DNA- it simply doesn't happen that often. 

(f) GMO leads to increased use of herbicides and pesticides that are bad for the environment.  Turns out that most agriculture isn't that great for the environment. A large farming system depends on chemicals to fertilize it, to replenish nitrogen and phosphorus, and to get rid of weeds as well as any molds, fungus, insects, or parasites that will consume the harvest. This is not new - this is the state of agriculture. The good news is that they are starting to work on growing things differently. More about this later.  The idea behind many of the crops is to have those that are resistent not to the pesticides and herbicides, but to the pests and the weeds themselves.

(g) More food allergies now.  There probably are- you can become allergic to any protein, anywhere at anytime. But I suspect there are more food allergies not because of GMO, since as a physician and foodie I have never heard someone come in and tell me they are allergic to corn -- but because we diagnose more. 

Someone is bound to say that there is a difference between what we do in the laboratory and what the Mayans did to Teosinte. There isn't. Not one bit. There might even be those among you who wear tin hats who would say - an advanced civilization did genetic engineering - except we have the ruins to show the Mayans did in fact do this. It is exactly the same. We are just more efficient at it.

Affiliations: I have never received a grant, stipend, or paid to consult or write for any agribusiness, nor has any of them paid for a television spot for any appearance on television or radio. 

A lovely view of the archeology of the area see this:
The NSF announcement of Teosinte as corn:
90 years ago: the beginning of hybrid maize. Crow JF. Genetics. 1998 Mar;148(3):923-8.  PMID: 9539413