Science of Food: A current perspective of GMOs and RoundUp |

Science of Food: A current perspective of GMOs and RoundUp

Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part series on GMOs. Look for part two next month in the Summit Daily.

There is a huge controversy around the topic of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, which can be viewed as two separate issues relevant to human health and the environment: 1.) The modified organism itself, that contains a new sequence of DNA created by man in a laboratory that imparts new genetics and novel traits to the organism, and 2.) The widespread use of glyphosate, formulated as Monsanto's herbicide RoundUp, used in conjunction with genetically modified "RoundUp Ready" crops (corn and soybeans being the most common), and now being used as a pre-harvesting agent on non-GMO crops like wheat, oats and sugar cane.

Because there is so much information to convey on this topic, I have split it into two parts. In part I of this series, I will discuss some of the science that supports why GMOs and glyphosate in particular are dangerous to human health. In part II, I will address more specific consequences of GMOs and RoundUp on the environment, what foods are high risk and what the different food labels mean so that consumers can make more informed decisions about what they are eating.

With the new DNA technology that currently exists, it has become relatively easy for humans to manipulate the genetics of any organism. Genes are pieces of DNA that are ultimately expressed into proteins that determine the organism's traits. While some genetically modified (GM) crops have been developed with good intention (for example "golden rice"), in general GM crops are engineered to be "RoundUp Ready," to survive the indiscriminate spraying of RoundUp so that these crops stay alive while the weeds around them die.

We do not fully understand if these mutated proteins that result from the new genetics of the organism potentially harm human health. Since GMOs came into widespread use in the 1990s, there hasn't been much time to observe the long-term effects of how the novel DNA in GMOs affect humans, nor have many studies been attempted to explore the correlation. There are too many unknowns and too many potential scenarios that I can envision where the GMO may be toxic to human health. For example, some proteins can be antigenic, meaning they can cause the body to have an immune response by producing antibodies or initiating other attack mechanisms, similar to gluten protein. Over 38 countries have now banned the cultivation of GMO crops, including Italy, France, Russia, Peru and Switzerland, and due to the risk and lack of long-term safety information, I also steer clear of GMOs whenever possible. I advise the public to do the same.

More research has been done on the health effects of glyphosate, the main ingredient in RoundUp, and it is obvious that this chemical is the cause of many health problems worldwide such as infertility, kidney disease, birth defects, chronic gastrointestinal disorders like colitis and gluten sensitivity, neurological disorders like autism, chronic inflammation and cancer. With the compiling evidence, the World Health Organization declared glyphosate a "probable human carcinogen" in 2015 (carcinogen = cancer causing) and that it is genetoxic (it mutates your genes). Since its initial patented use in 1964 as a pipe cleaner, it has been known that glyphosate is a metal chelator, meaning that it binds to metals, like those found in minerals and certain "metalloproteins" in living organisms.

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This metal chelating property of glyphosate means that it can interfere with the numerous essential biological processes that involve metals in plants, bacteria and humans, despite Monsanto's initial claim of selectivity for a specific metalloprotein in the so-called shikimate pathway that does not exist in human cells. For example, glyphosate binds to the iron atom at the center of the CYP metalloproteins, which are responsible for the digestion and detoxification of nearly every substance we consume, from food to pharmaceutical drugs, and disrupts their normal functioning.

In addition, glyphosate is a powerful antibiotic, acting on the bacteria's shikimate pathway, similar to how it acts as an herbicide in plants. We are just beginning to understand the crucial importance of the bacteria living in our bodies, now being called the human microbiome. Dr. Thierrry Vrain, former scientist for the Canadian government who recently spoke out on the danger of GMOs, describes how RoundUp affects the human microbiome in a letter to the Canadian Minister of Health: "We are vastly outnumbered, roughly 10 to one — one hundred trillion bacterial cells call our lower intestine home. They are forever sending signaling molecules to each other and to all human organs, particularly the brain. All animals depend on their symbiosis with these bacteria, and humans are no exception. They are the teachers of our immune system, they make the neurotransmitters for our brain, and have a strong connection to the heart and the whole digestive tract. … A recent review of the medical literature on celiac and other diseases shows the link to imbalances of the microbiome that are fully explained by the antibiotic properties of glyphosate." Because glyphosate is being sprayed on non-organic wheat fields and other crops just days before harvesting for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest, it is likely that the heightened gluten sensitivity (and food allergies in general) that many people experience today is not actually due to the food itself, but rather due to the effects of toxic chemicals like RoundUp that bioaccumulate in humans and in the environment.

Many other scientists agree, such as MIT researcher Dr. Stephanie Seneff who suggests that "glyphosate's suppression of CYP enzymes and its antibiotic effect on the human microbiome are involved in the etiology of the many chronic degenerative and inflammatory diseases that have grown to epidemic levels since the advent of the RoundUp Ready technology." Since its introduction in 1974, RoundUp is now so widely used by both farmers and homeowners as a weed killer that billions upon billions of pounds of RoundUp have been sprayed onto our crops, fields, parks, playgrounds, and in our own backyards. The emerging scientific evidence supports that glyphosate causes a wide range of diseases in humans and is a threat to public health.

Stay tuned for next month's 'Science of Food" column for Part II on this topic of GMO's and RoundUp, where I will specifically address what foods are high risk, current food labeling laws and the effect of GMOs on the environment.

Dr. Lisa Julian Ph.D. has a passion for organic chemistry the "molecules of life," and its application to food and health. She's the owner of Elevated Yoga & Holistic Health in Frisco and teaches Science and Nutrition at CU Denver and CMC. She can be reached at (970) 401-2071 or For more information about services offered at her studio, visit


What: “Simplifying Health and Cooking” with Dr. Lisa Julian

When: Wednesday Jan. 18 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Where: Elevated Yoga & Hollistic Health, 310 E. Main St., Frisco

Cost: $55. Advanced registration required.

More information: