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The problem of GMO Insulin

May 16, 2013

InsulinThe Pros & Cons of the Use of GMO Insulin
By Rob Callahan (2010) 

GMO insulin is also known as synthetic insulin, or human insulin. It is produced with genetically modified bacteria, instead of the traditional method that produces what is known as pork insulin. In this method, sometimes called natural insulin, the pancreas of a cow or pig is used to produce insulin.

What Is GMO Insulin?

Until the early 1980s, pharmaceutical insulin was extracted from the pancreas of cows or pigs, according to the International Diabetes Federation. Since that time, the process of attaching the human gene for insulin production to the DNA of the bacteria E. coli has been developed. Insulin produced from this newer method is known as GMO insulin, and genetically modified bacteria have become the most common source of pharmaceutical insulin. In addition to bacteria, baker’s yeast is also a common template onto which the human insulin-producing gene can be attached.

Benefits of GMO Insulin

Because bacteria and yeasts reproduce more rapidly and with fewer resources than complex mammals, they can be grown at a lower cost than sources of pork or beef insulin. Their faster rate also negates the wait associated with the maturation of animal sources, and the space needed to support these specialized bacteria colonies is significantly smaller than that needed to raise livestock. The International Diabetes Federation considers the supply of insulin produced from bacteria to be unlimited, since it does not depend on the quantity and availability of bovine or porcine pancreases.

The Disadvantages of GMO Insulin

The Society for Diabetic Rights states that a significant number of diabetics have experienced bad reactions to GMO insulin, and that some of these have resulted in death. Although GMO insulin poses a risk to some consumers of insulin, insulin manufacturers such as Eli Lilly [chose] to limit or disband production of pork or beef insulin. Diabetics who are unable to use GMO insulin find animal insulin more difficult to acquire. The Mayo Clinic website notes that a lack of insulin, which could result from this scarcity, exposes diabetics to additional problems, which include blindness, nerve damage and kidney damage.

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