Biotechnology & genetic engineering reviews 2017 09 13() 1-35 doi 10.1080/02648725.2017.1357295
The Cry toxins are a family of crystal-forming proteins produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Their mode of action is thought to be to create pores that disrupt the gut epithelial membranes of juvenile insects. These pores allow pathogen entry into the hemocoel, thereby killing the insect. Genes encoding a spectrum of Cry toxins, including Cry mutants, Cry chimaeras and other Cry derivatives, are used commercially to enhance insect resistance in genetically modified (GM) crops. In most countries of the world, such GM crops are regulated and must be assessed for human and environmental safety. However, such risk assessments often do not test the GM crop or its tissues directly. Instead, assessments rely primarily on historical information from naturally occurring Cry proteins and on data collected on Cry proteins (called ‘surrogates’) purified from laboratory strains of bacteria engineered to express Cry protein. However, neither surrogates nor naturally occurring Cry proteins are identical to the proteins to which humans or other nontarget organisms are exposed by the production and consumption of GM plants. To-date there has been no systematic survey of these differences. This review fills this knowledge gap with respect to the most commonly grown GM Cry-containing crops approved for international use. Having described the specific differences between natural, surrogate and GM Cry proteins this review assesses these differences for their potential to undermine the reliability of risk assessments. Lastly, we make specific recommendations for improving risk assessments.