Sunday, September 9, 2001
The Observer

GM corn set to stop man spreading his seed

Robin McKie, science editor

Scientists have created the ultimate GM crop: contraceptive

corn. Waiving fields of maize may one day save the world

from overpopulation.

The pregnancy prevention plants are the handiwork of the San

Diego biotechnology company Epicyte, where researchers have

discovered a rare class of human antibodies that attack


By isolating the genes that regulate the manufacture of

these antibodies, and by putting them in corn plants, the

company has created tiny horticultural factories that make


'We have a hothouse filled with corn plants that make

anti-sperm antibodies,' said Epicyte president Mitch Hein.

'We have also created corn plants that make antibodies

against the herpes virus, so we should be able to make a

plant-based jelly that not only prevents pregnancy but also

blocks the spread of sexual disease.'

Contraceptive corn is based on research on the rare

condition, immune infertility, in which a woman makes

antibodies that attack sperm.

'Essentially, the antibodies are attracted to surface

receptors on the sperm,' said Hein. 'They latch on and make

each sperm so heavy it cannot move forward. It just shakes

about as if it was doing the lambada.'

Normally, biologists use bacteria to grow human proteins.

However, Epicyte decided to use corn because plants have

cellular structures that are much more like those of humans,

making them easier to manipulate.

The company, which says it will not grow the maize near

other crops, says it plans to launch clinical trials of the

corn in a few months.

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