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Will xylitol soon be derived from genetically modified bacteria?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: xylitol, GM bacteria, genetic engineering

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(NaturalNews) It is a favorite among individuals trying to cut back on their overall sugar intake and yet still enjoy a sweet treat every now and again. But the low-calorie sweetener xylitol could soon be getting a genetic makeover on a commercial scale, as Finnish scientists search for new ways to mass-produce this and other rare sugars using genetically modified (GM) bacteria.

A recent announcement by Aalto University in Espoo, Finland, reveals that work is currently underway to create GM varieties of xylitol and various other naturally occurring carbohydrates. Student Anne Usvalampi, Lic.Sc. (Tech.), in fact, recently wrote a doctoral dissertation about how this has already been done to produce three different rare sugars: xylitol, L-xylulose and L-xylose.

By adding special genes to bacteria, Usvalampi and her colleagues were able to artificially spur the production of certain enzymes needed to produce xylitol. They began with D-xylose, a natural wood sugar, and added a GM variety of Lactococcus lactis that contained a xylose reductase gene from Pichia stipitis, a species of yeast, to create xylitol. From there, they added a series of other bacteria in phases to produce both L-xylulose and L-xylose.

The process is supposedly a lot less expensive than deriving xylitol naturally from birch bark and other sources in nature, and Usvalampi says the discovery holds promise for advancements in medicine and nutrition. But a one-pound bag of naturally derived xylitol only runs about five dollars in the U.S., which makes claims about its high costs seem overblown. If anything, it seems as though Usvalampi and her colleagues are looking for any excuse to integrate GMOs into the picture.

Improving health, savings lives used as excuses to introduce more GM sugars

In this particular case, prospects of future improvements in the medical application of xylitol are being held up as justification for creating yet another untested GMO, especially when plenty of non-GMO varieties already exist. For Usvalampi, developing GM varieties of xylitol and other rare sugars will facilitate their expanded use in a pharmaceutical setting, where they can be transformed into patented drugs and sold commercially.

But none of this is actually necessary, as xylitol is already widely available in natural form. And it is in this natural form that xylitol has been shown to be effective in preventing tooth decay, ear infections and various other conditions. Research has also shown that xylitol is a natural precursor to other compounds that seem to be effective at fighting viruses and even cancer.

"I consider xylitol to be part of a tool kit of preventive strategies that, when combined, lead to therapeutic effects," says Dr. Donald Chi, D.D.S., Ph.D., an assistant professor of oral health sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, as quoted by Medscape Medical News. Dr. Chi has researched the health benefits of xylitol in the past and made this comment in reference to an unrelated study on the benefits of xylitol in preventing tooth decay.

Similar research involving GM bacteria is also taking place in the U.S. at the country's Agricultural Research Service. As reported by Food Navigator, chemist Badal Saha and his colleagues have created a GM strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) that they say will make it possible to create xylitol for corn and other non-traditional crops.

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