Public Acceptance of GMOs
Real-world application of GMO-based technologies faces a major hurdle through public resistance, especially concerning food. As a result, GMO projects are mainly confined to theoretical use.
The application of GMOs in non-food related areas, such as in the production of medicine or chemicals via “microbial factories”, which generally involves the reprogramming or wholesale construction of metabolic pathways, is less controversial.
Our project involves the discovery and use of microbial enzymes for removing stains from fabrics in an environmentally conscious way, making it less likely to face public or regulatory challenges.
This would help us realize our goal of making a meaningful application useful in real life.
The Use of Enzymes as Cleaning Agents
Enzymes have been used to fight stains since the mid-20th century, and are used to enhance the action of detergents, both by improving stain degradation capabilities and through fabric protection.
Enzymes replaced the previously used petroleum-derived synthetic surfactants. Currently the use of enzymes as cleaning agents accounts for 60% of all enzyme production (Niyonzima 2015).
The most common enzymatic stain removers work by breaking down large biopolymers into smaller and more soluble monomers.
They can be grouped into four classes:
Amylases digest starch polymers to simple sugars.
Cellulases break down cellulose polymers into glucose.
Lipases convert triglycerides into glycerol and fatty acids.
Proteases degrade proteins into smaller peptides or amino acids.
These enzymes are used as supplements to detergents. They increase cleaning efficiency and help energy conservation by enabling the use of lower temperatures.
The main drawback to enzyme use is currently the high cost of production, although improvements in fermentation efficiency may help reduce these costs.
Safety and Regulatory Considerations for Enzymatic Products
Regulation of GMOs in France
The use of GMOs is heavily regulated in France, particularly in regards to agriculture; in general regulation in France follows the guidelines of the European Union in terms of GMO definition and use and study rules.
As of 2014, French law requires governmental authorization of GMO research. French guidelines state that GMOs can be subject to prior authorization, unless health or environmental risks are minimal.
Even so, GMO use must be declared to the government.
For industrial use, authority is given to the local prefect rather than the research ministry (Loi n° 2008-595 Art L. 532).
Health Risks Posed by Enzyme Production and Use
In general, enzymes have been produced at industrial scale and used in consumer products for several decades and have been extensively studied for their potential risks to human health.
The most well documented health hazards are to factory workers exposed to aerosolized enzymes at high concentrations or for extended times. This has been linked to respiratory allergy (Flindt, 1969) and asthma (Cullinan, 2000).
As a result, large-scale enzyme production facilities are subject to regulatory monitoring for air quality, employee health, and employee education for health risks.
These regulatory controls are generally effective, with aerosol enzyme levels exceeding regulatory standards in <1% of more than 300,000 readings in 2010 (Basketer, 2015).
At the consumer level, guidelines for enzyme exposure levels are one-tenth the occupational exposure limit.
In practice, exposure levels to enzymes in consumer products are much lower and probably present no health risks (Basketer, 2008).
In 1973, 2,500 hospital patients suffering from allergic respiratory diseases were skin-prick tested for an allergic response to protease enzyme.
Only two patients produced positive results, and neither of these could be confirmed with a clinical response to enzyme exposure (Pepys, 1973).
- Basketter, D. A., Kruszewski, F. H., Mathieu, S., Kirchner, D. B., Panepinto, A., Fieldsend, M., et al. (2015). Managing the Risk of Occupational Allergy in the Enzyme Detergent Industry. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 12(7) , 431–437. link
- Basketter, D. A., English, J. S. C., Wakelin, S. H., & White, I. R. (2008). Enzymes, detergents and skin: facts and fantasies. British Journal of Dermatology, 158(6), 1177–1181. link
- Cullinan, P., Harris, J. M., Newman Taylor, A. J., Hole, A. M., Jones, M., Barnes, F., & Jolliffe, G. (2000). An outbreak of asthma in a modern detergent factory. Lancet (London, England) , 356(9245), 1899–1900. link
- Flindt, M. L. (1969). Pulmonary disease due to inhalation of derivatives of Bacillus subtilis containing proteolytic enzyme. Lancet (London, England), 1(7607), 1177–1181.
- Niyonzima 2015 Coproduction of detergent compatible bacterial enzymes and stain removal evaluation.