CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — The pesticide glyphosate has come under fire again. However, the concern this time around is not focused on the compound’s potential carcinogenic properties, but the possibility that it may contribute to autism.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. It’s one Monsanto’s most important products because crops sold by the company are genetically-modified to resist the pesticide. But in March, the International Agency for Research On Cancer, a global health watchdog operated by the World Health Organization, warned that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer. The risks, however, may not be limited to cancer, according to research from an MIT scientist.
One in 68 children born in the United States has autism, and one researcher believes there could be a connection between autism and glyphosate. Dr. Stephanie Seneff is a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She holds degrees in biophysics and electrical engineering, but her recent work has focused on the connection between nutrition and health. According to Reset.me’s Aaron Kase, Seneff believes glyphosate could cause autism through the disruption of gut bacteria.
“The way glyphosate works is that it interrupts the shikimate pathway, a metabolic function in plants that allows them to create essential amino acids,’ Seneff explained at a recent Autism conference. ‘When this path is interrupted, the plants die. Human cells don’t have a shikimate pathway so scientists and researchers believed that exposure to glyphosate would be harmless.”
However, she claims that the chemical still effects humans even if it doesn’t act on our bodies directly.
“The problem is that bacteria DO have a shikimate pathway and we have millions of good bacteria in our guts — our “gut flora,”’ Seneff continued. ‘These bacteria are essential to our health. Our gut isn’t just responsible for digestion, but also for our immune system. When glyphosate gets in our systems, it wrecks our gut and as a result our immune system.”
Glyphosate could also cause problems with liver function and vitamin D, Seneff suggests. Seneff cites research showing that glyphosate’s use in agriculture matches a rise in autism rates in the United States during the same period.
Jennifer Sass, of the Natural Resource Defense Council, also raised the alarm in 2011 that glyphosate could contribute to birth defects in humans.
“These findings are a game-changer – they provide irrefutable evidence from children whose mothers were exposed to household pesticides while pregnant that early-life exposure to OP pesticides causes long-lasting serious neurological impairments,” Sass wrote.
With news of Seneff’s findings widely circulating on the Internet, Snopes.com, a website dedicated to debunking urban legends, warned that her findings are still unproven and “appear to reject the accepted findings of science on the heretofore not fully understood causes of autism, namely in terms of genetics.”
Meanwhile, David Gorski, a surgeon and scientist, who blogs under the name Orac, questioned Seneff’s qualifications for this kind of research. “An undergraduate degree in biophysics in 1968 does not qualify one to do this sort of research,” Gorski wrote, in reference to Seneff’s Bachelor of Science degree in biophysics.
However, with the causes of autism still largely a mystery, and more research suggesting glyphosate causes harm, Seneff insists more research is needed.
“The glyphosate is being soaked up by the plants and getting into the food system,” Seneff told Reset.Me, “and the U.S. government is doing very little monitoring to even see if that’s true.”
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