A larva in trouble


The discussion about the toxic effect of glyphosate is creating differences of opinion among those who, at some point, believed in the harmlessness of this herbicide until receiving notice, through the Ministry of Justice, of the suspension of glyphosate spraying before October 2015, deadline set by the President of the Republic of Colombia.

This government decision is supported by the “carcinogenic potential” classification of glyphosate issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), its environmental effect, its absorption and mobility in soil (which implies that the herbicide penetrate deep levels), among others.

Has the war between the State and insurgent groups turned to the destruction of the environment? Is death, a media indicator of conflict, not relevant? Perhaps they are seeking to minimize the existing biological resources and leave our future generations with depleted sources and absolute dependence on other countries to obtain food?

When Carlos Miguel Córdoba Ortega, Sergio Armando Aranda Rosero, and I read the report submitted to the Colombian government on the safety of glyphosate, which highlights the harmlessness of glyphosate for animal species in general, except for plants, we noticed it mentioned many animal species that were not affected by the product, but interestingly there was lack of information on Diptera (flies).

Based on this, a representative bioassay entitled “Efecto del glifosato en el comportamiento de Drosophila melanogaster” (“Effect of Glyphosate on the Behavior of Drosophila melanogaster”) was proposed using Drosophila melanogaster (or fruit fly) as a representative organism since this species has been very useful in genetic experimental studies and therefore its complete genome map is known. It is also known that both 61% of genes of identified human diseases and 70% of cancer genes have homologs in Drosophila, plus 50% of fly protein sequences have mammalian analogs.

As a remarkable result of this study, embodied in the article “Glyphosate: Innocuous?” of Memorias journal, we described behavior change and death of Drosophila larvae caused by genes encoding the production of pteridine protein in humans, a component of folic acid formerly known as vitamin B9 that is very useful for the correct formation of blood cells (erythrocytes) in humans.

The following signs and symptoms can appear due to folic acid deficiency: megaloblastic anemia, low weight, poor appetite, weakness, pallor, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, irritability, depression, tongue inflammation and ulcers, mouth ulcers, tachycardia, stunting, and gray hair.

Some studies have also demonstrated teratogenic effects associated with folic acid deficiency such as neural tube closure defects, damage to spinal cord and brain development, anencephaly, spina bifida, encephalocele, cleft lip and palate.

The harmlessness of glyphosate suggested in the report submitted to the Colombian government in 2005 overlooked restrictions that were enforced worldwide since that date such as the caution for shipping and handling for being a liquid substance potentially dangerous to the environment. But, who is being fooled? Nature?



Iván Hernández Ramírez

Iván Hernández Ramírez is the Medicine Research Coordinator at the Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia in Pasto, Colombia.