24:15 Senomyx Green

March 10th, 2011

For those of you who will remember, the iconic film Soylent Green depicted a dystopian future in which all the food supplies have been exhausted by overpopulation and people are dependent on protein bars handed out by the government in order to stay alive. The secret origins of Soylent Green are revealed at the climax to be made from the only remaining source: It’s people! — in a word, cannibalism.

Ever since then, Soylent Green has become a byword to describe the unthinkable thrust upon the unsuspecting.

One of the biggest driving forces behind the abortion business is money. Abortion is big business. Body parts can and are being sold to medical researchers, pharmaceutical companies, cosmetics companies, IVF labs, and a growing list of customers that may surprise you (there’s gotta be some kind of regulations, right?).  In the 80s, the big scare was that cosmetic companies were contemplating putting human collagen (from aborted fetuses, placentas, or cadavers) into their products in order to boost the vitality of your skin or hair.  Now whether that is more rumor than truth I can’t say for sure, but the point remains that there exists an increasing temptation to “re-use” this “medical waste” for other ends.  If it’s just a “bunch of cells”, then the ethical consideration of the whole thing quickly vanishes.

Anyone who has ever researched how vaccines are made may have wrestled with the notion of “remote material cooperation” with evil. Is it morally licit to use a vaccine made from aborted fetal cell lines? Some say yes, some say no. The Church has no official position on extant shots that I know of, and is generally pro-vaccine. It seems to come down to making a decision with a properly informed conscience. (Don’t flame me — I take it on a case-by-case basis.)

So when I became aware of the current controversy regarding a food flavoring biotech company called Senomyx using cells from aborted fetuses, I began to get that sinking feeling. Are they putting Soylent Green in our food as “artificial flavors” ?

… .:: + ::. …

The big draw behind Senomyx is that they can trick your brain into tasting flavors that aren’t necessarily there. Specifically, they have developed cell lines that respond to all 5 types of tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory (umami). Successful tests yield powerful taste enhancers that large companies pay big bucks to put in their food products. Think of it as MSG on steroids (without the glutamate, of course!). Want more sweet without more sugar? Put in some S6973. Want more savory in your soup? Add in a dash of savory extract. Want a bitter blocker compound for your soy sauce? They got that too. Reduced salt foods, diet drinks, vegetarian substitutes, chocolate delight — it’s Senomyx in there.

This is a huge market and the stakes are high for competing products. Senomyx’s web site states:

“Senomyx has entered into product discovery and development collaborations with seven of the world’s leading food, beverage, and ingredient supply companies: Ajinomoto Co., Inc., Cadbury plc, Campbell Soup Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Firmenich SA, Nestlé SA and Solae. “

So just what is in Senomyx’s additives? I read scores of web sites that were raising the alarm that it was human fetal kidney cells. Ewwww. But wait, these products have FDA approval as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe). Has the FDA finally jumped the shark?

Rather than just react, I decided to do some research. I checked patents, medical research journals (in particular The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences‘s Senomyx studies), SEC filings, and the Senomyx company website.

A lot of it was rather obtuse and difficult to try to understand but it yielded some interesting results. An article in New Scientist Magazine (issue 2671, dated 27 August 2008 by Devin Powell, San Francisco) was particularly helpful (reprinted here).

The idea is the brainchild of biotech firm Senomyx of San Diego, California. To create its taste testers, the company adapted a tool that has been used by the pharmaceutical industry for over 20 years – lines of kidney cells with genetically modified DNA. Drug companies typically insert genes into these cells that coat their surfaces with receptors involved in certain diseases, to test how they respond to treatments.

Senomyx inserts genes from the surface of the human tongue instead, which cover the cells with taste receptors. The company has developed cell lines that respond to each of the five tastes: sweet, bitter, salty, sour and savoury (also known as “umami”).

Using these cellular taste-tasters, Senomyx’s Mark Zoller can screen 250,000 candidate enhancers every three months. To find sweetness enhancers like S6973, he coats the base of thousands of tiny wells with cells containing the human sweetness receptor. He then douses each compartment with sugar and a candidate molecule.

The sugar activates the sweet receptor in each cell, sending a signal that causes them to glow fluorescent green. Though simple, the cell-receptor models are as sensitive as the human tongue, Zoller says. And it is easy to spot if any of the candidate compounds increase the sugar’s potency, he says. “The sweeter the taste, the brighter the glow.”

So the upshot here is that Senomyx’s candidate compounds are tested on cell lines which may include human kidney cells — whose origins may include aborted fetuses, cadaver, or placenta — and injected with human or rat taste receptor genes. The products themselves apparently do not contain human fetal cells.  It glows green. It is not Soylent Green. So if you’re ok with the way that vaccines and other medicines get made, you’re probably ok with this too.

Rather than simply dismiss these claims as alarmist, it is important to become knowledgeable of the process as technology takes us in new and uncharted territories. Just what is in our “natural and artificial flavors”? It may be good (and ethical) to know.

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4 Responses to 24:15 Senomyx Green

  1. Joe says:

    I'm not condoning the use of aborted fetal cells in the use of vaccines, but at least in that instance, it's being used for something that saves lives. Utilizing aborted fetal cells to make our foods tastier with less calories? Barbarism at is "finest."

  2. WB_Nod says:

    Joe, there's new information regarding Senomyx. Looks like the pro-life group CGL has pressured Campbell Soup into ending its relationship with Senomyx over its testing on aborted fetal cells. Link here and here

  3. B F says:

    The use of aborted fetals cells is abhorrent in ANY application. The ends, e.g. vaccines that save lives, does not justify the means, e.g. using an aborted baby as a commodity to create that vaccine. Any way you slice it, creating a market for the use of aborted babies IS EVIL. The saddest thing is that Senomyx can easily create their flavor enhancers ( a great idea) using a variety of ethical means.

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