A unique new study published in December 2016 in the scientific journal Nature has used molecular profiles to reveal major differences in composition between a GMO corn and its non-GMO parent. These findings question industry and regulatory position of "substantial equivalence" and have serious safety implications.
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The peer-reviewed study led by Dr. Michael Antoniou at King's College London describes the effects of the process of genetic engineering on the composition of a genetically modified Roundup-resistant GMO corn variety, NK603.
"Our study clearly shows that the GM transformation process results in profound compositional differences in NK603, demonstrating that this GMO corn is not substantially equivalent to its non-GMO counterpart," Dr. Antoniou said. "The marked increase in putrescine and especially cadaverine is a concern since these substances are potentially toxic, being reported as enhancers of the effects of histamine, thus heightening allergic reactions and both have been implicated in the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines with nitrite in meat products. Our results call for a more thorough evaluation of the safety of NK603 corn consumption on a long-term basis."
In-depth analysis of types of proteins ("proteomics") and small biochemical molecules ("metabolomics") revealed major compositional differences between NK603 and its non-GMO parent. The results obtained show not only disturbances in energy utilisation and oxidative stress (damage to cells and tissues by reactive oxygen), but worryingly large increases in certain substances (polyamines).
Polyamines found to be present in increased amounts in GMO NK603 corn include putrescine and cadaverine, which can produce various toxic effects. For example, they enhance the effects of histamine, thus heightening allergic reactions and both have been implicated in the formation of carcinogenic substances called nitrosamines.
Overall, the findings of this study disprove industry and regulatory agency claims that NK603 is "substantially equivalent" to its non-GMO counterpart and suggest that a more thorough evaluation of the safety of consuming products derived from this GMO corn on a long term basis should be undertaken.
Background to Study
1. The establishment of compositional "substantial equivalence" is a key starting point requested by regulatory agencies for assessing the safety of a GMO crop and food. If analysis for nutrients and known toxins shows that the composition of a GMO crop is found to be in a similar range to that present in a corresponding, genetically similar non-GMO variety (often the non-GMO parent), then it is deemed to be "substantially equivalent" and to require little, if any, further safety testing, especially in the U.S.
2. Genetically modified (GM) corn NK603, engineered to survive being sprayed with glyphosate based weedkillers such as Roundup, was assessed as "substantially equivalent" to its non-GM parent corn variety, based on a nutrient composition analysis of both crops. It was subsequently granted market approval.
3. However, the nutrient compositional analysis is relatively crude and may miss subtle yet important differences between the GMO and non-GMO food, which could have health consequences for the consumer. For example, the compositional analysis includes measurement of total protein content, yet this is less important than the profile of different types of proteins. In other words, the message is in the detail, yet this detail is currently lacking in regulatory analysis investigating the substantial equivalence of a product.
4. This gap in compositional information for the Roundup-tolerant NK603 corn was addressed in this study by analyzing this GMO with the nearest non-GMO corn variety as a control. The two crops were grown under similar conditions, in the same location and season, spaced at a sufficient distance to avoid cross-contamination. One field of NK603 was sprayed once with Roundup, whilst another field of NK603 was not treated with Roundup. Samples were produced in two cultivation cycles over two growing seasons. Thus all precautions were taken to minimize environmental factors that could influence the composition of the crops. The result is a comparative analysis that specifically highlights the effect of the genetic modification (GM) transformation process.
5. Rats fed this GMO corn over 2 years presented signs of a higher incidence of liver and kidney damage (Séralini et al., Environmental Sciences Europe, 26:14) compared with controls.
Analytical Methods Used
Analytical methods collectively known as "omics" technologies can be used to obtain an in-depth, molecular composition profile of a biological system/substance. These technologies include transcriptomics (gene function profile), proteomics(protein type profile) and metabolomics (small biochemical metabolite profile). Unlike gross nutrient analysis, omics technologies provide highly detailed molecular composition and biological functional information with a very high degree of predictability of health or disease status.
In this study Dr Antoniou and colleagues have undertaken proteomics (protein profiling) and metabolomics (small biochemical profiling) analyses, comparing NK603 with its non-GMO counterpart in order to deepen the understanding of the effects of the GM transformation process used to generate this variety of GMO corn. In addition, NK603 cultivated either with or without being sprayed with Roundup was also investigated in order to determine the effects, if any, of this weedkiller on the biochemistry and hence composition of this GMO corn.
This broad range of analysis is designed to ascertain more deeply and precisely whether NK603 is truly "substantially equivalent" to its corresponding non-GMO variety and whether this raises any health concerns.
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1. A total of 117 proteins and 91 small molecule biochemicals (metabolites) were found to be statistically significantly altered in NK603 corn by the GM transformation process.
2. The GM transformation process was the major contributor to variation in the protein and metabolite profiles, rather than environmental factors such as the spraying of the Roundup weedkiller or the growing season.
3. Alteration in the protein profile revealed by the proteomics analysis was reflective of an imbalance in energy utilization and oxidative stress (damage to cells and tissues by reactive oxygen).
4. Small molecule biochemical profile differences revealed by metabolomics mostly consisted of an increase in a class of compounds known as polyamines; the levels of potentially toxic putrescine and especially cadaverine were markedly increased in the GM NK603 corn.
1. GM NK603 corn and its corresponding non-GMO corn variety are not substantially equivalent.
2. The GM transformation process caused alterations in both protein and metabolite composition profiles in NK603 corn.
3. The non-substantial equivalence of NK603 corn with the corresponding non-GMO corn, and the increases in potential toxic compounds (polyamines; putrescine, cadaverine) in NK603 corn, indicate that a more thorough investigation of the safety of consuming products derived from this GMO food is warranted.
Relevance to Health
The GM transformation process causes a general disturbance in the GMO plant. Whether the increased levels of cadaverine and putrescine found in the NK603 corn samples can account for the signs of potential negative health effects in rats fed on this corn needs to be further analysed in long-term feeding studies on laboratory animals, using methods that specifically and more accurately quantify the amounts of these polyamines and their effects.
State-of-the-art molecular profiling "omics" methods could be used to deepen our understanding of the differences between GM plants and their non-GMO counterparts. This would enable scientists to improve the pre-commercial safety testing of GM plants by highlighting the presence of increased levels of known toxins (for example, certain polyamines found at increased levels in this study) or novel toxins and potentially allergenic substances.
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While solar energy has plenty of benefits, there are also high upfront costs associated with installing a home renewable energy system. So, at the end of the day, are solar panels worth it?
If you want to minimize your ecological impact while reducing or even eliminating monthly utility bills, solar panels may be well worth the money. But they may not be the best solution for every home. In this article, we'll review solar panel costs, longevity and return on investment to help you decide whether they're right for you.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
The first thing to be aware of is that installing a residential solar system is always going to be expensive. Yes, saving money on your monthly utility bills can help balance that startup expense, and you can get some incentives to help undercut the cost of solar panels (more on that in a moment). But ultimately, there's no way around it: Investing in a residential solar system can be pricey.
How pricey, exactly? Your total solar energy system cost will depend on a myriad of factors, including the type of solar panels you choose, the number of panels required for your home, and the specific solar panel installation company you hire.
With that said, according to Sunrun, the average cost of installing solar panels in 2021 is between $16,200 to $21,400. And it's worth noting that this actually represents a significant drop in the price tag for solar panels. Solar installation is becoming more and more affordable, even if the startup price remains a little daunting.
Offsetting the Cost of Solar Panels
Something else to be aware of is that, over the past decade or so, both the federal government and many state governments have unveiled programs to provide financial incentives for solar installation. These programs include local and federal tax credits and other rebates. Top solar companies are usually able to help you identify and apply to any programs you are eligible for.
The current federal solar tax credit, called an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) provides a 26% credit for systems installed between 2020 and 2022. State incentives can be added on top for even more savings. However, even with numerous solar incentives, pricing and solar panel installation costs can still be steep.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
As you think about the initial startup investment in solar panels, another question to consider is system longevity. After you buy solar panels, how long do they last? Will they function long enough for you to get your money's worth?
Again, the answer can vary slightly depending on the specific type of solar panels you choose. As a rule of thumb, however, most residential solar systems last between 20 and 30 years and require only the most minimal maintenance and upkeep. Most of the best solar panels come backed with fairly rigorous warranties, ensuring your system holds up for at least two decades. Of course, when purchasing a solar panel system, you'll want to take a close look at the warranty information offered.
The longevity of your solar panel system can also add to the value of your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buyers nationwide have been willing to pay an average premium of about $15,000 for a home with a solar array. In many cases, that alone can cover most of all of your solar investment.
How Much Money Will You Save With Solar Panels?
Related to the question of panel longevity is the question of a solar power system's return on investment, or ROI. How much power is a home solar system going to generate? How much money will it save you? Will month-to-month electric bill savings mean that your solar system "pays for itself" after a few years?
The amount of money you save on your monthly utility costs can vary depending on the efficiency and power of your solar panels, as well as your household energy consumption habits. Keep in mind that your savings will be greater if you live in an area where electricity rates are higher; by contrast, if you live somewhere with a lower cost of electricity, the money you save from going solar may be comparatively meager.
EnergySage notes that, over the lifespan of your solar system, you're likely to save anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 on utility costs. This may or may not be enough for the unit to "pay for itself," though an upside of solar power ROI is that it's fairly instantaneous. Once your system is installed, you'll be able to start saving money right away.
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Are Solar Panels Worth It for Your House?
Ultimately, whether solar panels are worth it will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case and home-by-home basis. Simply put, solar power is a smarter option for some than for others. The question is, how can you tell whether you're a good candidate for solar panels?
Best Candidates for Solar Power
Solar panels tend to be a better investment for homeowners who meet the following criteria:
- Ample exposure to sun: If you live in a part of the country that gets lots of exposure to sunlight throughout the year, then you'll probably get more mileage out of your solar panels. It's little wonder that solar power is most popular in places like Arizona, Texas, California and even North Carolina.
- Accommodating roof space: A good solar system will require plenty of surface area on your roof, unobstructed by skylights, chimneys or other fixtures. With a smaller roof, you can still potentially install a system, but you'll need to find the most efficient solar panels (which are often more expensive) to maximize your limited space.
- High electricity bills: The amount of money you save by going solar will be directly proportional to the amount you spend each month on electrical costs. So, if you live in a community where the price of electricity is pretty high, you stand to achieve greater savings when you go solar.
Who's Not a Good Candidate for Solar Power?
By contrast, some homes may not be as well-positioned to reap a high solar power ROI.
- Homes without much sun exposure: If you know anything about how solar panels work, it won't be a surprise that darker areas benefit less from this renewable energy source. In a place where there tends to be a lot of cloud coverage or more limited solar exposure for good chunks of the year, the jump to solar may not be as advantageous.
- Homes with too much shade: Similarly, if your roof tends to be shaded for long stretches of the day (for example, if your home is in the shadow of a larger building or a lot of dense trees), then your solar panels may not get the sun exposure they need to generate a solid ROI.
- You pay lower costs for electricity: If your electrical bills are already fairly minimal, then installing a residential solar system will yield more modest and measured savings.
- You don't have the right kind of roof: Certain types of roofs just aren't as well-suited for solar power installation. For example, older or historic homes that have particular kinds of tiled roofs and homes that have larger skylights may not be good matches for solar energy.
How to Determine Your Solar Power ROI
Is solar worth it for you and your household? There are a few steps you can take to weigh solar energy pros and cons and make an informed decision.
One option is to consult with a solar panel installation company that can assess your roof and your positioning in relation to the sun, then supply you with a basic estimate of how much money you could save by installing solar panels. Reputable installers can also provide greater detail about the different types of solar panels that are available and recommend the technology you'll need to realize a significant solar power ROI for your home.
Even before you take the initial step and meet with a solar installer, a number of solar companies offer online calculators, which you can use to estimate your monthly utility savings. We'll stress that these calculators only give a very rough estimate and should be taken lightly, but they can still create a basic sense of whether solar panels are worth it for your home.
So, Are Solar Panels Worth It? It All Depends...
The bottom line for homeowners: Solar energy represents one of the best ways to reduce your dependence on traditional utility companies. And for many homeowners, solar power ROI will be well worth it. With that said, the startup cost can be prohibitive, and not every homeowner will achieve the same bang for their buck.
As you consider whether solar panels are a sound investment for your home, make sure you take into account cost, warranty, longevity and overall efficiency, all while seeking guidance from qualified solar experts.