Several types of documents are included in the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas. The primary focus is on peer-reviewed scientific studies and reviews, but there are some other types of documents that we are considering for inclusion. View all of the studies in the database.
Original peer-reviewed scientific studies
GENERA primarily catalogs peer-reviewed scientific literature, which is the most reliable source of scientific information. These are published in refereed scientific journals, which put the studies through a typically blind process of review by qualified scientific peers, who ask questions and request additional data and clarification if necessary, and then recommend publication or rejection. Peer-reviewed scientific studies are and will always be the most important resource in GENERA.
Peer review is a form of quality-control for scientific research. Before a study is published, it is sent to anonymous experts in the specific area that the research covers, and they evaluate the methods, data, and conclusions of the paper and determine if it was well-conducted. You can read more about peer review in this series of articles at Nature, a top peer-reviewed journal. While standards at each journal are different, and improvements can be made, it remains the best system that we have to separate facts from myths when understanding the world. For this reason, GENERA will first only include studies that have been peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal. Once these studies have been entered, we may consider adding non-peer-reviewed studies that are widely discussed on a case-by-case basis, and their publication status will clearly be indicated.
Peer-reviewed scientific reviews and meta-analyses
When there is a significant amount of research in a particular area, scientists will collect all the available studies and review the combined evidence and conclusions. Reviews tend to be broader in scope than single studies, and discuss shortcomings of different studies and approaches while determining whether the studies agree or disagree. Review studies are excellent places to start understanding a particular topic. A meta-analysis is similar to a review, but digs deeper into the data of each study, often trying to combine the data into one analysis. Reviews and meta-analyses are included in GENERA.
Types of documents being considered for GENERA
Our system has been set up to accommodate different kinds of documents. Here is a list of other documents besides scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals that we are considering for inclusion in GENERA.
Universities are trusted sources of information, both for growers and stakeholders as well as the public. Many universities have their own publication services, and professors and staff often write reports that summarize or communicate research, and these often undergo a system of internal peer review at the university itself prior to publication, and can contain valuable information for risk assessment. Extension We are considering including university reports in GENERA, and during the beta-test launch we have included one such report as an example.
Similarly to university reports, many government agencies devote a considerable amount of research and effort into writing reports about topics such as genetic engineering. These reports tend to go through several rounds of review, and can provide important information for a particular country, or for the world. We are considering including
Scientific journals often publish Perspective articles, which are personal opinion articles that are often peer-reviewed before publication. These explore recent research and attempt to tie them into issues and form conclusions, provide guidance, or suggest needed research. We are considering including Perspective articles in GENERA, and during the beta-test launch we have included one perspective article as an example.
When genetically engineered crops are submitted to government regulators, voluminous documents of descriptions, data, and analysis are submitted in regulatory documents. We are considering including regulatory documents in GENERA to enable people to find them quickly. Currently, there are no examples of these in the GENERA database.
Types of documents that are not in GENERA
Papers that do not go through the process of peer review are not eligible for inclusion in GENERA, which includes white papers, advocacy documents, claims made on websites, etc.
The purpose of GENERA is to provide a reliable resource, and anecdotal claims are entirely circumstantial at best. At worst they could be embellished, misunderstood, or fabricated. Even multiple anecdotal claims do not themselves constitute a scientific study, and as such, are not eligible for inclusion in GENERA.
Republished versions of retracted studies
Scientific journals do not retract studies lightly. Removing research from the scientific record is a careful process, and is usually done for cases of fraud, abuse, research ethics, and omitted or misinterpreted data. The purpose of a retraction is to remove faulty conclusions from the scientific record. When a study is retracted, it can typically no longer be cited as supporting evidence for other research.
Sometimes scientists will retract their own research when they find problems with their data, and at other times this will be initiated by the journal. Retractions are a healthy part of the scientific process, and serve as an extra layer of quality control in the scientific literature.
In GENERA, we note if a study has been retracted or withdrawn, and provide more information about this in the publication history and links on the study page. If a study has been retracted and then revised significantly and republished in a scientific journal, the new study may be included in GENERA in addition to the retracted version of the study.
However, if a study has been retracted or withdrawn and then republished in a new journal without significant revisions, we will not add this study as a new publication in GENERA. Instead, we will note that it was republished on the original study page within GENERA and provide a link to its new destination in the links at the bottom of the page. The study will still carry the tag and record of its previous retraction or withdrawal.
Given the nature of predatory journals that publish studies for a fee with little revision, this policy will ensure that people who use GENERA will be able to find information about studies that have been republished in this fashion while also not over-representing these unrevised studies in the database.
What are the studies in GENERA about?
Categories of studies included in GENERA
- Compositional analyses
- Feeding studies
- Toxicology studies
- Gene and protein expression analyses
- Allergenicity assessments
- Field studies
- Efficacy trials
- Non-target assessments
- Comparisons between genetic engineering and other methods of breeding
Categories of studies being considered for the future
- Socioeconomic research
Currently, GENERA focuses on research from the natural sciences. Sociological and socio-economic research is of tremendous value in understanding how genetically engineered crops fit into society, and are part of the overall picture for risks and benefits. Someday, this category of research will be included in GENERA – we are already collecting relevant studies.
- Research on genetically engineered animals, fungi, and microbes
Genetically engineered plants represent the most important and widespread use of genetic engineering in food production and other kinds of agriculture. That may soon change as projects and products involving GE animals, fungi, and microbes become more common. This research will be included in later stages of GENERA, and we have built our system to accommodate this addition.
Categories of studies not included in GENERA
Not every study is relevant for inclusion in GENERA. Some are on related topics, so during the process of developing the Atlas, we had to decide on categories of studies that would not be included
- Pesticide toxicity studies
Studies conducted on the toxicity of pesticides are often listed when discussing genetically engineered crops, since some traits are associated with an herbicide (herbicide tolerance) and others may replace an insecticide or fungicide (insect and disease resistance). However, studies that focus only on the pesticide in question are not relevant for GENERA because they are not about genetically engineered crops per se. However, studies that study pesticide use and toxicity within the context of their use or disuse due to genetically engineered crops may be included in GENERA.
- Gene “knock-out” studies using genetic transformation
There are many tools that geneticists use to study gene function, and some of them are used to “knock-out” or disrupt genes to see the impact of this change, or to assist in mapping genetic loci. Some knock-out studies use genetic transformation of thousands of plants to make a library of individual plants that can be used to study these genes. Sometimes these studies are cited to show the potential for transgene insertion to disrupt a native gene. However, these studies are designed to produce this effect, in contrast to the genetic engineering of plants for use in agriculture, where transformants that have genes inserted into the middle of native genes are discarded. Since these gene knock-out studies are not researching transgenic plants in the context of developing them for uses such as agriculture, they will not be included. There may be some exceptions, such as an experiment designed to compare the gene disruption of transgenesis to other forms of breeding and genetic modification, in which case they may be included in GENERA.
- DNA digestion studies
One of the early concerns about genetically engineered crops is whether the DNA inserted into the plant is digested normally in the gut, which may have implications for the possibility of horizontal gene transfer and other concerns. The prevailing scientific view from this research is that transgenic DNA digests just as quickly as DNA from other sources, and is no more or less stable. There are many studies that look only at the rate of transgene digestion, and as such, do not provide much useful information for risk analysis. Therefore, GENERA will not currently include studies that only look at DNA digestion. Some studies perform DNA digestion analyses in addition to other experiments (such as protein digestion), so these studies are included in GENERA. Studies that look at DNA digestion within the context of horizontal gene transfer risk assessment may be included in GENERA.
- Consumer acceptance and communication research
There is a lot of research on public opinion for genetically engineered crops and foods, and science communication. Since GENERA is intended to help people understand the scientific literature as is relates to risks and benefits, this category of research does not fit the scope of the project. However, science communication and public opinion is a topic we care about greatly, and we are making plans to create a similar collection of research on that topic.
Specific studies not included
To save both our time and the time of study submitters, we will create a page where we will list studies that have been submitted for inclusion but rejected as not meeting our criteria for relevance. If you are planning to submit a study for inclusion in GENERA, please check to see if the study is listed here in addition to checking the Atlas itself. Brief reasons will be listed for each study that is not included.