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Vitamin B12


Possible application of gene technology Labelling
Producible with help of GM microorganisms no



Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamine) is necessary for the growth and division of cells, particularly in the case of red blood corpuscles. This vitamin is not produced in the human body and consequently must be obtained from nutrition. It occurs primarily in food products derived from animal sources, such as liver, kidneys, meat, milk and eggs. It also is found in beer.

Generally, the comparatively low amounts of B12 required are supplied by a normal diet. However, as many as 30 per cent of individuals older than 60 years may suffer from a deficit of B12. This is due to the age-related bodily decline in the ability to produce the compound known as the "intrinsic factor" that makes the vitamin metabolically accessible. A deficit of B12 may damage the nervous system and, for example, may lead to a sensation of numbness in the hands and feet, as well as to a decrease in cognitive performance. Strict vegetarians also may suffer from a deficit of vitamin B12.


As a vitamin supplement, e.g.:

Gene technology

Manufacture: the chemical synthesis of vitamin B12 is extremely difficult and labour-intensive. For this reason, bio-technical processes are largely dominant in its production. It may be assumed in the meanwhile that vitamin B12 is manufactured as a rule with the aid of genetically modified microorganisms.

Approval: ingredients or additives that are produced with the aid of GM microorganisms are assumed not to be addressed by the EU decree 1829/2003 (GM food and feed). Hence, special approval does not exist for vitamin B12 that is produced in this manner.

Labelling: additives produced in closed systems with the aid of GM micro-organisms are not subject to a labelling requirement, provided that the additive in question has been purified and does not contain microorganisms.

The additive in question remains exempt from labelling even in the case that the microorganisms used in its production have obtained nutrients derived from GM plants.

Vitamin B12 preparations with intrinsic factor: the Cobento A/S company has developed a nutritional supplement that contains vitamin B12 and "intrinsic factor".

The intrinsic factor is a protein that is formed in the digestive tract and that binds B12, thereby protecting the vitamin from being broken down by digestive enzymes. Vitamin B12 is then absorbed by specific receptors in the small intestine. Due to reasons of genetic inheritance or age, it may occur that this protein is formed in insufficient quantities or not at all, which leads to a deficiency of vitamin B12.

Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) is used in the harvest of intrinsic factor. The plant was genetically modified to produce the protein in its leaves. The derived preparation is intended to prevent a deficiency of vitamin B12. An application for its approval has been submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).


November 26, 2008 [nach oben springen]

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