Mae-Wan Ho (b. 12 November 1941, Hong Kong; UK citizen) is a geneticist  known for her critical views on genetic engineering and neo-Darwinism. Ho has authored or co-authored a number of publications, including 10 books, such as The Rainbow and the Worm, the Physics of Organisms (1993, 1998), Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare? (1998, 1999), and Living with the Fluid Genome (2003).
Ho received a Ph. D. in Biochemistry in 1967 from Hong Kong University, was Postdoctoral Fellow in Biochemical Genetics, University of California San Diego, from 1968 to 1972, Senior Research Fellow in Queen Elizabeth College, Lecturer in Genetics (from 1976) and Reader in Biology (from 1985) in the Open University, and since retiring in June 2000 Visiting Professor of Biophysics in Catania University, Sicily.
Institute of Science in Society
Ho is the director of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), an interest group that campaigns against what it sees as unethical uses of biotechnology. The group published about climate change, GMOs, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, and water memory.
Ho has expressed concerns about the spread of altered genes through horizontal gene transfer and that the experimental alteration of genetic structures may be out of control. One of her concerns is that the antibiotic resistant gene that was isolated from bacteria and used in some GM crops might cross back from plants by horizontal gene transfer to different species of bacteria, because "If this happened it would leave us unable to treat major illnesses like meningitis and E coli." Her views were published in an opinion article based on a review of others' research. The arguments and conclusions of this article were heavily criticized by prominent plant scientists, and the claims of the article criticized in detail in a response that was published in the same journal. A review on the topic published in 2008 in the Annual Review of Plant Biology stated that "These speculations have been extensively rebutted by the scientific community".
Ho, together with Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario, has argued that a sterility gene engineered into a crop could be transferred to other crops or wild relatives and that "This could severely compromise the agronomic performance of conventional crops and cause wild relatives to go extinct". They argued that this process could also produce genetic instabilities, which might be "leading to catastrophic breakdown", and stated that there are no data to assure that this has not happened or cannot happen. This concern contrasts with the reason why these sterile plants were developed, which was to prevent the transfer of genes to the environment by preventing any plants that are bred with or that receive these genes from reproducing. Indeed, any gene that caused sterility when transferred to a new species would be eliminated by natural selection and could not spread.
Ho has also argued that bacteria could acquire the bacterial gene barnase from transgenic plants. This gene kills any cell that expresses it and lacks barstar, the specific inhibitor of barnase activity. In an article entitled Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold, which was published in an ISIS newsletter, Ho speculated that if a bacterium acquired the barnase gene and survived, this could make the bacteria a more dangerous pathogen.
- Mae-Wan Ho. The rainbow and the worm, the physics of organisms, Singapore; River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 1998. ISBN 981-02-4813-X.
- Mae-Wan Ho. Genetic engineering: dream or nightmare? Turning the tide on the brave new world of bad science and big business, New York, NY: Continuum, 2000. ISBN 0-8264-1257-2.
- Mae-Wan Ho. Living with the fluid genome, London, UK: Institute of Science in Society; Penang, Malaysia: Third World Network, 2003. ISBN 0-9544923-0-7.
- Mae-Wan Ho, Sam Burcher, Rhea Gala and Vejko Velkovic. Unraveling AIDS: the independent science and promising alternative therapies, Ridgefield, CT: Vital Health Pub., 2005. ISBN 1-890612-47-2.
- Polly Curtis, "Exploitation on the agenda at ethics forum", The Guardian, February 22, 2002. Reprint. Accessed 2008-06-09.
- Independent Science Panel CURRICULUM VITAE of Mae-Wan Ho
- Chardon LL Public Hearing October 26 2000 on behalf of Burnham Group
- Davidson College Dr. Mae-Wan Ho bio
- Tim Gardam, Director of programmes, Channel 4, "Seeds of discontent at C4", The Guardian, March 18 2000. Reprint. Accessed 2008-06-09.
- ISIS Report 2000
- Colquhoun, David (19 July 2006). "Institute of Science in Society: beware!". DC's Improbable Science. Retrieved 26 December 2012.
- Antony Barnett, "GM genes 'jump species barrier', GM food: special report", The Guardian, May 28 2000. Reprint. Accessed 2008-06-09.
- Ho, M.W.; Ryan, A.; Cummins, J. (1999). "Cauliflower Mosaic Viral Promoter-A Recipe for Disaster?". Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 11 (4): 194–197. Retrieved 2008-06-10.
- "Scientists avert new GMO crisis - Nature Biotechnology". Nature. Retrieved 2008-06-10.
- Hull, R.; Covey, S.N.; Dale, P. (2000). "Genetically modified plants and the 35S promoter: assessing the risks and enhancing the debate". Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 12 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1080/089106000435527. Retrieved 2008-06-10. [dead link]
- Lemaux PG (2008). "Genetically Engineered Plants and Foods: A Scientist's Analysis of the Issues (Part I)". Annu Rev Plant Biol 59: 771–812. doi:10.1146/annurev.arplant.58.032806.103840. PMID 18284373.
- Donald MacLeod, "Who's listening? Will public opinion on genetically modified crops make any difference to the government?", The Guardian, May 19 2003. Reprint. Accessed 2008-06-09.
- Daniell H (June 2002). "Molecular strategies for gene containment in transgenic crops". Nat. Biotechnol. 20 (6): 581–6. doi:10.1038/nbt0602-581. PMID 12042861.
- Lee D, Natesan E (March 2006). "Evaluating genetic containment strategies for transgenic plants". Trends Biotechnol. 24 (3): 109–14. doi:10.1016/j.tibtech.2006.01.006. PMID 16460821.
- Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold