Aspartame Is Made from GM Bacteria Excrement-Truth! & Misleading!
Summary of eRumor:
Rumors have circulated social media sites that aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in soft drinks and food, is made from the feces of genetically modified (GM) E. coli bacteria.
A patent that was filed in 1981 describes making aspartame from the excretions of genetically modified bacteria, but the claim that aspartame is made from GM E. coli poop today is misleading.
Claims about aspartame being made from GM bacteria poop come from a European patent that was filed in 1981. The patent, which first became available online in 2013, outlines a process to make aspartame from the excretions of genetically modified bacteria, and E. coli bacteria in particular.
But the idea that aspartame is made from GM E. coli poop over simplifies the complex process of making aspartame, which has changed steadily over the years. It also ignores the fact that bacteria exists at the cellular level and doesn’t have a digestive system, which means it doesn’t “poop.” Instead, it excretes unneeded nutrients and byproducts through a cell wall.
Aspartame was discovered as a low-calorie sugar substitute for soft drinks and food in the 1960s, and the process used to create it has been evolving ever since. According to Harvard University:
The tumultuous history of the food additive aspartame began serendipitously thirty-five years ago. On the day that James M. Schlatter, a chemist, unintentionally discovered it, he was working on an anti-ulcer drug. As Mr. Schlatter mixed asparatic acid and phenylalanine, two naturally occurring amino acids that are the building blocks of protein, he stuck his finger in the mixture and for some reason decided to taste it. I licked my finger and it tasted good. He later recalled. And with that, a new, low-calorie sweetener was born. What has happened since that fateful day in 1965 comprises the additive’s struggle from birth to maturity; not unlike a human being moving from inception to adulthood, aspartame has overcome many hurdles and incited much controversy on its path to a somewhat more stable maturity.
James Schlatter quickly filed a patent for the process in 1966. The FDA approved aspartame for use in various products from the 1970s and 1990s. Still, aspartame remains controversial, with many questioning its side effects.
The 1981 European patent states that Schlatter’s peptide synthesis process was too costly and time-consuming. A “new” method described in the patent detailed “the introduction of foreign genetic material into microorganisms which then produce the protein or proteins for which such foreign genetic material codes.”
The U.K.-based Independent reports that GM was needed to make the bacteria produce more phenylalanine, one of the two amino acids used to make aspartame:
As the G8 summit of rich country leaders decided last night to launch an inquiry into the safety of genetically modified (GM) food, an investigation by the Independent on Sunday revealed that Monsanto, the pioneering GM food giant which makes aspartame, often uses genetically engineered bacteria to produce the sweetener at its US production plants.
“We have two strains of bacteria — one is traditionally modified and one is genetically modified,” said one Monsanto source. “It’s got a modified enzyme. It has one amino acid different.”
The use of genetic engineering to make aspartame has stayed secret until now because there is no modified DNA in the finished product. Monsanto insists that it is completely safe.
A Monsanto spokeswoman confirmed that aspartame for the US market is made using genetic engineering. But sweetener supplied to British food producers is not. However, consumer groups say it is likely that some low-calorie products containing genetically engineered aspartame have been imported into Britain.
That report was from 1999, and Monsanto sold its NutraSweet division (a brand name for aspartame) in 2000 and has not produced it since.
Today, it’s generally accepted that aspartame is made using GM bacteria, but it’s not clear that it’s E. coli bacteria. Companies are notoriously tight-lipped about how they make food products, so there’s no way to know if some, all or none of the 1981 patent is still in use.
We have reported this one as truth and misleading because it’s true that patent was filed to produce aspartame from the excretions of GMO bacteria, but the eRumor oversimplifies a complex process and assumes that the process hasn’t changed at all since 1981.