The Showa Denko Tryptophan Disaster

Posted on Jul 6 2012 - 2:49pm by Sustainable Pulse

The tryptophan disaster in the end of the 1980′s and beginning of 1990′s killed 37 and permanently disabled 1,500 people in the United States in a disease called eosonophil myalgia syndrome (EMS).

It was caused by one or more extremely poisonous substances present in a tryptophan food supplement, which was produced by genetically engineered bacteria at the Japanese firm Showa Denko.

Showa Denko destroyed the evidence that could have been used to determine the scientific cause of the problem. They destroyed the genetically engineered bacterial stocks, along with any potentially surviving specks that investigators might have recovered from the walls or the equipment in their facilities.


  • The biotech corporations stressed that eosonophil myalgia syndrome (EMS) appeared after Showa Denko had changed the production method, reducing the coal content in a carbon filter in December 1988. It was maintained that this probably had reduced the protection against chemical impurities appearing in the production process (without any explanation how they could appear).

The filter story was widely disseminated to the press worldwide as the cause of the epidemic.

But the attorney William Crist has demonstrated that this argument was totally untenable, because he found that hundreds of cases of eosonophil myalgia syndrome (EMS) occurred before reduced filtration was introduced.

  • Tryptophan has been produced by a large number of other producers using natural bacteria (not genetically engineered) without any similar complication in any case.

They have been using the same manufacturing methods, which are standard for this kind of production. This makes it very unikely that impurities from the production system were the culprit.

This is also what the technicians at Showa Denko argued themselves.

In addition, there is no reasonable explanation how a highly toxic chemical could appear “out of the air” and this has never ocurred before in this kind of production. Tens of thousands of similar manufacturing units have been producing millions of tons of medical substances (penicillin being the most famous), since more than fifty years without the appearance of any unwanted highly toxic chemical impurity in any case.

This fact is in itself very strong evidence in favour of the alternative that it was the bacteria that caused the emergence of the poison and nothing else.

Only someone (like a lawyer of the biotech industry) who is completely ignorant of this fact could even think of suggesting something else.


  • Unexpected appearance of poisons has been predicted by molecular biologists because of the way genetic engineering can disturb normal cellular functioning.
  • Unexpected appearance of poisons has occurred in reality as predicted in other cases.
  • The risk for unexpected complications is greater the larger number of genes that are inserted because it brings about a greater instability in the genetic control of metabolic processes. In this case, the bacterium had not undergone just one genetic modification but FOUR different foreign genes had been introduced.
  • The risk was especially great for disturbance of the natural metabolic processes in this case and consequent appearance of unexpected substances, because all the genes were directed at modifying the same cellular “production line” (for producing tryptophan).
  • The most suspect impurity, “EBT” was closely similar to tryptophan. It was the kind of substance that could appear due to genetic engineering. But when reports came in about EBT, soon a contradictory report appeared that indicated, absurdly enough, that even tryptophan, a natural non-toxic substance in the body, could produce EMS-like symptoms.

This confusing finding was not surprising, rather it was predictable.

As billion-dollar biotech interests were threatened, the corporations had every reason to do whatever possible to confuse the issue.

If EBT would have been proven to be the cause of eosonophil myalgia syndrome (EMS), it would have been evident that Genetic Engineering was indeed the reason for the disaster.

This would have made it psychologically impossible to launch GMO foods on the market without very expensive (billion dollar) testing which would have wrecked the entire GE food project.

Facing this threat, it is very likely that the corporations “encouraged” the fabrication of research reports that confused the issue (this would not have been the first time science was misused in a fraudulent way).

Moreover, later research has, as could be expected, not been able to confirm that tryptophan itself is harmful and the US food agency, FDA, now allows bacterially produced tryptophan to be used even in baby food.


For the above reasons it is highly likely that it was genetic engineering that caused a metabolic disturbance in the tryptophan-producing bacteria, resulting in the production of the deadly eosonophil myalgia syndrome (EMS) poison.

More on this subject:

by William E. Crist: Toxic L-tryptophan: Shedding Light on a Mysterious Epidemic

by Professor Philip J. Regal, PhD, University of Minnesota: Deaths and Cripplings from Genetically Engineered L-tryptophan


This is not the only case where an unexpected poison has appeared, and as the present safety testing methods are superficial and highly insufficient, it is only a matter of time before another unexpected substance occurs in a Genetically Modified food which in the worst case will harm millions of people before the connection is even discovered. No genetically modified food is even labeled in the United States, and most of the food on the supermarket shelves today are indeed genetically modified – over 70%.

The consequence of this is that all GE foods must be withdrawn and subjected to careful and extensive safety testing. There is no independent research of any genetically modified food item prior to it reaching the supermarket shelves; prior to your family consuming them.

If, for some ethically unacceptable reason, this is not immediately done, at least the Genetically Engineered foods must be immediately labeled in order to provide families a choice to avoid them. Presently the only way to do so in countries, including the United States, where they are not labeled, is to eat only certified organically grown food.


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