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Meet the Controversial MIT Scientist Who Claims She Discovered a Cause of Gluten Intolerance

Does she finally have the answer?

Stephanie Seneff is a senior research scientist at MIT. Based in the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Seneff’s focus is, according to her web page, “the intersection of biology and computation.” She is also, according to many in the science community, a "quack,” meaning a poseur at the business of science, and a practitioner of pseudoscience.

Since she began publishing papers on biology, in journals considered fringe by the mainstream scientific establishment, Seneff has posited explanations for a host of disorders, and drawn heated objections from experts in most every field she’s delved into. She is, in short, a controversial figure in the scientific community, which is an unusual position to occupy for someone with three degrees from MIT.

In recent months, Seneff co-authored two papers proposing a connection between the herbicide glyphosate and gluten sensitivity. I spoke with Seneff by phone about this hypothesis, her transition from computer science into biology, and her reputation in the scientific community.

Ari LeVaux: How is it that, in your opinion, glyphosate causes gluten sensitivity?

Stephanie Seneff: What we argued in the paper is that glyphosate binds to the gluten. Gluten usually forms cross-mesh connections between different amino acids, and glyphosate would disrupt that because it would prevent the cross-mesh by binding to the gluten and causing the gluten to stay in the form that is known to be more allergenic. So we believe glyphosate causes the gluten to assume the form that is more allergenic.

ALV: You think this applies to both Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?

SS: Gluten sensitivity by itself doesn’t necessarily have the transglutaminase immunogenicity of Celiac. It shares the same features with Celiac disease, but it’s not as extreme. But these things also have a host of other pathologies that are associated with this particular condition of gluten sensitivity, which is what’s so fascinating to me. All of these risk factors that co-occur with Celiac disease could be explained through other ways that glyphosate disrupts physiology. That’s the most fascinating thing to me, is that you can explain all of these other things, maybe not directly through the effect of gluten but through the effect of glyphosate on the body. 

People who have Celiac disease have increased risk for other things; for example, non-hodgkins lymphoma, and they die earlier because of these other risks. They also have fertility problems, they are more likely to produce children with birth defects, and are more likely to have depression and serotonin problems. All of these things that are connected to Celiac disease, but also exist independently from Celiac disease, are also caused, in our opinion, by glyphosate.

ALV: Your paper discusses the reason that glyphosate is being sprayed onto wheat. Could you explain this practice?

SS: Glyphosate is being sprayed on wheat right before the harvest. This has become a more and more popular practice among farmers. We found specific data in the UK showing a dramatic increase in the practice of spraying the wheat with glyphosate right before the harvest. This is three or four days before they harvest the seed. You can’t imagine that that glyphosate has disappeared in those three or four days. The intent is to kill the plant.

Wheat, of course, is not GMO, it’s not Round-Up ready. They probably don’t want it to be Round-Up ready because then they couldn’t do this anymore. This is a very convenient practice. It reduces the effort involved in the combine when you’re harvesting the wheat.

ALV: If glyphosate were causing these problems, wouldn’t we expect to see higher incidence of these diseases that are supposedly caused by glyphosate?

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