Dr. Jenny Paul
Are Genetically Modified Organisms a Bad Thing?
Over the course of this spring semester in Survey of Biology II we have covered many things, but one of biggest and most interesting things we have covered is what a GMO is and how they affect our day to day lives. A GMO is a genetically modified organism, that can be a plant animal or microorganism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a lab using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. There are many types of GMOs including: corn, soy, alfalfa, canola, sugar beets, and milk.
We must first understand the purpose for the development of GMOs. They can be used in animals and plants. With animals, especially mice, they are used in medical research but mainly for testing new treatments for human disease. There is hope to slow the spread of malaria through mosquitoes. And there are even cases where farm animals have been engineered to produce useful substances for making medicines. There has been DNA modified from Salmon to make fish grow faster and bigger, and there are even fish that now glow in the dark with the use of a black light.
With the use of GMOs in plants it is a little different, but still interesting! Scientists have been experimenting with a wide variety of genetically modified food plants. These and a few other crops have been or are being engineered to prevent the spread of plant diseases, resist pests, and even enable weed control. Some food crops have been engineered to produce pharmaceutical and industrial needs, it is often referred to as molecular farming. Trees, cotton, grass, and alfalfa have also been genetically modified.
The research and development of GMOs occurred in universities and corporation’s settings. GMO research has all but eliminated such distinctions. The first release of a GMO into the environment was from a discovery by Stephen Lindow. Lindow’s “ice-minus bacteria,” a GM microorganism that would be sprayed onto fresh strawberry fields to resist frost damage, was tested by a private company in 1986 far from controversy. Herbert Boyer cofounded Genentech in 1976, a biotechnology company that produced the first approved rDNA drug, human insulin in 1982.
With any invention, there will be pros and cons on the product. One pro would be that it reduces the farmers needs for pesticides, this will save them not only time, but it will save them money. In 2014, about 500,000 acres in the U.S. were planted with the Drought Gard corn, which represents about 0.5 percent of the nation’s corn crop.
But like everything else, where there are pros there are some cons concerning GMO corn. They have linked the corn to many health issues and environmental damage. Some consumers are boycotting genetically modified foods because of their lack of labeling, health concerns, and lack of trust in the approval process. Faith-based criticism of GMOs come from beliefs against changing life at the genetic level, they have concerns about inserting genes from foods that have been banned into other foods that we consume.
Genetically modified organisms are not usually a bad thing in the medical field, on the other hand, they may cause unusual allergies. Research has been sought out to genetically modify foods in order to remove these proteins that causes the widespread allergies we see every day. There is a debate going on that centers on whether the genetic material remains sufficiently intact in the digestive tract to cause problems or not. GMOs can increase the toxicity in your body, it can decrease the nutritional value of the food, there are even reported cases of antibiotic resistance. There is fear that the widespread production of these organisms with the antibiotic resistance along with the potential for transfer of such traits to strip bacteria will stimulate resistance to antibiotics that are important to human and even veterinary medicine.
I do not personally think that there is a way we could go without genetically modified organisms today because they have become such a big part of our lives without hardly noticing them. We can cut back on the use of them but going without might be harder than we think. Yes, you can eat and buy food that have not been modified. Yes, farmers can avoid planting genetically modified crops. But it is a new way of medicine, it’s a big thing. There may be a need in the future where genetically modified crops and animals are not needed because it could be phased out. In the future genetic engineers could focus on incorporating traits that will have a larger benefit to consumers such as reduced allergies, a lower fat percentage, more nutritional value, and possibly improve the taste.