When I come across the topics of bioengineering and genetic modification my mind immediately thinks Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, something cinematic. There is surely something fantastical and unreal about the idea of genetic modification. Man has been studying genes and genetics since Mendel and his pea plants back in the 1800’s. However the most significant jump in the field of genetic engineering has been seen only within the last 40-50 years. Now not only are we able to identify and sequence genes, but we can sequence entire genomes and modify and alter them to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Things that were once only possible in movies, like cloning and genome editing, are now actual realities.
As great as this all sounds, there are definitely ethical and religious issues that come up when talking about genetically modified organisms, especially when talking about animals and even people. However aside from all of that, just from a humanistic and scientific point of view, I think that GMO’s are given a pretty bad rep. I myself at one point was a bit skeptical but after doing some research, have found that perhaps there is more to the story. So here’s some information that you may or may not know, but for those that don’t, may shed light on the situation.
First lets talk about genetically modified food. This is something that almost all of us encounter on a day to day basis. Experts say that about 60-70 percent of processed foods at the grocery store contain GMOs, and major crops like corn and soy are grown using genetically engineered seeds. When talking about the topic of genetically modified food the most common concern is usually regarding health and the possible long term effects that consuming GMOs may have. However the truth is that much of these concerns are without actual grounds. According to the FDA there has been no reported claims of illness regarding the consumption GMO products, and the overall scientific consensus, including that of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The World Health Organization, and The American Medical Association, is that “food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food.” (Wiki) With this in mind let’s look toward the pros. First off GM crops can be modified to withstand harsher weather condition and resist disease. This increaseses the over yield of crops which means more food for consumers. This becomes extremely important in current times with climate change and an increasing population, GM food is a solutions to these problems. Secondly, bringing up the topic of global warming, the production GM food is less stressful to our environment. The more we advance the more resources we consume and now more than ever it is clear how important it is to reserve those resources and GM food can also help with this. Crops that are modified to resist disease and pests reduce the need for pesticides and require less soil, this help preserve the earth and allowing for further crops. And finally the over all goal of GM food productions is to produce a better product and from a scientific standpoint that is what you get, better quality food at a genetic level.
Now we move toward the more controversial issue regarding genetically modified animals. Professor Cartwright briefly mentioned about the GFP bunny that was engineered by the modern artist Eduardo Kac named Alba. Alba was not the first GFP animal, however a number plants and animals have been modified in this way. Essentially the GFP gene, which is the gene found in a jellyfish that causes a jellyfish to glow, has been isolated and implanted into numerous different plants, fish, and even rabbits to successfully produce and organism that glows like a jelly fish. The work of Kac is particularly interesting as it pertains to this class in that Alba was created not for scientific research but rather as a work of art. This brings in the ethical issues that concern living life as an object or art form and how to establish the boundaries between the created and the creator. However apart from this technique being used to produce art, the development of these transgenic animals have great scientific and medical potential. The video below is from August of last year.
As you can see despite the many stereotypes and controversies that surround the topic of bioengineering and genetic modification, there are many current and potential benefits being seen in this field that may change human lives for the better. I offer this quote from Kent Bradford, PhD, professor of plant sciences and director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis.
“Why reject a technology that has the potential to benefit so many people worldwide?”
Then again there is always this possibility…
Presenting Week 8