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Genetically Modified Organisms- a Step Ahead or a Step in the Wrong Direction?

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Genetically modified organisms- a step ahead or a step in the wrong direction? Paulina Langowska Genetically modified organisms, also known as GMO, are such organisms whose genetic material has been artificially changed using genetic engineering. Genetic engineering, to put it simply, is altering the DNA technology, using DNA molecules from various organisms and using this molecules to create a brand new set of genes. Then the set of genes is added to an organism’s genome.

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Below is shown an exchange of genes in corn, which is supposed to protect it from various insects.

Genetic engineering can also change the color of the plant, make it resistant to difficult weather conditions, insects and viruses. The beginnings of genetic engineering take us back to the year 1973, when the first recombinant bacteria- a bacteria that has been genetically modified- was created. It was Escherichia coli, which from that point on became a popular lab rat used in genetic engineering. This creation led to discussions whether genetic modifications are safe and needed. The first conference when potential health risks were discussed took place in 1975.

In late 1980’s in USA and Canada began an experimental usage of genetic engineered plants in a small scale. In 1990’s, after the approval for a larger scale, genetic engineering was more widely spread across the countries. From that point on, the interest in genetically modified organisms grew year by year. However, even though genetically modified organisms have gained population, the benefits of it and its harmlessness is disputable. Researches on lab pets show many harmful consequences.

Some scientists decided to try and feed rats with genetic engineered potatoes. It was supposed to make them produce their own natural insecticide. But the results weren’t exactly as they were expected. Rats’ cells developed in a proliferative way and potentially cancerous cells. Also, the development of their brain and liver was inhibited and they suffered from an immune system damage. Also, another research was done in Russian Academy of Sciences. This time, female rats were fed genetically modified soy before and during pregnancy and also hile feeding their offspring. This time, the results included: * About 55% of offspring died during 3 weeks after the birth (compared to 9% of mortality among those fed with non-genetically modified soy) * Offspring was significantly smaller compared to other as well as their organs (heart, liver, kidneys, etc. ) * Both mothers and their children were very aggressive and anxious * When male and female (both form genetically modified soy fed mother) were paired, they were unable to conceive children.

Although the results of this experiments are to be taken with a grain of salt, they are still alarming and disturbing due to the wide discrepancies between the GM soy fed rats and the control ones. The health damages found in rats fed with genetically modified potatoes is just as much worrying. The reason rats are used for such experiments is that their morphology and biochemical structures are very similar to the human ones. That is why those experiments, as well as similar ones, provoke an essential question- is genetically modified food harmful to people.

The answer to this question is very disputable. Some scientists claim that genetically modified foods are completely safe and otherwise they wouldn’t be approved. But there are numerous articles about possible harmful effects of genetically modified foods and they can’t be ignored. The main concern is allergies. Main aim of getting a new set of gene to an organism’s genome is to create a new protein and every protein is potentially triggering to allergic reactions. The problem with GM foods is that its protein are completely new and we can’t be sure about its effect.

Truth be told, people (mainly in USA, where genetic engineered food is the most common) often consume GM products without being aware of it- if you live in the USA and ate cheddar cheese in the past few years it is more than likely that you ate a genetically manipulated food, since genetic engineering is currently the most successful in cheddar cheese. Some say that genetically modified products they unwillingly consumed are to stand accused for their new allergies. Other concerns involve immunity system damage and stunted organ growth, however they are mostly seen in lab pets and are yet to be proved to occur.

Another reason why genetic engineering receives so many criticism from the ethical point of view. Because if we can change genes in cheese or potatoes, what’s stopping us from changing genes in people? Scientists and psychologists are afraid that genetic engineering will become so developed that designing unborn children will happen on a daily basis. Parents will choose gender, height, hair color etc. From this point there’s not much to go to create an artificial world, ruled by genetic engineering, looking like taken out of Huxley’s book.

Futhermore, genetically modified organisms have a huge impact on our environment. One of the problems is gene flow. Gene flow is a natural occurring phenomenon that results in getting one organism’s DNA and transporting it to another one, be it from the same species or not. Some people are afraid that the engineered genes may spread and push out other, not modificated, plants. Yet another drawback is that they can be harmful to other organisms. Genetic engineering in plants such as crop is mostly focused on creating a defensive system against insects.

But often, the newly created insecticide can be harmful to other, non-target organisms. Some sources agree that the existence of genetically engineered maize most commonly found in corn had a negavite impact on population of monarch butterflies living near the field, because they fed with plants dusted by the pollen from the corn maize. Both these phenomena’s can led to destroying natural biodiversity. So this leads us to a question: if genetic engineering has so much disadvantages, why is it still done and money is spent for researches?

The truth is that even if it has many drawbacks, it still have many advantages that for some people are worth all the effort. Negative poster about GM foods One of them is that it is said to help us create food that is much more nutritious. It can be done by inserting a specific genes that are supposed to produce vitamins etc. to various crops. A well known case is inserting the gene making the vitamin A levels in rice much higher. Rice feeds currently more than 50% of the world population, but is not high in vitamins and other nutrients.

Modifying it in such a way that It contains more vitamin A could help reduce deficiency resulting in blindness. If it was to be done successfully with other food products it would probably really help with fighting the malnutrition in third world or developing countries. Moreover, genetic engineering can decrease crop failure. Crop failure is a very big issue and it is said to increase due to climate changes. Because of them, price of food gets higher, some countries need to ban all the export of some products (for example Russia banning wheat export in 2010) and ometimes it even gets so bad country really suffers from famine, especially when we consider developing countries. That’s why GMOs are so tempting to scientist. They hold potential for making plants more resistant to various insects and plant diseases. Some corn produce very much food but don’t defend themselves again insects while other that are able to repel insects cannot produce this much food. Therefore, scientists hope that they can combine these to and create a corn and then other plants that repel insects while producing big amounts of food.

This also results in using o plants much less chemicals in order to reduce insect and disease damage. These chemicals seriously hurt our environment. Thanks to adoption of genetically engineered of corn, cotton and soybeans during years 1997 and 1998 farmers used 8. 2 million fewer pounds of chemicals. Furthermore, genetically modified organisms are also more resistant to getting overrun or choked up by weeds and other plants fighting for the same nutrients. This results in weeds dying out, leaving room for crop.

This and making plants more resistant to insects and diseases makes GMO very profitable. According to some economists, in 2007 farmers made additional $10 billion due to introducing gnetic engineered plants. Yet another advantage of genetic engineering is the fact that it can help us produce new, far more effective vaccines and medicines. Also they can create another form of them- edible vaccines. The idea is to put medication into some plant’s genes and distribute it around the world so that people eat it and get what they need.

Scientists have already developed a transgenic potato, that prevented rats from getting rotavirus and E. coli. Hopefully, this idea will get developed and adopted in life, because this could help serious health problems, for example in countries of the third world. To conclude, genetic engineering is a very controversial subject and it surely needs more research. But it holds great potential for fixing many issues, many of them considering developing countries and people dying of starvation. Probably, as more and more investigation is done, health problems are going to be solved.

Bibliography Pictures (in order of appearance): 1. http://www. ces. ncsu. edu/resources/crops/ag546-1/helixes3. jpg; date: 8. 05. 2011; author unknown 2. ‘Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods’; Jeffrey M. Smith; publisher: Chelsea Green, 2007 3. http://www. news. cornell. edu/chronicle/99/5. 20. 99/caterpillars. JPEG; date: 8. 05. 2011; Kent Loeffler 4. http://www. anunews. net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/aa-frankenfood-cartoon-good-one1. jpg; date: 8. 05. 2011; author unknown Books and webpages: 1. Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods’; Jeffrey M. Smith; publisher: Chelsea Green, 2007 2. ‘Seeds of deception: Exposing industry and government lies about the safety of the genetically engineered foods you’re eating’; Jeffrey M. Smith, publisher: Yes! Books, 2003 3. http://www. sciencedaily. com/releases/2010/10/101007092817. htm; reprinted from materials provided by Univeristy of Leeds, 7. 10. 2010 (date of publishing) 4. http://www. suite101. com/content/the-benefits-of-genetically-modified-food-crops-a218670; Andy Luttrel; 28. 3. 2010 (date of publishing) 5. http://www. ehow. com/list_6019041_advantages-benefits-gmo. html; Gregory Hamel; 8. 05. 2011 (date of using) 6. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism; Yobot; 6. 05. 2011 ——————————————– [ 1 ]. http://www. ces. ncsu. edu/resources/crops/ag546-1/ [ 2 ]. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism#History [ 3 ]. http://www. seedsofdeception. com/documentFiles/120. pdf [ 4 ]. http://www. suite101. com/content/the-benefits-of-genetically-modified-food-crops-a218670