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Genetically Modified Organisms: Friend Or Foe?

1663 words - 7 pages

From simply selecting for desirable attributes in organisms, through Gregor Mendel's pea experiments, to modern day genetic recombinant techniques, man has sought to understand, harness and improve organisms that he deemed significant. Today however, genetic modification is shrouded by stereotypes and shunned by many which may impede its technological advancement. Application of recombinant DNA technology in modern plant breeding has resulted in the development of plants with improved agronomic properties. Food crops have been modified through the introduction of new agronomic traits or suppression of constituent genes which code for disease or pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, or ...view middle of the document...

GMOs: The centre of Debate.Human Health Risks?Human safety is one of the main reasons for reserve when it comes to GMOs. Two main concerns over the safety of GMOs are allergenicity and unknown effects of GMOs on human health. Because genes are transferred between species, some feel that they pose a risk to consumers with regards to food allergies, claiming that consumers can be exposed to potentially immunoreactive proteins that do not occur naturally in a particular food. This is unlikely though, since any organism has thousands of different proteins, the probability of the transgene causing an allergic response is extremely rare, but never the less, GMOs are extensively studied prior to approval.There is a growing concern that introducing foreign genes into food plants may have an unexpected and negative impact on human health. Many critics incorrectly speak of the harmful effects of eating recombinant DNA not realising that those transgenes are made of exactly the same subunits as 'normal DNA'. It is also believed that antibiotic resistance could be transferred from GMOs to human pathogens thus producing what the media call 'super-bugs' but these are also usually figments of imagination as GMOs have just as much chance of having their genetic material incorporated into pathogens as non-GMOs. Still, even though genetic modification of plants may have the potential to be harmful, these plants are tested comprehensively before being cultivated for human consumption.Environmental Hazards?A few years ago, scientists succeeded in transferring a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to economical plants such as cotton and maize. What makes the use of the Bt toxin more practical in agriculture is apart from being more cost effective than using pesticides they are also harmless to vertebrates. Two years ago, a study was published in Nature showing that pollen from Bt maize caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars consume milkweed plants, not maize, but pollen from Bt maize was blown by the wind onto milkweed plants in neighbouring fields where the caterpillars ate the pollen and many perished. Unfortunately, Bt toxins kill many species of insect larvae indiscriminately; it is not possible to design a Bt toxin that would only kill crop-damaging pests and remain harmless to all other insects. This study is being re-examined by the USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other non-government research groups, and preliminary data from new studies suggests that the original study may have been flawed. Just as some populations of mosquitoes developed resistance to the now-banned pesticide DDT, many people are concerned that insects will become resistant to Bt or other crops that have been genetically-modified to produce their own pesticides. Still without the use of engineered plants, farmers would have to go back to using pesticides which would not only make the crops more expensive but also...

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