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Genetic Engineering in Agriculture Essay

Genetic Engineering is the technical manipulation of an object from the natural world in a way in which it would provide a benefit to humans. Genetic engineering is also known as recombinant DNA technology, which means changing the genes in a living organism to produce a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) with a new genotype. Various kinds of genetic modification are possible such as inserting a foreign gene from one species into another, forming a transgenic organism, altering an existing gene so that its product is changed, or changing gene expression so that it is translated more often not at all [1].

Genetic engineering is also sometimes called bioengineering, genetic manipulation, gene technology and biotechnology, i.e. the industrial use of biological processes. Why is genetic engineering used in agriculture? Genetic modification is used to grow crops in some parts of the world. Genetic modification (GM) involves copying the genes that govern a particular characteristic and transferring them to another organism. An example of a GM crop is Soya. The Soya is genetically modified so that it is tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate [4]. This would reduce the usage of insecticides and herbicides; therefore, less money is spent by the farmers, and the condition of the crops would be better.

How is it done? Genetic engineering works by physically removing a gene from one organism and inserting it into another organism giving it the ability to express the trait encoded by that gene. Below is a simple summary of how genetic engineering is done to a plant to give it a new trait. First, a gene of interest is cut from a stretch of plant DNA by using restriction endonucleases (enzyme). A plasmid is then removed from an agrobacterium (bacteria) and cut open using the same enzyme. The gene is then spliced into the plasmid, and then the plasmid is put back into the agrobacterium. When the bacterium is mixed with plant cells, the agrobacterium duplicates the plasmid. This then transfers the new gene from the agrobacterium to the new gene into the chromosomal DNA of the plant cell; therefore, the transformed cells grow into the intact plant.

When the plant cells divide, each daughter cell receives the new gene, giving the whole plant a new trait [6]. What are the advantages and disadvantages? There are many advantages but not as many disadvantages in using Genetic engineering in agriculture. Advantages are farmers overall would use fewer herbicides and pesticides, Herbicide-tolerant GM crops allow them to withstand otherwise lethal doses of herbicides; therefore, the crops won’t be affected by the herbicide, reduced fuel consumption, crops are virus tolerant, sustainable agriculture (50% chance), GE allows the creation of plants that produce vaccines, pharmaceuticals or enhanced pharmaceutical raw materials, it is a quicker, predictable way to produce food and food can last longer due to the modification.

An example is a GM tomato that doesn’t start softening easily; therefore would be easy to transport in the winter. Biopolymers can be produced in GM plants, allowing biodegradable plastics (e.g. PHBV, Biopol), which are also sustainable because they are not made from fossil fuels [3]. The disadvantages of using genetic engineering in agriculture are transferring animal genes into plants creates ethical concerns for vegetarians and religious groups, unsustainable agriculture (50% chance), sensitive individuals would not know to avoid crops with genes from other organisms that they may be allergic to, Steals genetic commons from peasant farmers and indigenous peoples (biopiracy by the rich North, e.g. Neem tree & Basmati rice). Virus tolerant crops are one of the advantages of genetically engineered agriculture. Still, there is a chance of the plants to create a new or worse virus through recombination and transpeptidation [6].

Impact of Genetic engineering in agriculture. Genetically engineering in agriculture has many potential and real impacts on humans [7]. Most of the impacts are discussed in the advantage and disadvantage section. But some impacts have not yet been seen. Many ethical impacts to humans have been seen with the lack of labelling, religious concerns and health hazards (not yet proven GM food is safe). What are the ethical issues? There are many ethical questions because of the lack of absolute certainty of such tests. The experiments may involve animals that are unacceptable to many people.

Transferring animal genes into plants also raises important ethical issues for vegetarians as they would not know that the altered vegetables and fruits may have animal genes in them.  Religious groups also have objections to the “tampering with the basic patterns of life that occur in most genetic engineering research [5]. Once a genetically modified organism has been released into the environment, it can reproduce or even mutate. The best sustainable, biodegradable bioplastic is wood. Most people would prefer to plant more trees.

References

  1. Website address: www.biologymad.com/master.html?http://www.biologymad.com/GeneticEngineering/GeneticEngineering.htm   Article name: Genetic Engineering
  2. Website address: http://campus.queens.edu/faculty   Article name: Links for genetics
  3. Website Address: http://www.anth.org/ifgene/beginner.htm  Article Name: A beginner’s guide to genetic engineering Author: Dr. David Heaf
  4. Book Title: GM Crops & the environment  Publisher: the food and drink federation  Edition: October 2000
  5. Website Address: http://www.planetpapers.com/Assets/835.php Article name: GM Food
  6. Book Title: Holsons: Genetic Engineering Section title: Application of genetic engineering Pages: 10-14
  7. Website address: http://www.roanoke.edu/Chemistry/JSteehler/HNRS301/Genetic/Agriculture.htm Article name: Agriculture and genetic engineering
  8. Software Title: Encarta Encyclopaedia 2001 Published: Microsoft Edition: 2001
  9. Website Address: http://www.foodfuture.org.uk/ethical_intro.aspx Article name: Ethical Issues Author: Food Future AS Biology – Coursework Jahangir Chowdhury

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