Genes are found in every living organism and are said to be the blueprints of the organism. Genetic engineering involves modifying the DNA sequence involving the insertion of new genes. These modifications are particularly done by artificially transferring the genes specific to one organism to another. This enables scientists to isolate desirable qualities from one organism and insert it into another to improve the organism involved.
This at first thought sounds very appealing, as the possibilities are endless, for example, to enhance the yield of certain crops or to allow crops to be resistant to herbicides or improved nutritional content. However on closer analysis the disadvantages out way the advantages. When researching this topic the vast majority of text derived concerned the dangers of genetically modified (GM) foods.
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The main issue with GM foods is that it is unnatural and said to be playing “God”. Many biotechnology companies persistently claim that their methods of genetic modifications are similar to natural genetic changes, or more commonly and traditionally used techniques such as cross-breeding. However, some of the modifications involve using genes from one species and inserting them into another. The cross-species transfer often involves unrelated species such as between insects and tomatoes or fish and lettuce. This type of cross-breeding would not occur in nature and could lead to many new toxins, diseases and weaknesses.
The transferring of animal genes into plants also raises important ethical issues for religious and vegetarian groups. The process of genetically modifying food involves a random component when it comes to gene insertion methods. This indicates that the event of side effects and accidents are to be expected. This also implies that living organisms are to be tested on, and accidentally produced defect organisms are produced that need to be terminated, which can be unacceptable for some groups of people. This again raises ethical issues.
One of the biggest concerns is that new toxins and allergies can be formed through genetic engineering. This is due to “when a new gene is inserted into any organism there is a “Position effect” which entails an unpredictable pattern of gene expression and genetic function.” This means that the protein that is the product of the inserted gene could have unpredictable reactions and produce potentially toxic products. This means that genetic engineering can introduce dangerous new allergens and toxins into foods, which were naturally safe.
Thus questioning the necessity of genetic engineering. Already bacteria genetically engineered to produce large amounts of the food supplement, tryptophan, have produced toxins that killed 37 people and severely affected roughly 1,500 people in the USA. There have been many other cases where genetic engineering has caused problems. Many of these have been written in local papers, such as on September 29th, 1999 genetic pollution was proved as GM oilseed rape pollen was found four and a half kilometres from the trial farm site. This could lead to cross-pollination with other natural plants creating “superweeds” and other unnatural occurrences, which could have devastating results.
The genetic code is very complex and nobody can predict the effects of introducing new genes into an organism. This is due to factors such as the transposed gene may act differently when working with the other genes within the host, which will have unpredictable effects.
The advantages of genetic engineering are endless. Genetic engineering can enable the production of rare substances such as insulin or human growth hormone. Regarding medicine, there are many advantages as medication can be produced more easily. In addition, substances originally obtained from animals can be genetically synthesized without using animals so it is acceptable for vegetarians.
Vegetables can be altered to improve taste and size, or even colour. Other advantages are that plants can be modified to be resistant to herbicides, disease or even lack of water. This means that GM foods could be the answer for ending starvation and feeding future generations. The ability to enable plants to be resistant to herbicides will improve farming methods as the weeds can be killed off without affecting the crops. The side effects of this improvement are that “superweeds” could be created, causing disastrous events. This also would mean the amount of herbicides used increased, meaning a greater amount of contamination of our water. This is due to these toxins being washed into rivers and therefore contaminating the water, the water we use.
Even though the list of advantages is endless and the short-term effects are appealing, there is no way of predicting the overall long-term effects of GM foods. This in turn questions whether GM foods will affect the health of those who consume the foods.
The original genetic structure of plants has been feeding the human race since the human race evolved. The blind tampering of nature is reckless and dangerous to our health. Once genetically modified organisms are released into the wild they can never be recalled and their effects will spread without limit. I have illustrated both the advantages and disadvantages of GM foods, and I personally I don’t believe it is necessary.
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