Genetically Modified Organisms
The advent of advanced technologies has brought about a myriad of developments in different sectors of human lives. These technologies have more so caused tremendous transformation in the field of science. The integration of technology and science has resulted to new scientific discoveries in form of; improved medical therapies and increased agricultural productivity which have contributed to the significant improvement of human lives. Even though these developments have been widely appreciated, a vast majority of people are still dubious on the scientific innovation of genetically modified organisms. The term ‘genetically modified organism’ has been conceptualized as an organism whose genetic makeup has been modified or altered to portray desired characteristics.
Genetic modification utilizes biological techniques at molecular level to alter and manipulate the genetic machinery of different living organisms. The most common genetic engineering technique employed in the creation of genetically modified organisms is referred as the recombinant DNA technology. Recombinant DNA technology is used to change an organism’s genome by identifying a gene with specific desirable genetic trait, extracting it and inserting it into the organism’s genome. This technique has been adopted by scientific researchers seeking to provide vital solutions to some crucial problems such as; food shortage, genetically inherited diseases among many other problems. Food shortage has become a serious problem with the unprecedented rise of human population. In order to effectively tackle the problem of food shortage, scientists have introduced genetically modified foods to the public. However, this new development has been received with a lot of concerns from the stakeholders, religious societies and the public at large. Even though genetic engineering has led to new improved varieties of food crops, many are still concerned with the long-term side effects that these foods may pose on human health and well-being. Some of the desirable characteristics produced by genetically modified foods include; high levels of productivity, insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance and greater nutritional content foods.
During the heydays, most farmers and researchers employed conventional breeding technique to enhance desired characteristics on plants and animals. This traditional method proved to not only be inaccurate but time consuming as well. With the advent of genetic engineering, most farmers are at ease as this technique focuses on picking and inserting the ‘right’ genes on the genome of a particular plant. Genetic modification has thereby led to tremendous improvement on food security and management of hunger crisis.
Genetically modified foods are foods that have been produced from genetically modified plants and livestock. The process of genetic engineering and recombinant DNA technology dates back in the year 1946 when erudite scientists discovered the possibility of DNA/RNA to be transferred from one organism to another (Rissman, 2016). The hallmark of gene manipulation on plants first took place in the year 1983 when a genetically modified plant was produced using an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant (Freedman, 2009). In the year 1990, China became the first country to commercialize the genetically modified antibiotic resistant tobacco plant to the public. This was later followed by several discoveries that led to the transformation of food industry in the world. In the year 1994, scientists utilizing genetic engineering techniques developed genetically modified tomato plant with specific desirable trait of delayed ripening (Rissman, 2016). This genetically modified plant would thus be able to produce tomatoes that would have a prolonged ripening period. Since tomatoes are perishable foods, the transgenic tomatoes benefited the farmers and the consumers who would have otherwise suffered great loss caused by stale tomatoes. The genomic tomatoes were released into the US market after being approved by the Food and Administration organization in the year 1994 (Boccia & Sarnacchiaro, 2015). The Food and Drug Administration board later on approved several genetically modified food products such as; Bt potatoes, soybeans resistant to glyphosate herbicide, Bt corn, cotton resistant to bromoxynil and canola with genetically modified oil composition (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001).
The continuous approval of the genetically modified foods into the market marked the beginning of more discoveries made on producing suitable modified foods to the public. Currently, there are several genetically modified foods produced by transgenic crops. However, the Food and Drug administration board is yet to approve foods from genetically modified domestic animals. To add to this, the introduction of genetically modified foods to the market has created heated debate with regards to the safety and long-term adverse effects of these foods on human health and the environment.
Benefits of genetically modified foods
Genetically modified plants have a wide range of benefits in comparison to naturally growing plants. For starters, genetically modified plants tend to grow faster as compared to the natural growing food crops. Concurrently, the fast growth of the genetically modified food crops results to high yield and productivity. This is essential because as population increases, so does the demand for food also increase. Genetically modified plants have therefore provided concrete and effective solution for food shortage and hunger crisis (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001). The development of biotechnology and genetic engineering has allowed scientists to remove undesirable genes from plants and insert the ‘right’ genes that will cause the plant to have and produce products with specific desirable characteristics (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013). In addition, most of these food crops are genetically modified to resistant against diseases. This has been done by removing some of the genetic materials that would otherwise result to specific disease.
Some plants have also undergone genetic modification for purposes of making them resistant to insects and pests. It is for this profound reason that most of these plants are able to survive and flourish in environs exposed to high pest population. Furthermore, farmers have been alleviated from using chemical pesticides and herbicides in a bid to protect the plants from being infested and surrounded by pests and weeds. Through genetic engineering technique, these genomic plants are free from harmful chemicals. Bacillus thuringiensis Corn is a good example of a plant that has been genetically modified with the intent of protecting it from pests and insects (Rissman, 2016). Genetically modified foods also tend to be of a higher nutritional value in comparison to traditionally grown food crops. The high nutritional content benefits the consumers who get to enjoy good health and well-being. An example of highly nutritious genetically modified food is the genetically modified soya beans that possess high protein content which performs the function of body building in the human body (Rissman, 2016). Another advantage of genetically modified foods is there long shelf life. Food products are known to be perishable in nature. However, the development of gene modification has allowed scientists to utilize genetic engineering process to prolong the ripening period of specific food crop products (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013). This has allowed most farmers to store the food products for a longer period of time without them going stale. Transgenic Flavour Saver tomato is an example of a food crop product that has been genetically engineered to delay its ripening process after being harvested (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001).
Limitations of genetically modified foods
Even though genetically modified foods have showcased a plethora of benefits, there still exist a number of disadvantages associated with human consumption of genetically modified foods (Freedman, 2009). The increase of genetically modified foods in the market has brought a lot of controversial issues with regards to the long-term adverse consequences posed on man’s health and well-being. According to research, the three health risks that are likely to be associated with the continuous consumption of genetically modified foods include; toxicity, allergic reaction and genetic hazards (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013). Even though the long-term side effects of genetically modified foods are still unknown, most researchers and medical practitioners claim of a high possibility of human diseases arising from the continuous consumption of the genetically engineered foods. The newly manipulated genetic material on the foods may pose a threat to the human health when the genes are expressed in the human body (Zhang et al., 2016). The expressed genes on the human body may also cause toxic effects to the various body systems.
In addition, some people have been reported to develop serious allergies immediately after consuming specific genetically modified foods. An example of genetically modified foods that produce allergic effects on people who consumed them is the genetically modified soya beans. Methionine is known as the allergen product of genetically modified soya beans. Through genetic manipulation, the gene responsible for the enhanced production of methionine is added (Boccia & Sarnacchiaro, 2015). As a consequence, the newly added genetic material has led to severe allergic effects on people who consumed them. In other cases, the genetically modified foods have had secondary and pleiotropic side effects on people who consume them. Genetic engineering on food crops has also received a lot of backlash from various religious organizations which term genetically modified foods as unnatural foods that are biblically not recommended for human use.
Aside from the adverse health effects that genetically modified plants pose on human beings, the genetically modified plants also pose a threat to a well-balanced ecological system. Most of the genetically manipulated food crops tend to develop robust resistance against pests, insects and weeds (Freedman, 2009). However, prolonged time usually allows these weeds, pests and insects to experience genetic mutations that allow them to grow in blooming rates and attack the transgenic plants. This usually occurs because genetic modifications only target the expression of specific genes on the plants. These food crops tend to succumb to pests and insects that have evolved new genes due to spontaneous genetic mutation that makes them more resistant and intolerable (Boccia & Sarnacchiaro, 2015). In other instances, some of the genetically modified foods may lead to disruption of the normal healthy microorganisms such as bacteria that are components of the micro flora surrounding the human and animals’ gastrointestinal system. This disruption usually makes the gastrointestinal system to be more susceptible to attacks by pathogenic microorganisms. Concurrently, interference with the normal microflora protecting the walls of gastrointestinal system would most likely result to development of infections and diseases (Zhang et al., 2016).
Genetically modified foods have contributed to the sustainable development of the country and world at large. Despite having a number of uncertain risks, genetically modified foods have increased food supplies in difficult situations such as; hunger crisis. Amid harsh economic climates, genetically modified plants tend to grow and produce products of high yields and productivity. This has not only enabled the government to feed its nation but to also cut its costs on agricultural activities and crisis management. Even though genetic engineering still remains to be a hotly debated issue, the advantages of producing genetically modified foods outweigh the demerits of their production. The International Food Biotechnology Council (IFBC), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are currently working in collaboration to evaluate the safety of genetically modified foods for human and animal consumption.
Boccia, F., & Sarnacchiaro, P. (2015). Genetically modified foods and consumer perspective. Recent patents on food, nutrition & agriculture, 7(1), 28-34.
Zhang, C., Wohlhueter, R., & Zhang, H. (2016). Genetically modified foods: A critical review of their promise and problems. Food Science and Human Wellness, 5(3), 116-123.
Bawa, A. S., & Anilakumar, K. R. (2013). Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review. Journal of food science and technology, 50(6), 1035-1046.
Freedman, J. (2009). Genetically modified food: How biotechnology is changing what we eat. New York, NY: Rosen Pub. Group.
Rissman, R. (2016). Genetically modified food. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Digital.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2001). Genetically modified organisms, consumers, food safety and the environment. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.