A GMO is a genetically modified organism, or an organism that has a modified genetic makeup. GMOs are organisms that have genetic information from more than just their genome, but combined with that of another organism. Organisms like animals, bacteria, plants, and viruses can and have been genetically modified. GMOs can be used in everyday things, such as medicine and food.The use of genetically modified organisms dates back more than 30,000 years.
Before people knew even knew about genetics, organisms were modified by artificial selection. (Rangel, 2015). Our ancestors chose what animals to breed together in order to see the results they anticipated. Even though artificial selection isn’t considered GMO technology, it’s the first use of genetics to create or breed an offspring for prefered traits.Dogs are considered the first species to be modified by artificial selection.
Humans domesticated wolves and bred them based on what traits were desired. Genes for all kinds of phenotypes were selected for and over many years have produced hundreds of different breeds. This method of modifying animals has been used for many different species and situations, like farming. Even plants can be bred to eventually produce offspring that has traits chosen by the breeders.Vegetables, like corn, weren’t always the vegetables that are around today.
“Corn, or maize, began as a wild grass called teosinte that had tiny ears and very few kernels. Over the hundreds of years, teosinte was selectively bred to have larger and larger ears with more kernels, resulting in what we now know as corn.” (Rangel, 2015, 3). Although still technically not using GMO technology, these organisms were deliberately changed over a period of time into something more useful or advantageous to the breeders.The first technological advance towards modern genetically modified organisms began with the collaboration of Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen. The two biochemists met in 1973 to realize the ways their individual works complimented one another. They realized that Cohen’s work with plasmids and Boyer’s work with restriction enzymes could both be used to essentially “cut and paste” a gene from one organism into another, called genetic engineering.
They developed a method and used an antibiotic resistant gene to put into a strand of bacteria, making the organism resistant to antibiotics.The next year, the safety of genetically engineering organisms was questioned. The potential of what could be done with the new technology was very vast. After a long conference, those in attendance decided that work with genetic engineering should continue under protective guidelines. Eventually, in 1982 the US FDA consented to the human use of medicine made by GMOs. Human insulin was grown in bacteria in a laboratory and was given to people with diabetes. After medicine, came food grown using genetic modification. The first official genetically modified plant sold to the public were tomatoes, named Calgene’s Flavr Savr.
“These tomatoes were modified to include a DNA sequence that inhibited production of a natural tomato protein, increasing the firmness and extending the shelf life of the Flavr Savr variety” (Rangel, 2015, 9).Genetic engineering has opened the doors for many different opportunities with both animals and plants. Scientists have cloned a sheep, created the ability for a cow to produce allergen free milk, and possibly allow the use of pigs as organ donors for humans. Opportunities continue to be revealed for the future of GMOs. Animals could grow faster, plants could survive longer under extreme conditions, and medicine could improve drastically.
However great the possibilities and successes, there’s still controversy over the authorization and safety of genetic engineering. The positive results and the already past accomplishments prove that moving forward with GMOs can benefit people in the long run. Humanity is always facing problems like hunger and disease, and while GMOs can’t solve those completely, they can definitely help start the solving process. A child under the age of five dies every five seconds due to starvation. Genetic engineering could allow plants to thrive in more extreme conditions, such as drought, allowing crop production to increase. More vegetables could be sold in stores or farmers markets, and the increased production would decrease the prices. These plants could have longer lives on the shelf, or in boxes shipped around the world, meaning the ability to ship food to starving countries.
Genetically modifying plants could also prove to be healthier for consumption. Genetically modified soybeans have no trans fat unlike regular soybeans, and also have higher levels of Omega 3 in comparison. Another improved plant is a grain, golden rice. The GM (genetically modified) golden rice has more vitamin A, as the deficiency of the vitamin can cause blindness.
Crops aren’t the only thing that genetic modification could improve the produce of, but animals as well. By modifying certain aspects of farm animals, farmers could produce higher quality animal products, like milk or meat. Even the eggs laid by chickens could be healthier and more beneficial to human consumption and meat could be more muscle than fat.A company named Monsanto, a producer of farmed crops, says that the company tests all GMO products even more rigorously than non-GMO foods. The foods are tested for safety of consumption the same way any other product would be inspected. The produce is tested by regulatory authorities, who deduce that all GMO products are safe for human and animal consumption, as well as safe for the environment. Not only are GMOs in farming healthy, possibly healthier, but they also may help preserve the environment. Some genetically engineered crops use less water to survive, which means less machine work for farmers in the fields.
Limiting machine work can cut down on the usage of gas and the release of it into the air. Since genetically modified crops need less work from farmers than the alternative, farmers can plant and grow faster. By using their land to the most of its potential, less land is needed which preserves animal habitats.
According to Huffington Post (2017), using genetically modified crops has done a great deal for the preservation of the environment. By using these crops, 430 million acres of land have been conserved from use by farmers and their machines. By genetically engineering crops to be pest-resistant, it eliminates the need for harmful pesticides in the air. These crops have decreased crop protectant sprays by 619 million kilograms.
In similar fashion, the need to use farming machines has decreased carbon dioxide emissions by 26.7 billion kilograms. These numbers have helped decrease harm to the environment, while producing greater numbers of crops. Genetic modification is a huge factor in modern day medicine as well. As stated earlier, GMOs help to create insulin with bacteria. That insulin is lifesaving to the ones that need it.
About 5 million Americans use insulin created with GMOs everyday, and that number is only going to increase. Diabetes isn’t the only disease that that can be treated with GMOs. A medicine called Avastin bevacizumab is used in patients with brain, cervical, colorectal, and many other cancers. Avastin is an antibody that is found in both humans and mice which stops tumors from thriving by starving it of blood vessel growth. Anemia, or the lack of iron in one’s body, can also be treated with a medicine created by GMOs. Epoetin alfa is an injection used by patients with anemia to increase red blood cell production. Red blood cells hold over half the body’s supply of iron, and by increasing the amount of blood, the amount of iron will be increased as well. Ebola, a deadly virus that has had several outbreakouts in Africa and even small ones in the United States, may have a GMO treatment.
The drug is called ZMapp, and it shows high potential of being able to treat ebola. Though the drug isn’t official, it comes from different parts of genetically modified tobacco plants. Genetic engineering offers promise of certain vaccines. Infections like malaria, however uncommon, may have a vaccine to prevent it. Non-GMO vaccines of other diseases including, but not limited to, both malaria and cholera, proved to be ineffective in prevention. Using genetically modified bacteria or other organisms could prove to be the only way to prevent and treat rare diseases like these. Not only do GMOs help to save lives, but they also decrease the cost of these treatments. With so many ways to create medicine involving GMOs, the treatment is more accessible to the public.
The accessibility, coupled with the increasing demand of genetically modified medicines, lowers the cost of treatment. GMOs make healthcare more affordable for the people who need them to live. While not everyone needs these life saving medicines, GMOs are found in things that most people do come into contact with on a daily basis. Things that people might not notice they really use or even need. GMOs are found in things like candles, cotton, and even laundry detergent. Which means, the clothes most people wear daily have gone through genetic modification, as well as the detergent used to clean them.
Many soy candles contain oil from genetically engineered soybeans. However small this object may seem in one’s life, it provides a cleaner burn than that of a regular wax candle. They are also non-toxic, so they are safe to burn in the houses of people who enjoy their use. The amount of soot released by these candles is small, much smaller than non-soy candles.Laundry detergent is genetically engineered to help remove starch, stains, and grease from fabric. The GMOs in detergent also allow for cold water washes, which save energy.
Genetically modified crops also go into the fabrics that detergent cleans, like cotton. According to Scientific American (2012), genetically engineered cotton naturally repels bugs. The repelling agent of these crops cuts down the use of pesticides, and also increases beneficial populations of bugs. Genetically modified organisms are found in the world all over the place, even where it’s the least expected.
They are safe to use and may lead to more scientific breakthroughs in the future. Genetic modification could help lead to stopping world hunger, or curing diseases like cancer, all while being the reason laundry detergent cleans clothes. Genetic modification prevents the environment from being ruined by conserving things useful to life. The possibilities of the biotechnology world are absolutely endless, as is the potential of genetic engineering.