WHAT IS GENETIC MODIFICATION
A transgenic species (TGS) is defined as an organism that has had part of another species genome transferred into its own gene through the techniques of genetic engineering. This is often called “Genetic Engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be carried from one organism into another and their traits to be passed on. Further, transgenic is the process of extracting deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from another organism’s genome and combining it with the DNA of the other individual. Genetic engineering is used by scientists to enhance or modify the characteristics of an individual organism.
Mice are a good example of an animal’s transgenic modification, as they have been observed in many environments where genetic modification has taken place. Genetic modification in mice includes transgenic modification and artificial selection. The DNA in the mice is rearranged and experimented on in order to receive a desired outcome. This helps determine if transgenic modification in other organisms using the same method is viable. In mice, there are two main methods of transgenic modification. The first involves pronuclear injections into a single cell of the mouse embryo, where it randomly combines into the mouse genome. The second method is through genetic engineering where the DNA is taken and modified to create a new DNA strand that codes for the desired trait. Experimental mice are mainly used to test and research human diseases and potential modifications. For example, cancer, tumours, Parkinson’s disease and more. According to transgenic mouse methods and protocols research is undertaken on mice because their tissues and organs are similar to humans whilst they carry virtually the same genes as humans.
For many years, farmers have bred crops for certain desirable outcomes. Genetic engineering has provided a quicker and more reliable way to achieve the same goal in much less time rather than wait for generations to achieve the same thing. It has been used to improve yields, enhance the nutritional value, improve shelf-life, increase resistance to drought, frost or insect pests. An example of a genetically modified crop is corn. GM corn contains an allele for bacterial pesticides that are resistant to herbicides, insects, droughts and Increased nutritional value. These, in turn, make it easier to produce a more reliable staple food, although many consequences are unknown, whether they be positive or negative. The main use of genetic modification seen today in crop production is to protect it from insects and other pests. In doing so, scientists have discovered that the Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) gene produced in corn is lethal to some crop pests like the larval caterpillar. When digested it produces a protein toxin that destroys the gut of the caterpillar. Whilst there is no doubt genetically modified crops have advantages, the practice has also triggered confusion over ethical scientific and environmental concerns and whether it is safe for humans to consume, with the debate continuing today.
DEVELOPMENT IN TECHNOLOGY (GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM)
The development of vaccines has led to major developments in health and longer life expectancy. Bacterial/viral injections are a major threat to health worldwide. Vaccines control diseases and conditions such as tetanus, whooping cough and chickenpox. Vaccines work by creating a process in the body causing it to react as if the individual were infected by a pathogen. The typical approach to developing a vaccine is to take a small amount of poison produced by the bacterium or virus and make it inactive or dead. This will make the bacteria/virus harmless in the body and the response of the body will be to make antibodies. This leads to your body to become immune to the disease caused by the pathogen. An example of this is the influenza vaccine. It is injected into the body in order to make the immune system stronger from the influenza virus, reducing contraction by up to 60%.
Another way vaccines have been developed is to use the genome. Bacteria have several proteins on their surface. Some of which will cause your body to start producing antibodies when you are infected by the bacterium. In doing this, they have to complete the code that causes the surface proteins to produce. Scientists analyse the surface protein and identify those most likely to cause antibodies. Once this is completed, the bacterium gene is isolated. This is known as the ‘E.coli’. Once this is completed, the vaccine is tested on animals. Although this development is more cost heavy, it is a better way to find vaccines for the bacterium.
SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES OF USING GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS
Transgenic engineering has made many people aware of the issues surrounding the social and environmental aspects related to transgenic organisms. Genetic modification in crops assists with many issues associated with agriculture like drought and bug infestations. Many issues about the safety of a person and environment arise when a new transgenic organism is developed, raising many questions these concerns.
Transgenic modification leads to a substantial increase in the abundance of insecticides and herbicides used. Transgenic modified crops are more resistant to insecticides, so farmers regularly spray more insecticides on the crops in an attempt to keep bugs and insects away. Although insects and bugs generate a more prominent resistance to these chemicals over time through selective pressure, when an insect infects the crop, it can no longer be sold. If this occurs, the farmers and the crops lose economic value causing bankruptcy, financial debt and biopsychosocial issues. An herbicide that is regularly sprayed on crops is Glyphosate. Glyphosate reduces the number of weeds that grow around the crop. Although this is a good short term solution when the weeds and surrounding plants adapt through accidental artificial selection, as crops have grown more resistant to weeds, the weeds grow stronger and more resistant to chemicals applied to them, in turn, making a ‘superweed’ or something that is harder to kill. This has been shown in many US farms, which can negatively impact the environment when the crops start spreading through asexual reproduction. This is a wide issue that is being combated in an attempt to improve the way that transgenic modification is done.
When a genetically modified crop has been produced, the effects on other crops and humans are not yet known as scientists are unable to test for the long term results before making the genetically modified plant or animal. However, it is known that individuals more susceptible to allergies may find themselves breaking out in hives or having irregular body systems and changes. When an individual consumes food that contains a segment of DNA from something they are allergic to, they may be susceptible to having an allergic reaction. Although it is unusual for the individual to experience an allergic reaction from a GMO, it has been known to happen and can have some severe side effects. Although two things are clear; not enough is known about the risks associated with genetic engineering and research on the effects of specific genes has been limited and requires much more investigation.
SHOULD WE CONTINUE WITH TRANSGENIC SPECIES RESEARCH OR DOES ITS DRAWBACKS OUTWEIGH ITS ADVANTAGES?
It is known transgenic species have advantages and disadvantages. A transgenic species is an organism that has had part of another species’ genome transferred into its own through the techniques of genetic engineering. When producing a transgenic species it is clear that the risk of producing a new species is unknown, as this could benefit how they grow crops or disadvantage future production. Transgenic species are widely researched throughout the world to benefit how we produce crops and how we live.
Transgenic species have many advantages, including vitamin enrichments in agriculture and animals. Genetically modified crops like rice have assisted with vitamin A enrichment. The crop Golden Rice is a genetically modified crop with beta-carotene in it that improves a person’s Vitamin A consumption. In the Philippines and Bangladesh, many people are suffering from Vitamin A deficiency so scientists have engineered a genetically modified crop to combat this. It has been shown that Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in 250,000 – 500,000 people each year, predominantly in Asia and Africa. Further, it weakens the immune system and it is estimated that around two million people die each year of these diseases when they would otherwise survive with adequate Vitamin A levels. Although the Australian Government has declared Golden Rice safe to consume, other organisations and other Governments in other countries are protesting, hoping to remove this from trade. Another advantage of Golden Rice is the reduced amount an individual has to eat in order to get the recommended vitamins. A person would have to eat 4 kilograms of normal cooked rice to receive the same vitamin levels in one teaspoon of Golden rice. Golden rice has the ability to improve an individual’s health, in turn, reducing the number of deaths.
Genetically modified organisms have assisted with the reduction of irrigated water required to grow crops. When the Trehalose Phosphorylase (TP) gene was discovered in 1980, it was shown that there was a 53% decrease in water usage by 2011 throughout crop yields. Trehalose Phosphorylase is inserted into plants to reduce the need for water and improve the drought resistance of the crops. TP has been used in tobacco, corn and other plots. TP tobacco and corn is typically grown in countries that are suffering from drought and lack of water, like Australia. TP genetic modification further allows farmers to grow crops faster with fewer resources, in turn, saving money. Dry areas of Australia and the USA use genetic modification as a method to produce agriculture because it is more sustainable and costs less to produce while still receiving the same final product.
A disadvantage of GMO products is the concern related to the consumption of transgenic agriculture and animals. This can be seen through the debates and wide backlash in New Zealand after legalising Golden Rice in the market. Although it is known that governments around the world are investigating the different transgenic organisms before they get released into stores, it is unknown whether they have long term effects as genetic engineering and transgenic modification has only been around for about 3 decades. Some effects that have been found related to genetic modifications include irregular allergic reactions and anti resistance. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can withstand antibiotics, making them more difficult to eradicate. Allergic reactions are an increasing issue in food consumption in the USA. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allergic reactions in youth under the age of 18 have increased by 1.7% between 1997 and 2009. This suggests a clear trend genetic modification has on an individual.
Another drawback related to toxic herbicides used on transgenic organisms is environmental pollution. Although this is not a direct link to the GMOs it has been an increasing issue to date. Glyphosate is added to over 80% of GMO grown crops around the world as they are tolerant to herbicides, so farmers have expanded the use of them by around 1500% since the first GMO crop was introduced to the world. Glyphosate is applied to leaves and plants to kill both broadleaf plants and grasses to decrease the number of weeds that grow around the plant. The sodium usage of glyphosate is used to improve plant growth and ripen particular crops. This has a negative effect on the ecosystem and the health of individuals. When digested it causes increased urination, burns in the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Some cases of fatalities have been reported with intentional ingestation to test the effects. Despite the benefits, glyphosate has been shown to be harmful when genetically engineering a chemical to kill weeds and trees surrounding it.
To conclude, it is evident that transgenic species have many serious consequences that are potentially harmful to humans when digested. Due to this, despite the advantages that come with genetic modification, further rigorous longitudinal research is needed to determine if the risks outway the advantages. Only then can it be ascertained if these processes should be implemented on a widespread level.
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