The genetic engineering of plants and animals is a highly beneficial method of making our food sources healthier, hardier, and larger that has been practiced since the dawn of man. Modern disparagers of GMOs are more concerned with modern methods of gene manipulation like the use of CRISPR and “Gene guns” as the direct manipulation of genes, and the unknown consequences of it, can be frightening to some. Though the possible consequences of genetic modification’s future is unknown, what has been accomplished in the distant and recent past in the field of GMOs has been undeniably positive.
Genetic modification of food was first done by humans in the form of the domestication of wild plants in ancient times and is the basis of humanity turning from hunter-gatherers into a settled, civilized species. Plant domestication enabled humanity to farm crops, firstly, at all, and secondly, more efficiently than their non-domestic counterparts. This was genetic modification in its most basic form, breeding plants with optimal qualities together in order to produce child plants with enhanced traits, such as bigger overall yields, larger fruit, and increased resistance to outside conditions like weather and pests. This practice is nowhere near the level of genetic engineering we are capable of today, but is nevertheless the beginning of the practice of genetic modification overall. Humanity has practiced genetic modification since the very beginning of our history, and it has aided in our progression as a species in many factors, not only in plants but in animals too.
The methods in which crops are genetically modified have evolved greatly since the beginning of humanity, in the more recent past crops and have been successfully crossbred to make new, hybrid crops, such as a hybrid cereal grain which was created by crossing wheat and rye. A fair portion of, if not all, modern crops are heavily genetically modified from their natural predecessors, and this is not a bad thing. Compare, for example, the modern banana fruit to its ancient forefather, Musa acuminata. The modern banana is twice as large as Musa acuminata, and entirely sweet, edible flesh, save for extremely small immature seeds, whereas Musa acuminata is filled mostly with large, hard seeds and barely enough flesh surrounding the seeds to make it worth eating for whatever animal comes across it. This is thanks entirely to genetic modification and hybridization caused by human intervention.
Modern genetic engineering techniques involve directly editing the genes of plants to result in better crops. The most common method is the use of biolistics or “Gene guns” to edit plant genes by binding DNA to particles of metal which are then shot into cells under high pressure, the DNA then separates from the metal and is processed by the cell, combining it with the DNA inside the cell’s nucleus. This modern method provides precise genetic manipulation and can result in better crops and even crops with completely alien genetic traits, such as color changes and growth patterns and methods more convenient to those cultivating the plants.
Arguments against GMOs come from a place of ignorance of just how much of our food is genetically modified, fear of the unknown effects of genetic modification, if there are any, and fear of genetic modification in it of itself. The act of changing the DNA of a crop puts unease into the minds of people who either don’t wish to take the time to research and realize how beneficial and truly widespread GMOs are, or people who are distrustful of things they can’t control or see, such as exactly what genes are put into or transformed in the genetically modified crops. GMOs have been used for nearly humanity’s entire existence and have resulted in better and better crops and animals over time. While it is true we don’t know exactly what the overall effect of GMOs on our food will be in the long run, it is extremely unlikely that it will be wholly negative, instead will most likely mean better-tasting food, stronger crops, higher yield crops, and crops that are hardier in extreme conditions, meaning a better quality of life for everyone.
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