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Genetically modified organisms, otherwise referred to as GMOs, is a highly debated and researched topic throughout the world, however, highly prevalent in the United States today. It is plant, animals, or other organism in which their genetic makeup has been altered or modified by either genetic engineering or transgenic technology. GMOs are used either in the medical field or agriculturally, looking to cure diseases and create vaccines or attempt to get the healthiest or highest profit out a product. Prior to current research and for about 10,000 years, farmers have been selecting the most productive plants and seeds to use and essentially and unconsciously created a certain group over another. Now only the most fruitful crops are present in society. The study of genes began in the 1860s with Gregor Mendel. His idea has grown to develop a full science behind genetics and great debates on the topic as well. The question as to if genetically engineering organisms are safe and plausible is a huge concern and topic with our developing world.
Modifications to organisms were performed for multiple reasons showing to have not only its benefits, as it has proves to have it negative effects. For medical purposes, GMO’s were used to recombinant DNA used to create important proteins. Also known as gene therapy, the gene is treaty in a specific way to alter it instead to combat diseases or disorders many people face on a global scale. In this process, it allows for the body to make these needed proteins and inject viruses that shows no harm. It starts off by inserting the DNA and working gene into the modified virus and infecting the patient’s cells with the virus carrying gene.
How it works
Depending on luck and probability, it is hopeful that the virus will insert healthy genes into cells in order to correct the problem. However, it is not only used in this field to cure, but diagnose disorders through genetic testing. Most often than not you can recognize a certain disorder due to its DNA sequence which is different from a regular gene. An example would be with CF allele as the genetic DNA sequence differs from normal allele. Some processes search for these changes in cutting sites of restriction enzymes, but in this process DNA complementary to the defective allele is used in order to separate between regular and modified. As well as in the medical field, GMO’s are commonly used as a means for personal identification with DNA fingerprinting. Because restriction fragments vary from person to person, DNA can be taken from an individual in order to determine whether or not it matches with the unknown. Restriction enzymes cut DNA and are later separated into bands by gel electrophoresis. This is used in multiple fields but are primary in wildlife conservation and forensic science. Similar genes may also be matched to find ancestry through different features such as the Y chromosome found in men. This is also used with patents as one-fifth of known genes in humans can be patented and go on to encourage new discoveries.
However, there is a complex science which stands behind the GMO process. There are transfer genes for certain traits between organisms. From this, DNA cells are used after being cut into pieces with restriction enzymes. There are specific base sequences as large molecules are broken down into hundreds or thousands separated by size. Following this, the polymerase chain reaction takes place with one end of the original strand of DNA adding on a short piece of complementary DNA. These smaller pieces, or primers, prepare the site for DNA polymerase to take place and work. Heat separates the strands of DNA and while cooling the primers begin to bond to the single strands. The DNA polymerase then continues to copy the DNA between primers. These copies then become the templates for more copies. The next step is transforming or altering the DNA by adding the DNA to become a part of the original genome of the cell. Another method is through genetic engineering in which genes are put into living cells. DNA sequences are built with genes to be put into the cell. Synthesizers then make shorter strips of DNA and joined to original DNA with DNA ligase. Plasmids are present in few bacteria and present as small circular DNA molecules. Start signals are put into place and when the cell copies the DNA it will also continue to copy the plasmid. The process of recombinant DNA makes it possible to change genetic makeup of organisms. Pairs of complementary DNA ar likely to bond despite origins of a different organism.
Transgenic organisms are made with recombinant DNA inserted into a genome of the host to modify the original makeup. It is hoped that the DNA from the first organisms will change the structure of the second. Many transgenic plants are changed using Agrobacterium with little DNA plasmid inserted to create tumors in the cell. The tumor producing gene will then turn off and be replaced with the recombinant DNA to transform the plant cells. For transgenic animals, DNA is injected into the nucleus of egg cells. The enzymes transfer new DNA into chromosomes of the host and the molecules are made with recombined ends. Cloning is another possibility making a group of identical cells from a single one. The single cell is taken from an adult organism and multiplied from there. Colonies are easily created with bacteria and microorganisms however, are much more complex and have a lower possibility in multicellular, animal cells. Genetic modifications has both both pros and cons taken into account during the debate on ethics. However, it is not debated to such of an extent in medicine as it is in agriculture due to the higher research and the ability to save lives on the spot. The argument is highly prevalent when dealing with food as it not only affects the environment, but long term effects on health also needs to be taken into account. Those for GM foods argues that less land and energy are used while lowering costs. Using less land is ideal to preserve nature, especially with the other debate on the idea of global warming. GM plants also prove to be insect resistant resulting in fewer chemicals and less pollution sprayed into the atmosphere and the chemicals absorbed in the soil. As for safety, it has been tested and seen to not affect humans in a harmful manner. For example, in Hawaii during the 1990’s, the Ringspot virus threatened to wipe out papayas but was able to be combated with GMOs with no side effects observed. Modifying the genetic makeup of plants also creates organisms resilient to climate change, important in a world where the temperature and land is changing at an increasing rate. Plants can be altered to take in more carbon to create a negative feedback loop to climate change.
While there are many arguable pros, there are plausible negative effects due to the large unknown section of GMOs. The main con is the questionable long-term usage. Because our world is changing at such a rapid rate, it cannot be guaranteed if GMO’s will prove to have problems later despite the lack of disturbance at the moment. Because GM plants are designed to kill and repel insects, it is possible for helpful insects to be. This can also prove to be a dangerous move for weaker end in the industry, with smaller or poor farmers to be put out of business. Terminator seeds would need also need to be created. Yet, the contrasting argument in this specific case of insects and pollution is that certain BT crops are engineered to be toxic only to specific insects and the washed off pesticides would be of no harm to humans. In current society, the federal regulations in place in the United States regarding GMO versus non Gm plants are no different. No extra precautions are put into place to ensure safety, although some states require labeling of GM foods. Many of the products consumers buy in stores have been genetically altered as they appear to be no different from local and natural foods. However, many against GMOs in the world today are protesting believing they have the right to know what they are buying and putting into their body without having to read the fine print or conduct further research on the origins of a product.
The ethics as to if we should be able to change genetic structures and go against nature is another highly debated topic. It is questionable if we should be able to alter the human genetics and provide future research on cloning humans or changing an individual’s sex and height. Every plant and animal is different from its prehistoric state due to selective breeding. It is argued that we are only continuing to help this process to acquire the most we can out of science. As presented by the World Health Organization, more than 250 million children of ages 4 to 5 do not have the sufficient amount of vitamin A and 2 million deaths and more than 500 thousand cases of blindness are connected to this lack of vitamin A. While many scientists argue that plants can be modified to carry a higher percentage of nutrients, certain critics such as Wendell Berry and Vandana Shiva argue that it is a solution created by industrialization only made to make GM crops to look positive. The main concern is that by changing genetic makeup, it goes against basic laws of nature and consequences will present itself in the future.
The debate of GMOs is not only present in laboratories and governments, but in religious places such as churches and areas of worship. Certain religions and people practicing these faiths believe in the use of GMOs as a promising solution was offered to help those in rural communities suffering from hunger and proper medical attention. However, it has been seen to be a problem in certain cultures, such as the Islamic religion. Islam forbids the consuming of pork and have been concerned is production of foods will contain genes from pigs, which is essentially still to be considered pork. Opposite to this is Jews as the studying or overall ethics of GMOs are accepted because there is no specific text prohibiting the use of GM. This is a hard topic to debate due to the different values every individual holds. Those who follow a certain set of rights, which were created centuries ago, are not sure whether or not genetically modifying structures are accepted as it was not an issue in the past. Therefore, it is left for the individual to decide mainly off of their opinion of nature and world issues pertaining to global warming and world hunger.
Personally, I am not against the use of GMOs after learning about the problems which face our world today in environmental science. Despite the devestations created by man, we also have the opportunity to fix it. There is no guaranteed solution at the moment however it is essential that we act face to reduce the stress we have put on the planet. Despite the changes it has undergone, the planet will survive, the question is regarding if we will be able to. Because GMOs have been studied to save lives and reduce population, I do not have anything specific against the principles and moral behind it. As for the issue of the long term damaging extent, I believe we will only ever be able to know about it if we truly embrace the use of GMOs. It is essential in medicine and may later prove to be just as important in agriculture. This will contribute to reducing world problems and because of the fast rate of which our world is changing, I do not think altering a portion will provide much concern if we do not learn how to drawback from our energy consuming ways.
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