What are GMOs?
A GMO, a genetically modified organism, is an organism that has had its characteristics changed through the modification of its DNA. By changing an organism’s genome, scientists can change its characteristics, appearance, or even capability. Scientists can create GMOs by deleting or altering sections of an organism’s DNA through lab techniques of gene splicing or gene insertion. Removal of an existing gene from an organism is known as gene splicing, where adding an artificial gene to an organism is known as gene insertion. GMO’s are used to enhance nutrition and to help farmers with their crops; by doing so, they can create an internal defense in plants which can protect them from otherwise harmful environmental effects. According to the Purdue College of Agriculture (2018), GMOs are also used to produce many medicines and vaccines that help treat or prevent diseases. GMOs can also be used to enhance medication and potentially counter many deadly disease and illness. A few examples of GMO’s are corn, cotton, potatoes, papaya, squash, apples, etc.
The science behind transgenic organisms is genetic engineering, where the genes of one species can be modified. Transgenic modification, or the transfer of genes, is used to alter, enhance, or remove characteristics of organisms through the means of artificial introduction. Transgenic organisms are modified by foreign DNA or recombinant DNA. Recombinant DNA occurs when DNA from one species is taken and then combined with another strand of DNA. Transgenic organisms are plants and animals that have received recombinant DNA. Some transgenic organisms such as pigs, cows, goats, chickens, and many more have been used and genetically altered to better benefit food production. Transgenic animals are important in the scientific field because they are routinely used in labs as models for biomedical research. In the article Benefits and risks associated with genetically modified food products, Kramkowska states, Genetic modifications of plants and animals are justified by the potential for improvement of the food situation worldwide, an increase in yield crops, an increase in the nutritional value of food, and the development of pharmaceutical preparations of proven clinical significance (Kramkowska et al., 2013). They are also important for understanding the progression of gene functions and researching human diseases. This form of gene altering has the potential to combat some of the most prolific struggles humanity has faced since the beginning of our species.
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In today’s political climate, one of the most heated debates revolves around the topic of GMOs. However as legal restrictions on GMOs internationally, limit the amount of work that famine relief workers can achieve, people are going hungry. Much of the debate of GMO usage hinges on what defines genetic modification. GMOs are generally defined as genetically modified organisms that have had genetic information inserted, spliced, or bred to create an organism or species with desired characteristics. This topic tends to have a large amount of misinformation surrounding the core of the discussion due to blockbuster documentaries that use fear tactics and propaganda to push some sort of a political agenda. Fear tactics, along with a general lack of understanding, tend to drive people’s opinions on this topic, and the knee-jerk reactions people have to GMO’s generally stick with them. The only thing that makes any food, animal, or plant a genetically modified organism, is if humanity has inserted or enhanced certain characteristics in a species in order to increase their usefulness to humanity. This process has the same biological effect as evolution but is something that would not occur if it had not been for human intervention. For example, dogs are not found anywhere in nature; however, humanity has, through several eons of breeding, transformed the most advanced pack hunter animal in the world into Chihuahuas and Shih Tzus. The same is true with the domesticated crops and animals that run all world economies today. In a way, the debate of GMOs is whether or not humanity should guide evolution to work in their favor. Through the viewpoint of an international famine relief worker, there are many different ways of attacking this issue.
The idea of genetic modification itself is a neutral action, meaning it is how it is used that matters most. Crops in agriculture can be altered through the use of GMOs over time to be more resistant to drought, more nutritious, and more abundant. The widespread international usage of this modification by famine relief workers could ideally result in the end of world hunger and save millions of lives. One problem that humanity is sure to run into overtime is running out of land that can actually grow the crops we depend on today. According to the article How GMOs Can Feed the World, Diehl states In 2011, 160 million hectares of biotech crops were grown”that’s 10% of earth’s arable land, and it was an 8% increase than the previous year (2018). By 2015, roughly 37.5% of all land on Earth was used for agriculture. In theory, by using genetic modification, scientists could eventually create species that can grow in environments that are currently impossible or inefficient on a large scale. Not only could scientists change the locations in which plants grow, but how they grow could be changed as well. The two main factors that heavily influence the yield of a certain crop are the number of weeds that compete with the crop for soil and the number of insects that feed on the crop. GMOs can create transgenic plants, which are much less vulnerable to insects and weeds, and can remove two of the biggest factors of crop loss and food shortages today. The current team lead at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Katie Fullerton, has written extensively on this brand of GMOs stating Transgenic plants have proven extremely profitable in the developed world, accounting for a 5% to 10% increase in productivity, and reducing the cost of herbicides and insecticides (2013). This could also present an alternative to the use of pesticides and insecticides, which can cause some health issues. Genetically modifying crops to be naturally resistant to insects and animals would deem the use of potentially harmful pesticides redundant and unnecessary. There are theoretically endless possibilities that could come to life through genetic modification of crops, which would ultimately raise the global food supply substantially.
GMOs in an international agricultural setting could not only theoretically raise the global food supply, but could also increase the overall nutrition of the average person worldwide. Just as cross-breeding the bigger and more nutritious plants together has been happening since the beginning of farming, GMO usage could speed up this process by eons. Professor of International Food Economics and Rural Development at the University of Goettingen, Germany, Matin Qaim, wrote about this stating Vitamin A deficiency is a serious nutritional problem, causing multiple adverse health outcomes. Simulations for India show that Golden Rice could reduce related health problems significantly, preventing up to 40,000 child deaths every year (2017). Through the use of GMOs, farmers and scientists in agriculture would not have to wait for multiple generations to produce a more nutritious and more productive crop. Genomes can be implemented into crop DNA to produce larger and more nutritious crops in comparison to the smaller and less nutritious variants of that same crop species. This is not too different from what happens naturally through biology and the survival of the fittest. The organism that is most fitted to survive in an environment will reproduce more and its offspring will be much more likely to survive than a weaker organism. The use of GMOs puts the theory of survival of the fittest into the hands of humanity and uses it to better benefit our species. This form of genetic modification can ultimately solve many of the issues that currently plague international food production. Crops that millions of people rely on today could be made more productively and less susceptible to harmful vegetation or pests.
Those who oppose the use of GMOs claim that the unintended effects of changing the genome of a species could cause harm to the balance of the environment. Just in the way that an invasive species could enter a new ecosystem and overrun a less dominant species, a modified organism, either plant or animal, could have the same effect that an invasive species would. Those in opposition to GMO usage also claim that just as the excessive use of antibacterial medicine could eventually give rise to a new super bacteria that is resistant to all current available antibacterial medicine, GMOs that are specifically designed to be resistant to herbicides could give rise to an evolution of weeds or other unwanted vegetation that would be resistant to all herbicide available to us through current technology. This is a known fact as nature has always found new ways to adapt to the ever changing environment of planet Earth. According to Lombardo’s article, As crops have grown more resistant to weeds, the weeds have grown stronger and more resilient to the chemicals applied to them that try to kill them. Because of this, some farmers have resorted to using ingredients such as 2, 4-D, which is one of the primary ingredients found in Agent Orange (2017). Over time, if society becomes too reliant on herbicide resistant GMOs, a super weed could evolve that could wreak havoc on hundreds of thousands of crop fields worldwide. However GMOs, when used responsibly and not abused, could result in one of the biggest advancements in agricultural advancement since plows and tractors.
Despite the controversy and nuanced discussion surrounding GMOs, one thing that remains clear is the fact that hunger and famine still kills millions of people worldwide every year. As the debate around GMOs continues and people fail to come to an overall consensus, people must ask if eating genetically modified foods is worse than starving to death. Someone with invested interest in preventing food scarcity, such as an international famine relief worker, would certainly choose to feed the hungry in lieu of letting them go malnourished. Ending world hunger has always been one of the most universal strives that anyone can support. As science and technology evolves, humanity has always found new and more efficient ways of manipulating nature to benefit the entirety of the species. We have found ways to use something as simple as wind to power our cities, and now we have found ways to manipulate something as complex as evolution and genetic mutation to benefit our agricultural efficiency. Throughout history, the natural human reaction to change of any kind tends to be resistance. Any sort of progress, whether it is scientific, religious, or political, will be opposed initially. History has shown, however, that progress tends to happen whether or not people want it. If GMOs have even a slight chance of reducing world hunger, people will eventually begin to accept their use. Once people create new technology, people will begin to use it over time regardless of the potential consequences. Realistically, humanity will always prefer potentially harming nature over having the species be threatened. It is only a matter of time before GMOs are used internationally by famine relief workers. Once their international usage begins, if world hunger is reduced or even eliminated, then there is no reason to not use this technology to our advantage and end one of the most universal human strives along side ending conflict and illness.