What are GMOs?
In recent years, there has been an increase in the adoption of genetically modified crops, commonly referred to as GMOs. The term GMOs pertains to organisms that have undergone genetic modification through the transfer of desired genetic material from one organism to another. For example, “genetics from a spider that helps the arachnid produce silk, could be inserted into the DNA of an ordinary goat” (Lallanilla, 2019). Genetics engineering technology is primarily used in the agriculture industry, and “at least 90% of the soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets sold in the United States have been genetically engineered” (Lallanilla, 2019). GMOs play a vital role in mitigating external risks that can impede crop productivity. By engineering crops to exhibit enhanced resistance against pest attacks and plant viral infections, as well as increased tolerance to herbicides, GMOs can improve the likelihood of obtaining a successful crop yield. Furthermore, this could help reduce resources and fossil fuels needed to create a good yield. The benefits of genetic engineering in GMOs can increase food supply with a longer shelf life, resulting in less use of pesticides, which can have significant implications for food security and sustainability.
As with any advancing technology, genetically modified crops also come with certain risks and potential harms. Firstly, there is a concern about the reduction in biodiversity. When GMO crops are introduced into an environment, they can overrun existing species. Genetic variation plays a pivotal role in enabling plants to acclimate to novel environments; therefore, the introduction of genetically modified crops into environments containing wild flora may engender a decrease in genetic diversity. GMOs can crossbreed through cross-pollinating with a wild plant, resulting in a hybrid species. Subsequently, the engineered gene would remain and be maintained in the population, which reduces the genetic diversity of the wild species. To further exacerbate the issue, GMOs can “fail to germinate; kill organisms other than pests that are beneficial to plants and reduce soil fertility; and potentially transfer insecticidal properties or virus resistance to wild relatives of the crop species” (Jamil, 2018). Studies have shown that GM crops can harm biodiversity by killing insects that serve as a food source in the ecosystem.For example, when Monarch butterflies eat leaves that are covered in pollen from GM corn, the result displayed that they were more likely to die and their growth was slower (Saravanan, 2015).
According to a research at Duke University by Courtney Gardne, antibiotic resistance genes inserted in GMOs survived through the wastewater treatment process. The study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, discovered that antibiotic-resistant GMO genes endured throughout the wastewater treatment procedure and were absorbed by bacteria present in the sludge. The results indicate that antibiotic-resistant genes can potentially propagate in the environment through novel means, with wastewater serving as a route for the transmission of these genes and bacteria across the environment. The unintended dissemination of genetically modified (GM) organisms, as exemplified by the detection of genetically engineered Florence pet fish, colloquially known as "Glofish" (Contamination, n.d) in Brazilian streams during the year 2022, constitutes an instance of environmental contamination. (Hilding, 2019) Another example was in 2001, federal inspectors detected the presence of the transgenic maize variety Starlink in almost 10% of the 110,000 grain tests conducted. This suggests that the prevalence of Aventis's Starlink, which is a genetic modification that kills caterpillars in corn, which lacks approval for human consumption, extends well beyond its initial cultivation area. (Haslberger, 2001).
Thirdly, there are health related concerns, such as pleiotropic effects. When genes are transferred, new proteins can be synthesized which can result in unpredictable allergic effects. Moreover, “many transgenes transgenes encode an enzyme that alters biochemical pathways. This could cause an increase or decrease in certain biochemicals.” (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013).
It is equally important to thoroughly assess the long-term effects of GMOs on the environment, biodiversity, and human health. The benefits of this technology must be weighed against the potential risks and uncertainties that come with it. This requires robust and transparent regulation, as well as ongoing scientific research and monitoring. Additionally, there should be open communication and collaboration between scientists, policymakers, farmers, and consumers to ensure that decisions about GMOs are made with consideration for all stakeholders. Ultimately, it is crucial to approach this technology with a precautionary mindset, prioritizing the health and well-being of our planet and its inhabitants.
Bawa, A. S., & Anilakumar, K. R. (2013). Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns-a review. Journal of food science and technology, 50(6), 1035–1046. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-012-0899-1
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Jamil, Kaiser (2018). Biotechnology: A Solution to Hunger. United Nations Chronicle. https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/biotechnology-solution- hunger#:~:text=Genetically%20modified%20crops%20can%20potentially, relatives%20of%20the%20drop%20species.
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Saravanan, A (2015). Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and its impact on biodiversity. OMICS International. https://www.omicsonline.org/proceedings/genetically-modified-organisms- gmos-and-its-impact-on-biodiversity-4507.html#:~:text=The%20GM%20crops%20harm%20 biodiversity,were%20more%20likely%20to%20die.
Haslberger, A (2001, July) . GMO contamination of seeds. Nat Biotechnol 19, 613. https://doi.org/10.1038/90201
Hilding, T. (2019, October 18). Researchers find persistence of antibiotic-resistant GMO genes in sewage sludge. WSU Insider. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from https://news.wsu.edu/news/2019/10/18/researchers-find-persistence-antibiotic-resistant-gmo-genes-sewage-sludge/