Biotechnology and genetically modified organisms have gained quite a bit of notoriety in the past decade. Proponents of biotechnology are claiming that genetic modification will revolutionize agriculture and medicine and overall benefit human kind far beyond the reaches of imagination. On the other side of the issue, there are those who claim that genetic modification is dangerous and unneeded. But is either side correct? Will GMOs revolutionize the food and health industries or will they cause damage and downfall? Moreover, is it even ethical to tamper with nature and release science fiction into the food supply?
GMOs and the History Behind Them
Genetic modification has been present in agriculture since the Egyptians and the Sumerians first developed it over four thousand years ago. While modification was first used at a very basic level, today it involves implantation of DNA from one organism to another. The basis for genetic modification occurred in the 1970's when the technology to isolate individual genes and alter and copy them in cells was developed. In 1994, the first genetically modified crop, the Flavr Savr Tomato, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale and consumption 1. Since then the GMOs have taken over the agriculture industry with over 22 percent (or roughly 60-70% of commercially sold foods) of crops worldwide being GM crops.
The basis of modern biotechnology began in 1953 when a biologist and a physicist by the names of Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA2 . Since then, scientists have discovered ways to manipulate DNA and even transfer the DNA from one organism to another. Current genetic modification involves a process in which a gene segment literally goes through a process of "cut and paste." This cutting and pasting, known as gene splicing, involves cutting a gene from one organism and pasting it into a small DNA molecule known as a plasmid. The gene is then transferred into the DNA of the recipient organism. The insertion of foreign genes into the DNA allows the recipient to behave like the donor3.
Today, the development and use of biotechnology has taken over the food and health industries, as it is currently the fasted growing sector. Genetic modification has had the most impact on crops and on the environment. Crops are being modified to taste better, grow better, and be more resistant to pests and the environment. Genetic modification is, in its most idealistic form, helping to save the environment from pesticides and chemicals. Yet, along with the pros, there are also the cons. Many people fear the development and use of genetically modified organisms for a wide variety of reasons. Some claim that there is not enough knowledge of these organisms and that we have no idea what the repercussions of exposing humans and the environment to them are. Others are afraid that the countries with the resources to develop GMOs, the wealthiest countries,...