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Genetic Engineering: Friend or Foe?

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Genetic Engineering: Friend or Foe? There is much debate these days over genetic modification of organisms. Many religious groups claim genetic engineering is "doing the work of God" but scientists believe it is crucial for our future benefit. You can hear about it in the news, read about it in magazines and journals as well as the internet. Is this process helpful or harmful in the long run? Before I delve into the pros and cons of such a procedure, I must first define exactly what genetic engineering (a.k.a biotechnology) is. It involves splicing genes and manipulating them in such a way that is outside an organisms natural reproductive process. DNA is isolated then reintroduced into cells in an effort to create new attributes to the organism. These attributes could include crop resistance to herbicide, introducing a novel or more improved trait, or producing a new protein or enzyme. Many agricultural and biotechnological companies envision a variety of benefits stemming from genetic engineering. They include animals engineered for leaner meat, plants with longer shelf life, and bacteria engineered to produce drugs for livestock. ...read more.


The question is, how likely are they to occur and to what degree? Allergens in the food supply are one of the main concerns pertaining to transgenic crops. Scientists have limited ability to determine whether a particular protein will be a food allergen if it is consumed by humans. Some research studies have substantiated concerns about genetic engineering rendering previously safe foods allergenic. For example, a recent study has shown that GE soybeans that contain Brazil nut proteins cause reactions in individuals allergic to Brazil nuts. Antibiotic resistance is common in biotech plant foods. The presence of antibiotic resistant genes in food may have several harmful side effects. First, eating these foods may reduce effectiveness of antibiotics used to fight illness and disease. They produce an enzyme that degrade antibiotics. Resistance genes could be transferred to human pathogens making them impervious to antibiotics. Although such a transfer of genetic material from plants to bacteria is unlikely, the possibility requires more study and scrutiny of our food supply. Concentration of toxic metals in edible parts of plants pose a huge risk in genetic engineering. ...read more.


The second mechanism in which viruses could be created is called transcapsidation. This is where the genetic material of one virus is encapsulated by plant produced viral proteins. This hybrid virus could transfer viral genetic material to a new host plant that it could not otherwise infect. As with human health risks, it is unlikely that all potential harms have been identified. Risk assessments can be complicated because they involve numerous assumptions and judgment calls. There are no standard questions that must be answered because of the range of potential impacts of biotechnology products. Risk assessments can be controversial especially when used to support government decisions. These assessments depend of the base of scientific knowledge for the generation of the list of possible harms. It is safe to say that every individual must be careful in determining which foods they consume. There is still a great deal that remains to be discovered about genetic engineering. Research possibilities have increased enormously due to the completion of sequencing of the human genome as well as those of scientifically important animals. While there are many undiscovered variables, access to genetic data and research is expedient and much simpler than it used to be. ...read more.

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