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Genetic Engineering, Friend or Foe?

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Introduction

Genetic Engineering, Friend or Foe? Biotechnology began more than 10,000 years ago and is simply using biological processes to make products for humans. Genetic engineering is a type of biotechnology that began about 35 years ago and is process of altering genetic material to perform new functions or make new substances. In all aspects of biotechnology it is necessary to view all the evidence, it is never simply good or bad. There are always dangers in meddling with nature, but often the rewards have been enormous... and sometimes they have changed the world forever. Often it is the use to which biotechnological techniques are put that determines whether the outcomes are good or bad. Often outcomes depend on motives, curiosity, greed, humanitarian need etc. In our time the power to engineer nature has become almost complete as recent human cloning revelations show that even humans can be created by biotechnology. It is not surprising that many organisations have different opinions on the safety of genetic engineering. Some feel it is vital to life while others believe it is an intrusion to our ethical being. The following table sharpens up the arguments for and against the most fundamental biotechnology... GENETIC ENGINEERING. In the midst of the controversy what are the real issues? The Objections Should we be modifying genes at all? * It's "playing God" or unnatural. * It's wrong to mix genes from radically different organisms. ...read more.

Middle

The developing world's heavy dependence on important foods such as rice, Soya, wheat and maize makes for a uncertain existence, if these crops are destroyed by unexpected drought, disease, flood or freak weather (not uncommon events in poor countries). It is said this is where the controversial research area known as biotechnology can help feed the starving millions, by engineering plant strains with improved resistance and yields. "By bringing in this technology to make the same crop that people eat and grow, make it more insulated against some of the elements of nature, more nutritious...it will improve local production," said Channapatna Prakash, professor in plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University, Alabama. "If it does make a difference in their overall health and well-being with the least intervention, it needs to be looked at very carefully," he said. "If it does provide some solution in certain places and circumstances, then why not?" Prakash is also a member of the U.S. Agriculture Department's agricultural biotechnology advisory committee. Genetic modification (GM) involves exchanging or splicing genes of unrelated species that cannot naturally swap with each other and enthusiastic scientists say the applications are almost limitless. The species can be vastly different, for example, inserting scorpion toxin or spider venom genes into maize and other food crops as a 'natural pesticide' to prevent insects and birds from feeding on the plants, or fish antifreeze genes into tomatoes. ...read more.

Conclusion

Different crops vary enormously over questions like gene flow [e.g. due to mode of pollination or unrestricted movement of GM animals for breeding] or wild relatives, which might become weeds or pests. So a plant like oil seed rape merits much more careful attention than other less genetically promiscuous species. Talking to ecological scientists, it seems clear that five years of research is not going to give a generic answer to tell us whether "GM is safe" or not. We know so little about either the ecology or safety of normal foods that we often do not have a yardstick to make meaningful comparison with GM foods. Much better than a crude moratorium is to be precautionary but on a case-by-case basis, rather than assume that everything is equally risky. Rather than swallow whole the current green position on GM foods, we need to recognise that it is just as easy to exaggerate risks as it is to ignore them or pretend they aren't there. Current EU labelling is only mandatory if you can detect genes or the proteins in the food, but this only addresses a small minority of the concerns. If someone objects to GM food on ethical or religious grounds or to the effect of the crop on the environment, present labelling misses the point completely. Here is a fundamental injustice, which the Government has done very little to address. Genetic Engineering, Friend or Foe? Is still a question to be answered - the debate will continue, as will the research that pushes the boundaries of science. The answer lies in the far future! ...read more.

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