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Candidate name: LAI Chun Yu                                                                                 Page  of

Candidate number:                                                                                 Geography

Genetically modifying food is becoming a highly controversial issue these days. Some scientists believe that Genetic Modified Food (GMF) can benefit the community in a great variety of ways, while others believe that it can do a great harm to the environment and human health.  In addition, GMF raises many issues in regards to religions, ethics, law and many others. More importantly, what we should be concerned is whether having the ability to genetically modify species gives us the right to do so. Before we go on any further, it is extremely crucial for us to fully understand what exactly genetically modifying food is all about.

Humans have been genetically modifying food for thousands of years, but the method they used is different from the genetic modification that we use nowadays. In fact, genetic modification is only a new scientific breakthrough of the 20th century. The ancient method of genetically modifying food is known as “selective breeding”, which in more scientific terms is to cross hundreds or thousands of genes. Selective breeding has been used for a great variety of things, ranging from crops to animals. For example, if a farmer is to grow large potatoes, he would first plant a plot of potatoes, and select the seeds from the largest potatoes and plant them again to observe their performance. After repeating the same methods several times over a period of time, the farmer would eventually end up with a strain of large potatoes. By utilizing the method of selective breeding, people have also been able to develop crops so that they become highly resistant to some type of fungus or insects, as well as increasing the amount of yields. Furthermore, one common example is that people have used selective breeding to develop a strain of low-cholesterol chickens. In other words, selective breeding can be used to develop desirable trait of any living species.

Genetic modification is the expansion of the traditional selective breeding, which allows scientists to insert specific beneficial genes into plants or animals, without any unwanted genes. Genetic modification is a much more precise method, which saves a lot of effort of having to go through the process of trial and error. The history of genetic modification is only as short as a few decades, because scientists only made a huge breakthrough in their understanding of genetics in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the scientists finally discovered the method to transfer DNA from one organism to another, which is called “genetic engineering”. The first genetically modified plant, a tobacco plant, which was resistant to the antibiotic kanamycin, was only created in 1983 by a biotech company called Monsanto. Moreover, the first GMF that appeared on the market was as late as 1994, so do we really know enough about the long term consequences of eating GMF?

Genetic modification in simple words is to alter the DNA of organisms, either by altering an existing DNA or by transferring DNA from one organism to another. In brief description, chromosomes are found inside the nucleus of a cell, of which the chromosomes are made of a chemical called DNA, which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, and the shape of the DNA is known as a “double helix”. A gene only consists of a section of DNA molecules, which varies the traits of living species.

Primarily, there are two methods of transferring foreign genes into a plant. The first method is to infect it with agrobacterium, a pathogen, which is to break into the cell’s nucleus of the plan, and replace its DNA with some of its own. The second method is by shooting it with a gene gun. According to The Age, “A.22 shell is used to fire stainless-steel projectiles dipped in a DNA solution at a step or leaf of the target plant. If all goes well, some of the DNA will pierce the wall of some of the cells’ nuclei and elbow its way into the double helix: a bully breaking into a line dance. If the new DNA happens to land in the right place—and no one yet knows what, or where, that place is— the plant grown from that cell will express the new gene.” Scientists have discovered that the agrobacterium method works best on broadleaf species such as potato, whereas the gene gun works best on grasses, such as corn and wheat, and yet, it is still a question mark of what is causing this to happen, which shows how little we know about genetic engineering. 

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The invention of GMF creates many advantages in the world today. Firstly, biotech companies claim that GMF does not only have a better taste, but also have the potential to be richer in terms of its nutrients. The fact that any vitamins or minerals can be added to any food may be extremely useful to improve the human health. For instance, many Asian developing countries, especially the Philippines are encountering the problem of Vitamin A deficiency currently, but with the knowledge we have on genetic modification, a Swedish professor has created the Golden Rice, which contains lots of Vitamin ...

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