GMO_Article

GMOs: The Untold Story

No biotech blog can be complete without addressing the giant elephant in the field – GMOs. As a biotech graduate, I’m a big fan, but as a member of the general public you probably have some blind, deep-seated hatred for them without even understanding why. This is probably a result of bad press because, unfortunately, the media (and some celebrities) thrive on negative publicity because spreading false rumours can be far more fun than just telling it as it is. Well, I obviously felt it was my responsibility to highlight some strong positive truths about Genetically Modified organisms (GMOs) and hopefully get everybody questioning their beliefs.

 

  • What’s in a Name? “Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)” has somehow come to be synonymous with “inorganic” and “unnatural”.  But if you think about it, we are all a genetically modified version of SOMETHING (our parents and ancestors) and we aren’t that bad now, are we? In fact, we were genetically modified by random recombination that could have made us better or worse than our parents. But with the genetic modifications that scientists do, there is almost near certainty that the product will be better than the original – so why not? We could just as easily call them “Genetically Better Organisms (GBOs)” or (as some biotechnologists are doing already) call them Genetically Engineered Machines (GEMs).
  • GMOs are NOT “inorganic” foods: In my opinion, not classifying GMOs as organic is one of the biggest fallacies of the modern “organic-conscious” world. If you go down to the fundamentals of it all, a genetic modification has been made to the DNA of the crop in question. You are not about to sprout leaves and thick outer skin if you eat a GMO because the DNA of your food does NOT affect you in any way!!! What does affect you is all those chemicals that get sprayed on to your vegetables and accumulate as foreign substances in your body. GMOs have, in fact, been created to reduce the amount of inorganic chemicals farmers need to use so that we can eat more wholesome, ORGANIC food! Don’t believe me, watch this TED Talk.
  • A Genetic Modification is like an evolutionary helping hand: Evolution is based on the principle that genes naturally alter themselves over time in response to environmental stresses. This genetic trial and error eventually leads to “survival of the fittest” where the best genetic make up ensures higher survival rates. However, human beings have undeniably shifted the natural balance of the environment and evolution cannot always keep up. Genetic modification is our way of helping organisms cope with the new and fast growing stresses that we have introduced. It is directed evolution where the trial and error happens in the lab and only the best alterations are introduced into the environment after rigorous due diligence.
  • Non-food GMOs are what is helping to cure cancer: Genetic modifications are part of so many other aspects of our lives, and they are all useful in their own way. Nobody complains if a genetically modified strain of yeast is used to produce a higher yield of beer. Because nobody hears about that or cares, as long as they get some good beer. A lot of the new-age biopharmaceutical drugs that are used for treatment of life-threatening diseases (like cancer) are also obtained from using genetic modifications in bacteria, mice etc. Those products of genetic modification are introduced directly into patients’ blood streams and have saved thousands of lives. So what is scarier GMOs or cancer?
  • Anything is possible: With the use of the right genetic modifications, the possibilities are endless. We can engineer life in much the same way that we engineer computers and smart-phones to get smarter and better equipped to deal with today’s demands and needs. I participated in the i(international)GEM competition in 2014 and it is amazing what can be achieved with a few bacteria and a handful of genetic manipulation techniques. Every team creates a GEM (or GMO, technically) that is capable of solving a world problem. Teams have turned junk metal into gold, micro-plastic into islands and bacterial biosensors that can tell you when you are sick. Every team also focuses on the bigger issues and ethics behind the practical use of such organisms. As does every biotech company that intends to plant a genetically enhanced vegetable.

The fact of the matter is that not too long into the future, we are not going to have enough land to sustain the agricultural demands of a growing human population. GMOs are part of the SOLUTION, not a part of the problem. So keep reading, keep learning and next time you see the term “GMO”, just think “What a GEM!”

 

Further Reading:

The Debate About GMO Safety Is Over, Thanks To A New Trillion-Meal Study




There are 8 comments

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  1. Krishna

    I am sorry but, did i read that micro organisms can turn junk metal into gold? Please elaborate on that. I thought gold could only be made in the guts of huge dying stars.. and maybe in big atom smashers

  2. Porrus Fitter

    Have a few questions.
    1. Can the harvest of GMO seeds be used again for the next crop ?
    2. What are inputs required for GMO crop for first year and year after ?
    3. Can we do multiple crops in the same field for poor farmers who have limited water and resources.

    • Biotechase

      All of your questions are general and the answers I’m providing are also general but depending on the type of modifications and crops in question the reality may vary. Also, I would like to clarify that while I know the biology behind the technology, I have never grown these crops myself so may not be the best authority on these details.

      1. Yes, they should be usable, but over time, environmental factors could lead to mutations in genes which could once again render the engineered gene useless
      2. When you say “inputs” I assume you mean, nutrients, water etc. Here it would definitely depend on the engineering. While there are crops that are being engineered to be drought resistant, in most cases they would require the normal amount of inputs as wild type crops. Ideally they would require little or no fertilizer and/or pesticides depending on what they have been engineered for.
      3. Again, this should not be an issue since GMO crops are like any other and growing more than one type on a given plot of land would depend on the needs of the crop and whether the requirements can be fulfilled. But in theory, since the GMO crops should require less you could probably grow more.

      I have answered to the extent that I could. But I will continue to research this topic! Thanks for asking!

  3. Channa Prakash

    Don’t say GMO, say what a GEM! Well said. Biotech is so misunderstood, there has been unnecessary fear of its products. Activist groups have exploited this public unease and halted progress of India. We need more commentaries like to help us understand and demystify the tech

  4. Uzair

    Good read! Please comment on the fact that GMOs are relatively new and statistically speaking the effect of genetics (mutations) will only become clear centuries ahead. Of course, humans are not directly affected by crops/organisms being genetically modified but over generations what shape those crops/organisms will take and will they become harmful to humans. Further, what effect it may have on the ecosystem when we are only modifying chosen crops/organisms and not other species who were directly dependent on certain genetic traits of those organisms which genetically modified?

    • Biotechase

      Hi,
      Thanks for the comment. Well, I agree that it takes a long time for large scale effects of a technology to be seen but to me that is more of a reason to start early in this case. In one way, the incessant negative feedback for GMOs has made scientists far more careful to ensure the benefits of this technology are “statistically” proven and backed with ample data while at the same time taking into account potential pitfalls. However, I believe that our impact as a species on our environment is far too accelerated due to not taking these long term effects into consideration when we were developing OTHER, NON-ORGANIC technologies. And so we need to USE the best, most organic technologies we have available of which genetic engineering is one.


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