GMOs: Yay or Nay?

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Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), give this term a spin anywhere and you will find many who have very strong opinions whether for or against. However, before we delve into the debate, let us have a look at what GMOs are.

A GMO is an organism that has been altered in the laboratory, where a certain gene or genes are taken from one species and inserted into another in order to add to it a desired trait that it was lacking. Agriculture has thrived on crossbreeding of plants; this is the idea of changing the makeup of a plant to make it more enduring against certain diseases or more hearty against certain natural conditions such as drought.

Improving crops by cross-breeding required taking pollen from the plant with the desired trait and adding it to the flower of another plant in order for it to reproduce a new plant that hopefully has the new desired traits. However, this was time consuming and strenuous process that was not always successful. With the advancement of modern technology this process was revolutionized, as science provided many ways that shortened the time it took to create new plant strains, taking the process to the laboratory where it was done with more precision and efficiency.

One of the things scientists have been developing are plant strains that can produce their own pesticide, and therefore, will not need to be sprayed with any chemicals, lowering the amount usually used by farmers. Another plant strain developed is the Golden Rice, which was produced via genetic engineering; this rice contains vitamin A. It was made in order to help in the fight against malnutrition that millions of children in poverty-stricken areas suffer from. Hundreds of thousands of children die daily from a shortage of vitamin A in their diets, and this rice would be a savior to them; however, due to the controversies surrounding the use of GMOs, Golden Rice has yet to be produced on a large scale.

The problem with GMOs is that many activists believe that they could have a negative impact on biodiversity, and that the long-term effect on the environment has not been sufficiently studied. Since the genetically-engineered trait of built-in pesticide, this could be harmful to many insects and could lead to a deterioration of the eco-system. Not only the effect on the environment is in question, but also the effect on humans is a hot topic as well; many believe that it can cause harm to one’s health over long-term consumption. Their belief stems from studies that have been conducted on animals fed with fodder containing GMO plants, and in some cases animals were observed to develop serious health problems.

Raging debates have been ongoing for years now, with scientists and activists both accusing each side of having misconceptions and spreading false information about GMOs, whether indicating they are safe for use or harmful. We have yet to see which side prevails, and whether GMOs become widely accepted in the future or not will depend on more detailed studies of the effect of GMOs.

Interested to find out more? Check out the following videos:

References
nature.com
iflscience.com
britannica.com

 


 

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