Monday, December 20, 2010

Part 2: Genetic Engineering - Tinkering with the Book of Life

Abe V Rotor

Conventional agriculture can improve crops to this extent - giant balimbing (Averrhoa carambola) - basically by means of selection and hybridization. Should we resort to genetic engineering to produce more and bigger crops? Should we tinker with the genes, transferring them from one species to another, and creating new "life forms" in effect?

After we have perfected the model of the DNA which is the code of heredity, we have succeeded in cracking the code itself, which is the code of life.

This feat was preceded by the cracking the atom which brought out the first genie, the atomic bomb.

What would this second genie look like?

Let us create scenarios based on scientific papers in the light of many inquiries.

1. Does GMO cause cancer and other diseases? Evidences do not point out directly that it does. But cancer is too complex for us to have full understanding. Something – and that something that triggers the disease - may not be determined immediately, not until we can accurately read it in the human genome map. It is as puzzling as such questions like, Where did prion (infective principle of mad cow disease) come from? How does it cause Bovine Spongioform Encephalopathy (BSE), and the human Crueztfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) with which the mad cow disease is associated? Other than cancer why are there more and more young people contacting diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s? We do not know. We can not blame these to GMO either. It is too early to say.

2. GMO and the Terminator. Here the genie is a multinational that placed in its hands the fate of the farmer. This is worst than the hybrid corn seeds which farmers must renew their seed stock every time they plant their fields. The Terminator is a GM corn that carries genes that automatically kill the embryo after the crop is harvested so that farmers have to buy new seeds from the company. The creator, Monsanto, got the ire of many people. It projected a bad image of biotechnology.

3. Processed Food from GMO. Seemingly you do not see this kind of genie. We do not know but we are eating GMF how much we are trying to avoid it. There was no referendum conducted or public consultation before GMF was put to market. Today GM soybean is processed into cooking oil, soy sauce, TVP, taho, tokwa, etc. GM potato finds its way through fast food chains. GM cows in steaks, burgers, corned beef and milk. Whose accountability can we seek refuge?

4. GMO touches the fiber of culture, beliefs and religion. People are generally sensitive to many things, cultural, religious, personal. Protest may be felt even in their silence. It could be that their silence is in the lack of food and absence of other alternatives. Beggars are no chooser, so goes a saying.

5. The Capitalist Syndrome. Who’s afraid of the big, big wolf? Ask not George Orwell. Remember his book, “1984”? He has another definition of big brother. I also refer to the book of Susan George, “How the Other Half Dies”. The world is without sufficient food, it is because the other half has simply too much. Well, capitalism is not perfect; it has also excesses as well as weaknesses. But what guarantee then has GMO not to fall into the control of the capitalist? Monsanto gave the early signals. Who control (owns) the gene banks of CIMMYT and IRRI?

Perhaps we have to look also at the humanitarian angle of capitalism in the absence of a better alternative.

a. GMO, medicine and health. Remember that a genie can be obliging, too. Genetic engineering is as young as dawn. As light breaks we take a glimpse before the sun is up.

b. Genetic engineering is perhaps the key to the pest and disease control, such as malaria and dengue. Entomologists have isolated parasite-suppressing genes in mosquitoes.

c. GE in medicine as stated in Dr. Saturnina Halos’s paper, such as insulin production, has expanded into the production of more potent antibiotics, hormones, etc. The incorporation of vitamins in food could reduce infant mortality, blindness, and other associated defects.


It is inevitable that a time will come – and soon - when genetic engineering will be applied in human cloning. Today, we have so far applied human biotechnology mostly to helping childless couples bear children. But with results in animal cloning, a technique is being developed to clone the human being without encountering the problems encountered in Dolly the sheep – premature aging. This could be the biggest monster science will ever make. But it could be another Tower of Babel in the making. ~

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