Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Biology: Part 4 Bt Corn - First Genetically Engineered Crop

Dr Abe V Rotor

The planting of BT corn in the country is hotly contested by environmentalists. This is true with many people in their own countries, rejecting genetic modification of plants and animals.The birth of Genetically Modified Organisms resurrected Frankenstein, the monster in Shelly's novel of the same title, who at the end of the story destroyed the peace and order of the world and ultimately killing his creator and master.

BT corn carries genes of the insect-killing bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. In the US, genetically modified soybean was developed by borrowing genes from Brazil nut in an attempt to increase the amino acid content. The resulting soybean carried higher amino acid all right, but it churned out also chemicals that can trigger allergies to nut-sensitive consumer.

Down with the clown!

“Down with the clown!” protested farmers at McDonalds stores in France against GM beef and potato. Although the European Union has blocked importation of some GM products, it now requires foods that contain engineered DNA be labeled as such. US sale of GM seeds by Monsanto (US) and Novartis (Swiss, producer of Gerber baby foods) made a record high in the last ten years, and GM technology has just started.

A third of US corn land (8 million hectares) is grown from genetically changed seeds, so with US soybean crop was grown from seeds that have been genetically engineered. More than a quarter of US dairy cows are injected with the recombinant bovine growth hormone which boosts the production of milk. The hormone is made with genetically engineered bacteria. And three-fourth of all cheese contains chymosin which is produced with bacteria that have been genetically engineered.

Now consider these: Tomato juice from tomatoes containing enzymes from Arctic flounder – an attempt to help crops withstand low temperature. Pork loins from hogs treated with human-growth hormones to help them get bigger and faster. Squash inoculated with watermelon-virus genes to make the squash virus resistant.

Corn which contains a firefly gene, provides a phosphorescent marker even when mixed with other foods. Or another marker, gene carrying green phosphorescence in jellyfish transferred in mice, so that the mice glow in the dark.

The popularity of BT tomato (“FlavrSavr”), the first genetically altered food crop, ignited a chain of other GM crops from high protein beans and grains, caffeine-less coffee beans, potato that soaks up less fat during frying, to strawberry with more natural sugar. And there are dozens of gene-spliced food crops in laboratories and greenhouses ready to the released. These include squash, melon, carrots, onions, peppers, apples, and the like.

Why does it appear easy for governments to allow the production and distribution of genetic engineered plants and animals? In the US for one the government sees GM components as mere additives. That is why, virtually anyone can load a fruit, vegetable, baby food, or any simple meal with DNA engineered tricks. Arroz caldo from GM rice with borrowed chicken gene, anyone?

If you don’t see butterflies in the garden (reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring) blame it to the BT in the corn or rice – the bacterium that is a scourge of insects belonging to Order Lepidoptera which includes one of the world’s best-known and most loved insect, the flamboyant orange-and-black monarch butterflies which can travel an incredible distance of 1,600 miles in their migratory flight.

The message of the monarch butterflies is clear: even the most well-intentioned biotechnologies are without any risk.

Welcome, Dolly. Goodbye, Dolly.

Remember Dolly, the sheep which became famous as the first cloned animal? Her rate of aging was faster than that of her parent. It died ahead of her mother. It is because clones live only the remaining years of their parents’ lives. They grow old before their time. And if any human being might like to get cloned, he should think twice. He will end up with the worst of two worlds, which in the words of Thomas Murray of Hasting Center, NY, “are a combination of inexperience of youth with the biology of the aged.”

Well, this is not new. If you see a standing century old mango tree and is still very much at bearing age, it must have come from a seed. A grafted mango tree (which is a clone), on the other hand, lives only for a few years and does not live as big and as long as seed-grown mango. The grafted mango is like Dolly, its scion came from a fruiting tree which naturally must be many years older. It flowers as early as three years after it was transplanted, while its counterpart grown from seed matures very much longer. During this period it matures slowly but surely, its crown is well-spread to catch the sun and rain, its niche established, its roots firm, strong and balance to brace wind and drought and wind. This is not the case of the grafted mango. Poor Dolly, mango or lass.

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