Tuesday, July 9, 2013

GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) - Neo-Frankenstein Monster in our Midst

Dr Abe V Rotor 
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School on Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

A Genetically Modified Organism (or GMO) is a result of rapid genetic pooling or buildup of desirable traits by means of genetic engineering, rather than through the conventional method.

       The conventional agricultural breeding methods are tedious, and subject to uncertainty. Today’s biotechnology opened a frontier whereby the genes of organisms can be transferred and combined according to the traits one wishes to combine. It is actually opening a floodgate of possibilities, spectacularly including cross-species or cross-phyla transfer of genes.  This could mean a firefly gene implanted in a rat can make the rodent glow in the dark.  

God's design of the living world, the interrelationship of its members, and that with their environment; their composition as species and individuals - these have been irreverently altered by the genius of man, by men who play God. (Destruction of God's Design in acrylic by AVR)   

All these scenarios have their early beginnings with the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) model proposed by F.H.C. Crick and J.D. Watson in 1953, the two later sharing the Nobel Prize in biology. So precise is the double helix model that with modern tools, one can insert a portion of the genetic material from one organism onto another, causing the latter to carry a desired trait.  Thus a gene of a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, spliced   into the genetic structure of corn produced the Bt corn, the first genetically modified crop. The plant is claimed to be caterpillar-resistant since B. thuringiensis causes disease in caterpillars that destroy corn.  Protein gene of one legume can increase the protein nutrients of another. Beta-carotene gene from daffodils, when introduced into rice produces golden rice.

The questions are, when introduced, what extent are the modifications?  What kinds, and what directions will they go? Could an organism, reaching a level of modification, lose its genetic identity, thereby becoming alien to its co-members and to the natural environment?

      We ask these questions in the light of the following premises:

1.     A single gene may control one trait, but where there are more traits controlled by multiple, blending genes, the process can get out of hand.   The collective expression of modified gene combinations, not to mention the effects of disturbed loci in the genes, can be dangerous. It will take time for us to know the adverse effects of GMO on human beings and the environment.


2.     Every trait of an organism, in one way or the other, has an affect on the environment, and vice versa.  This means that if the protein is elevated, the higher protein levels will need more nitrogen, thereby requiring fertilizer subsidy.  An increase in milk output means more cattle feeds, and antibiotic input to protect the animal from milk production-related stress.  There is a saying in ecology that there is no such thing as “free lunch”.

3.     Ecologically, how will a GMO relate to the natural members of the environment?  How will the new organism now fit into the ecosystem in which its “parents” were once a part, integrally built by laws governing seres, niches and evolution?  We may be only interested in how the organism serve our purpose for the moment, but unaware of its usefulness or destructiveness, when left alone in its own environment. 

4.     Genetic engineering may increase the number of plants and animals that now depend entirely on man’s care and attention.  Many genetically altered breeds and varieties may no longer be able to live and prosper in the open.  This is indeed an antithesis of natural farming.

Book of Life

After man has perfected the model of the DNA, the code of heredity, he has 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 the second genie look like?

1. Does GMO cause cancer and other diseases?  There is no direct evidence.   But cancer is too complex a disease for us to understand fully.  Whatever triggers the disease is not immediately determined until we accurately read it in the human genome map.  Questions are asked: “Where did prion (protein infective principle of mad cow disease) come from?  “How does it cause Bovine Spongioform Encephalopathy (BSE), and the human Crueztfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) to which the mad cow disease is associated?”  “Other than cancer why are there more young people contacting diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases?”  We do not know the answers to these questions.  We cannot blame these to GMO either.  It is too early to say.  But we have to be wary.    

2. GMO and the Terminator.  In this case, the genie is a multinational organism placed by fate in its hands of the farmer.  This problem is worse than the conditions imposed by producers of hybrid corn seeds, where farmers are forced to renew their seed stock every time they plant. The Terminator is a GM corn variety carrying genes which automatically kill the crop embryo after harvesting. Consequently, the farmer needs 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 GM Food, no matter how much we try 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 (Texturized Vegetable Protein), taho, tokwa, etc.  GM potato finds its way through fast food chain.  There are steaks, burgers, corned beef and milk which come from GM cows.  But who is accountable when things go wrong, and how can we seek redress?  

4. GMO touches the fiber of culture, beliefs and religion.  People are generally sensitive to many things: cultural, religious, personal.  Protests may be felt even in their silence. Could it be that people are silent since to protest can mean deprivation of food?  As they say: Beggars are no choosers. 

5. The Capitalist Syndrome.  Who’s afraid of the big, big wolf?  Ask George Orwell. Anyone who has read his book, “1984” will understand.  His definition of big brother is one that is both benevolent and abusive at once. Susan George, in her book, “How the Other Half Dies”, is equally provoking. She claims that part of the world is without sufficient food.  One half of the world’s population is hungry and deprived of many basic needs, while the other half simply has much more than it needs. What guarantees do we have that GMO will not fall into hands of Western capitalists? Monsanto gave the early signals. One wonders who controls (owns) the gene banks at the International Rice Research Institute, the International Wheat and Maiz Research Center (CYMMT,) International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT,) and other research centers. 

GMO, Medicine and Health.

Remember that a genie can be obliging, too.  Genetic engineering (GE) is as young as dawn.  As light breaks, we take a glimpse before the sun is up. Genetic engineering is perhaps the key to the control of malaria and dengue.  Entomologists have already isolated parasite-suppressing genes in mosquitoes.

GE in medicine, such as insulin production, has expanded into the production of more potent antibiotics and hormones.  The incorporation of drugs in genetically modified food plants opens a new field of pharmacology, called biopharming.  GMO mixed with vitamins can reduce infant mortality, blindness, and other associated defects.

Modern Frankenstein monster

It is inevitable that genetic engineering will be applied in human cloning.  Today, we have so far applied human biotechnology mostly in helping childless couples bear children, such as through in vitro (outside of the womb) fertilization.  But with current results in animal cloning, a technique is being developed to clone the human being without encountering the problems that beset Dolly the sheep, which is premature aging.  If this is not handled well, we may be bringing forth a new Frankenstein monster.        x    x    x     

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