Thursday, April 14, 2016
Discussion for a Change to Promote Genetic Engineering
14 April 2016
Discussion for a Change to Promote Genetic Engineering
“With genetic engineering, we will be able to increase the complexity of our DNA, and improve the human race” (Hawking). Genetic engineering describes the artificial selection for crops and livestock since we adopted them for our use. We use selective breeding to select desirable traits in organisms and reproduce the traits in their offspring. New alternatives, including gene manipulation, in vitro fertilization, and cloning challenged the conventional process of genetic engineering. However, there is opposition to the new alternatives for genetic engineering. This is a collection of arguments aimed at the positives of promoting the advancement of genetic engineering, using specific subject examples. It will also address points in the opposition. This proposal assumes that the reader had previous knowledge about genetic engineering, specifically the loose understanding of gene editing and insertion methods.
Genetic manipulation through direct genome configuration increases yield, durability, and nutritional value. For example, modern GMO crops have their genetic material modified to resist pests (insect resistant, Bt), tolerate herbicides (HT), and immunize disease. In addition, there had been bacteria engineered to produce human insulin, human growth hormone, and a hepatitis B vaccine (Encyclopædia Britannica). An example of augmented nutrition is golden rice, which is genetically modified rice utilized to reduce vitamin A deficiency in rice-consuming populations (Tang et al.). Genetically modified crops could even eradicate the food instability because of its customizable yields (Collection, Classics). Genetic engineering in animals can increase their productivity for the same space, and genetically modifying humans can overcome infertility (Geneticengineeringinhumans). These examples show that the properties in organisms can be changed to benefit our needs to solve various issues involving health and insects. This is a promising potential that reasoned why genetic engineering should be promoted. As well as the obvious purposes, there is another reason for why GM crops are practical.
Genetically engineered crops are be economically beneficial, if not surpassing conventional crops. Two meta-analyses and a studies review concluded that farmers in developing countries can gain more from their yield from Bt cotton and Bt maize, and since insect resistant crops decrease usage of pesticides, costs from utilizing them are also reduced (AREAL, RIESGO, and RODRÍGUEZ-CEREZO; Finger et al.). A study by PG Economics in 2012 concluded that the global farm income had increased to $14 billion in 2010, and total income from 1996 increased up to $78.4 billion. Bt cotton had $5 billion out of the total income in 2010. It had the most economically positive impact; among others were maize, HT soybeans, and canola (Brookes, and Barfoot). These conclusions have proven that the current GM crops pose economic advantages over traditional crops, especially with developing countries that have a strong national research, national institutional capacity, and regulatory capacity (Raney 3). This is another explanation to why genetic engineering should further develop in research and the economy. Unfortunately, if a big economy has a new GMO released, then there is a debate for its management.
There are regulations to manage the use and distribution of genetically modified foods. Labelling can be helpful to the consumer for focused decision making, although enforcing it to be mandatory can be detrimental to the public’s view of GM foods. The AAAS stated:
[Labeling] efforts are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. Rather, these initiatives are driven by a variety of factors, ranging from the persistent perception that such foods are somehow "unnatural" and potentially dangerous to the desire to gain competitive advantage by legislating attachment of a label meant to alarm. Another misconception used as a rationale for labeling is that GM crops are untested.
This can mislead the public’s perception of GM foods as to be more harmful than it should not be. Moreover, the dependencies on these beliefs can negatively affect the GM foods economy, and might spread to other genetic engineering subjects. GM food labelling does not need to be mandated, as popularity myths can skew consumer decision making in purchasing because of perceived “unnatural”, “untested”, and potential competitive advantages in the marketplace. The public needs proper information about genetically modified foods before legally enforced labelling. This should not heavily slow down genetic engineering, and once the disputed issue is solved, then the entirety of it should forward more freely. Aside from the regulations, there are health problems that GM crops face.
An issue that surrounds genetically engineered foods is introducing a protein allergen without warning into the food system. Some people may not be fully aware that there is a food safety evaluation for all GM crops that meticulously examines if there is a possible allergen in a GM crop by assessing its similarity to other allergens, the stability during digestion process, blood tests from allergic individuals, and tests from animals (GMO-Compass). GM crops are actually the most extensive crops tested (Pinholster) despite popular culture beliefs, and that they should not be a major concern for genetically engineered foods. Therefore, it is currently not enough of a problem to stand in the way of the progression of genetically modified foods, and broadly genetic engineering. Other than allergies, there exists a conflict with the environment for GM crops.
Escapes of genetically modified crops are one risk that can damage the surrounding ecosystem of the farm. Fortunately, there are methods to attempt to solve this problem. For example, using Technology Protection System (TPS) “Terminator” kills plant embryos by implementing traits, preventing any seeds that would spread in the wild. The effect of GM-crop crossing to wild plants with TPS varies with the tendency and closeness, so the effectiveness of preventing accidental gene flow also varies. Trait-specific Genetic Use Restriction Technology (T-Gurt) “Traitor” uses a chemical control mechanism to activate certain traits, and unintentional spread to non-GM crops or wild plants would not express them unless the proprietary chemical is used (Sutton). Additionally, transplastomic plants have modified plastids (chloroplasts) instead of nuclear DNA, and inheritance with other crops excludes plastids in pollen. This can potentially facilitate the GM crops and ensure coexistence with conventional ones (Bock, Karcher, and Ruf). The slowly rising amount of methods that can address unintentional escape of GM crops eases the worries of it becoming a very serious threat to the genetically modified crops industry. In the future, this issue would not have a high chance of slowing down genetic engineering with the current improvable solutions. Another problem associated with GM crops is one that counters the purpose of its genetic modification.
A concern related to the GM crops insecticide enhancement is that it could be selecting for insects resistance to the insecticide produced by the GM crops. Luckily, there are potential strategies to counter the evolution to create the insecticide resistance insect by implementing refuge plots ‒ a refuge designed for the insects. This would result in the dilution of the process of insecticide resistance evolution (Understanding Evolution Team). Another method is to create genes that code for fusion proteins that can have multiple ways to attack a target insect, putting difficulty in the selective pressure (Christou, et al.). These strategies could promise a solution for insecticide resistance insects, and reducing stress for the applications of genetic engineering. The next problem, aimed at genetically modifying humans, is a moral argument linked with nature.
The ethics involved in germinal choice technology present the complications of what it means to “be human”. As with the plausibility that one day, parents would be able to choose characteristics for their child that would be “unnatural”, critics may argue that definition of human would be challenged. In an interview with Gregory Stock, he expressed that with many advancements in technology in human history, being “human” now can appear foreign to early human ancestors, for instance: increased lifespan. He said that we alter ourselves in different aspects that can substantially influential. This made the moral and social parts of being human look vague, as there is no strict definition of what we can be. The argument that humans would change their biology in unnatural ways is not any different from social, technological, or health-related progress in human history that early humans can make as well (WORLD FUTURE SOCIETY). This stands against the ethical question of what it means to be human, and it currently would not affect the progress of genetic engineering. Besides ethics, some perspectives consider genetic engineering as a whole is not safe enough.
We need to analyse and learn more about new genetic engineering technologies before we assess the problems. One of the arguments for the opposition of genetic engineering, specifically GM crops and germline choice technology, is that there can be risks that can drastically impose threat to humanity, because there is not sufficient evidence to infer that they are completely safe. Peter Newton described this action as taking the precautionary principle. However, there are consequences to when we do not make pace to research and investigate. We need to know how to solve rising issues in the world today, such as feeding the increasing population. Constraining a possible option such as GM crops can limit our effectiveness of developing a solution to provide a sustaining food system for escalating food consumption. It can also obstruct our progress in researching this recent field of technology, which could better help us understand it so we can circumvent unpredictable dangers that we did not know enough of before. This is a major reason to further progress genetic engineering, because it is very possible to be part of a solution to many problematic topics in the world.
Genetic engineering should not halt because of public resistance who has not acquired sufficient understanding on the subject. In May 2012, a plan for a protest “Take the Flour Back” was led in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, England, which planned to destroy the test trials of a genetically modified wheat. The appeal from the Rothamsted Research to the public addressed the destruction of research was not a goal that would achieve much.
[R]esearch never ends, and technology never can nor should be frozen in time (as implied by the term ‘GM freeze’). Society didn’t stop with the horse-drawn plough because of fears that the tractor was ‘unnatural’. We didn’t refuse to develop better wheat varieties in the past – which keep us well-fed today – simply because they were different from what went before and therefore scary. The wheat that we consume today has had many genetic changes made to it – to make plants produce more grain, resist disease, avoid growing too tall and blow over in the wind, be suitable for different uses like pasta and bread, provide more nutrition and grow at the right time for farming seasons. These agricultural developments make it possible for the same amount of food to be produced from a smaller area of land, meaning less necessity for farmers to convert wildlands to agriculture, surely we should work together in this? (Pickett)
Instead, they were willing to discuss their research and their purpose, as well as to release a petition “Don’t Destroy the Research” to stop the violent plan. Over 6,000 have signed the petition. The initial reactions from the public on the subject of genetic engineering, specifically genetically modified foods, were not very positive. Alongside the influence that conspiracy theories could hold on this topic (Goertzel), it may be possible that the same will be for germinal choice technology. It is important to realize that we should correct the public more solemnly about their misunderstandings about genetic engineering-- even if it would take much of an effort to do so (an example of a misinterpretation is that, genetic traits, do not technically exist, because traits are literally entirely genes. It is why the phrase prefix is commonly “genes for”) (Falk). Would resistance to strive for the general positiveness of this scientific research because of public outcry a fair and valid reason? This technology has the potential to combat malnutrition, hunger, cure diseases, and enhance the human biology. It would be better to let genetic engineering get a chance to fulfill that promise than letting it go to waste.
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