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Toluwa Adams Thursday, November 22, 2012

Modern Advances in Biotechnology

YOUR BURGER ON BIOTECH. Source: Popular Science; Apr2008, Vol. 272 Issue 4, p37-37, 1p The article was touching on hamburgers, one of the most delicious, well known, and commonly eaten junk foods in the Western World. Thought they are delicious, they are notorious for being packed full of fat, cholesterol and way too many calories. This article was highlighting how advances in biotechnology would be beneficial for the hamburger. Some of the key ingredients in the average hamburger are being genetically modified. For example, a gene found in wild wheat that controls protein, zinc and iron content was spliced into domestic wheat, making wheat more nutritious. Prized cows are also being cloned in order to create leaner, tastier beef. Scientists also have genetically modified tomatoes to be naturally sweeter (about 10%). Vitamin C levels in lettuce are also going up, by using genes from plant DNA. All these advances and genetic modifications of these ingredients found in hamburgers mean not more delicious but also more nutritious hamburgers.

The form of biotechnology mentioned in the textbook that corresponds to what was in the article that I read is genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The textbook also talks about transgenic organisms, organisms that have had foreign genes or DNA introduced into their genome. Transgenic organisms are also genetically modified organisms. In the hamburger article, lettuce, wheat and tomatoes have been genetically modified in order to better satisfy the needs/wants of human beings.

The part of the molecular genetics unit that helped me to understand what was discussed in the article was gene therapy. Gene therapy, which is used to repair and fix dysfunctional genes, is very similar process wise to genetically modifying an organism.

There is no part of my article that doesnt make sense. It is very clear in highlighting the potential of genetically modified plants and how it will affect foods and food products used today.

Investigation: Why people are opposed to genetically engineered foods and what organizations support this stand. Today, genetically modified foods are very common and the demand for it is increasing. People want their food to look better, to taste better, and to be healthier. Farmers want crops that can withstand cold, droughts, and pesticides. Scientists have changed the original genetic makeup of foods in order to meet the demands of farmers and the consumers. Many foods that we eat have been genetically modified, without us even knowing, like corn. Bt-corn is a type of corn that has been genetically modified to resist insects and pesticides. But every time something big like this happens in the realm of science technology, issues are bound to rise up. People have different opinions. Many agree with genetically modifying foods, so long that it is beneficial to humans and not harmful. However, some strongly disagree with GMOs and genetically modifying foods. Anytime the genetic information of an organism is altered (whether it be plant, animal or human) ethical issues and controversies arise.

There are many health concerns that come up with genetically modified foods. Some of the major ones are allergens. Many people around the world have or have developed life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. Some believe that introducing a new gene into a plant may create a new allergen that can cause an allergic reaction in people who already have food allergies. The risks of genetically modified foods are still unknown. Modifying the DNA of a plant by inserting new genes can have various results, some unintended. Some people believe that until the results and risks have been ironed out, genetically modified foods should not be distributed to humans.

There are also environmental concerns over genetically modified foods. Modifying the genes in certain plants can have a positive effect on humans, but a negative effect on the organisms that feed off of the plant. For example, the toxins found in Bt-corn to make it resistant to pests can be toxic to birds. Other concerns include accidental gene transfer and reduced effectiveness of pesticides. Some believe that genetically modified plants can cross-breed with other plants, thus giving the product its modified genes. Insects have always been able to adapt to conditions in order to be successful and have grown resistant to pesticides in the past, some fear that insects will soon become resistant to the pesticides that they are genetically modifying into crops now and soon the modifications will become obsolete. There is also fear that genetically modifying plants will reduce biodiversity, thus making the species more susceptible to diseases, viruses, and pests.

There are also economic issues concerning genetically modified foods. Developing these foods is not a cheap process and the companies who develop and distribute these genetically modified crops will want to make a hefty profit. The price of the genetically modified crop seeds will be expensive, and many farmers, especially those in third-world countries will not be able to afford them, therefore no one will but their crops because of the genetically modified crop options. Some fear that mass genetically engineered food production will be carried out by only a few small companies. There have also been some law issues that have come up over the patent of these genetically modified foods. A general example is two farmers have neighbouring cornfields. One grows genetically modified Bt-corn while the other grows normal, unmodified corn. The wind blows pollen from the Bt-corn and the pollen is introduced to the normal corn. This causes cross-breeding and soon the farmer, who was originally just growing normal corn, is now producing has acquired the pest and pesticide resistance of Bt-corn. This farmer is now sued by a large corporation (i.e. Monsanto) for growing their corn without buying the seeds. Cases like this have been occurring more and more frequently, even though they were completely accidental, but many times it is the large corporation that wins.

Some organizations that are against genetically modified foods are Greenpeace, The Organic Consumers Association,