Should We Care About GMOs
What is GMO?
GMO stands for "Genetically Modified Organism." It refers to any living organism, such as plants, animals, or microorganisms, whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques involve the manipulation of an organism's DNA in order to introduce specific traits or characteristics that may not have naturally occurred through traditional breeding methods.
Genetic modification can involve inserting genes from one species into another to achieve desired traits, such as improved resistance to pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, enhanced nutritional content, longer shelf life, or other beneficial properties. GMOs have been used in agriculture, biotechnology, and other fields to create organisms with specific attributes that can be advantageous for human needs and goals.
The use of GMOs has sparked debates and controversies, particularly concerning their potential impact on human health, the environment, and traditional farming practices. Proponents argue that GMOs can offer solutions to challenges like food security and sustainability, while opponents express concerns about potential unintended consequences, such as the spread of modified genes to wild populations or the development of resistant pests.
It's important to note that regulations and public opinions regarding GMOs can vary significantly from region to region, and the discussions around their safety and benefits are ongoing.
Are all crops that we eat today genetically modified?
Human agriculture has a rich history spanning over 10,000 years, originating in Mesopotamia, now the Middle East. Initially, people took seeds from wild plants and strategically planted them for better growth and harvesting. Over time, they recognized superior plant performance, preserving seeds for successive planting – the essence of domestication.
Early farmers' seed choices mirrored today's factors, aiming for palatability, nutrition, and digestibility. Modern agriculture shares these goals, seeking high-yield crops resistant to pests, diseases, floods, and droughts.
Centuries later, Gregor Mendel's discoveries about trait inheritance enabled selective breeding, pairing plants with desired attributes for subsequent generations. Hybridization emerged, exemplified by high-yield corn and rice.
In the 1930s, exposing seeds to radiation or chemicals induced genetic changes, fostering improved crop varieties. Today, diverse crop varieties owe their existence to these methods.
The 1953 DNA discovery spurred genetic exploration. By the 1980s, genetic markers tied to traits accelerated breeding, while genetic engineering blended genes from varied organisms, yielding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Over a dozen GMO food crops with novel traits now thrive.
The 2010s brought gene editing, allowing direct gene manipulation. Crops created through gene editing, like healthier soybean oil, show promise. With a profound agricultural history, most modern crops underwent genetic refinement – from domestication and selective breeding to radiation, chemicals, and direct genetic manipulation.
Scientists and cultivators persist in perfecting trait-focused cultivation, especially drought-resistant crops in the face of shifting climates. This pursuit echoes humanity's enduring bond with the earth's resources.
Almost all the food we eat today has been genetically modified, and genetic engineering is one type of genetic modification.
Why GMO is good?
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have garnered both support and criticism. Overall, genetically modified crops have increased yields and resulted in increased food security. For example, tomatoes used to be the size of marbles and corn used to have very small kernels with hard coats. Tomatoes and corns today are much bigger, tastier, and easier to digest.
Here are some reasons why proponents argue that GMOs can be beneficial:
Increased Crop Yields: GMOs can be engineered to produce higher yields of crops, addressing food scarcity concerns as the global population continues to grow. For instance, genetically modified crops like Bt cotton and Bt corn are designed to resist certain pests, resulting in higher yields and reduced reliance on chemical pesticides.
Improved Nutritional Content: Genetic modification can enhance the nutritional quality of crops. For example, "Golden Rice" has been developed with higher levels of vitamin A to combat vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to blindness and other health issues in developing countries.
Enhanced Pest and Disease Resistance: GMOs can be designed to resist specific pests, viruses, and diseases. This reduces the need for chemical pesticides and helps farmers maintain healthier crops.
Reduced Environmental Impact: By using GMOs that require fewer pesticides or fertilizers, agricultural practices can become more sustainable. This can lead to decreased pollution, less habitat destruction, and improved soil health.
Extended Shelf Life: Some genetically modified crops, such as certain varieties of tomatoes, have been engineered to have a longer shelf life. This can reduce food waste and improve distribution efficiency.
Adaptation to Climate Change: Genetic modification can help crops withstand harsh environmental conditions caused by climate change, such as drought or extreme temperatures. This is particularly important for ensuring food security in the face of changing climates.
Crop Variety Preservation: GMOs can help protect and preserve traditional crop varieties that might be at risk due to changing conditions or diseases.
Medical and Pharmaceutical Applications: Genetic modification techniques are used to produce pharmaceutical compounds in plants, offering potential cost-effective solutions for producing medicines and vaccines.
Faster Crop Development: Traditional breeding methods often take years or decades to develop new crop varieties with desired traits. Genetic modification can accelerate this process and bring about desired traits more quickly.
Scientific Advancement: GMO research contributes to a deeper understanding of genetics, which can have broader implications for medicine, biology, and other scientific fields.
How genetically engineered crops affect human health?
The safety of genetically engineered crops for human health is a complex and evolving issue. Regulatory agencies worldwide conduct assessments to ensure their safety before approval. While the consensus among scientific organizations is that approved GMOs are safe for consumption, ongoing research and monitoring remain essential to understand any long-term effects fully.
Here are some key points to consider:
Allergenicity: One concern is that genetic modification could introduce new allergens or change the allergenic properties of crops. Prior to commercial release, GMOs are rigorously tested for potential allergens. However, unintended allergenicity remains a focus of research.
Nutritional Content: Genetic modification can alter the nutritional content of crops. While this can be beneficial, such as enhancing vitamin content, it's important to ensure that any modifications don't inadvertently reduce essential nutrients. For example, mineral content of wheat decreased 30% since the introduction of high-yielding cultivars. Larger fast-growing crops could have nutrient dilution.
Toxicity: GMOs must be assessed for potential toxic effects on humans. Regulatory agencies require extensive safety testing to ensure that genetically engineered crops are safe for consumption.
Antibiotic Resistance Genes: Some GMOs are engineered using antibiotic resistance genes as markers during development. There are concerns that these genes could transfer to bacteria in the human gut, potentially contributing to antibiotic resistance. However, many modern GMOs are designed without such markers.
Long-Term Effects: Evaluating the long-term health effects of GMO consumption is challenging. Long-term studies are limited, and it's difficult to separate the effects of GMOs from other factors in human health.
Unintended Effects: Genetic modification can lead to unintended changes in the plant's genetics or composition. These unintended effects are carefully evaluated during safety assessments.
Regulation and Testing: Different countries have varying regulatory approaches to GMOs. In many cases, GMOs undergo rigorous testing before they're approved for cultivation and consumption.
Crossbreeding and Contamination: There are concerns about GMOs crossbreeding with wild or non-GMO crops, potentially leading to unintended spread of modified genes. Efforts are made to mitigate this risk through buffer zones and containment measures.
Scientific Consensus: The scientific consensus, as reflected in reports from organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Academy of Sciences, is that GMOs currently on the market are safe to eat. However, ongoing research and monitoring are recommended.
Labelling and Transparency: Many argue for mandatory labelling of GMO-containing products, allowing consumers to make informed choices. Labelling also facilitates tracking any potential health effects over time.
Should we still grow GMO crops?
There are two main reasons for the needs of GMO, fast-growing bigger crops and environmental tolerance. The most of our concerns about health risk and environmental damage are about increasing herbicide and pesticides usage. Vertical farming in an indoor environment can solve these issues.
Vertical farming stands out as an efficient and sustainable method of food production. Nordic Harvest claims an impressive 250-fold reduction in water usage compared to traditional farms. The core of this efficiency lies in automation, integrating software, robotics, and data science to meticulously monitor crops and tailor ideal growth conditions encompassing temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, and light exposure.
This controlled environment agriculture significantly diminishes the environmental impact by eliminating the need for pesticides. Furthermore, vertical farms transcend weather constraints, allowing year-round cultivation of fresh produce in proximity, reducing lengthy transportation via vehicles and planes. Consequently, this curtails fuel consumption and ensures the availability of fresher produce.
Vertical farms also display heightened productivity compared to conventional counterparts. Nordic Harvest suggests the potential for 15 harvests annually, compared to conventional fields' limit of two. Although the cost of facility and electricity to run equipment are still a challenge, global vertical farming trend is steadily growing.
GMO crops need ongoing research to make sure the safeties for our health and the environment, but they can help hunger around the world when used carefully. Not all GMOs are equally created and there are advantages and disadvantages. The issues around GMO crops are more about how we use them, not the crops themselves.
Sustainability: Are GMOs Good or Bad? - https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/sustainability-are-gmos-good-or-bad/
Fact or Face News: Is Our Food Becoming Less Nutritious? - https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/articles/fact-or-fake-news-our-food-becoming-less-nutritious
Role of New Plant Breeding Technologies for Food Security and Sustainable Agricultural Development - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/aepp.13044
Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3791249
What is the difference between genetically modified organisms and genetically engineered organisms? - https://agbiotech.ces.ncsu.edu/q1-what-is-the-difference-between-genetically-modified-organisms-and-genetically-engineered-organisms-we-seem-to-use-the-terms-interchangeably/
Vertical farming and sustainability: The future of food - www.the-future-of-commerce.com/2022/03/16/vertical-farming-future-of-food