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Genetically Modified Organisms: should we manufacture and commercialize them? What are the implications?

While modern biotechnology has been exponentially advancing and bringing up exciting new features with great potential such as CRISPR, it also brings up many following concerns for the limitations, ethinicalities, socio economic and environmental impacts and most importantly, the safety of what we consume. A Pew Research Center study found that the gap between the public and the experts’ opinion on the consuming of GMOs is bigger than in any other area of science controversy, including vaccines, climate change, and nuclear power. Why?

This type of food is already a daily reality, being used in the preparation of crackers, cereals, soy oil, breads, pasta and many others. I’d love to know your opinion! Feel free to access this link and answer this 2 minute survey anonymously

What do we consider as GM crops?

Waananen , Lisa. “Syringes, Gas Masks and Frankenfood: Visuals of the GMO Debate.” Inlander, 2013, www.inlander.com/Bloglander/archives/2013/09/27/syringes-gas-masks-and-frankenfood-visuals-of-the-gmo-debate.

A plant to which you have added DNA using recombinant techniques. Crops are most often genetically modified to improve resistance to insects, herbicides, and disease or to contain extra nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, and D. Different countries have slightly different definitions for GMO and different legislations.

World Map of countries and their legal position in relation to GMO
BioStar. “Keeping Score: The Non-GMO ‘Nice’ List.” BioStar US, 27 Feb. 2020, blog.biostarus.com/non-gmo-nice-list/.

The GMO ”Evolution

STEP MEANING
Human selective/artificial breeding

The process by which humans used animal breeding and plant breeding to selectively develop new organisms with particular desirable characteristics/traits. Some examples are cauliflower, broccoli, corn and banana!

Real Science. ”The Truth About GMOs”. Online video clip. Youtube, 5 Oct 2019.

Gregor Mendel’s Laws

Mendel’s observations from a pea experiment became the foundation of modern genetics. He is widely considered a pioneer in the field of genetic modifications. 

Random mutagenesis 

Induction of uncharacterized mutations into the plants that started in the 1920’s and utilized radiation or chemical methods. Some results were pomegranates and some kinds of pepper.  Not considered GMOs in most legislations 

Grafting

Mixing genes from two different species. Strawberries of today came from wild species from virginia and chile were breeded together at the Versailles botanical garden in paris in mid 18th century.

Real Science. ”The Truth About GMOs”. Online video clip. Youtube, 5 Oct 2019.

Agrobacterium 

 Incision of genes borrowed from bacteria or virus.  

CRISPR

Genetic tool that allows for very precise cuts in the DNA , like a ”molecular scissor” that cuts DNA strands. Legislations are still in progress in most countries to determine if they produce GMOs or not.

 

 

Some benefits:

1) Increases nutritional value and helps fighting malnourishment in developing countries

Golden Rice Compared to regular rice – Page, Michael Le. “GM Golden Rice Gets Landmark Safety Approval in the Philippines.” New Scientist, 31 Dec. 2019, www.newscientist.com/article/2228793-gm-golden-rice-gets-landmark-safety-approval-in-the-philippines/ 

Vitamin A deficiency kills more children than Malaria, HIV or Tuberculosis, killing 2,000,000 children each year. Golden Rice contains high amounts of beta carotene that diminishes vitamin A deficiency. Researchers estimate that just one cup of golden rice per day will save the lives of thousands of children.

2) Increased Food Supply

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. ”Are GMOs Good or Bad? Genetic Engineering & Our Food”. Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 30, March, 2017. Web.

The world eats 11 million pounds of food every day and a UN estimate suggests we’ll need 70% more by 2050. Still each year, 40 % of the   potential harvest is lost to pests, climate  conditions and disease. Genetically engineered plants can be more resilient to climate change and plants that can better adapt to erratic weather and adverse soil conditions, making them resistant to droughts or floods.

3) Global and Local Impact

  • Bangladesh 

  • Eggplant is an important crop in Bangladesh but often, whole harvests are destroyed by pests. Farmers had to rely heavily on pesticides, which was expensive and frequently got farmers. The introduction of a new GM eggplant in 2013 stopped this, as the BT protein, acted as an effective killer of insects but harmless to humans. This reduced insecticide use on eggplants by more than 80%, the health of farmers improved, and their income rose dramatically.

    Lynas, Mark. “GMO Eggplant Crop Expands in Bangladesh.” Alliance for Science, 6 Aug. 2018, allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2018/08/gmo-eggplant-crop-expands-bangladesh/.

  • Hawaii 

  • ” Without biotechnology, there’s no papaya industry. Simple as that,” – Dennis Gonsalves, the scientist who developed the GMO papaya.
  • In the 1990s, the papaya industry in Hawaii suffered with the ringspot virus, which threatened to wipe out Hawaiian papaya.
    The solution was a genetically modified plant vaccinated against the virus. Without it, the state’s papaya industry would have collapsed.

The bad side:

1) Gene Flow –  GM crops could mix with traditional crops and introduce unwanted new characteristics into them. To prevent this there is a method, but is a big anti-GMO argument by itself. Terminator seeds could produce sterile plants, requiring farmers to buy new seeds every year. The very concept of this, however, caused a public outcry, stopping the technology being put to use.

 

2) Corporate control – Much of the criticism of this technology is actually criticism of modern agriculture and a business practice of the huge corporations that control our food supply.  Smaller farmers may become dependent of gmos because of pressure of the market. Currently, only six companies (Cargill, Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bunge and Bayer) dominate 99% of the transgenic seeds market, with royalties. According to the bioethical principle of justice and the need theory, the populations that need GM crops the most shall be granted free access to it, but that is definitely not always the case.



3) Cancer? Some safety concerns – After 20 years of careful study and rigorous peer review by thousands of independent scientists,
major scientific organizations in the world have concluded that the crops currently on the market are safe to eat and that the process of genetic engineering is no more risky than older methods of genetic modification, but there is still much public speculations that GM crops are cancerogenous/bad for our health in general. Still, proper labelling should be demanded to respect the consumer’s right for autonomy.

 

Organizations that have deemed GM crops safe. Image source: TED ”Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 4, May, 2015. Web.

What can you do?

The first step is to educate your community and take part in discussions or conferences

You can also take action by supporting GMOs or going against it and supporting/donating to an organization that serves your beliefs, such as The Greenpeace for the banning of GM crops or The Gates Foundation for distribution of GM crops in developing countries

Label! Ask your government representatives to ensure legislation bout proper labelling and respect your right for autonomy so that everyone can make an informed decision.

In 2013, protestants from two anti-GMO groups vandalized a field of golden rice in the Philippines, slowing down research and destroying the work of local farmers. Avoid being a part of unproductive speculations; have your opinion based on evidence and respect other people.

Continuing the debate

The importance of generating these discussions is the impact on reinforcing or creating legislation and ensuring that the scientific advancement is being supported fairly while also being regulated fairly. In my country (Brazil), GM crops are extremely important for our economy and for the people working in the agriculture/food business and proper labelling is demanded by law. I can’t imagine how it would be if it GM crops were illegal. There are many different aspects to look at in order to understand the real implications of genetically modified organisms, therefore clarifying grey areas is crucial to diminish public hysteria and ensure a better understanding of the topic by the public, which may generate significant impacts on the future of agricultural GE and avoid unethical measures to be taken! * please note that I have not included all benefits and all negative consequences

If you are interest, here are some analysis and perspectives that stood out to me:

Questions or concerns?

Feel free to contact me at @maria.bisetto@iscbrazil.com

Bibliography: https://docs.google.com/document/d/11BPm26aLstJGsToPmlZg0QENj7pZueEl1MAwA3MbGKY/edit?usp=sharing

If you would like to give your opinion on the issue after being engaged with this project, please fill in this form

You are also welcome to share feedback or action steps relating to the future of GMOs!

Thank You!

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COMMENTS: 13
  1. April 24, 2020 by Megan

    Hi Maria, this topic is so interesting and important because of the future of our world and food supply. Ethical discussions are so cool to me because there isn’t necessarily a right answer. I thought you did a great job on the good and bad sides of modifying food. Having both sides of this story is really important in understanding other people’s opinions. I’m currently taking a Biology class where we learned about CRISPR, which is also super interesting and related to this idea. I recommend watching Unnatural Selection if you haven’t, it’s a great TV series. The layout of your presentation is amazing, I love all the colors and the media involved. Great job.

  2. April 25, 2020 by Cecelia

    Hey Maria,
    I really loved this topic because I feel like it is under discussed. People so often do not know what they are consuming. I also like how you included the pros and cons to really give people the whole picture. This allows them to form their own opinion. I think that your project did a great job of informing people about what they are truly eating.

  3. April 25, 2020 by Valentina

    AMAZING JOB!! Best presentation ever! Loved the attention to detail and and the Layout. Good job to Maria!

  4. April 26, 2020 by Ona

    This project is so good! You had so much amazing information and I can tell you put a lot of work in. I also love how you showed both sides of the argument. Overall really good job and the layout of your website was beautiful.

  5. April 26, 2020 by Cole

    Great job Maria! You covered a really tough topic and did so eloquently. I love the table you made with the steps and meanings, it really helped provide a solid foundation of knowledge for the rest of your explanation. Your pros and cons sections were informative, easy to understand and to the point. Monsanto is a pretty evil company, I believe that they introduced a potent pesticide which also harmed the plants, so they then sold GMO-ed plants which were immune to the pesticide, that along with all their stern contracts and lawsuits are really bad. You mention studies showing no link between GMO and cancer, yet people are still afraid of GMOs, has there been any evidence as to GMO causing cancer? Why are people still so afraid? Is it just the natural response to new technology? I also appreciate how you included a section dedicated to what I can do to help. You did a fantastic job with a very interesting project, and I’m looking forward to seeing your TED talk on GMOs!

  6. April 26, 2020 by Clark

    Hey Maria,

    Great job! I found it very interesting that there our detrimental possibilities with mixing GMO and Non-GMO crops. Cancer is also something we tend to overlook when eating GMO’s, so thank you for pointing that out.

  7. April 27, 2020 by Malia

    Hey Maria,
    Great job! This is such an interesting topic that I think isn’t highlighted enough. It touches on a lot of other important topics as well, such as climate change, deforestation, and world hunger. I really like how you included specific examples of the positive impact GMOs can have. Where do you think legislators around the world are going to land on this issue? Do you think they will eventually get banned?

  8. April 27, 2020 by Morgan

    Hi Maria,

    Your page was very interesting. I think it is especially relevant today when there is a large movement towards eco-friendly practices. Genetically modifying plants can eliminate the need for pesticides which would benefit the planet but they can also encourage the use of pesticides by making crops more resistant to them. There are both positive and negative aspects of GMO’s and your page did a great job shedding light on both sides.

  9. April 27, 2020 by Catherlin

    Hi Maria,

    Great job! This page was so well organized and your arguments were clear on both sides. I think that this topic is so interesting due to the ongoing “organic” and “natural” debates around the world. I think what is so understated in the world is the importance of these GMO plants to fighting malnutrition in developing countries. With your presentation I think you did a great job on highlighting the misunderstanding from the general public around GMO plants and the hysteria that has developed from it. I believe, like you said, that it is important to educate people about the science behind GMOs first but still allow them to make informed decisions about it themselves.

  10. April 27, 2020 by Emmy

    Hi Maria!
    Your presentation is super easy to read and is really engaging. I like your use of images, infographics, and charts to convey your message. I know that GMOs have their benefits, such as increasing the food surplus, but I know that they can be very harmful to non-GMO farmers and their businesses. But, GMOs are not harmful necessarily, they are what allows us to have food in the first place as our population is growing at such a high rate.

  11. April 27, 2020 by Lara

    Hi Maria! I really enjoyed your website and I think that you did a great job at including a lot of details and extra links if people wanted to know more about the topic. I really like how you included both positive and negative aspects of GMO and how important GMO are in your country. It was interesting to know that most countries don’t really have regulations against GMO and that there are very few countries that have banned GMOs.

  12. April 27, 2020 by Iris

    Hey Maria!
    Your page is so well organized and the topic is fascinating! I found it very interesting to see some of the positives and negatives of GMOs, and I had never considered the impact they have on business and trade. I really enjoyed your use of data and infographics, and your colourful page made it very engaging and fun to look at. Overall, I think you did a really great job!

  13. April 28, 2020 by Ella Peterson

    Hey Maria! What a great project. I like how you thoroughly explained the topic before jumping into the debate. There’s a lot of mis information about GM crops, so it was helpful getting an overview of the technology! You really looked at the debate from both sides and considered many perspectives. Good job!

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