Transgene A Boon Or Curse Biology Essay


Every coin has two sides; one might come to conclusion after flipping the coin, but to decide which side holds more value is pretty much impossible. This is exactly what the case is with the GM or Genetically Modified vegetables. Before we start choosing sides as to whether the genetically modified vegetables are good or bad, let us see what GM vegetables exactly are. Genetically modified vegetables are basically vegetables developed in laboratories using special genetic technology which alters the genetic composition of the vegetable. The simple idea behind genetic modification is mixing genes of two different plants, in some extreme cases using non plant genes to manipulate the composition of the plant to achieve the desired results from the vegetables. (Vidhi Choudhary,02-08-2012)

As Vidhi Choudhary said, the records in the year 2009, more than 300 million acre of land was used around the world to plant these transgenic crops. Millions of farmers preferred switching to these crops due to the numerous benefits they hold. Some of the most evident reasons for switching to the genetically modified crops is that they resistant to pests and herbs, i.e. not too much of pesticide is required to protect the crops. These crops also take lesser time to harvest which allows the farmers to subsequently increase the production of their crops. For the consumers, these vegetables are comparatively tastier and constitute more nutrients than the non-modified vegetables.  Such genetically modified plants are resistant to frost and also some other plant diseases which tend to destroy the plants. The fact that these vegetables contain more nutrients than their non-modified counterparts; they are the best things for malnourished areas. Plants like corn, brinjal, tomatoes are a few of the plants which are being genetically modified.

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On the other hand, a section of the population is completely against the idea behind the GM vegetables. There have been a lot of criticisms which have been developed after a lot of research and experimentation with these vegetables. It was found that the mortality rate of the monarch butterfly caterpillars had increased due to their interaction with the pollen from the B.t. corn (Genetically Modified Corn). Scientists also fear that the pesticides will eventually adapt to the new forms of vegetables which would alter the genetic structure of the pests and at the same time leave no way out for the scientists to protect the plants. It was also found that plenty of people started developing rashes and allergies due to negative reaction with the GM vegetables. It is therefore extremely difficult to decide how harmful these vegetables might be for humans, but in my opinion, changing the natural course of environment has never really benefited people.

Crop genetic diversity is not just a raw material for industrial agriculture; it is the key to food security, and sustainable agriculture because it enables farmers to adapt crops suited to their own site specific ecological needs and cultural traditions. Without this diversity, options for long term sustainability and agricultural self -confidence is lost. The type of seed sown to a large extent determines the farmers need for fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. Communities that lose community bred varieties and indigenous knowledge about them, risk losing control of their farming systems B thereby restricting their markets - and becoming dependent on outside sources to satisfy those needs, and for the inputs needed to grow and protect them.

Without an agricultural system adapted to a community and its environment, self - reliance in agriculture is impossible. In this paper the advantages, disadvantages, and concerns associated with the loss of biodiversity and the advent of the biotechnological age are explored. (Guru and Horne, 2011)

Biotechnology has been described as "Janus-faced." This implies that there are two sides. On one, techniques allow DNA to be manipulated to move genes from one organism to another. On the other, it involves relatively new technologies whose consequences are untested and should be met with caution. Many traditional biotechnologies are uncontroversial, such as the fermentation of microorganisms to produce wine, beer, and cheese. But genetic engineering, a powerful new technology that involves the artificial transfer of genes across species lines, has provoked intense public interest and scrutiny. Despite its many benefits, genetic engineering has caused concern among some people. Some oppose genetic engineering because they fear that harmful, uncontrollable bacteria might be produced accidentally. Others worry about possible environmental damage by the deliberate introduction of organisms whose heredity has been altered. In addition, some people question the morality of manipulating the genetic material of living creatures. (Manjula and James, 2009)

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In China, for example, nearly 10,000 wheat varieties were cultivated in 1949. By the 1970s, only about 1,000 varieties were in use. In Mexico, genetic erosion of maize is well documented. Only 20% of the maize varieties reported in 1930 are now known in Mexico.

Genetic modification involves altering an organism's DNA. This can be done by altering an existing section of DNA, or by adding a new gene altogether. A gene is a code that governs how we appear and what characteristics we have. Like animals, plants have genes too. Genes decide the colour of flower, and how tall a plant can grow.


One of the newest developments in US agriculture is the advent of biotechnology, which seems to be leading us into a sudden new biological revolution. It has brought us to the brink of a world of "engineered" products that are derived from the natural world rather than on chemical and industrial processes. In the year 1919, Karl Ereky a Hungarian engineer coined the term "biotechnology". At that time, the term meant all the lines of work by which products are produced from raw materials with the aid of living organisms. Ereky envisioned a biochemical age similar to the stone and iron ages.

Environmental and ecological consequences:-

Thousands of different and genetically distinct varieties of our major food crops owe their existence to thousands of years of evolution and to careful selection and improvement by our farmer ancestors. This diversity protects the crop and helps it adapt to different environments and human needs. The potato, for instance, originated in the Andes, but can be found today growing below sea level behind Dutch dikes, or high in the Himalayan Mountains. One variety of rice grows in 7.5 meters of water, while another survives on just 60 centimetres of annual rainfall. Today, much of this diversity is being lost.

Environmental impacts of GM Food:-

Most genetically modified (GM) crops awaiting EU authorisation for cultivation are either herbicide- tolerant or pesticide-producing (or both). The environmental effects of these crops are increasingly well documented, often from experience in North and South America, where they are principally grown.

I. GM pesticide-producing crops kill specific pests, by secreting toxins known as Bt, which originate from a bacterium. Peer-reviewed scientific evidence is mounting that these GM crops are:

• Toxic to harmless non-target species. Long-term exposure to pollen from GM insect resistant maize causes adverse effects on the behaviour and survival of the monarch butterfly, America's most famous butterfly. Few studies on European butterflies have been conducted, but those that have suggest they would suffer from pesticide-producing GM crops. These studies are all based on one type of toxin, Cry1Ab, present in GM maize varieties Bt11 and MON810. Much less is known about the toxicity of other types of Bt toxin (e.g. Cry1F, present in the GM maize 1507). Cry1F is highly likely to also be toxic to non-target organisms, but requires separate study.

• Toxic to beneficial insects. GM Bt crops adversely affect beneficial insects important to controlling maize pests, such as green lacewings. The toxin Cry1Ab has been shown to affect the learning performance of honeybees. The environmental risk assessment under which current GM Bt crops have been assessed (in the EU and elsewhere) considers direct acute toxicity alone, and not effects on organisms higher up the food chain. But these effects can be important. The toxic effects to beneficial lacewings came through the prey they ate. The single-tier risk assessment has been widely criticised by scientists who call for a more holistic assessment.

• A threat to soil ecosystems. Many Bt crops secrete their toxin from their roots into the soil. Residues left in the field contain the active Bt toxin. The long-term, cumulative effects of growing Bt maize are of concern. EU risk assessments so far fail to foresee at least two other impacts of Bt maize:

• Risk for aquatic life. Leaves or grain from Bt maize can enter water course where the toxin can accumulate in organisms and possibly exert a toxic effect. This demonstrates the complexity of interactions in the natural environment and underlines the shortcomings of the current risk assessment.

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• Swapping one pest for another. Several scientific studies show that new pests are filling the void left by the absence of rivals initially controlled by Bt crops. Plant-insect interactions are complex, are hard to predict and are not adequately risk assessed.

II. GM herbicide tolerant (HT) crops are generally associated with one of two herbicides: glyphosate (the active ingredient of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup used with Roundup Ready GM crops, also sold by Monsanto), or glufosinate, used with Bayer's Liberty Link GM crops. Both herbicides raise concerns, but many recent environmental studies have focussed on glyphosate, which is associated with:

• Toxic effects of herbicides on ecosystems. Several new studies suggest that Roundup is far less benign than previously thought. For example, it is toxic to aquatic organisms such as frog larvae and there are concerns that it could affect plants essential for farmland birds. Wider impacts may exist. Glyphosate is associated with nutrient (nitrogen and manganese) deficiencies in GM Roundup Ready soya, thought to be induced by its effects on soil microorganisms.

• Increased weed tolerance to herbicide. Weed resistance to Roundup is now a serious problem in the US and South America where Roundup Ready crops are grown on a large scale. Increasing amounts of glyphosate or additional herbicides are needed to control these 'super weeds', adding to the toxicity of food and the environment.

What are the issues surrounding GM?

Increased yields Common GM traits include herbicide and pesticide resistance, which result in increased yields because the farmer can kill any competing weeds or pests without harming the crop. Plants can also be modified to show increased resistance to environmental stresses such as drought. Higher and more guaranteed yields are particularly important in developing countries, where crop failure can have devastating effects. However, there is an argument that many of the problems with food supply in the developing world are political and economic rather than environmental, and that GM crops will do little to alleviate this.

Cross-fertilisation Early trials of GM oil-seed rape in the UK resulted in the detection of the genetic modification in conventionally grown crops harvested from neighbouring fields. The issue of cross-fertilisation is not a problem for plants such as potatoes and sugar beet that do not produce pollen, but pollination of related plants nearby is highly probable in the case of plants such as oil-seed rape. This can be reduced by a number of measures, such as separation zones around GM crops, cooperation between farmers to plant crops that will flower at different times, and PCR tests of neighbouring crops to detect contamination. As all GM crops that would be grown in the UK have already been subjected to stringent safety tests, the possibility of a low degree of contamination does not pose any risk to the public. The acceptable level of contamination by GM crops has been set at 0.9% in the UK. For pharmed crops the avoidance of cross-fertilisation is very important, and stringent guidelines will be needed before these crops can be cultivated commercially. It is likely that pharming will be confined to non-food crops such as tobacco, so as to avoid contamination of the food chain, and possible that physical containment will also be used.

The environment GM crops that have a reduced requirement for insecticides or fertilisers can have a positive impact on biodiversity. A recent comparison of maize and cotton producing the Bt insecticide with conventional and organic crops showed that biodiversity in the GM fields was considerably higher than in conventionally farmed fields that were sprayed with insecticide, although slightly lower than around organic crops. Increased yields resulting from GM crops can also have environmental benefits, as less land needs to be cultivated to obtain the same amount of food. However, there is concern that the cultivation of herbicide-resistant crops will not necessarily reduce the levels of herbicide used, and also that widespread farming of GM crops will result in a predominance of large monocultures and a negative impact on biodiversity. In South America the cultivation of GM soya has been associated with rainforest destruction.

Health benefits The use of the Bt insecticide gene in cotton is said to have had health benefits in China and India due to the reduced need for neurotoxic insecticides (although some question the data behind this assertion). GM has the potential to improve the nutritional content of many plants, such as 'golden rice' with increased beta-carotene to combat vitamin A deficiency. Others argue that a balanced diet should be able to provide adequate nutrition without the need for enhanced crops, and nutritional deficiencies in the developing world could be addressed by improvements in cultivation and supply of conventional crops. The cheap supply of large quantities of drugs by pharming has enormous potential medical benefits, especially in the developing world.

Economics GM technology is in many cases dominated by large multinational corporations. There is concern about the consequences of the level of control exerted by these companies. Herbicide-resistant plants are supplied in conjunction with a patented herbicide, and 'terminator technology' to make plants that produce sterile seeds prevents the traditional farming practice of saving and re-planting seeds from the previous year's crop. This economic control applies to a high proportion of GM crops, but golden rice has been granted a free licence for humanitarian purposes.

Safety There is much public concern about the possible danger of consuming foods derived from plants with genetic modifications. In practice most processed products derived from GM crops do not contain DNA and are identical to the same product derived from a conventional variety. Although it is impossible to prove conclusively that there are no long-term health risks associated with the consumption of GM-derived foods, widespread consumption in the USA for a number of years has had no effect on public health. EU regulations impose stringent safety tests on all new GM crops.

For the most part, scientists and policymakers in the relevant agencies do risk assessments with information provided by the companies seeking the approvals. The public often has a brief opportunity to review and comment on the risk assessments. There is no standard set of questions that risk assessments must answer because of the great range of potential impacts of biotechnology products. A risk assessment for a microbial pesticide, for example, would be substantially different from a risk assessment for genetically engineered salmon. Like all efforts at risk evaluation, risk assessments done for regulation depend on the base of scientific knowledge for generation of list of possible harms to be assessed.


Therefore, a new set of rules and regulations should be developed, implemented and impartially enforced with respect to all genetically modified products on the basis of a risk B benefit approach.