GMO is Different
When it comes to genetic engineering, that barrier among species dissolves. Genes are usually taken from one species and inserted into another species in an attempt to transfer a desired characteristic.
In 1985, pigs were engineered with a human gene that produces growth hormone. The scientists wanted to produce pigs that would grow faster. The result they got was highly unusual. The pigs ended up having bristly hair, wide muzzles, and looked unlike normal pigs. In one of the first litters born with the growth hormone genes, a female piglet had no genitals or anus. Some of the pigs were too lethargic to stand. Others had ulcers, renal disease, enlarged hearts, arthritis, dermatitis, or vision problems. This is just an example in a host of experiments with unpredicted results. Genetic engineering has given us a number of surprises.
- Scientists engineered tobacco to produce a particular acid. That’s all they wanted: the acid and nothing else. But the plant also created a toxic compound not normally found in tobacco.
- Monsanto engineered two types of cotton: one to withstand applications of their Roundup herbicide; the other to produce its own pesticide called Bt. The plants were not supposed to have any other novel attributes. The first year that the GM cotton was planted, however, tens of thousands of acres malfunctioned. In Missouri, plants dropped their cotton bolls; others died on contact with the herbicide they were supposedly engineered to tolerate. In Texas, up to 50 percent of the Bt cotton failed to provide the predicted level of insecticide and “numerous farmers had problems with germination, uneven growth, lower yield and other problems.”
- Scientists who genetically modified yeast to increase its fermentation were shocked to discover that it also increased levels of a naturally occurring toxin by 40 to 200 times. In their paper, which was published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology, the authors admitted that their results “may raise some questions regarding the safety and acceptability of genetically engineered food, and give some credence to the many consumers who are not yet prepared to accept food produced using gene engineering techniques.” They also pointed out that their yeast had not been inserted with foreign genes. Rather, their unexpected result occurred after they inserted multiple copies of the yeast’s own gene.1
What is happening here? Why is it that scientists engineer an organism to create a particular effect but get something unexpected? One reason is that a lot is going on with gene expression which we are yet to comprehend. Another reason is that the main scientific principles that formed basis for genetic engineering has since been proven false.
We are being told that plant breeding has been going on for centuries in order to alter the characteristics of plant to produce a desired trait or effect. GMO therefore is not different. But that is not really so. In plant breeding, one is limited to working with the traits that are already present in the species. You can cross an apple with an apple but you do not cross an apple with a pig. You deal with oranges and oranges.
In part, the DNA of a species changes and evolves through sexual reproduction. Genes from the male and female combine and interact in various ways so that some of each parent are expressed in the offspring. DNA can also mutate. Even though there are very intelligent “fix it” molecules in the cells of many species whose function is to repair the DNA, some mutations can be passed on to daughter cells and hence the next generation.
For centuries, farmers, gardeners, and livestock breeders have intentionally bred plants or animals in order to combine desirable traits. For instance, if one type of apple grows well and another is tastier, a breeder may cross the two with the hope of creating a tastier apple that grows well. Sometimes the DNA of the offspring will fulfill the desires of the breeder; other times, the traits just will not combine well. Notice that it is apple and apple.
When it comes to genetic engineering, the breeders are not relying on species to pass on genes through mating. Scientists cut the gene out of one species’ DNA, modify it, and then insert it directly into another species’ DNA. Virtually all organisms have DNA hence scientists do not have to limit the source of their genes to members of the same species. They can search anywhere in the human, animal, plant, bacteria, to find genes with desired traits. They can even synthesize genes in the laboratory that do not exist in nature.
Regardless of what participants in the biotech industry say, genetic engineering is not an extension of natural breeding. The technology involved in genetic engineering is completely different. It is the result of natural evolution of life on earth that a spider cannot mate with a goat. By crossing that natural barrier, genetic engineers are interfering with the evolution of all species. The result is that new organisms that perpetuate themselves are created. This result is permanent as these new organisms cannot be recalled. In other words the process of genetic modification is irreversible. Once it has been carried out, it affects the reproductive cells of the organism, hence, any effect produced, good or bad, is passed down through the subsequent generations of that particular organism. This is true for plants, animals, or any genetically modified organism.
Living organisms evolve slowly on earth. Now whole proteins will be swapped all of a sudden into wholly new associations. Scientists cannot even foretell the consequences for the host organisms or their neighbours. This process could be breeding new human, animal and plant diseases. It is dangerous.
The old theory of genetics claimed that each gene is coded for its single unique protein. Since biologists estimated that the number of proteins in the human body was 100,000 or more, they envisaged that there would be about 100,000 genes in human DNA. On June 26, 2000, the number of human genes was eventually tallied and reported: About 30,000. The scientific world was in shock. The figure failed to account for the estimated number of proteins. It also failed to explain the huge quantity of inheritable traits in the human body. As it turned out, the vast majority of genes do not encode for a unique protein. Almost all human genes are theoretically able to make more than one protein and some genes make many proteins.
A gene creates multiple proteins but scientists had assumed that one gene creates one protein. Genetic engineering is based on that assumption. The whole concept of genetic engineering is therefore based on an outdated model. This may explain some of the surprises genetic engineers encounter. Things can go wrong.
Things have gone wrong.
In his book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, Jeffery Smith gives a list of what can go wrong and why. He did a good job in explaining them. I therefore recommend that book if you wish to go deeper in order to understand what can go wrong and why.
The GM industry has basically taken agriculture and built an industrial model which does not fit nature. So instead of changing agricultural model to accommodate what is natural, they are changing nature to accommodate the industrial model. We have therefore gone from food in its whole food form to food that is undergoing a scientific experiment. In this experiment, human beings are the lab rats.
For the food we eat, there are two main categories when it comes to GMO – the herbicide-tolerant crops and the pesticide-producing crops.
- Jeffery M. Smith, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, 2003, Yes! Books, Fairfield, Iowa, pp. 47-48.