Genetic Engineering

The molecular biology revolution over the last four decades has enabled biologists to exchange genetic material between different organisms. While most of this genetic engineering is done for basic research programs to study the behavior of genes and proteins, the agricultural and pharmaceutical industry have exploited recombinant DNA technology to modify the genetic make-up of organisms (plants, animals, bacteria, viruses) to add or remove certain desired or detrimental characteristics.

The ease of exchange of genetic material across species, kingdom and domain boundaries and virtually between any organisms is possible because of the common evolutionary history of all modern life forms. Genetically modified organisms are best known as those agricultural products that are changed in there genetic makeup to improve resistance against pesticides and natural parasites, allow increased shelf-life for transportation and storage, or change the texture and flavor, and even nutritional quality by manipulating micro-nutrient content (e.g. vitamin A in rice; human growth hormone in cow milk).

While genetic engineering is not controversial for biomedical purposes, genetically modified organism engineered to 'improve' our food, e.g. soy bean 'round up ready' which optimizes agricultural production, but does not change the quality of soy protein or soy lipid, meets strong opposition among consumers. But what are the real risks and more importantly, are there hidden risks that over the short period of GMO use have simply not have enough time to materialize, because the individual chance of a catastrophic event is very small, the number of events makes it certain that one such event happens eventually.

Should food containing GMO products be labeled?    |    Is there a special risk to GMOs?

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