Genetically modified organisms have no place outside the laboratory


Genetic modification is the modification of genetic modification of genetic make-up so that modification is passes on to the organism’s descendants. Recently the term has come to be used for the process of ‘genetic engineering’ where newly developed processes of molecular biotechnology are used to insert relatively few genes into an organism’s genome. These techniques rely on the ability to cut DNA precisely, isolate desired fragments and insert them into a single cell of another organism. From this transformed cell a new multicellular organism can be regenerated. There is a wide range of applications of the new technology, from using yeast to synthesise human insulin, to making crops resistant to pest and diseases. Other terms have been used to describe this technology include ‘recombinant DNA technology’ and ‘genetic manipulation’. In this essay, genetic modification using the new technologies is distinguished from genetic modification using traditional techniques by referring to the former as ‘new GM (genetic modification).’


However, it has also attracted much opposition. It has been criticised for being unnatural, for posing an inaccessible risk to the environment and to human health, and for providing an instrument for the manipulation of human genetic make-up that might invite serious abuse.


More serious is the contention that new GM threatens unintended, undesirable and perhaps also unforeseeable environmental and medical consequences. It brings the risk of the escape of organisms or at least their genes, into wild population. For example, the spread of insecticidal proteins into wild plants could confer a competitive advantage on those plants, disrupting semi-natural systems. Likewise, effects on insect populations could be significant. Although having herbicide-resistant crops will decrease herbicide use, it will increase the effectiveness of applications, reducing weed densities and so continuing a decline of wildlife that has been going on since agriculture began.


Exposure of human populations to large amounts of novel proteins that have never previously been in the human food chain could cause predictable problems. In particular, allergenicity could cause problems that would be difficult to detect, as symptoms can take a long time to develop. Issues involving new GM and animals raise a further range of ethical questions. They also suggest the potential for the transfer of GM technology to humans and its use as an instrument for manipulation of human genetics - giving rise to the fear of its objectionable ends, or of damage to human life as an unforeseen consequence of well-meaning actions. The thought here may be that there are limits to the powers with which human beings are good enough, to be trusted to use.


Already today steps have been taken to make genetically modified organisms. The questions that arise mostly from genetically modified organisms having a place outside the laboratory are ethical. Although some may argue that it rather the fear of the unknown rather than the ethical question that affect people’s opinions on genetically modified organisms having a place outside the laboratory.


Recently concerns with GM plants have not arisen in a significant way with GM bacteria and GM yeast, despite the widespread commercial application of new GM techniques to these organisms for many years.


Diabetics have used insulin from a synthetic, human-like gene inserted into bacteria and yeast, for well over two decades, with no loud public protest. Another example of widespread application of new GM is vegetarian cheese – people have been consuming genetically engineered rennet protein for many years.


The first major product of new GM was developed in 1982, for the production of human insulin by bacteria for the treatment of diabetics. In 1990 the first GM food product, an enzyme employed in cheese making, was approved for use in the USA. IN 1994, the first food product was sold commercially, the so-called FlavrSavr tomato that had reduced activity of a gene essential for ripening. The development of GM animals with disrupted gene function is providing numerous insights into the molecular basis of disease, and there is the distinct possibility of modifying pigs to provide organs for human transplants.


Recent commercial applications of new GM include the introduction of herbicide tolerance into crops such as soya bean and oilseed rape and the ability to synthesise insecticidal proteins in cotton and maize.


Many other applications of new GM are being developed, including conferral of the ability