Essay on Genetic Engineering
Genetic engineering in agriculture raises many concerns about what scientists and genetic engineering companies are doing to plants, animals, and people. There are also concerns about the impacts that the new technologies will have on indigenous communities, their knowledge, and their territories. There are many concerns about how genetic engineering will disrupt or disturb the variety of natural species within the environment.
We are at the beginning of what has been called the genetic engineering revolution, and we are faced with the prospect of a world very different from the one we know. Genetic engineering introduces selected genes into organisms, including human beings; in order to give them desired qualities. Scientists have promised that genetic engineering will lead to a brave new world in which the hungry will be fed, the sick cured, and human genetic defects painlessly removed. However, the debate continues.
The introduction of new species through genetic engineering raises issues, concerning mainly its effect on natural species and their way of living. One concern is that original varieties and natural species of life forms in indigenous territories can be irreversibly changed by the deliberate or accidental entrance of genetically engineered organisms. Natural species could be driven out, with a knock-on effect on animals and plants that depend on them.
Genetically engineered species organisms, having completely new and unnatural combinations of genes, have a unique power to disrupt the natural environment. They are a threat because they can reproduce, mutate and move within the environment. As these new breed of species move into existing habitats they could destroy nature, causing long term and irreversible changes to our natural world. Moreover, natural agricultural seed and livestock can be harmed by contamination from genetically engineered organisms. Seed and animal lineage may be disrupted, livestock health may suffer and premium markets for non-genetically engineered produce lost.
Other forms of genetic engineering such as the introduction of growth hormones from other species to increase the size of animals may also kill off related species when the genetically modified animals interbreed with non-genetically engineered relatives. For example, a Purdue University research discovered that growth-enhanced fish (fish genetically engineered to grow larger, quicker, to increase meat yield) would be able to eradicate a large population of wild fish. The genetically engineered fish have a mating advantage, which means that they would transfer the genetically engineered trait, leading to offspring with less chance of survival.
Genetically engineered crops, with an in-built resistance to disease and pests, could have a competitive advantage over natural flora and fauna, particularly where they have been engineered to resist the local populations of insects or weeds that are considered pests. This fitness advantage is high risk to surrounding diversity where genetically modified organisms are released into centers of origin and diversity. These are areas where the domesticated crop has been developed, and where there are diverse agricultural and wild relatives.
Human beings, as natural species are under the risks associated with the consumption of genetically engineered foods include exposure to new undetected toxins, increased exposure to pesticide and herbicide residues, the development of human resistance to important medicinal antibiotics, and higher risks for allergy sufferers and people with special dietary needs.
This only suggests that genetic engineering has very little understanding of real-world ecology applied to the development and regulation of genetically engineered species. Bioengineers often claim that they are just speeding up the processes of natural selection and making the age-old practices of breeding more efficient. In some cases that may be true, but in most instances the gene changes that are engineered would never occur in nature, because they cross natural species barriers. As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, it becomes further removed both from popular understanding and from popular control. Indeed the progress in this field has been so rapid that even most scientists have barely a clue as to what the issues are.
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Ho, M. (1998) Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare? UK: Gateway Books. A review by Taylor, R. (1998). Scientific and Medical Network Review, No. 67, August. Available at [http://www.anth.org/ifgene/horev.htm]. Accessec [15/12/03].
Howard, S. (2001) Life, Lineage and Sustenance (Indigenous Peoples and Genetic Engineering: Threats to Food, Agriculture, and the Environment). Harry, B. and Shelton, B. L. (eds.). Available at
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