Genetic Engineering and our Food

Farmers are passionate about growing food to them it’s more than a job it’s a way of life filled with hard work and uncertainty one of the many tools growers use to reduce risk and help their farm succeed is GMOs. Some GMO seeds help plants defend themselves against certain harmful insects using these seeds allows farmers to spray insecticide less often. Some GMO seeds allow farmers to consider a range of farming methods like no-till under the right circumstances no-till helps prevent erosion conserves water and gives time back to farmers when drought occurs farmers can suffer huge crop loss some drought tolerant GMOs use water more efficiently.

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Consensus by the vast vast majority of scientists and medical professionals is that the GMOs that are currently available on the market have no health problems they’re any different than conventional foods so if you were to look at medical society scientific societies the consensus view from all of these is that there is no specific health risk associated with these genetically modified crops how do we know that GMOs are safe to eat what’s the process we go through so GMOs are actually probably the most intensively studied new foods that we have introduced over the last 20 years they go through a lot of rigorous evaluation so the first thing is that these are essentially the same as the crop varieties that we’ve been growing for 50 100 200 years what has been done is that one or two genes have been added to these crops so we know that now there are one or two additional new proteins being made in these crops and so we can follow those proteins we can ask very specific questions these proteins toxic do they cause allergic reactions are they in any way dangerous or are they just the same as the vast majority of other proteins that we consume that get digested and then ingested and provide our food so the bottom line is that these have been very well studied we can never say that anything is absolutely safe we don’t know that about any food okay but there’s tremendous equivalence between what’s being grown in the past and what’s being grown now with these genetically modified crops by adding one or two genes one or two new proteins yes you’re making a change but we know what those changes are and we can study what those changes might do to humans or other animals that consume these plants.

So one reason is there’s clearly different politics in different different parts of the world there’s also different relationships with food in some places food is something that is revered very very highly and people have a different attitude about it and that may be part of the reason as well there’s also differences in how the public regards the agencies the the regulatory agencies that let’s say whether something is safe and or not and in some European countries the United Kingdom in particular there have been issues about how foods have been regulated whether they’re safe or not and and that’s an important factor thats played into the differences between how Europeans and North Americans react to GMOs is it possible that there are long term health risks that we aren’t aware of that is a possibility yes absolutely I mean there’s a there’s there are we cannot know all of the risks that are associated with consuming anything okay and in fact I think that’s one of the valid concerns that people raised about GMOs have we done long term feeding trials and the answer is no we haven’t but when we introduce any other new food we don’t go through long term feeding Trials so when blueberries became a new crop that people started consuming we have 30 years of long-term feeding trials before we said they’re safe no we didn’t but people are happily consuming that crop in at far higher levels than they ever did in the past so I think it’s it’s unrealistic and frankly unfair to suggest that these crops that have been modified in ways that we understand a tremendous amount of detail about that they should be expected to go through some unrealistic long-term feeding trial that we don’t put other new foods through okay and so really you had mentioned something about allergens so how would GMOs affect food allergies could introduce new strain charge absolutely and in fact there there are a couple of examples in research where genes were moved into a plant in the laboratory and then they discovered oh this protein that’s being now made in this in this plan this has the potential to be an allergen of a protein that causes an allergic reaction and so it is possible but the organization’s primarily the companies that are involved in doing this go to great lengths to make sure as best they can that they are not introducing a protein that’s responsible for for alert that causes allergic reactions in people so for example I think it’s extremely unlikely that one of these companies would would take a lobster gene just to take it over you know mrs. Doubtfire or something of shrimp gene and that they know people have the potential to have allergic reactions to and put that into a food that everybody consumes and in fact there’s actually the potential to remove allergens using genetic modification technology so allergens for the most part are proteins and so there’s a possibility have not just a possibility a reality that we could remove some of those proteins to make something that people are allergic to make it less allergic.

There are no obvious health benefits that people get there are some products that have been in development for a long time one of those is what’s called Golden Rice so this is a rice that’s been genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene which humans can convert into vitamin A and that’s an important new trigger so there’s organizations the International Rice Research Institute is developing varieties that have this trait with the idea then that that will help prevent children especially for from becoming vitamin deficient and that leads to blindness and also to premature death but these products are not on the market at the moment they’re they’re still in development.

Golden Rice has been in development for 15 years so whether it will get to the market or not I don’t know there are some other traits that I think we’re likely to see in the near future things that will benefit consumers so one example is is a non browning Apple so the reason the brand that Apple’s brown when when they get cut is that there is an enzyme released well your ace biotechnologists to figure it out or we can switch off that gene that makes that protein and so when you cut into these apples they don’t turn brown and so I can imagine that you can see pre packaged apples out there in the future pre sliced pre packaged apples just like there’s little mini carrots people all right gobble them up it’ll be getting people to eat more veggies more fruits as a result so III think it’s also important to remember this technology is really in its infancy you know this is something we’ve been doing for 25-30 years and there’s a lot more potential perhaps in the future for what we’ll be able to do in terms of improving the health promoting properties of foods as a result of this and other technologies.

Gene editing is a complex process but in concept is very simple you can think of our genome as an encyclopedia with books in it and paragraphs and sentences and gene editing is basically you acting as the sentence is written and you’re going here you can change words you can change punctuation you can do nearly anything that’s what a bio technologist does with our DNA just goes in there and rewrites it we can insert things remove things or add things and makes it work there when people talk about gene so what is CRISPR well CRISPR also connected with caste 9 is just a method of doing gene editing it’s like we used to edit manuscripts by what’s called cut and paste with scissors and then we moved to using typewriters and with the white out and then we move to word processors well this is just a word processor and later something greater will come out technology moves at its light speed and next year you’ll be hearing something other than CRISPR 2 or right a totally different name it’s just a method of gene editing ok all right that makes sense and is gene editing happening right now in the United States.

Oh Gina editing is happening everywhere in the world I mean it’s such an easy although it sounds complex was actually quite easily do and that’s actually one of the concerns is that it is so easy to do you can do it almost for a science fair project so it’s being used by companies is being used by universities it’s very ubiquitous and where it’s going on ok so um what it what genes do we edit what might be an example of that well it depends upon the purpose we can literally edit any gene that we want so now you go in and you ask just like any business I need a new product or I want to solve a problem and you say well how can I solve that problem and under problems several problems in genetics that we have many years one example for instances horns in cattle horns are poses risk there there’s dangers for for Bulls with horns and cows have horns they’ll Gore you to cause injuries and deaths for handlers and also for its fellow cows you know they fight and so corns have to be removed by dehorning which is painful and nobody really wants to do it and it’s costly so we found we the scientists found the gene that causes horns and cattle there’s there’s a natural gene for what’s called pulled it’s just not in all species so hosting which is a dairy cow doesn’t have the polled gene so it’s cordless well they found the basically how to edit the gene to make it harmless and this was done last year and now we can have hosting born without horns and totally avoid that issue and as a result animal well-being and safety of handling animals is greatly improved and and one example there’s many there’s a lot of regulatory oversight over all biotechnology particularly in the United States where we’re looking at how the process more than the product so any any product any gene editing or any other way of making a genetically modified organism is under the if it’s an animal is under the purview of the FDA there from a drug agency so even before you start making a transgenic organism it’s the animal you have to apply to the FDA to do this research and if it’s a food animal you definitely have to worry about containment make sure it’s not eaten than everything until the FDA passes approval that it’s not a risk to our health and also that it’s not a risk to environment ok so you mentioned transgenic what is transgenic name actually well literally the word transgene means that we’re moving genes between species so a transgenic organism is the when we’re doing word editing or editing of the genome is literally moving genes from one species to another and because we might find a gem that’s in one species that was really useful in another it just doesn’t exist there yet so we can do that gene editing however can be also be used for editing within a species so you can have intra genic editing and we people tend to call those transgenic but they’re not really transgenic they’re they’re just editing within the genome so the technology can be used for definitely a wide range application and this may be a very simple question but helped me to understand this what is the difference between a GMO so genetically modified organism and then gene editing well are we interchangeable no they’re not interchangeable so a genetically modified organism basically means any any organism that’s had its DNA modified in any way it’s not breeding per se because we’ve been breeding animals forever evolution works on genetic variations so you could you know call that genetic marker genetically modified organs by evolution so classical animal breeding has been occurring for it since the beginning of time but specifically if we go in and directly modify the DNA of any organism.

Denys considered a genetically modified organism or we prefer to call it a genetically engineered organism okay and so gene editing is just one of the ways that you can get genetically modified oh yes gene editing is a very specific way prior to prior to gene editing we use things like micro injection where whereby we took what’s called gene construct a word so to speak and we just injected it into the the embryo that they OD embryo and hope can prayed that somehow this gene got inserted someplace in the genome and that it would Express and so this is kind of random insertion you can imagine it had a lot of failures only about 1,000 work and we never knew where the trans gene was going to be inserted so gene editing gives us the way now of saying exactly where we want this gene insert so it’s a lot more exact and precise way of doing genetic engineering so I’ve heard that gene editing is used not just in seeds and food but also in animals but also for health is that true we can we can use gene editing for any any purpose there there are genes that you have birth defects you can there’s a number of known diseases hunting’s Korea in several of these genes that were that we inherit that caused a lot of suffering and technically we could apply these same technologies to humans for addressing health issues and this is actually one of the things being looked at but now we enter into the realm of ethics is it ethical to modify genes in humans we’ve definitely done this in pigs for example where pigs were very susceptible to pers poor mine respiratory disease and there’s no vaccine for it and there’s no way of getting rid of the other than what’s once your herd got purrs you had to euthanize all the animals disinfect the building and start over Wow yeah so now we can with gene editing we found out how to remove the receptor for the viruses virus causes this disease but all most viruses require what’s called receptor place to land a place to attach to and so they knew what the the the landing place looked like nascent the ring would of the landing placing but without any place to park the virus is simply said I can’t infect this individual so now we have genetically modified pigs that don’t get Perez disease but this is just one example that this actually might be the one of the first examples the word gene editing is going to move into production phase because there’s already a pig breeding company that has this in the wings and is trying is seeking regulatory approval to produce animals that are resistant Spurs.


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Genetic Engineering and Our Food. (2019, Feb 14). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from

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