The Current and Future Impact of Genetically Modified Organisms

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The Current and Future Impact of Genetically Modified Organisms

Countries faced with famines have a better chance of feeding their people when using GMO crops as they are hardier and grow at a steady rate / Photo by Luchschen via 123RF

 

GMO is an acronym that inspires paranoia in many. The concept of the potentially dangerous GMOs has only sprung up within the last few decades with the availability of information and the unfortunate spread of confusion over what GMOs are and how they are made.

But what are the effects of GMOs on humans and the way we live?

 

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs for short, are organisms, usually plants and animals, which have had their DNA altered. In order to modify an organism in the desired way, scientists isolate the gene that brings out the wanted traits and propagate it through the genetic makeup of the organism. Many plant GMOs are created to become resistant to many pests and viruses.

Despite the intimidating name, the concept of GMOs has been around for several centuries, beginning from the time that human beings realized that some plants or animals were better and healthier than others, and so they practiced selective breeding to ensure that the genes of these superior specimens would continue on. Many years ago, tomatoes were only the size of marbles, and corn was nearly inedible. If not for the farmers selectively breeding organisms to modify them into the way they wanted, we would not have any of these foods looking and tasting the way they do today.

Benefits of GMOs

As with many controversial topics, there are benefits and downsides to GMOs. When it comes to crop yield, GMOs have been able to increase production in order to reduce shortages in food. Countries faced with famines have a better chance of feeding their people when using GMO crops as they are hardier and grow at a steady or increased rate compared to regular crops. Many GMOs were created with the intent of making them less susceptible to disease. This was done by injecting them with the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. This has allowed crops to avoid catching certain diseases and boosts pesticide effectiveness so that less of these chemicals are used. And rest assured that the bacteria is not harmful to humans and is completely safe to consume.

Many people fear that GMOs may be harmful to the health considering that they are “modified.” However, strict regulation of the FDA to the standard of all consumer products can help assure anxious buyers that the products are safe for consumption. The FDA themselves state that these foods are just as safe as the ones that aren’t modified, according to LiveStrong.com.

The creation of GMOs is often done specifically to target certain goals, such as eradicating types of malnutrition. Since these foods can be altered in different ways, many scientists try to pack them with more nutrients. One example was a strain called Golden Rice that was able to help decrease Vitamin A deficiency.

Many people fear that GMOs may be harmful to the health considering that they are "modified" / Photo by Kerdkanno via 123RF

 

Possible Harmful Effects

On the other hand, there can be certain health risks found in taking GMOs. When new genes are placed into an organism, it could create brand new proteins that had not existed previously. While not dangerous in itself, this new protein could cause an unexpected allergic response in those who did not previously have one. A person may not have been allergic to tomatoes in the past, but a new type of tomato with new proteins may create an allergic reaction.

Aside from this, some believe that eating too much GMO food increases the risk of toxicity and that several different types of tumors might appear, such as lung, breast, and colon tumors. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem that there is much conclusive evidence on this argument.

 

Environmental Impact

It seems that GMOs have potential ecological and environmental impacts. Even if a GMO is harmless to a human, they may subsequently be harmful to other living creatures, such as bees or butterflies that pollinate them. Modern agricultural practices have seemingly done much damage to pollinating insect populations. Even birds may be affected if they eat insects that are covered in pesticides.

It’s possible that GMOs that are made to be more resistant will lead pests to become resistant, as well. As the pests become accustomed to their toxicity, we may need to make GMOs that are more and more pest-resistant, which will potentially increase their toxicity, as stated by OneGreenPlanet.org.

GMO crops are often more resilient strains than their cousins, so if left unattended, they may grow out of control. This may eventually lead them to become an invasive species, especially in an environment they are not originally a member of. This could upset the balance of the natural ecosystem and all the creatures within it. As GMO crops continue to take out nutrients from the soil, the toxins within them may pollute the soil to make it less fertile for other kinds of plants.

GMOs have made life easier for us, especially in the way we get food, but they should still be observed closely. Considering that the long-term impact of GMOs on the environment has not yet been studied, there is no telling exactly how it could play out in the future.

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