The nucleus of a body cell contains chromosomes. These are made from DNA. It is called the genetic code.
Genetic engineering is a laboratory technique used by scientists to change the DNA of living organisms.
DNA is the blueprint for the individuality of an organism. The organism relies upon the information stored in its DNA for the management of every biochemical process. The life, growth and unique features of the organism depend on its DNA. The segments of DNA which have been associated with specific features or functions of an organism are called genes.
Molecular biologists have discovered many enzymes which change the structure of DNA in living organisms. Some of these enzymes can cut and join strands of DNA. Using such enzymes, scientists learned to cut specific genes from DNA and to build customized DNA using these genes. They also learned about vectors, strands of DNA such as viruses, which can infect a cell and insert themselves into its DNA.
With this knowledge, scientists started to build vectors which incorporated genes of their choosing and used the new vectors to insert these genes into the DNA of living organisms. Genetic engineers believe they can improve the foods we eat by doing this. For example, tomatoes are sensitive to frost. This shortens their growing season. Fish, on the other hand, survive in very cold water. Scientists identified a particular gene which enables a flounder to resist cold and used the technology of genetic engineering to insert this 'anti-freeze' gene into a tomato. This makes it possible to extend the growing season of the tomato.
At first glance, this might look exciting to some people. Deeper consideration reveals serious dangers
Fundamental Weaknesses of the Concept
- Imprecise Technology—A genetic engineer moves genes from one organism to another. A gene can be cut precisely from the DNA of an organism, but the insertion into the DNA of the target organism is basically random. As a consequence, there is a risk that it may disrupt the functioning of other genes essential to the life of that organism.
- Side Effects—Genetic engineering is like performing heart surgery with a shovel. Scientists do not yet understand living systems completely enough to perform DNA surgery without creating mutations which could be harmful to the environment and our health. They are experimenting with very delicate, yet powerful forces of nature, without full knowledge of the repercussions.
- Widespread Crop Failure—Genetic engineers intend to profit by patenting genetically engineered seeds. This means that, when a farmer plants genetically engineered seeds, all the seeds have identical genetic structure. As a result, if a fungus, a virus, or a pest develops which can attack this particular crop, there could be widespread crop failure.
- Threatens Our Entire Food Supply—Insects, birds, and wind can carry genetically altered seeds into neighboring fields and beyond. Pollen from transgenic plants can cross-pollinate with genetically natural crops and wild relatives. All crops, organic and non-organic, are vulnerable to contamination from cross-pollinatation.
- No Long-Term Safety Testing—Genetic engineering uses material from organisms that have never been part of the human food supply to change the fundamental nature of the food we eat. Without long-term testing no one knows if these foods are safe.
- Toxins—Genetic engineering can cause unexpected mutations in an organism, which can create new and higher levels of toxins in foods.
- Allergic Reactions—Genetic engineering can also produce unforeseen and unknown allergens in food.
- Decreased Nutritional Value—Transgenic foods may mislead consumers with counterfeit freshness. A luscious-looking, bright red genetically engineered tomato could be several weeks old and of little nutritional worth.
- Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria—Genetic engineers use antibiotic-resistance genes to mark genetically engineered cells. This means that genetically engineered crops contain genes which confer resistance to antibiotics. These genes may be picked up by bacteria which may infect us.
- Problems Cannot Be Traced—Without labels, our public health agencies are powerless to trace problems of any kind back to their source. The potential for tragedy is staggering.
- Side Effects can Kill—37 people died, 1500 were partially paralyzed, and 5000 more were temporarily disabled by a syndrome that was finally linked to tryptophan made by genetically-engineered bacteria.
- Increased use of Herbicides—Scientists estimate that plants genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant will greatly increase the amount of herbicide use. Farmers, knowing that their crops can tolerate the herbicides, will use them more liberally.
- More Pesticides—GE crops often manufacture their own pesticides and may be classified as pesticides by the EPA. This strategy will put more pesticides into our food and fields than ever before.
- Ecology may be damaged—The influence of a genetically engineered organism on the food chain may damage the local ecology. The new organism may compete successfully with wild relatives, causing unforeseen changes in the environment.
- Gene Pollution Cannot Be Cleaned Up—Once genetically engineered organisms, bacteria and viruses are released into the environment it is impossible to contain or recall them. Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, negative effects are irreversible.
DNA is actually not well understood.