In this period of fast paced technology, our generation has been privileged to see the advent of the Nuclear Age, the Computer Age and the Space Age. These all came in through very few labs and most under intense scientific study. On the other hand, biotechnology has exploded into big business and genetic modification of plants and animals and insects has proliferated through thousands of unsupervised laboratories throughout the world. Much of the research has been frivolous - just because the scientists now had the ability to splice genes didn't seem stop them from asking the question as to whether they should be tampering with years of evolution, breaking the species barrier and creating unknown and therefore never before seen species of plants and animals and insects on this planet.
George Orwell in his book, 1984 wrote:
" With any important issue, there are always aspects no one wishes to discuss."
We are being led to believe that genetically modified animals and plants and insects are just an extension of natural breeding, will improve the original greatly, will give us better, cheaper and more copious medicines, will feed the world, are just as safe as the original, and should be passed on to the consumer without their knowledge. We have already seen this attitude with the genetically modified grains sold and fed to us and our animals for many years without our knowledge or consent.
Once a genetically modified organism is created and released intentionally or unintentionally into the environment, it can never be recalled. We are just now seeing this with GM grains especially roundup ready corn and BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn that is threatening the world's natural seedstock and original genetic corn pool in Mexico.
We are now entering a time when the genetic base of plants, animals and fish and insects are being spliced together and modified. The introduction of the Polymerase Chain Reaction Machine has made it possible. It sits on a desktop and can make millions of copies of a specific DNA in just 45 minutes. Some examples are a tobacco plant that glows in the dark ( firefly genes) and a glow in the dark zebra fish ( jellyfish genes), just now entering stores for the aquarium trade, a pig crossed with spinach for a lower fat content, and dairy goats spliced with spider DNA to produce silk in their milk to be used for body armor.
DNA, the blueprint of life protects itself from natural invaders but in nature, viruses and cancer causing agents can get past it to wreak havoc on the entire organism. Viruses hijack a cell's genetic machinery and make many copies of it. It is no different when genes are spliced or modified - the DNA is now reprogrammed to produce the new. Genes are spliced by different methods - one method is to use restriction enzymes to cut the DNA strands, in another, a 22 caliber gene gun is used where the original genes are blasted with the new gene covered gold or tungsten particles.
This is not very exact and the scientist hopes that some of the new material ends up in the right place in at least some of the genes. They are then bathed in a strong antibiotic solution and those cells that survive are used. In another method new gene material is often inserted into the nucleus of an embryo replacing it. It does not have to be just one gene that is inserted - many can be used from different species. A promoter gene is then inserted to permanently "turn on" the introduced genes. There is concern that promoter genes not only may turn on other genes but may also create an unstable "hotspot" causing genes to fragment and promiscuously scatter throughout the DNA.
These procedures result in the disruption of the genetic blueprint of the organism with oftentimes totally unpredictable consequences and unidentified damage to native genes. Genetic engineering is generally a hit and miss affair with DNA instability as a common feature.
Good examples of this is Starlink, an insecticidal corn which ended up in the human food supply causing widespread allergic reactions, Flavrsavr tomato (lost most of it's nutrients but would stay on the shelf without rotting for months) and the most troubling is the report on the GM pigs from the University of Illinois which sold as many as 386 potentially transgenetic piglets for slaughter. These were from genetically modified sows that had a spliced gene which boosts milk production and another for an insulin like growth factor. Though considered experimental animals and against the law to sell, we are "assured" by the University that these piglets did not carry the genes. The FDA questioned that and launched its own investigation to determine if the pigs ended up in the food supply after they were sold to a livestock dealer. No one has asked if they may have ended up back in the breeding population.
In the front of the news recently has been the production of genetically modified salmon. AquaBounty, a former subsidiary of A/F Protein Technologies, has engineered a transgenic salmon called and patented under the name AquAdvantage. The Ocean Pout -a slimy eel-like member of the wolfish family provided the "promoter" gene and a Chinook salmon provided the growth hormone gene. These spliced salmon can attain market size in one- third to one-half the time currently required by traditional salmon with roughly 20% less feed. The company is also working with Rainbow Trout, Arctic Char, and Shrimp as well in their bioengineering program. A/F Protein is already offering purified fish antifreeze proteins to researchers.
As they have fish facilities by the ocean in Maine, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and California they have engineered the fish to be all female and triplod so they are sterile except for the breeding stock so there is less chance of escapees breeding with native stock. They plan to sell this genetically engineered - referred to as disease free Advanced Hybrids, stock around the world. In stressed laboratory conditions these fish, having a very high metabolism, have shown an aggressive cannibalistic behavior where they will eat the natives first, then each other. Questions have arisen, since there have been many reports of farmed salmon escaping, as to what might happen if these gene spliced fish escape into the wild -Aqua Bounty says they will starve and be food for predators.
Micheal Crichton in his book Jurassic Park stated that "life will find a way" and anyone who has studied the natural world knows that is accurate.. The truth is that we simply don't know what will happen when these new species enter our world. Some of these changed life forms have surprised geneticists with genetic functions that didn't exist in the original organisms i.e. toxins in certain GM grains and vegetables. Scientists who engineer organisms to create one effect more often than not end up with something altogether different. One reason is that there is a lot going on with gene expression that we don't understand. Recently the human genome was thought to be 100,000 genes. It has come as a shock to find only 30,000 meaning many have double or triple functions.
Many large companies have consistently glossed over or ignored problems so they wouldn't have interference with their bottom line.
With Monsanto trying to patent application WO 2005/017204 for a genetically engineered pig with a faster growth rate, this means that these pigs with their offspring, and use of genetic information is owned entirely by Monsanto and any replication or infringement on their patent will mean royalties, fines or jail. We know this to be true as they have already done this with their GM grains.
Can we allow large corporations to gamble with the very future of life on this earth and own our food supply??? Not to mention what kind of food is being produced and how our planet, our bodies and future generations will react to it. Commercial secrecy should never take precedence over human health.
The FDA has put these new Biotech Lifeforms under the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, and the fact is that there has been a very poor track record with protecting us from drugs so far. The EPA has classed these under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide and Toxic Substances Control Acts and the USDA has them covered under the Plant Pest Protection, the Plant
Quarantine, and the Virus, Serum and Toxin Acts .These agencies alone and their attempts at defining the problem of genetic engineering should make us sit up and take notice.
It is estimated that 75% of our US processed foods contain some element of a GE organism through soybean protein, cottonseed oil and cornsyrup. The world is now geared up to introduce a lot more GM products. We can insist that these foods, etc. undergo rigorous testing and clear labeling. We should have a choice as to whether to buy them or not. This author is a firm believer of grow local, sell local and buy local. As to whether the GM cat is out of the $ bag - you betcha-and it's running too fast for us to catch up - or run away from.
BS Animal Science