Biotechnology/GMO’s Tracey Bridge, BBA, BS AXED 590 – Emerging Agricultural Issues December 11, 2007
Biotechnology • Technology based on biology. • This concept was developed to help produce more food with a higher nutritional value for consumption in starving countries. • Definition: the application of scientific knowledge in the management of microorganisms to supply goods and services of use to human beings (Wikipedia (1), 2007).
Biotechnology (continued) • Typically known as recombinant DNA technology. • DNA molecules from different sources are combined in vitro into one molecule to create a new gene. • This new gene is then inserted into the organism of interest, causing the expression of a modified trait, and thus, creating genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Biotechnology (continued) • There are four major applications of biotechnology: • Red Biotechnology: applied to the medical field • White Biotechnology: applied to the industrial field • Green Biotechnology: applied to the agricultural field • Blue Biotechnology: applied to the marine (aquatic) field
Biotechnology (continued) • Green Biotechnology: Applications used in agriculture are: • To improve crop yield. • To reduce crop susceptibility to environmental stresses. • To reduce crop susceptibility to pathogens. • To increase the crops nutritional value. • To improve taste and texture of the crop. • To reduce dependency of crops on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
Genetically Modified Organisms • Any organism that has had genetic material altered by genetic engineering techniques (biotechnology). Also know as transgenics. • Transgenic animals (mice and fish), transgenic microbes (fungi and bacteria), and transgenic plants (corn, rice, tomato, and canola).
Transgenic Animals • Fish: a variety of Atlantic salmon that grows to market weight in 18 months instead of 24 to 30 months. More economical for fish farmers to raise transgenic fish that are cheaper to feed and faster to market than to raise conventional fish.
Transgenic Microbes • Bacteria: the synthetic version of the human insulin gene was inserted into E.coli to produce synthesized insulin. • The sweetener in most diet sodas (phenylalanine) is made by transgenic bacteria. • The Tech Museum of Innovation (2004): Understanding Genetics: Making Medicines http://www.thetech.org/genetics/art06_medicine.php
Transgenic Plants • Regulated by three federal agencies: Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Thompson, 2000).
Examples of Transgenic Plants • Insecticide sweet corn: known as “Bt corn”. Modified to express genes that produce a toxin that kills insects that feed upon it. Modified with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bionet, 2002). • Advantage: 1) farmers no longer need to apply insecticides to the crop, thus saving money and reducing harm to the environment.
Examples of Transgenic Plants • Corn (continued) • Disadvantages: 1) may cause resistance in the insects has they are constantly given doses of insecticide. 2) may kill beneficial insects as well as the harmful insects. 3) considered to be a “franken food”.
Examples of Transgenic Plants • Rice: known as “golden rice” which was modified to contain large amounts of beta-carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A). The inserted genes were from a bacterium and two were from daffodils (Bionet, 2002). • Advantages: 1) advantageous to nutrient deprived third world countries. 2) helps balance the diet of countries with limited diets consisting mainly of rice (Asia).
Examples of Transgenic Plants • Rice (continued): • Disadvantages: 1) makes the third world countries dependent on the “rich western world” for the rice, as it cannot be grown from the sterile plants. 2) again, the “franken food” fear that we are somehow playing with the natural order of things.
Examples of Transgenic Plants • Tomatoes: known as the “flavr-savr” tomato. Came on the market in 1994 and was the first genetically modified food available to consumers (Bionet, 2002). • Advantages: 1) modified to remain fresher longer, so can ripen on the vine to produce a better flavor. 2) can tolerate lengthier transportation to market, so the tomatoes do not need to be picked while still green.
Examples of Transgenic Plants • Tomatoes (continued): • Disadvantages: 1) used genes that made them resistant to antibiotics. Genes for antibiotic resistance are no longer inserted into the tomatoes. 2) the “franken food” fear. People do not understand the process and advantages and therefore do not want this tomato on the market.
Examples of Transgenic Plants • Pesticide resistant rape: rape is also know as “canola”. Was modified to be resistant to pesticides that are applied on the field crop. • Advantages: 1) less pesticide sprayed into the environment. 2) can use a more environmentally friendly pesticide. 3) more money for the farmer who can grow a larger crop.
Examples of Transgenic Plants • Rape (continued): • Disadvantages: 1) the genes used for modifying the plants can be transferred to the insects, causing resistance in the insects. 2) these plants can pollinate weeds, transferring the herbicide resistance to the weed creating “super” weeds
Transgenic Milk • Known as rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) or rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone): increases milk production in dairy cows by 10 to 30 percent (GMF, 2007). • Advantages: 1) increased milk production 2) reduction in animal feed consumed 3) aids in water conservation.
Transgenic Milk • Disadvantages: 1) is believed to be linked to cancer in humans. 2) believed to cause early development in young girls. 3) believed to cause aggression in young boys.
Transgenic Plants @ NMSU • The Plant Genetic Engineering Lab (PGEL) is currently working on, among other things, developing a variety of chile that is resistant to beet curly top virus (BCTV). • BCTV cause loss in chile in the spring, some years, the loss is greater than in other years. 2008, should be a high loss year, based on past history.
Controversy of GMOs • The use of GMOs for the application of improving human health has met with controversy. • Some people are concerned about GMOs because they interfere with the natural processes that have been evolving over centuries. • Others are concerned that the scientific community does not completely understand the ramifications for altering genetic material.
Controversy of GMOs (continued) • Some groups want a complete ban on GMOs, while other groups want mandatory labeling of all genetically modified food. • Many countries (Japan and Mexico) will not accept genetically modified foods until they have tested the foods themselves and found them to be safe for human consumption.
Controversy over GMOs • Because of the on-going controversy surrounding GMOs, the Plant Genetic Engineering Lab here at NMSU, does not advertise what they are working on. They prefer to remain anonymous to prevent the over-zealous from creating problems.
Concerns over GMOs • Cross-pollination is a big concern in the agricultural arena. Genetically altered plants can cross-pollinate with “normal” plants introducing the altered gene into the plants. • The main area of concern is with herbicide resistant plants cross-pollinating with weeds, thus making the weeds herbicide resistant.
Concerns over GMOs • The creation of “terminator” gene technology which produces sterile seeds from the genetically modified plant. The farmers will have to re-purchase the non-sterile seed each year. This can become expensive, especially to the small farmer or farmers in third world countries.
Concerns over GMOs • Another concern is the loss of biodiversity. Since genetically modified plants do not occur in nature, the possibility of “genetic pollution” may occur. When the gene pool from the wild and native species collapses because of the introduction of these modified genes, there will no longer be diversity in the plants.
Are GMO’s safe? • That would depend on who you ask. • The food must still meet all FDA requirements on food safety before they can be released on the market (FDA, 2000). • There does not seem to be an adverse effect on people who consume GMOs.
Safety of GMOs • There is the possibility of allergic reactions if a gene that can produce an allergic reaction (say from a peanut) were inserted into corn. People with allergies to peanuts would then become allergic to the corn. However; the FDA requires that the label state if an allergy causing gene was used, unless they can prove the gene does not make the food cause allergies. • There is the possibility that natural plant toxins may be enhanced in unsuspecting ways.
Conclusion • Transgenics or GMOs need to have a better PR agent to allow the consumer to know the true nature of GMOs and any true risk that they pose to the human population. Education is key when dealing with any genetically modified organism, the more you know, the better, more informed decision you will make. • Ultimately, it is the consumers decision whether or not to purchase and consume transgenic foods. Proper labeling on all transgenic foods will allow the consumer to make their own choice.
References: • Bionet (2002). Future food. 4 Examples of genetically modified crops. http://www.bionetonline.org/english/content/ff_cont3.htm . • Food and Drug Administration (2001): A New Kind of Fish Story http://www.fda.gov/Fdac/features/2001/101_fish.html • Genetically Modified Foods (2007) Examples of Genetically Modified Foods http://www.faqs.org/nutrition/Foo-Hea/genetically-Modified-Foods.html • The Tech Museum of Innovation (2004): Understanding Genetics: Making Medicines http://www.thetech.org/genetics/art06_medicine.php • Thompson, Larry (2000). Are Bioengineered Foods Safe? FDA Consumer Magazine http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2000/100_bio.html • (1) Wikipedia (2007). Biotechnology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biotechnology • (2) Wikipedia (2007). Genetically Modified Organism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism