GMOs – Are They Good or Bad?

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GMOs – Are They Good or Bad?

Jaime Pedregon, Contributer

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In an era where technology and social media fuel a constant bombardment of information ranging from news articles to breakthroughs in science, it’s not always easy to know what is true and what is not. It doesn’t help that, when it comes to science, there isn’t always a definitive answer. Perhaps one of the most well-known controversies of science (apart from global warming) is the study of genetically modified organisms, or as they are better known, GMOs.

When you see the acronym GMO, what do you imagine? Do you envision scientists mutating plants into toxic or harmful versions of their former selves? Or do you think of the possible eradication of malaria, one of the world’s deadliest diseases? The reality is, both of these ideas have their truth to them. While it’d be comforting to think of science as black and white, the facts are a lot more complicated than that.

Before we get into the topic, however, let us go back to the first question. We know that GMO stands for genetically modified organism, but what exactly does that mean? First, we need to know that “GMOs” have existed for centuries. Genetically modified just means that the DNA of a living organism has been manipulated in some way.

Around 9,000 years ago, corn as we know it did not exist. Instead, there grew a wild grass called teosinte. It was small, had around a dozen hard kernels, and was  quite unappetizing. But the indigenous farmers of Southern Mexico persistently planted, harvested, selected the best crop, and replanted over and over again. Eventually, the DNA of the grass modified itself into the world’s number one staple crop: corn.

Now, you might be thinking, what does this have to do with GMOs? Well, GMOs are nearly identical to these artificially created crops. The only difference is how we manipulate the organisms’ DNA. Today, we have the capabilities to change specific genes in DNA, instead of planting and hoping some of the crops will mutate in a beneficial way.

Another point that is commonly overlooked is the fact that GMOs aren’t exclusively food items or even plants in general. We’ve actually used genetic modification tools in many other branches of science, like medicine, biotechnology, and microbiology.

For example, treatment for diabetic people initially needed two tons of pig parts in order to produce eight ounces of insulin. This crude replacement was not very reliable and could cause a harmful immune response in certain people. But, by 1982, a safe strain of E. coli bacteria was modified to produce an identical copy of human insulin efficiently and is now used to treat diabetes around the world.

However, as stated earlier, these advantages are just one side of the coin. The opposition to GMOs is largely based on the risks associated with the impact they may have on our health. Although there have been many reassurances over the safety of GMOs, this is a valid concern, and we must take care to conduct further studies before bringing a product to the public.

Another common concern is that crops engineered to produce glyphosate, a natural pesticide, is causing pesticide resistance in insects, not unlike what we see happening with antibiotics and bacteria. This could make it harder for plants to grow and encourage the use of stronger chemicals. There is also discourse over whether GM crops actually produce any more than normal plants do.

In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the negatives, and in time, GMOs could be extremely useful in our ever-evolving population. However, passing laws against genetically modified organisms will only slow our progress as a nation down. Instead, we should encourage and conduct more research to make sure these foods and medicines are safer, healthier, and more efficient alternatives to what we already have.

It is well-known that this is a very controversial topic, but it’s an important one to discuss in our current society. What do you think? Should we continue research on genetic modification of organisms? Or should we avoid the risk and find other alternatives?