One might read “non-GMO” on a label in Whole Foods and be relieved they will not consume any radioactive materials. While it is great to avoid harmful items, Genetically Modified Organisms are not destructive. It sometimes gets a bad rap, but it could be very beneficial for humanity. One popular, as well as controversial, area for GMOs, is in agriculture. By using new technologies, farmers can avoid problems by producing organisms with desirable traits or without unwanted ones. This innovation would not only benefit their personal lives, but also the lives of consumers. The most recent GMO discovery could take a gene from a grass fungus to save wheat crops worldwide.
It is important to first look more in-depth at gene editing, the process to get a GMO. As Dr. William Muir of Purdue University puts it: “Gene editing is when a scientist makes a tiny, controlled change in the DNA of a living organism. . . This creates only a tiny change in an enormously complex genome”. The organism is still the same, just with a different feature. It would be similar to someone wanting to repaint their car; they still own the same vehicle, it is only a slight change. Every organism has a genome, the complete accompaniment of its genes, along with other noncoding materials. Each individual gene defines a certain characteristic, like handedness for humans or the size a turkey will grow. There are innumerable combinations for an organism’s genome. Sometimes those combinations lead to chance irregularities, like Down syndrome or Cerebral Palsy. Other times it can leave organisms susceptible to external damages and diseases for multiple generations. Through gene editing, scientists can solve the faulty gene sequence, often by changing just a few nucleotides, without bothering the rest of the DNA pattern.
Many agricultural crops face problems themselves. Wheat scab, or Fusarium Head Blight, is a fungus that produces contaminating toxins. Those toxins can both kill crops, as well as poison people and animals. A similar fungus caused the Great Famine in Ireland. Farmers try to find tactics around these problems, but it is not guaranteed and can have other setbacks. GMOs would allow farmers to produce safer crops, get an increased output, and reduce prices. Researchers recently discovered a protective gene in wild wheatgrass. Called Fhb7, the gene encodes a toxin-destroying enzyme, which would increase resistance to FHB. Researchers have also noticed no adverse effects to standard wheat crops when they add Fhb7 to its genome..
Opposers to GMOs think only biotech companies benefit from this movement, but it also helps the farmer and consumer. In the globally adored bacon industry, pigs are susceptible to an infection called Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS). If even one case of PRRS is found in a group of pigs, the entire population must be euthanized to prevent any potential spread. Gene editing techniques have managed to produce pigs that are resilient to this disease, marking a significant improvement in animal welfare and preventing great waste. In addition, pork sellers, many who come from lower-income countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, could save an enormous amount of money, instead of losing profit in a mediocre economy. Countries that supply aid to developing nations could also save money. The United States spent $1.7 billion in 2013 to help feed 46.2 million people. Investments could go towards the research and use of GMOs. More people could be fed, and at least a portion of the money currently spent on food could be used to solve another issue. Using GMOs would help farmers, consumers, countries in need, and philanthropic nations.
Genetic editing could produce healthier, better crops and help an immeasurable amount of people. However, GMOs should be tested thoroughly beforehand to make sure only benefits occur. After successful testing, they should be used to make crops more bountiful. Organisms have been magnificently created by God to care for themselves. All the functions that both plants and animals subconsciously perform are remarkable. However, because of sin, many problems arise. We are stewards of God’s creations, and we should perform that job well. Part of that job is for us to take advantage of future discoveries in science and technology to develop new paths to preserving God’s earth.
“What Is Gene Editing.” ag.purdue.edu/GMOs/Pages/GeneEditing.aspx.