Fish genes inserted into potatoes to make them frost-resistant... jellyfish genes added to wheat to make the crop glow when it's stressed... The stuff of science fiction? No, it's all on the horizon of the wild new frontier of agricultural genetic modification, called "GM" for short.
Scientists who work in genetic modification manipulate the makeup of an organism with the intention of creating something better. But are they better, or is this practice opening up Pandora's box? That's the question being debated worldwide as such foods are added into the food supply.
The line of research that led to GM started with a desire to solve the everyday problems farmers have faced since they first started to sow seeds: drought, weed and pest infestation, and soil depletion. In creating crops that resist these problems, scientists discovered other paths, too, including the possibility of crops that could contain pharmaceuticals for people who need them, such as bananas with vaccines built in them, or "super foods" with extra vitamins and minerals. "Golden Rice," as experts call it, contains higher levels of vitamin A, and may be marketed to the Third World, where many people are malnourished. Genetically modifying foods is also appealing to companies because of the marketing possibilities -- like foods vibrant in color, large in size and long-lasting on supermarket shelves.
But when genes are added to an organism, novel proteins can form. When people are allergic to something, they are having a reaction to the proteins in an organism. Many argue that genetic modification is dangerous because people could have a reaction to a food they thought was safe. They worry that these health impacts may not emerge for decades. Opponents of GM technology also say corporations have no right to play with -- and own the rights to sell -- the building blocks of life.
Publication date: 07/17/03