2006-12-01

Advance in Genetic Engineering

While many lament and fear the development of genetically engineered crops or animals or even people, the potential benefits far outweigh the costs. The latest example is the cotton plant. Cottonseed contains a toxin, gossypol, rendering it inedible to animals. Cotton farmers harvest as much mass of useless cotton seeds as useful cotton fiber. New genetically engineered cotton does not contain gossypol in the protein-rich seeds, thus making the seeds edible by animals and humans alike. This will have the potential to greatly increase the food supply, especially for some of the World's poorest. Cottonseed may prove a culinary delight as well.

Aside: While the spread of new engineered genes into the native populations is something generally to be avoided, let us not forget that almost all crops and livestock are the result of the slow process of genetic engineering through artificial selection, or breeding. Very few human engineered crops fare very well against the time-tested rigors of the Darwinian wilderness.

3 comments:

Mark said...

Genetic engineering has become the bogeyman of our times. When "greens" oppose GM crops, how can they eat winter wheat or corn ... these are genetically engineered crops, albeit on a primitive timescale!!! Likewise for any meat consumed short of venison, or any fruit that is not woodland berries!

I think the fear of genetically-engineered humans is vastly overexaggerated. It overlooks such scientific benefits as gene-therapy or research into stem cells to treat congenital diseases(these are not genetic engineering per se, but are nevertheless related issues). In the so-called developed societies, the greatest health threats these days are congenital illness and lifestyle-related problems such as obesity. Modern humanity will have to learn that progress can be made in using and understanding the human genome without resorting to the age old and hackneyed Frankenstein fears.

Humans have been both genetically modifying themselves and their family of useful species for millenia, and for hundreds of years have been ignorantly playing at genetic modification (pedigrees of all kinds,dog-breeding and eugenics come to mind). But just as alchemist quacks are not used to denounce chemistry, genetic quacks and monsters cannot be summoned to turn off science. We will know what is right: when you get down to it, ethics is not that complicated. Better to let science advance,and to challenge ourselves, than to cowardly shrink from the future.

Diana Chavlah said...

The problem today is not that we produce too little food but too much. Subsidied agriculture in Europe (and the states)produce alot of agriculutre but is duped to keep up the world market prices.

maybe it's better to try to solve the daily problems first? in the meantime, we can always develop the GMO.

Pace said...

Good points Mark and Diana both. I have previous posts from May and June on the issues of "food burning" and agricultural subsidies in US and EU. It is absolutely correct that the economic distortions as they exist now with regard to food be corrected before we even start worrying about how we will produce even more food with OGM.