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According to WHO (World Health Organisation), ‘Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.’ GMOs are produced by using genetic engineering methods to insert a section of foreign gene into the organism which could lead to beneficial effects on the organism or the consumer. This could allow new ideas and development to solve the Sustainable Global Goals, which was set up the world leaders in 2015 and one of the 17 goals was to have zero hunger by 2030. A study conducted by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) stated the number of undernourished people in the world has risen for 3 years in a role since 2014 and just in 1 year (2016-2017) there is an increase of 17million undernourished people. But is GM food the answer to the problems, are GM foods a benefit or a hindrance and are there other possibility that could solve the problems?
Once the desirable trait is identified, scientist needs to identify the sequence of this gene and the location in the genome through the genomic library, which is ‘a collection of clones that contains all the DNA sequences of an organism’s genome’. The gene can then be isolated and cut by a restriction enzyme and placed into a vector using DNA ligase, this vector is now placed into embryonic stem cell or injected into the blastocyst hoping it moved into the embryonic stem cell, tissue specific promoters could also be used to ensure the gene is specifically expressed in this tissue. A small percentage of the transgenic DNA could be inserted in the embryo’s genome due to DNA recombinase and it function of recombination of DNA. In the case of animals, the embryonic stem cell is now placed in a pseudopregnant female (Pseudopregnant defines a female after copulation with a vasectomized male. The animal behaves hormonally pregnant allowing its use as a recipient for embryos; e.g. for chimera production.) which allows to produce homozygous offspring for the transgene.
GM food could be the key to solve the Sustainable Global Challenges. To match the ever-growing population for the demand of food we must first reduce our yield gap (difference between yield potential and actual yield) to reach the yield potential (yield of a crop cultivar when grown with water and nutrients non-limiting and biotic stress effectively controlled). This can be achieved by genetically modifying crops that are insect/pest/diseases resistance or increasing the survivability of crops in harsh environments such as fluctuating temperatures or low rainfall. This could benefit places like Northern India where the wheat production is only reaching 40% of it yield potential. An example of this is Bt corn, a GM maize with genes inserted from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which produce crystal protein which is toxic to pest such as European corn borer hence the name Bt corn. The European corn borer borrows and eat the stalk of the plant, reducing its ability to uptake water or nutrients and decreasing it structure support. With the introduction of Bt corn, the use of herbicides and insecticides decreased by 141.5 million kg from 1996-2008, this hugely reduces the expenses of the producers while increasing yield, in Zaragoza Spain, Bt corn had a yield increases of 1,110kg/hectare or 11.8% increase. Another of the 17 goals is good health and well-being, where 12.9% of the population are undernourished and nearly 50,000 people are dying from infectious disease, this could be improved by producing crops with increase minerals or vitamins content such as rice with vitamin A or providing a quick process of producing antibiotic to combat bacterial infection like penicillin.
But is GMOs more good than harm? GMOs have foreign genes inserted in their genomes this changes the structure the sequence of the host DNA, this increases the mutation rate 5(the frequency with which mutation take place at a given locus or in a population) as the changes in the primary sequence of the DNA allows more mistakes to be made during transcription and translation and this could lead to the production of proteins that is not associated with the organism. This could cause unwanted allegoric reactions or lead to the development of allergies. In 1999 a year after GM soy was on the market in UK, there has been a 50% increase of people with soy allergies. The ingestion of foreign protein could also lead of changes in the immune system, mice being feed with GM peas which have passed the allergy test have suggested to be a cause that ‘leads to the synthesis of structural variants possessing altered immunogenicity’ from the consumption of alpha-amylase inhibitor which is not present in the non-GM peas. GMOs could lead to the disruption of the symbiotic relationship between other organism such as pollinator like bees, they help pollinate plants to produce crops, yet genetic modification could lead end this relationship as it could accidentally permanently turn/off genes through creating a gene knockout organism which could attracts these pollinators. This could lead plants to undergo asexual reproduction which greatly reduces gene flow and decrease genetic diversity and causing all the GMOs all suitable to one disease. Even though GMOs are resistance to a pest/disease there is always a chance where it could develop resistance to the protein or chemicals it produces, and this could wipe out the entire food production as after penicillin was mass-produced an penicillin resistance bacterium was found four years later in 1947.
With the introduction of newer technology, genetic modification is now more accurate and more efficient. With the introduction of cDNA library it allows the gene to be more accurate transcribed, instead of inserting the whole gene, it only contains DNA copies which made from mRNA, as a result cDNA library only contains expressed genes and there will be no mistake of coding introns during transcription. The process of creating clone copies of DNA is further improved by the development of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) by Kary Mullis in 1986. PCR could create a clone of the targeted gene within hours just with primers complementary to the targeted gene and being exposed to varying temperature to allow denaturation, hybridisation and extension to occur. The invention of CRISPR-Cas9 or Cluster Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats further revolutionises gene editing technology, it allows highly accurate gene editing in bacteria, animal and plant cells. CRISPR sends a complementary single-stranded guided RNA (sgRNA) to the targeted DNA once attached to the endonuclease it called Cas9 and form sgRNA-Cas9 complex, Cas9 breaks the double bond by producing blunt ends, repairs enzymes incorporate foreign DNA at the position indicated by a protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM) and fixes the damage caused by Cas9.
Eutrophication is another issue concerning food production, this is caused by fertilisers being wash away from the fields and into the water system, ultimately intoxicated the whole body of water as it removes all the oxygen in the water. In the US alone there have been 762 areas reported to have been impacted by Eutrophication and or hypoxia. Plant in nitrogen for growth, it is the bases of formation of DNA and chlorophyll and without it plants grow decrease hence affecting crop yield. Could we genetically modify bacteria or specifically nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia which is normally found in the roots of legumes family to form symbiotic relationship with more family of plants to turn nitrogen into nitrates.
Overall genetically modified foods could be a risk, but the chances of a GMO mutating into a harmful organism is very low as mutation are usually non-beneficial or not visible due to degenerative nature of the genetic code. The benefits far outweigh the risks, and with the continue development and invention new technology, this allows safer, quicker and more accurate gene editing and help solve some of the Sustainable Global Goals.
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