Free Effects of Genetic Engineering in Plants Essay Sample
Genetic engineering is described as the process through which genes are modified and artificially relocated from one form of life to another or "the technique of cutting foreign DNA at specified places and inserting the cleaved foreign DNA fragment thus obtained into another DNA molecule similarly cut" (Gupta 5). This process makes it possible to have genetic material from two different organisms mixed together; something that can never happen naturally. It therefore allows individuals to extract genes, which comprise of DNA, from one species and put them into another species to produce a species that has characteristics that are exhibited by these species. In other words, it makes it achievable to "mix genetic material between organisms that could never breed" (Massey 1) Starting in 1980, genetic engineering has expanded rapidly over the past few decades. Companies have been using this technology to incorporate genes from other species to crops of different species all together. In this process "one or more genes are incorporated into the crop's genome using a vector containing several other genes" (Pusztai). This technology is highly powerful and it its mechanism has not caught the understanding of many. This work will explore some of the problems that are related to genetic engineering that has been identified in plants.
In most cases, genetically modified crops are planted with the intention of making them capable of standing exposure to some herbicides or to "withstand plant killing effects" (Teitel and Wilson 55). This increases "flexibility in terms of crop management" (Arencibia 4). Genetically modified crops that are herbicide tolerant are those crops that are designed to survive the use of herbicides that would otherwise have killed them. Examples of such crops include soybeans and corn. On the other hand, those that are planted with the intention to survive pests are toxic to insects that eat them (Massey 1). For instance, corn is modified to kill the corn borer of the Lepidoptera species.
Genetically modified crops have great effects not only on the health of human beings but on the ecosystem at large. Some of the effects are that genetic modification of food crops may become allergic to some people due to the modification and incorporation of foreign genes into the plant system. For instance, studies have shown that genetically engineered soybeans contain some genes, originally from Brazil nuts, which produce sensitive reactions in the blood serum of people that originally have nuts allergies. Reactions that result from nuts allergies are very serious and sometime can even cause death; they can "be serious and even fatal" (Massey 1). Therefore it is sometimes impossible to tell which foods are genetically modified and this may be more dangerous especially when foods that were once familiar start to produce substances that are reactive to some individuals. Studies have proved that soybeans that tolerate glyphosate have high levels of alteration in their nutrients and eating crops sprayed with glyphosate is very risky (Teitel and Wilson 56). Even though this is beneficial to health, it has its own disadvantages as well. Individuals to not get the natural nutrients they get from soybeans that are not genetically engineered. These genetically acquired nutrients mix result into some reactions that may be allergic to some individuals. This mix sometimes contaminates the crops thus rendering them only useful for animal feeds and not for human consumption. "When genetic engineering causes a familiar food to start producing a substance previously not present in the human food supply, it is impossible to know who may have an allergic reaction"( Massey 1) .
Genetic modification of plant promotes the development of plants that are resistant to antibiotics. Most methods that are used in genetic engineering rely on the willingness of the cells to take up the new genes. When this is the case, the engineer is forced to identify the particular cells that take up these genes. The only procedure is to "attach a gene for antibiotic resistance to the gene intended for insertion" (Massey 3). This is only possible when the cells are treated with antibiotics so as to determine their resistance to these antibiotics. In the process, only the cells that have shown resistance to the antibiotics survive. As a result, a new plant is produced and when and individual consumes it, it is taken up by some bacteria in the mouth and consequently make them resistant to antibiotics. This is currently posing a great challenge to the medicine field since it has become difficult to get the right medicine for patients whose bacteria have become antibiotic resistant. As a result, "there are high risks of eating crops sprayed with glyphosate" (Teitel and Wilson 56) Genetic engineering has resulted to the transfer of genes across genetic boundaries. The easy at which the modification of genes is done has become something that no longer requires more resources and time. An organism can be incorporated with genes of another organism regardless of the genera or species. This is becoming alarming in terms of health since plants and animals can be genetically modified and together they produce an organism that may be harmful to human health. For instance, "fish to fruit, bacteria to vegetables" (Massey 3)
Gene variations are commonly referred to as "alleles of molecular maker" and the genes are themselves carried in organs known as chromosomes, where they are located in specific locations (Gupta 556). Natural breeding does not relocate genes from one location to another in the chromosome. However, genetic engineering, on the contrary introduces genes that are not originally present in the chromosome of the intended organism. These genes are sometimes introduced in erratic locations in the chromosomes and unforeseeable alterations in the plants are produced. Also genetically modified crops for human consumption contain some additional hereditary materials that are not related to the characteristics of the target plant. These materials include vectors, which are substances that are used to relocate genetic materials from one organism to another, promoters on the other hand are used to "turn on" the strange genetic material whereas maker genes signals the genetic engineer on the success of the insertion of the target gene into the organism. Finally is the unintentional material, which is "extra genetic material that is unrelated to the target characteristics", and it is added to the organism without the knowledge of the engineer (Massey 4). During the modification process, these materials are added into the target plants and most of them find their way into the edible parts of the plant such as the fruits, roots and seeds which consequently cause health problems when they are consumed. It has thus become "more difficult to evaluate the safety of crop-derived foods" (Pusztai).
It is widely known and expected that genetic engineering of plants is meant for the generation of crops that can tolerate herbicides and/or kill insects and some pests, these plants also pose some threats to the ecosystem. For instance, the BT corn is modified so as to make it capable of killing the "European corn borer"; it is also toxic to other non-target insects as well (Gupta 530). Pollen grains of the BT corn has also proved to be harmful to the monarch butterflies that feed on milkweed. Milkweed grows near and sometimes in the corn fields and when the corn pollens are blown; they fall on the milkweed and contaminate them in the process. BT corn is also harmful to green lacewing, an insect that feeds on pests. Once these pests have eaten the BT corn, their digestive systems become toxic due to the toxin consumed. These toxic substances are then transferred to the green lacewing which in turn becomes affected by these substances. Although BT corns can be used as "substitutes for insecticides", they affect the ecosystem by altering the chemistry of the soil (Gupta 529). The corns release some substances that are toxic to the soils hence when insect larvae are exposed to it they die within five days. Crops that can tolerate herbicides are generated so as to make the application of certain types of herbicides easier for the famers. However, " farmers planting Roundup Ready soybeans use 2 to 5 times as many pounds of herbicide per acre as farmers using conventional systems" which in turn takes longer to decompose and persist in the land for many years (Massey 4). This therefore affects the growth of other beneficial organisms and the environment as well.
In conclusion, genetic engineering of plants is the alteration of the genetic material of the plant through the introduction of foreign genes so as to meet the purpose for which the modification is done. Some of the reasons as to why plant species are modified include the need to make them capable of standing exposure to some herbicides or particular killer insects. For however much that these reasons may sound beneficial to the farmers, there are several effects that come along with them. Some of these include; Ordinary foods become allergic and/ or toxic, plants become resistant to antibiotics, natural nutrients are altered and genes are transferred to unrelated plants. Genetic engineering also leads to unpredictable location of genes in the target organism, generation of additional genetic material and destruction of ecosystem among other effects.