How GMOs may benefit the health of humans and the environment:
Medicine – Nutrition – Carbon dioxide emissions – Food wastage:
GMOs may be seen as far more dominant in the agriculture sector, although, genetic modification was originally used many years ago in the pharmaceutical sector well before heading into agriculture. GMOs have played a major role in improving medicine and research worldwide by making it cheaper and easier in many cases. Such vaccines like the ‘Hepatitis B vaccine’ have been created using genetic engineering techniques. Today, the Hepatitis B vaccine has been responsible for saving over seven million lives according to the WHO (World Health Organisation). But how?
By using genetic engineering techniques, researchers can persuade other living cells to produce specific proteins which can then be used for pharmaceutical reasons. Today, GMOs have been responsible for creating the Zika virus, Flu virus, Ebola virus, Hepatitis B and Coronavirus vaccines.
The Hepatitis B vaccine has been created by adding genetically-modified baker’s yeast. Other vaccines or medications like injectible insulin have been produced in genetically modified Escherichia Coli bacteria. Additionally, the flu vaccine contained genetically modified proteins found within insect cells.
Furthermore, scientists can now genetically modify insects like Mosquitoes to reduce the risk of diseases spreading in the first place by eliminating the initial host.
For this research into Mosquitoes, researchers inserted a specific gene that forms an antimalarial protein amongst the surrounding genes which is activated before a Mosquitoe bites a human or another animal. Doing so drastically reduces the risk of passing on Malaria.
GMOs have played a major role in medicine and have been responsible for saving the lives of millions of humans from the discovery of many vaccines and medications.
Genetically modified crops have the potential to improve the health of humans by containing greater amounts of vitamin E, A etc or simply improve the nutritional content as a whole. Some examples include the genetically modified potato which has been shown to provide 42% of the vitamin A and 34% of the vitamin E daily intake within a single serving. These potatoes replicate a very similar idea to the rice, hence where the name ‘Golden potatoes’ came from. Another example includes the genetically modified soybeans which have been modified to eliminate the polyunsaturated fats making up around 56.22% of the fats found in regular soybeans.
The miraculous thing about both these examples is that the taste doesn’t differ despite the modification. Unfortunately, our knowledge on genetic modification to increase nutrition is limited, although what happens if one day we could modify foods to taste like chocolate while containing as much nutrition as kale?
It sadly isn’t possible today but who knows what tomorrows discoveries may bring.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions:
With new pest and disease-resistant crops, there has been a large decline in pesticide usage, in turn lowering the number of farming vehicles utilised for spraying crops. Farming properties around the globe, that grow genetically modified crops, have seen a great decline in tractor usage when it comes to spraying their fields. A paper written back in 2018, said that due to less tillage and fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions declined to such an extent that it was the equivalent of taking 15.27 million cars off the road!
From 1996 to 2018, the number of genetically modified crops worldwide has increased by 113%. With these figures rising annually, there is no doubt that tractor usage will have declined to an even greater amount in 2021.
These figures alone show how important GMOs are if we want to reduce the colossal environmental footprint found in modern agriculture.
Additionally, drought-tolerant crops in the future may act as an even greater help in reducing emissions, with declined sprayer machine usage.
Genetically modified crops could play a vital role in considerably reducing food waste, with over 1.3 billion tonnes (one-third of all food produced) wasted every year costing the global economy close to $1.3 trillion AUD ($940 billion USD). Food waste alone produces around 10% of all annual greenhouse gas emissions and consumes over 24.1% of landfills.
Today, genetic modification has allowed scientists to add many desirable traits to crops and other plants to increase shelf life, enhance appearance etc. An example includes the ‘Flavr Savr Tomato’, the first commercial crop to be genetically modified. The purpose was to slow the decaying process, increasing shelf life. Now, genetic modification has allowed tomatoes to last up to 45 days before decaying.
In addition, a professor in horticulture called Avtar Handa found a yeast gene not found within tomatoes, that when inserted into its genetic makeup, could increase shelf life for another week. By inserting the yeast, it could increase the production of a compound called ‘spermidine’ that slows the decaying process in normal tomatoes. Spermidine is a polyamine found in all living cells, meaning that theoretically this genetic modification could be replicated in many other fruits and vegetables.
Another example includes the ‘Arctic Apple’ which was modified to reduce browning from age, damage etc. The apples were genetically modified to produce considerably less polyphenol oxidase, a specific enzyme that causes apples to brown. Despite the enhancements, very few of these GMOs have been accepted by government administrations.
How much is the GMO industry worth?
The global GMO industry dominated by crops was worth $25.1 billion AUD ($18.15 billion USD) in 2018 and is set to grow at a CAGR (Compound Anual Growth Rate) of 8.7% from 2018 to 2027, increasing its market value to almost $30 billion AUD ($21.7 billion USD). In addition, the GMO testing market value in 2016 was estimated to be worth $2.18 billion AUD ($1.58 billion USD) and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.2% from then to 2022. The GMO testing market is predominantly made up of testing the basis of traits, crops and food.
To begin engineering the biology of life may appear bizarre and utterly stupid, however, when placed in the right hands and with the best intentions, this form of technology could be the solution to many of the worlds greatest problems. The vast majority of public perception around GMOs is that they’re dangerous and entirely unethical. Although, would we really classify a technology able to end world hunger, supply adequate medicine to all, end pesticide usage and much more…unethical?
The anti-GMO bandwagon must collapse and greater support must be provided to this field, a field capable of such extraordinary possibilities.
The hepatitis B vaccine saved millions of people, the reduction in pesticides saved thousands of animals, the insect-resistant crops saved thousands of Indian farmers from suicide, higher-than-average yields saved the destruction of forests and golden rice will save hundreds of thousands from blindness and death. Yet we claim genetic engineering technology to be ‘unethical’.