Agriculture may benefit from genetically modified organisms by enhancing crops by making them resistant to pests, or to grow in otherwise unfavorable conditions, or by making livestock more resistant to disease, or by increasing the size of the foodstuff. However, many are leery of the practice; they view it as unnatural and fear adverse effects on the environment and to health.
Richard Dawkins, in A Devil’s Chaplain, suggests that much of the fear of genetically modified foods comes from a failure to recognize that genes are literally digital. Dawkins explains that genes “can be copied from one species and pasted into another, where it will work exactly as it did in the original species,” using the example that some people have the impression that the Arctic fish “anti-frost” gene that has been used to help tomatoes survive freezing conditions must “come with a fishy flavor.”
Critics of biotechnology, on the other hand, may see dangers in so efficiently modifying organisms by such “copying and pasting”; biotechnology is “unnatural” (in terms of selection), and we do not know the full dynamics of genetic interactions. Might manipulation a gene or two cause a cascade of changes throughout the organism, promoting a genetic sequence that is potentially harmful? ? (It should be noted, however, that Dawkins was responding to the exaggeratedly negative reaction to genetic modification in Europe, and he says on the next page that they should be researched).
In fact, people have been practicing a cruder, but still unnatural, form of gene selection before Cricks and Watson had discovered that genes underlay phenotypes. Southwest Asians are believed to have domesticated plants and animals - such as wheat, peas, olives, sheep, and goats - by 8500 B.C. Two obvious features will be size and taste; Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, explains that size differences, such as those between wild and domestic berries, “go back to the very beginnings of agriculture, when cultivated peas evolved through human selection to be 10 times heavier than wild peas.”
Another good example is wild corn going from half an inch long to up to 18 inches long under domestication, or the banana, which has been modified to be virtually seedless. Concern has been raised over biotechnology’s effects on the environment. Among these concerns are that natural pesticides will destroy unintended targets and that the pests will evolve resistance to the genetic pesticides; however, James Martin has pointed out that modified crops target specific pests and that resistance also occurs with conventional chemical pesticides.
However, it is wise to be mindful and cautious not to disrupt the ecosystem. With genetic knowledge, the slow process of selective breeding (though faster than natural selection) can be bypassed in favor of directly inserted desired genes into organisms.
Using this knowledge to increase food production is important in a world facing a growing population and erosion of topsoil, among other factors detrimental to production.
Genetically modified increase yields, fend of pests, has “produced wheat that thrives in drought conditions and bananas that don’t rot on the way to market” and increases the income of poor farmers, and has the potential to lower prices for consumers , according to Martin#. The relationship between biotechnology and agriculture may have a more direct effects on human health. In 2005, scientists created sheep that had “partially human livers, hearts, and brains” by injecting human stem cells into sheep embryos. The idea was for the sheep to form partially human organs that could be harvested as organ donors in the case of unavailable human donors. Because the organs would be human-like, they would be more likely to be useable by the human body.
This is where the ethical issues concerning biotechnology may be centered, in this author’s view. Certainly, manipulating our food supply is of ethical concern, but perhaps more disconcerting is the prospect of using biotechnology to alter ourselves. Modifying tomatoes and corn is ethically sensitive to some extent. Harvesting organs from sheep heightens ethical concerns; we consider the ethical issues of stem cell research. When one recalls the cloning of Dolly the sheep, one wonders if, or when, a human will be cloned.
When people are frightened by the prospect of human cloning, they perhaps fail to remember that monozygotic twins are natural clones, and when they fret over embryonic stem cell research, they perhaps ignore that most frozen embryos are destroyed and are no more human than, say, a pheasant. . These are different issues for different papers, but they may very well be related to our ethical concerns over biotechnology.
Mostly, people are circumspect with regard to the unknowns of biotechnology and genetic modifications. Trepidation is warranted, but panic is not. Biotechnology may prove to be a boon to agriculture and humans at large, but thorough scientific research is certainly not to be discouraged.