Genetic engineering is the selective breeding or hybridization of crops or other plant species. Scientists modify a plant’s genetic makeup to either eliminate undesirable characteristics or to enhance or introduce desirable features that may not have existed before.
While there are several benefits to genetic modifications (GMOs) - particularly in the area of medicine - this practice can also produce some adverse effects. Below we explore some ways in which genetic changes in plants may be affecting the environment and your health.
Genetic modification is still a relatively new scientific pursuit. Therefore, the effects of genetic changes in plants could produce an imbalance in the overall ecological landscape. If genetically enhanced plants present an environmental advantage over natural plant life, they could disrupt the ecology of the entire area.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that introducing an exotic plant species into an environment that it is not compatible with can be detrimental to the surrounding species if the exotic species demonstrate a competitive advantage. While we readily observe this advantage in animals - i.e., putting a lion in the backyard with your dog, we don’t always observe it immediately in plants. Yet, the potential for GMOs to disrupt the ecology is still there, particularly when a genetically modified plant has the potential to drain ecological resources.
Effects on Human Health
Regardless of whether GMOs are created for outdoor or indoor farming, genetic engineering could also create unknown side effects or unhealthy outcomes in the general population. Certain modifications in a plant could cause unpredicted allergic reactions that would not otherwise occur if a plant was consumed in its natural state. Other changes could result in the toxicity of an organism to humans.
Antibiotic Resistance Genes
Genetic engineering utilizes genes for antibiotic resistance. Most genetically engineered plant foods carry fully functioning antibiotic-resistance genes. The presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in foods could have long-lasting immunity effects on humans.
Therefore, eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease when these antibiotics are taken with meals. The resistant genes could be transferred to human or pathogens, making them resistant to antibiotics.
When genetic engineers create GMOs, they have no means of inserting the gene in a controlled position. The gene ends up in a random location in the genetic material. Therefore, it’s hard to trace where the gene will ultimately end up. Releasing genetically modified plants or crop into the environment may result in a gene transfer to natural related plants, thus, triggering an unintended consequence.
The gene flow from GMOs to other plants is possible through pollen. Because gene flow is a natural and expected phase in the breeding process, it is reasonable to expect that transgenic crops could pollinate with natural relatives. In conventional outdoor farming, it is difficult to create a controlled environment agriculture setting that completely prevents pollination with the surrounding wildlife.
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