- June 22, 2020
GMOs and Biohazards
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals whosegenetic information has been altered through biotechnology. Althoughit is a relatively new technology, scientists have been able togenetically engineer organisms since the early 1970s (Smith, 2005).It involves the incorporation of DNA fragments with desired traits orcharacteristics into a life form. It has enormous potential inenhancing sustainable development in food production. For example,genetically engineered food crops can increase food production andtheir nutritional value. They also have other applications such as inthe pharmaceutical industries. Despite this, several concerns andcontroversies have been raised against the increased use of GMOs(Kumar, 2014). The most important issues have been the biohazardsassociated with it. This includes their impacts on non-targetedorganisms, biodiversity and gene transfer. This paper looks at someof the major biohazards that relate to GMOs.
Biohazards associated with GMOs
Although the positive contribution of genetically modifiedorganisms in the modern society is not in doubt, there are concernsabout its effects on non-targeted organisms. This is one of thegreatest biohazards that are associated with the increased use ofgenetic engineering technologies (Krimsky & Gruber, 2014).Mainly, food crops are genetically altered to introduce pest controlproperties through genes derived from Bacillusthuringiensis(Bt). They enable the plants to produceproteins and ‘endotoxins’ which target particular insects.Although a proponent of GMOs have argued that Bt crops affectorganisms with specific receptors, collaborative studies haveestablished that there is a risk of non-target organisms beingaffected by the genetic modifications. In one experiment, it wasdetermined that pollen from GMO maize had an impact on the monarchbutterfly, a non-target organism. While the risks were found to benegligible, it brings to the limelight the biohazards associated withbiotechnology. The toxins are likely to affect populations that areclosely related to the targeted organism (Smith, 2005).
Another biohazard that is directly related to GMOs is the loss ofgenetic diversity. Biotechnology has introduced a trend wheredesirable traits in organisms are enhanced while discardingcharacteristics that are considered to be inferior. This is in anattempt to create plants that are superior and have the ability towithstand particular environmental and ecological conditions. Overthe years, extensive agriculture, which relies on agrochemicals inpest and weed control, has adversely affected the population ofspecific organisms in the ecosystem (Smith, 2005). The biohazardsassociated with genetic modification are more complicated becausegenes are introduced into one organism to eliminate or control thepopulation of another. Additionally, the development of strains thatare resistant to certain herbicides will increase the use ofagrochemicals to eradicate weeds from the field. This is likely tomake some of the species extinct. For example, since the introductionof genetically modified cotton, there has been a reduction in cropdiversity due to the introduction of more desirable varieties. WhenGMOs and conventional crops are considered, there is a variation inweed populations and diversity. This has adverse effects on theentire ecosystem. For example, some organisms such as birds depend onthe variety of plants seeds. Consequently, more types of birds arelikely to be found in ecosystems with assorted weeds. Several studieshave verified the direct and indirect impacts of GMOs on organisms’diversity (Krimsky & Gruber, 2014).
Skeptics of GMOs have also raised concerns about the likelihood ofgene transfer, either horizontally (different species) or vertically(parent to off-springs). This refers to the movement of genes fromone organism to another. Since genes are contained in the inheritedtraits, there are more biohazards associated with vertical transfersthrough production. Consequently, conventional crops are likely to becontaminated with genetically modified strains. As a result, it willbe difficult to segregate genetically modified crops (Krimsky &Gruber, 2014). Although biotechnologists have argued that thetransfer is below the background rates, residual recombinant proteinsin tissues may pose significant risks. For example, some of them havebeen found in animal tissues and serum, including humans. A moredangerous biohazard is likely to occur if the resistance gene fromcrops is transferred to harmful bacteria. This will create superbugswhich are resistant to antibiotics. This would result in infectionsthat cannot be treated using conventional medicines (Bakshi, 2003).
There are numerous developments in biotechnology, among them geneticengineering of organisms to enhance or introduce desiredcharacteristics. This technology has various applications. However,there are several controversies associated with them among thembiohazards. Genetic modification alters the gene of the organisms.For example, food crops can be genetically modified to produce toxinsagainst insect pests. As a result, the likelihood of them affectingnon-target organisms has been a major focus among skeptics. Secondly,there are several ways to which GMOs will impact on biodiversity. Inthe process of enhancing some of the desired traits, naturaldiversity is replaced with more superior genetically engineeredorganisms. Additionally, pest and weed control using GMOs have hugeimplications on their populations and diversity. The most significantbiohazard is associated with the likelihood of gene transfer, eitherhorizontally or vertically.
Bakshi, A. (2003). Potential adverse health effects of geneticallymodified crops. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health.Part B, Critical Reviews. 6 (3): 211–25.
Krimsky, S. & Gruber, J. (2014). The GMO deception:what you need to know about the food, corporations, and governmentagencies putting our families and our environment at risk. NewYork, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
Kumar, S. (2014) Biosafety Issues of Genetically Modified Organisms.Biosafety 3:e150. doi:10.4172/2167-0331.1000e150.
Smith, J. (2005). Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry andGovernment Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered FoodsYou`re Eating. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, ISBN 0972966501.