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New Scientist PDF - Introduction: GM Organisms

New Scientist PDF - Introduction: GM Organisms

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Published by richardus2099
By far the most common genetically modified
(GM) organisms are crop plants. But the
technology has now been applied to almost all
forms of life, from pets that glow under UV
light to bacteria which form HIV-blocking "living
condoms" and from pigs bearing spinach
genes to goats that produce spider silk.
By far the most common genetically modified
(GM) organisms are crop plants. But the
technology has now been applied to almost all
forms of life, from pets that glow under UV
light to bacteria which form HIV-blocking "living
condoms" and from pigs bearing spinach
genes to goats that produce spider silk.

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Published by: richardus2099 on Mar 11, 2013
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03/11/2013

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Pigs genetically modified with Green FluorescentProtein (GFP) (Image: Ho New / National TaiwanUniversity / Reuters)By far the most common genetically modified(GM) organisms are crop plants. But thetechnology has now been applied to almost allforms of life, from pets that glow underUVlightto bacteria which form HIV-blocking "livingcondoms" and from pigs bearingspinachgenesto goats that producespider silk. GM tomatoes, as puree, first appeared onBritish supermarket shelves in 1996 (adifferent fresh GM tomato first appearedin theUS in 1994), but the consumerfurorethat surrounded GM technology did not erupt untilFebruary 1999. This was because acontroversial study suggested that a fewstrains of GM potatoesmight be toxic tolaboratory rats. Those experiments,subsequently criticised by other experts, werecarried out in Scotland by biochemistArpad Pustzai.What followed was a Europeananti-GM food campaignof near religious fervour. Spearheaded in theUK by environmental groups and some newspapers, the campaign would havefar-reachingconsequences. It culminated in an unofficialmoratoriumon the growth and import of GM crops in Europe and led to atrade disputewith the US.GM crops are today very rare in Europe, strictlabelling lawsand regulations are in place for food (DNA bar codes), andpublic opiniontowards the technology remains largely negative. Several UK  government reportshave offeredqualified supportfor GM crops and produce, though they argue that theeconomic benefitsof the technology are currently small. Some African nations have alsoopposed engineered crops, even to the point of rejectinginternational food aidcontaining them. GM produce has been taken up with far less fuss in the US (where it does not have to belabelled),India,China,Canada,Argentina, Australia and elsewhere. Howevercontroversyover a type of GM corn - only approved for animal feed - which turned up in taco shells and other productsstirred opinionin the US.
Biotech revolution
 The human race has methodically improved crop plants through selective breeding for manythousands of years, but genetic engineering allows that time-consuming process to be acceleratedand exotic traits from unrelated species to be introduced. Butnot everyone agreesthis is representsprogress. The root of genetic engineering in crops lies in the 1977 discovery that soil bug
Agrobacteriumtumefaciens
can be used as a tool to inject potentially useful foreign genes into plants. With the helpof that microbe, and other gene-implantation technologies such aselectroporation, andgene guns, Home|Life|News|Back to article
Introduction: GM Organisms
11:05 04 September 2006 by
John Pickrell
For similar stories, visit the
GM Organisms
Topic Guide
 
geneticists have developed a multitude of new crop types.Most of these are modified to be pest, disease or herbicide resistant, and include:soya,wheat, corn (maize),oilseed rape(canola),cotton,sugar beet,walnuts,potatoes,peanuts, squashes,tomatoes, tobacco,peas, sweet peppers,lettuceand onions, among others. Thebacterial gene Btis one of the most commonly inserted. It produces an insecticidal toxin that is harmless to people.Supporters of GM technology argue that engineered crops - such as vitamin A-boostedgolden riceorprotein-enhanced potatoes- can improve nutrition, thatdrought-orsalt-resistantvarieties can flourish in poor conditions andstave off world hunger, and that insect-repelling crops protect the environmentbyminimising pesticide use.Other plants have been engineered toimprove flavour, increase shelf life,increase hardinessand to beallergen-free(see also:hay fever-free grass). Geneticists have even created ano-tears onionto banish culinary crying, and novelcaffeine-free coffee plants.
"Frankenfood" fears
Critics fear that what they call "Frankenstein foods" could have unforeseen, adverse health effects onconsumers, producing toxic proteins (and allergens) or transferring antibiotic-resistance andothergenestohuman gut bacteriato damaging effect. But there has beenlittle evidenceto back up such risks so far.More plausible threats are that modified crops could becomeinsidious superweeds, or that they couldaccidentally breed with wild plants or other crops -genetically pollutingthe environment. This could bea potentially serious problem if "pharm" crops, engineered toproduce pharmaceutical drugs,accidentally cross breed with food varieties (or seeds becomemixed up).Large numbers of field trials, carried out by the UK government and others, reveal that gene transferdoes occur. One2002 studyshowed that transgenes had spread from US to traditional maize varietiesin Mexico. A2004 studyrevealed that conventional varieties of major US food crops have also beenwidely contaminated. Another study proved that pollen from GM plants can becarried on the windfortens of kilometres.Many experts agree that insect-repelling plants will also speed the evolution of insecticide-resistantpests. Normal crops are often grown alongside transgenic ones as refuges for the pests, in an attemptto prevent their accelerated evolution into "superpests".Environmentalists also argue that growing GM crops affects farmland biodiversity. Field trials to testfor this have producedmixed results- some suggesting that GM crops actuallyboost biodiversity.
Growing globalisation
Genetic modification of crops may offer the largest potential benefits todeveloping nations. However,thegrowing globalisationof agriculture is a trend that worries some.Activistsand disgruntled farmers worry that the agricultural biotech industry is encouraging reliance on their own-brand herbicide-resistant plants (Roundup Readyfor example), which could create monopolies.Companies such asMonsantoorSyngentaprotect their GM seeds with patents. In one well-known legal case aCanadian farmerwas successfully prosecuted for growing GM canola, though he claimedseed had accidentally blown on to his land.Companies have also investigated technology protection systems. One type of TPS, dubbed the Terminator systemby its critics, is a genetic trick that means GM crops fail to produce fertile seeds. This prevents the traditional practice of putting seeds aside from the crop to replant the following year,forcingfarmersto buy new seed every year. However, some biotech companies havepledged not to usethis technology, despite the fact it could be a useful tool in preventinggenetic pollution. A clever genetic variation on that theme, theExorcist system, allows the production of fertile seeds,

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