5. Issues with the application of GM products in biotechnology products in
agriculture, horticulture and medicine
Doc Brown's Biology exam study revision notes
of biology notes on genetics and applications of GM biotechnology from
agriculture to medicine
and many other
issues of 'pros and cons' of the products of genetic engineering plants
(agriculture, horticulture) and animals (agriculture, medicine) - advantages
scientific development there are usually advantages and disadvantages
and not all can be predicted!
It is not unreasonable to take the moral view
that all the people of the world should have
- that is sufficient nutritious food needed for healthy living.
How far can GM crops contribute to global food
There is no doubt they can increase crop yields
even when the plants are grown on poor soil or harsh environments e.g.
extremely hot or cold environments.
Is it right to insert genes from one organism to
another, especially as the species are not related.
We have the capacity to confer on organisms,
characteristics which do not have naturally?
Do we have the right to insert human genes into
other animals changing their long evolved genome?
Many have a religious point of view that the
World was created by God and we have no right to interfere with it -
this is the way things should be and ordained by a higher deity!
Again we see positive examples of the
use of genetic engineering, but there are, as ever!, issues and problems to
solve concerning the application of genetic engineering - use of
genetically modified (GM) products.
1. This is
new technology, new
'biotechnology' to be precise, and people quite rightly are concerned about
e.g. GM crops, though curiously enough, I've never heard anybody express
worries about GM produced insulin - the latest versions of which are
produced by GM techniques!
BUT GM products have enormous potential to
solve problems in e.g. increased yields in food production, treating
genetic disorder diseases.
For people living in poorer less developed
countries, the quantity and quality of food CAN be improved.
It is no incidence that people in developed
countries, who have a relatively good diet to start with, are much
more concerned about the use GM crops, than people in poorer
countries, with their greater need for an improved food supply.
2. There are concerns as to whether GM crops
e.g. cereals or rice have the same nutrient contents (mineral ions, vitamins
etc.) as non GM crops.
3. Are there any short or long-term effects
on our health from
consuming GM modified meat, grain or vegetable products etc.?
By changing an organism's genome, you can't
predict whether problems will emerge for future generations (crops
Are there any health issues? Any long-term
effects on consuming GM produced foods.
Will a GM based food cause an allergic
reaction when eaten?
In fact, will there be an increase in the
incidence of food allergies and will new allergies arise?
This begs the question whether GM or non-GM
varities of the same food will have different allergic reactions or
similar or different rate of allergic reaction in a population?
OR, might GM food be an answer to certain
Will GM plants spread
their genes and affect the
local diversity of the farmland and environs.
Will there be any effects on food chains and
e.g. Will GM plants becoming more
successful than local plants?
Will this reduce biodiversity around fields
and the countryside in general?
Will the abundance and variety of wild flowers and insects be affected
by using insecticides or herbicides with GM crops?
See also point 5.
Will GM crops hybridise with other crops
or grasses to produce new strains of plant, again, these could affect the
original biodiversity of the local flora (plants) and fauna (animals).
There are reports of GM crops growing wild
away from their original fields of cultivation.
Although these escaped populations often die
out they may cross-pollinate either a wild or cultivated relative of
Apparently GM oilseed rape is capable of
cross-pollinating with 8 wild relative varities.
GM crops can swap genes with other GM crops.
6. Unintended consequences - all sorts
of unfortunate possibilities:
Points 4. and 5. have considerable
implications e.g. if the transplanted genes from GM plants spread to other native plants,
we do not know what genotypes will be formed and what will be the resulting
phenotypes (gene expression)?
If we produce a GM herbicide resistant plant,
what happens if the herbicide resistant gene enters the genome of a weed,
will a herbicide resistant weed evolve (a 'superweed'), that is even more
herbicide resistant than the crop! From an agricultural point of view, a bit
By using GM plants we are introducing genes
into the natural environment, over which we might not have as much
control as we would like!
There is concern about insect resistant crops
killing other 'non-target' insects that are important to the wider,
but still local, ecology e.g. communities of harmless insects
important to food chains involving other animals.
Pollen from GM crops can be carried by the
wind and may be toxic to other insects, which might themselves, be
important pollinators of other crops and non-crop plants and wild
Many GM crops are made to resistant to a
herbicide ('weed killer') called glyphosate (one commercial name is
Many environmentalists/ecologist believe this
herbicide is causing harm to some animals and plants.
There is some evidence that it can harm
humans (e.g. cancer, autism), but again, its effects are disputed
It is supposed to break down quickly in the
environment, after its killed he weeds, but ...?
7. There are
concerns about the welfare of
genetically engineered animals.
You can't accurately predict all the effects
on an animal after its genome has been modified - you may produce
one desired product, but are there other genetic consequences?
Many genetically modified embryos do not
survive, and genetically modified animals, especially clones, can
suffer from health issues.
Other aspects of producing GM foods
The marketing of GM foods
Food companies should always have to
clearly label foods that contain GM products.
That gives the consumer the rightful choice
as to whether the do, or do not, buy and eat genetically modified
Further to this point, it is up to food
manufacturers to ensure that supposedly non-GM food is NOT
contaminated with GM ingredients.
Not all food manufacturers will be ethical
about this and may try to substitute more expensive conventional
non-GM ingredients with less expensive GM products.!
developments - not good or bad?
11. Use of GM applications raises
issues in some peoples minds - a recap of where we started in
Some people argue we are interfering with
nature and it is wrong to genetically modify organisms just for the
benefit of human beings AND uncertainty are the long-term
Is it right to genetically engineer animals
just to benefits us, and ignoring their real/potential health
Will we start genetically engineering our
offspring for a set of 'ideal' characteristics e.g. good looks,
intelligence, athletic prowess phenotypes etc.
Summary of learning objectives and key words or phrases
Be able to understand and discuss the advantages and disadvantages,
and ethical issues involving using the products
of genetic engineering - conservation and biodiversity issues with plants in agriculture
and horticulture, GM products used on animals and in medicine.
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