“Science is but a perversion of itself unless it has as its ultimate goal the betterment of humanity.” – Nikola Tesla
With the evolution of humans, science and technologies have also evolved. It has played a vivid role in improving living conditions across the globe. Most importantly, science and technology have made our everyday life a lot easier. From the invention of the telephone to the cure of cancer, science and technology have helped to achieve unimaginable things. As science does the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment, the technology applies the same scientific knowledge for practical purposes. Therefore, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), is one of the very popular examples of the evolution of science and technology. Over the years, it has also become quite a topic of debate. Let us read further about it in detail.
What Are GMOs- An Overview
The artificial genetic manipulation of the living organisms in the laboratory through genetic engineering becomes Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). With the help of this, combinations of plants, animals, bacteria, and viruses are created. This is not possible through the traditional crossbreeding method and also, it does not occur in nature naturally. However, over the years, people have altered the genomes of animals and plants with the help of traditional crossbreeding techniques. But, the results have varied. Now, with the help of GMO technology, scientists can choose the desired traits of certain organisms and exhibit them in others. Therefore, it has given precise control over the genetic changes introduced into an organism. Agricultural and pharmaceutical industries have benefitted on a very big scale with the help of this technology.
Humans started to domesticate animals and plants around 12,000 BCE, using selective breeding. Moreover, advancements in genetics have allowed us, humans, to directly alter the DNA of various organisms. Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen made the first genetically modified organism in 1973. Then, in 1974, the first transgenic animal, a mouse, was created by Rudolf Jaenisch, by introducing foreign DNA into its embryo. Whereas, Michael W. Bevan, Richard B. Flavell, and Mary-Dell Chilton created the very first genetically engineered plant in 1983. Therefore, after this various genetic engineering companies established to work in the field. They work mostly on farm animals, crops, and soil bacteria for better production.
Genetically Modified Bacteria and Viruses
Due to the relative ease of modifying their chromosomes, Bacteria became the first organism to be genetically modified in the laboratory. Bacteria are cheap, easy to grow, clonal, multiply quickly, and can be stored at −80 °C almost indefinitely. They have provided a great tool for scientists to study gene function and evolution. The first medicinal use of GM bacteria was to produce the protein insulin to treat diabetes. Apart from medicinal use, these have proved quite useful in the production of biofuels.
GM viruses can be used as vectors for inserting genetic information into other organisms. This process, known as transduction, if carried out successfully, the recipient of the introduced DNA becomes a GMO. The most common virus comes from adenoviruses, used for gene delivery. They possess the ability to carry up to 7.5 kb of foreign DNA and infect a relatively broad range of host cells. Moreover, in the most recent times, coronavirus vaccines have the same adenovirus modified for curing it.
Genetically Modified Plants
Genetic Modification in plants happens to display new flower colors, deliver vaccines, and create enhanced crops. Most of the initial genetic engineering has come from experimenting with tobacco. Most of the genetic modification of plants happens for the betterment in the field of pharmaceuticals and agriculture. An amazing fact that many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat today are genetically modified. As with time, the original species have become extinct, like bananas. The other crop that has been genetically modified, that we use daily, BT cotton, BT corn, soybeans, etcetera.
Genetically Modified Animals
Comparatively, animals have been quite a difficult species for this and, majority of which still lies in the research stage. However, mammals have proved as a great asset in this research as they come as great modal organisms for humans. One of the very popular developments in this field has been the development of cow that produces allergy-free milk. Moreover, scientists have genetically engineered dairy cows, to produce milk that would be the same as human breast milk.
Lately, scientists are working on Synthetic DNA that can help to cure some incurable human diseases such as cancer, diabetes, leukemia, and so on. It is known as Gene Therapy, which is a relatively new concept. The most popular example of gene therapy could be genetic disorders such as Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, and Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Apart from these, scientists have their research going on for the treatment of other incurable diseases, like, cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cancer, etcetera.
Genetically Modified Organisms- Risks and Controversies
Every invention and discovery has to face both-criticism as well as admiration. We all know that we learn from our mistakes and we cannot succeed without failing first. Once upon a time, there were so many things that seemed unattainable, so many diseases that had no cure, but now, we have achieved great success and cures.
Therefore, in the same way, the research on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) faces both, criticism and admiration. We face situations from time to time, when the result did not come as desired or the final product came out harmful. But that does not mean that we will stop researching? The results have come out pretty helpful too. The fact that these Genetically Modified Organisms have helped cure some diseases that once seemed incurable and people died because of them, is applause-worthy.