One thing that I've become rather interested in is the idea of Genetically Modified Food (Abbreviated GMOs for "Genetically Modified Organisms"). I was reading someone else's blog on genetically modified strawberries, and how bad they were/could be for people, and thought to myself, "Well, I'm sure there has to be some pros to GMOs for people to produce them..." so I went off and started looking for sites and information. I found a ton of stuff, from current regulations, pros, cons, possible solutions and applications.... it was a lot to take in. So, I have decided that I'm going to write a two blog entries on the single topic- one is going to be about the pros and benefits and applications of GMOs, and the other is going to be about the cons, peoples' fears about GMOs, and possible solutions to the issues.
So, In case you haven't guessed from the title, this is the first part, which is about the possible pros of GMOs. I'll start with the most interesting (in my opinion), which is also the most out there: phytoremediation. Phytoremediation is "the use of green plants to remove pollutants from the environment or render them harmless." according to the US Department of Agriculture, or more specifically the Agricultural Research Service. Basically, some plants can act as vacuums for different elements in the soil by sucking them up and eventually depositing the elements into their leaves or stems. There's one type of plant in the cabbage and broccoli family that can absorb high levels of zinc in soil, an element that commonly leaves plots of land un-farmable. Phytoremediation can even work on uranium!
Shown left, on the left, plant physiologist Leon V. Kochian, has dedicated his work to studying how plants can absorb and clean up heavy metals and toxic waste. "Current engineering-based technologies used to clean up soils--like the removal of contaminated topsoil for storage in landfills--are very costly," Kochian says, "and dramatically disturb the landscape." Can you imagine being able to plant trees and plants to help clean up soil (or even landfills!), save money, and leave the world greener, more beautiful, and cleaner? Personally, I think it's a fantastic idea. Now, many of these metals are very potent, and these plants would need to be able to resist a lot of the elements in the soil- that's where GMO's come into play. By genetically modifying plants to be able to handle more elemental stress (say higher amounts of toxic waste), it would be possible to clean up more of the heavy metals in soil and leave more land available for farming and clean agriculture.
I've learned from Deborah B. Whitman that besides phytoremediation, there are plenty of other benefits to genetically modifying food, and a lot of it has to do with how resilient crops are. For instance, the global population is drastically increasing, and food shortages and hunger are become more and more prevalent in the world- and it's only going to get worse. Every year, the world losses tons of crops to sickness, insects, bad weather conditions, and any other number of issues. But, what if we could grow plants that wouldn't die from a drought? More food availability means less starvation and hunger. What if we could engineer corn or rice or wheat that insects would never eat? We wouldn't need to use insecticides, and we wouldn't lose so many crops.
In some areas of the world, like Siberia or the Middle East, weather conditions are ridiculous. Extreme cold, extreme heat- I can't imagine trying to feed yourself in the middle of a desert or in the middle of northern Russia. If we could genetically modify food to withstand crazy weather conditions, food availability in starving countries in Africa would increase by leaps and bounds. The supply of food available would increase (for those of you in economics) therefore prices would fall and poorer people that perhaps couldn't afford as much could then afford to eat. Doesn't seem so bad, does it?
And speaking of Africa, malnutrition is a huge issue. People don't get enough nutrients and vitamins and minerals that are necessary to be healthy. Blindness from lack of Vitamin A (or Beta-carotene) is a big problem in poorer countries. With genetic modifications, it's possible to extract the gene from, say, carrots that produce beta carotene and add them to a crop that is common and cheap to produce, like rice in Eastern Asia. People would start getting their necessary doses of health vitamins with little or no change to their diets.
Herbicide tolerance and pesticide tolerance would be wonderful, as well. The loss of crops due to insects can be staggering, especially in developing countries. So, farmers have to spray down their crop with insecticide to try and save their crop, but people don't wish to consume insecticide. The best example of insecticide-resistant food is b.t. corn. Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae. By adding that gene to corn, it will naturally stop the threat of insects and will protect itself from harm without the aid of insecticides. Herbicide tolerance would be beneficial so that when farmers spray down crops to kill weeds, they don't affect the plants themselves.
As you can see, there are plenty of possible pros to GMOs- genetically modifying food isn't necessarily something crazy and evil. Scientists aren't trying to produce some kind of real-life spam monster, or killer attack bananas. By genetically altering plants, we can help clean up and feed the world- we can make plants and crops better, stronger, and healthier. Food could be more available to people living in places with extreme weather conditions, and it could help save lives and increase health in struggling countries. There are tons of possibilities and ways to improve the world we live in through GMOs.