Holistic view of GMOs may be more accurate

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Molly Geisinger ’15

Last year, public outcry over the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pressured Cheerios to eliminate genetically modified ingredients. However, recent evidence suggests that there may be more to GMOs that meets the eye.
GMOs are organisms that have genes from an unrelated species in their genetic material, according to usatoday.com. The foods produced using GMOs are known as GM Foods. 
Recently, consumption safety tests, the labeling of genetically modified products, and the location for planting GMOs have all become sources of heated debate regarding their effects on human health, according to the World Health Organization.
As a result, in a survey by the Pew Research Center, in affiliation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 59 percent of Americans believe GM foods are unsafe, according to geneticliteracyproject.org.

Molly Geisinger '15
Molly Geisinger ’15

After her extensive research on the subject of plant molecular biology, Convent of the Sacred Heart Upper School science teacher, Dr. Kristina Gremski, believes in a more balanced view of GMOs.
“I’ve found that so many people are against GMOs without understanding the pros and cons,” Dr. Gremski said. “There is no cut and dry answer.” 
Focusing on the risks of using this procedure, scientific publications such as Nature and Scientific American have “taken a hard look at safety and also concluded there’s no evidence that GMOs are bad for us,” according to The Washington Post.
In fact, traditional plant breeding poses even greater risks to humans than genetic modification. Traditional plant breeding, where two species, such as a wild potato and regular potato, mix to produce a hybrid species can result in a random and potentially dangerous gene selection.
“When you are mixing two entire species you’re mixing all of their DNA, and you basically have very little control,” Dr. Gremski said. “If you know that there is one specific gene that has a health benefit and that’s the only thing you take, there’s still stuff that could go wrong, but it is still a little bit more controlled.”
Although GMOs provide a better alternative than plant breeding for human health, they negatively affect nature. For example, this process can result in an increased number of pests, which have grown immune to pesticides, according to gmo-journal.com. However, Dr. Gremski believes that this issue has potentially good applications whose effects can be mitigated.
“One good but still controversial application of GMOs is an insecticide called Bt,” Dr. Gremski said. “They engineered corn to make its own Bt so it’s producing its own insecticide so that only insects attacking the corn get killed. That means that beneficial insects such as butterflies do not get killed. However, the disadvantage is engineering the corn to produce its own Bt will lead to the evolution of resistant insects faster than simply spraying the field.”
There are already efforts to slow down this process by planting corn in alternating rows of GMO and non-GMO but Dr. Gremski expressed concern about its application elsewhere.
“In the US they have definitely been doing it [application of GMO insecticide Bt]. If we then export the corn to third world countries they might not be following these guidelines and that could be a problem,” she said.

Looking ahead, scientists expect GMOs to not only benefit the global food supply but also address malnutrition worldwide.

For example, Dr. Gremski believes that Golden Rice is one exciting application of the genetic modification This grain has been genetically modified to help people in underdeveloped countries suffering from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) to get the vitamin from one of their staple everyday foods.

– Nebai Hernandez, Staff Writer

 

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