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GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS:

GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS SWAPNARANI NAYAK swapnarani.nayak@rediffmail.com

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INTRODUCTION A genetically modified organism (GMO) or a genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering technology. The techniques generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecule from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. GMO are the organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species. Genetic modifications involve the insertion or deletion of genes. When genes are inserted, they usually come different species which is called gene transfer. GMOs are used in biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine, gene therapy and agricultur

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What is Genetic Modification ? Genetic modification involves altering an organism's DNA. This can be done by altering an existing section of DNA, or by adding a new gene altogether. With genetic modification it is possible to transfer genes from one species to another . This is because all genes, be they human, plant, animal or bacterial are created from the same material. Genetic scientists therefore have a huge amount of genetic characteristics to choose from.

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An organism that has the desired characteristic is identified . 2. The specific gene that produces this characteristic is located and cut out of the plant’s DNA. 3. To get the gene into the cells of the plant being modified, the gene needs to be attached to a carrier. A piece of bacterial DNA called a plasmid is joined to the gene to act as the carrier . 4. A type of switch, called a ‘promoter’, is also included with the combined gene and carrier. This helps make sure the gene works properly when it is put into the plant being modified. Only a small number of cells in the plant being modified will actually take up the new gene. To find out which ones have done so, the carrier package often also includes a marker gene to identify them. 5. The gene package is then inserted back into the bacterium, which is allowed to reproduce to create many copies of the gene package. How does a genetic scientist work?

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6. The gene packages are then transferred into the plant being modified. This is usually done in one of two ways : By attaching the gene packages to tiny particles of gold or tungsten and firing them at high speed into the plant tissue. Gold or tungsten are used because they are chemically inert – in other words, they won't react with their surroundings. By using a soil bacterium, called Agrobacterium tumefaciens , to take it in when it infects the plant tissue. The gene packages are put into A. tumefaciens , which is modified to make sure it doesn't become active when it is taken into the new plant. 7. The plant tissue that has taken up the genes is then grown into full size GM plants. 8. The GM plants are checked extensively to make sure that the new genes are in them and working, as they should. This is done by growing the whole plants, allowing them to turn to seed, planting the seeds and growing the plant again, while monitoring the gene that has been inserted. This is repeated several times.

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Altering genes Genetic modification does not always involve moving a gene from one organism to another. Sometimes it means changing how a gene works by 'switching it off' to stop something happening . For example, the gene for softening a fruit could be switched off so that although the fruit ripens in the normal way, it will not soften as quickly. This can be useful because it means that damage is minimized during packing and transportation. Controlling this gene 'switch' may also allow researchers to switch on modified genes in particular parts of a plant, such as the leaves or roots. For example, the genes that give a plant resistance to a pest might only be switched on in the bit of the plant that comes under attack, and not in the part used for food

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Genetic modification is a more efficient and precise way to achieve the benefits of crop improvement. Using new technologies, scientists are now able to pinpoint the specific gene responsible for a particular trait and then extract or add that gene to a specific plant. Genetic modification is a more precise technique, where one can be exact in transferring the desired characteristics. In traditional processing one cannot avoid the possibility that other characteristics may also be transferred. Genetic modification is less time consuming than traditional processing. In traditional processing, characteristics can only be exchanged between species which are the same or very similar. In genetic modification, it’s possible to transfer genes from one species to another from plant to plant, from animal to plant, from plant to animal or from animal to animal. This is because all genes, no matter where they come from, are made of the same material DNA

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Positive Impacts of GM crops · Allows a much wider selection of traits for improvement: e.g. not only pest, disease and herbicide resistance (as achieved to date in plants) but also potentially drought resistance, improved nutritional content and improved sensory properties It is faster and lower in cost Desired change can be achieved in very few generations Allows greater precision in selecting characteristics Reduces risk of random occurrence of undesirable traits. Improved processing characteristics leading to reduced waste and lower food costs to the consumer. Prevention of loss of species to endemic disease GM has huge potential for mankind in medicine, agriculture and food. Its potential for developing crops of improved nutritional quality, and crops that will grow under previously inhospitable conditions (see above), thereby contributing to alleviating hunger and malnutrition, while helping to prevent the otherwise inevitable future pressure to encroach on natural resources.

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Improved agricultural performance (yields) with less labour input and less cost input Reduced usage of pesticides and herbicides Ability to grow crops in previously inhospitable environments (e.g. via increased ability of plants to grow in conditions of drought, soil salinity, extremes of temperature, consequences of global warming, etc.) Improved sensory attributes of food (e.g. flavor, texture, etc.) Removal of allergens or toxic components Improved nutritional attributes Phytoremediation : Not all GM plants are grown as crops. Soil and groundwater pollution continues to be a problem in all parts of the world. Plants such as poplar trees have been genetically engineered to clean up heavy metal pollution from contaminated soil.

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Negative Impacts of GM crops Environment: Unintended environmental impacts include harming non target and/or beneficial species in the case of crops with engineered insecticidal properties, as well as the development of new strains of resistant pests. Additionally there is concern that pollen from genetically engineered herbicide resistant crops could reach wild, weedy relatives of the crop and create so called super weeds Health: At present, there is no evidence to suggest that GM foods are unsafe. However, there are no absolute guarantees, either. Unintended health impacts from GMOs concern allergens, antibiotic resistance, decreased nutrients, and toxins

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Allergens Because protein sequences are changed with the addition of new genetic material, there is concern that the engineered or modified organism could produce known or unknown allergens. A recent National Research Council committee report on GMOs recommended the development of improved methods for identifying potential allergens, "specifically focusing on new tests relevant to the human immune system and on more reliable animal models.“ Antibiotic resistance Plant genetic engineers have frequently attached genes they are trying to insert to antibiotic resistance genes. This allows them to readily select the plants that acquire the new genes by treating them with the antibiotic. Sometimes these genes remain in the transgenic crop that has lead critics to charge that the antibiotic resistance genes could spread to pathogens in the body and render antibiotics less effective. However, several panels of antibiotic resistance experts have concluded that the risk is miniscule.

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Decreased nutrients Because the DNA of genetically engineered plants is altered, there is concern that some GMOs could have decreased levels of important nutrients, as DNA is the code for the production of nutrients. However, it must be noted that nutritional differences also have been documented with traditionally bred crops. Introduced toxins Residual toxins resulting from introduced genes of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis in so called Bt crops are unlikely to harm humans. This is because the toxin produced by the bacteria is highly specific to certain types of insects. Prior to its inclusion in GE/GM crops, Bt has been used as a biological insecticide, causing no adverse effects in humans consuming treated crops. Naturally occurring toxins There is concern that genetic engineering could inadvertently increase naturally occurring plant toxins. However, traditional plant breeding also can result in higher levels of plant toxins.

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Moral Issues "Moving genes from animals to plants gets you into a whole moral, religious, and political firestorm...“ This statement illustrates the primary contention point for the most common ethical moral argument against GMOs. For those who believe that humans do not have the right to create life that humans are stewards of the earth's species, or that humans are equals with other species, combining genes in ways that would not occur in the normal process of evolution conflicts with their personal philosophy of life. However, the argument has been made that genetic engineering is morally justified as it can be used to alleviate disease and starvation. While the argument for alleviating disease is supported by the case of genetically engineered human insulin and not yet commercialized projects that seek to deliver vaccines via food. The argument for alleviating hunger has yet to be borne out.

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Economic concerns Bringing a GM food to market is a lengthy and costly process, and of course agri -biotech companies wish to ensure a profitable return on their investment. Many new plant genetic engineering technologies and GM plants have been patented, and patent infringement is a big concern of agribusiness. Yet consumer advocates are worried that patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds so high that small farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for GM crops, thus widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor.

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Conclusion Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world's hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. Genetic modification has increased production in some crops. But the evidence we have suggests that the technology has so far addressed too few challenges. Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labeling. Many people feel that genetic engineering is the inevitable wave of the future and that we cannot afford to ignore a technology that has such enormous potential benefits. However, we must proceed with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment as a result of our enthusiasm for this powerful technology.