Science, Bitches! | Issue 09

Science, Bitches! | Issue 09

GE: Greatest Evil?

So, what comes to mind when you first think of genetic engineering? Crazy mutant fish with three eyes and wings? Mutated food that will turn you into half a plant when you eat it? Or maybe you think of evil businesses that rip off other farmers. Well, letís clarify a few things. I wish I could tell you the last one wasnít true, but unfortunately there are money-hungry people out there who give genetic engineering a bad name. The rest, however, is fiction.

Want to know an example of something we use here in New Zealand that comes from genetic engineering? Insulin. Without it, people with diabetes would have a really hard time managing their disease. Before we used recombinant insulin, we had to extract it from livestock. People using this could have negative reactions to it, which is less than ideal for someone who needs to take insulin every day. Now we can create human insulin in bacteria and even plants, making it cheaper and safer.

Letís talk about GE and food. Maybe youíve heard that food that has been genetically modified has all these crazy new genes in it that will get into your system and do weird things to you. I can tell you now that this is not going to happen. What you need to remember is DNA is in all fruit, veges, meat Ė any food products that came from something living have genes. DNA isnít anything new! You cannot absorb crazy plant genes and turn into a mutant from eating a carrot. The same goes for other types of GE food Ė DNA doesnít hurt you.

Thereís something really cool that we can do with GE that could have a huge impact on our struggle with world poverty Ė golden rice. In countries where food variety is limited, families often eat only rice, creating a huge problem with malnutrition. People get enough calories in their diet, but severely lack essential nutrients, and this is what kills them. To combat this, scientists developed golden rice Ė rice that is genetically engineered to produce a precursor to vitamin A. This can be grown as easily as normal rice, but has more nutritional value. This has the potential to have a huge positive impact on poverty-stricken countries Ė but because itís genetically modified, many people are against this idea.

When considering genetic engineering, itís pretty obvious that we shouldnít accept it lightly. But just because itís a kinda scary concept, we shouldnít be so quick to condemn it. Some strict regulation regarding its safety is clearly necessary, but before you say no to GE, donít forget about the science, bitches.
This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2013.
Posted 3:14pm Sunday 28th April 2013 by Hannah Twigg.