Feeding the World production and processing, is whether or not we condone GMO and understand the relevance of feeding an ever growing population. We cannot deny the rapid increase of human population around the world, and the growing fear that we may not be able to mass produce enough food to feed our steadily growing population. While we have been managing through conventional forms of farming the amount of labor, money, and results are not enough to ease the fear of running out of food.
GMO’s known as genetically modified organisms may be one of the best approaches we can take when talking about the sustainability and production of our food.
To fully understand the benefits GMO’s we should first be able to define it. According to ‘source’, GMO’s in reference to agriculture is, a plant and or microorganism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. GMO’s are not a newly introduced subject, in fact we have been eating GMO’s for hundreds of years and we are still perfectly healthy.
The public that is opposed to the use and implementing of GMO crops, often are not truly informed on what it is scientists do to genetically alter it.
Scientists take a specific strand of DNA from an isolated test subject, take for example the case of the ‘Golden Rice’ that was produced for increased nutritional value. They took the specific strand of DNA from daffodils that held a lot of vitamin A, a nutrient that third world countries did not have steadily available.
By injecting that strand of DNA into the rice crop, they were able to produce a yellow grained rice, that was rich in vitamin A. Through genetic engineering they were able to decrease the amount of deaths due to vitamin A deficiency down significantly. However the ‘Golden Rice’ breakthrough was still not some of the earliest forms of genetically modified food that we have been consuming.
Think back to some of the foods you may find laying around in your kitchen right now. Bananas, Chili, Papaya, corn, and many more have all been genetically altered. Bananas though delicious and a great source of nutrients now, used to be a shell of almost completely indelible husk. Chili’s before genetic alteration were toxic and not fit for consumption, corn which is now roughly ninety-five percent of grain and feed production use to be a crop that produced very little seed and edible portions. Due to GMO’s we were able to modify these plants to grow in to fruitful crops, that are far more sturdy and easily adaptable to different weather conditions and regions.
When we discuss the impact GMO’s can have on the future of our food production, there are three key examples we should know about. The use of genetic engineering in crops can and have created crops that are, weather resistant, pathogen resistant, and produce marginally larger corp yield. Crops can only flourish when they are kept in environments they can thrive in, but with genetic engineering we can alter the crops DNA makeup to make it more adaptable to a number of regions and conditions.
The current threat of drought is a growing concern in many different regions, especially here in NM where we live in a dessert. Our water options are slowly diminishing every year. Creating a hybrid plant that can grow with less water will become a necessity, it will also reduce the cost of expensive water irrigation methods. As the conditions around us continue to change the approach we take towards agriculture also needs to adapt to these changes as well.
With the practice of GMO’s we have been able to make plants that can fend off insects and pathogens. An example of this would be the current GMO hybrid that was created to fight the Asian soybean rust epidemic that was spreading across South America. The damage done from this plant disease had cost Brazil two billion dollars, but is now being reversed after the discovery of a gene found in pigeonpea by two researchers at Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Viçosathat. The gene has been tested and showed results of being resistant to the fungus that causes soybean rust. (Staropoli, 2017)
The impact of GMO’s continues to improve crop yield yearly, by improving the quality of the crop and overall making it resistant to its natural enemies. One of which is insect infestation. Crops are constantly being ruined by the invasion of insects, while spraying pesticides is effective, it is also harmful to the crops and the consumers. The chemicals that are introduced to the plant may affect the people who purchase the produce and consume it, while much harsher chemicals will completely kill the entire crop. Scientists have been able to genetically engineer plants with a natural defense mechanism to these little invaders.
The mutations behaves as such, when the insect decides to eat the crop that has had this reaction genetically placed inside its DNA strand, the plant becomes toxic to them. They either die from consuming too much of this defensive gene, or they are successfully discouraged from eating more of the crop due to the affect it has on the insect. We are able to produce a much larger crop yield per acre by making the plants naturally resistant to diseases and insects.
While I am on the subject of crop yield, it is vital to mention the fact that not only does genetic engineering increase a plants resistance to poor environmental conditions; it also can produce hybrid plants that carry much more seed. A wild sunflower that you would see here in the southern part of New Mexico is vastly different from the ones we sell commercially. Wild sunflowers are tiny compared to they’re genetically altered counter parts, and the main reason researchers created that hybrid sunflower was to produce a higher ratio of seeds.
Sunflowers are one of the main sources of oil and edible seeds, understandably if we wanted to mass produce this crop and sell for a profit the yield each plant would bring has to be factored in. When growing the wild sunflower the crop yield understandable a crop with such little flowers would not have many seeds to harvest. By introducing growth hormones into this plant, we were able to produce the sunflower that most of us have thought was the original sunflower.
The main cause for the publics rejection of GMO’s are the false pretense that we are intruding harmful elements into our food and bodies when we consume these products. The reality of the situation is that genetic engineering related to agriculture is not creating chemically altered food. GMO researchers are introducing different isolated DNA strands that we have observed from other species of plants, and introducing those genes into other plants to increase the quality of our crops. There is even a form of using ‘natural’ genetic engineering that is possible when improving the quality of our plants.
Crispr-Cas 9 technology is a form of genetic engineering that uses bacteria and the natural defense mechanism of the plant to induce self editing inside the plant. It makes the plant filter out or edit the bad strands of DNA inside of its genes. The plant will be able to modify its genetic makeup without the introduction of any outside isolated DNA strand, that a GMO researcher would have injected directly into its DNA through standard procedure. With these recent advances to genetic engineering, we now have more dependable ways to endure the safety of our crop and the overall concern of feeding our growing population. While the field of genetics has continued to grow, conventional forms of breeding are beginning to come under criticism.
When you consider the application of traditional plant breeding, we can understand that the resistance of these crops will not be optimal. We can also expect to see a marginally smaller crop yield, and stagnant in nutritional value amount these variations of crop. What sets genetic engineering (GMO) apart from traditional breeding is specific gene transferring. Taking one stand of isolated DNA that we have identified and injecting that strand into another plant in order to create a hybrid.
With this method we are one hundred percent sure of what gene we are transferring and the properties it has. While traditional breeding relies on deliberate interbreeding between two similar species of plants, in order to produce a plant that has the preferred traits from both parent plants developed into its DNA. For example if you have plant A that has a preferred pigment, and a similar plant that exhibits tall genes, you would breed these two in hopes of getting a tall plant with the preferred pigment.
The problem with traditional breeding is the fact that researchers are not one hundred percent sure about what type of gene they are introducing to the other plant. The breakdown of it traditional breeders are not fully capable of identifying every single component of the species of pant they want to introduce to the other plant they are trying to breed with. The reactions to this are varied and can be potentially harmful to the plants they are trying to breed. Such as spreading harmful pathogens, introducing a unidentified gene that could potentially harm the plants overall well being, or in the worst case scenario could kill it.
When we consider the benefits of GMO and the constant concern for feeding an ever growing population, genetic engineering could very well be the best possible solution. We have been consuming GMO’s for hundreds of years and despite the constant backlash genetic engineering receives, the fact that we are still here and healthy disprove any myths GMO’s have be labeled with. Through genetic engineering we are able to control and manipulate the outcomes of plant breeding.
We are able to create crops that are naturally resistant to drought, heat, freeze, and many other soil tempered problems. With the resistance to weather conditions and insects, we will not have to spray our fields with harmful pesticides. Reducing the risk for contamination, and the possibility of killing off the entire crop instead of the problem areas. Enriching food with genes that will ensure nutritional value, there are even researchers right now working on incorporating vaccines into the food we eat. One day not only will we be able to produce the healthiest and most nutritional crop, we may even be able to stop the outbreak of diseases and vitamin deficiencies. Eventually we will be able to talk about GMO’s in the way they should be represented, and we can work to find solutions on providing sustainable agriculture.