Saturday, August 12, 2017

Humans are GMO and So Is Everything They Eat

Every person in the world is genetically modified, and so too is every apple, potato, tomato, ear of corn, steak, piece of chicken, or glass of milk.

Over at Quartz they write about GMO -- so-called genetically modified organism, noting that all of human production is dependent on GMO food, and has been for 100,000 years:

For many activists, genetically-modified anything is unacceptable. It is unfortunate that many advocates of sustainable agricultural practices and “green” thinkers have embraced ideas that lie well outside scientific reality, and have let the anti-science zealots control the environmental movement. The fact is that humans have been genetically modifying plants for more than 10,000 years.

Agriculture itself is unnatural. It took our ancestors tremendous time and effort to clear forests to make way for open fields, plant crops, and develop reliable food sources.

But, these painstaking efforts were a tremendous benefit to the human race and were the driving force behind the growth of civilizations. Humans were no longer hunter-gatherers, and were free to develop stable societies since the basic needs of food had now largely been met.
The article goes on to note that panic about GMO is mostly fear bolted to ignorance: failure to understand that GMO food is almost always the best environmental option because it means less spraying of toxic chemicals -- the kind of stuff that gave us "Silent Spring."

More evidence is accumulating that genetically enhanced foods could actually be the “greener” option.

In the past two decades since the first introduction of this new chapter of agriculture, two traits represent the majority of those genetically enhanced crops. The first is the “Round-Up Ready,” or herbicide-tolerance trait, which allows farmers to treat their fields to kill weeds, while leaving the crop-plant unharmed.

The argument against using this trait is that they will increase the use of these herbicides. It is true that the use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round-Up®) has more than doubled since 1996. But what is lost in this debate is how glyphosate is relatively non-toxic compared to the alternatives; for perspective, glyphosate is about half as lethal as vinegar, which is a recommended “natural,” home-gardening herbicide.

The article goes on to note that after glyphosate resistance, the other great leap forward in GMO production has been plants that fix their own BT bacteria:

The second trait is called “Bt” for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium. Plants that are transformed inserting a gene from this bacterium produce a natural protein called Cry1A, which is harmless to humans, but lethal for specific insects like the corn borer. Ironically, Bt/Cry1A sprays have been approved for use by organic farmers who face crop damage caused by insect attacks. Do anti-GMO activists feel that it is okay to douse your plants with this spray, but it’s not okay to develop a plant that can make its own Cry1A protein?

Should every person in the world be required to have a big "GMO to the Bone" tattoo on their forehead to let potential mates and employers know?

What the article does not mention is that humans themselves are genetically modified organisms.

For millions of years, ticks, mosquitoes, parasitic worms, and bacteria ingested with our food, have been adding foreign DNA into our mix.

 Over at Science magazine, the house organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, they note:

You’re not completely human, at least when it comes to the genetic material inside your cells. You—and everyone else—may harbor as many as 145 genes that have jumped from bacteria, other single-celled organisms, and viruses and made themselves at home in the human genome. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which provides some of the broadest evidence yet that, throughout evolutionary history, genes from other branches of life have become part of animal cells...

In all, the researchers pinpointed hundreds of genes that appeared to have been transferred from bacteria, archaea, fungi, other microorganisms, and plants to animals, they report online today in Genome Biology. In the case of humans, they found 145 genes that seemed to have jumped from simpler organisms, including 17 that had been reported in the past as possible horizontal gene transfers.

So what does that mean? Does it mean if you are anti-GMO, you have to commit suicide?

Does it mean that every "genetically modified" human (all of us) will have to  have a big GMO tattoo on the forehead to let potential mates and employers know?

No, not at all.

 It does mean, however, that you might want to read more, and perhaps change your mind based on new information.

That's what Bill Nye "the science guy" did, and no one thinks less of him for it.

The real objection to GMO is not actually science-based.  It's based on the idea that "man should  not be playing God," and that if we do that Frankenstein might pop up around the corner.

What's funny is that man has been playing God since the beginning, and not only with apples, corn, potatoes, sheep and cows, but also with land, trees, and wildlife.

We "play God," every time we get in a car and go 60 miles an hour, get in an airplane and fly to another country, or vaccinate our dogs or kids.

We "play God" every time we communicate on our cell phones, or freeze ice cream, or turn on the air conditioner or the heater in our house.

How funny is it that the most reactive  "play God" opposition out there today is in the two areas vital to life and progress -- vaccination and food -- and that in these two arenas the people who embrace vaccines (very safe) are also the same ones who throw up the flag of fear when it comes to food (also very safe)?

Biting insects have already made you a GMO.


castom said...

I think this simplifies the issue slightly. Many folks who take issue with GMOs mean specifically organisms with genes altered beyond the scope of traditional breeding methods.
I agree that we are all GMO (or more accurately hybridized), but what I have trouble with is patenting genes that are altered and prosecuting those who encounter those genes via genetic drift. We cannot control genes! They multiply, spread, and mutate beyond our belief in the tight little fence of intellectual property. So the question for me is how do we live in the reality of genetic modification? How can modern techniques of genetic modification be egalitarian, and not controlled by powerful and profit driven corporations. Perhaps CRISPR technology helps because of its relative inexpense...

tuffy said...

follow the $$.


ScienceMAG "horizontal gene transfer is not just confined to microorganisms but has played a role in the EVOLUTION of many animals"

I feel it's interesting to ponder this sentence.