We all have lived in a pool of water, with gills that helped us breathe and a tiny little tail that ran right across the spinal cord, for a fair amount of time as a foetus in “the womb”. Here all the magic happens where gene combination transforms all living from a single cell to a fully functional adult.
In 2002, scientist at Caltech, USA created a glow in the dark mice by injecting a green fluorescence gene from a jellyfish into a single-celled mice embryo. Researchers since then have created many fluorescent animals which include fish, cats and pigs.
Genetically modified crops or transgenic organism as they are called are artificially generated in labs and after a large number of trials released in the market for consumption. In India as of today only one transgenic crop rules the market – Bt Cotton. Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis a bacterial species that has the potential to cause tumours in the dicotyledon plants. This feature is used to our benefit. The gene which carries a desired trait is inserted into the DNA of the bacterium which in the process of tumour formations actually transfers the desired trait in the plant. Up until now this transfer is done on one plant in labs under suitable controlled conditions. Once successful these plants are then crossbred to produce in multitudes.
Monsanto- the world’s largest manufacturer of GMO’s has a patent on an invention called “Methods for transforming plants to express Bacillus thuringiensis Delta endotoxins.” They are a type of pore forming toxins produced by the bacteria that are expressed by the “cry” gene. These toxins cause the cell lysis in the pest that attack the Bt Cotton.
Since the commercialization of the GMO’s the world has been divided into two schools of thoughts. One group believes that it has no added harm in comparison to the traditional method of relying on fertilizers and pesticides. The other believes that GMO’s cause environmental damage and may also cause health problems in the long run. The livestock is also tested for genetic modification. Although it is not prevalent in our nation it is in the wake of the world today after its success on the commercial crops.
One such anti-GMO organisation “Centre for food safety” has asserted the GMO’s to be the greatest environmental disbalance of the 21st century. “The better health store” and many such institutes say that the long-term effect of GMO’s remains unknown.
However, the “World Health Organization” has stated that the production and consumption of the GMO foods is no riskier than the traditional method of farming, in support of evidence from various science associations around the globe. Even so, most developed nations are reluctant to consume transgenic products.
In India ever since the Bt Cotton has been introduced it occupies 95% of the total cultivated area of cotton in India.
It is very clear from the above graph that over the time period of 2003-14 there has been an increase in the number of seed companies. Even though there is no clear data on the consumption pattern of the Bt cotton in India, the increase in the production is an indirect measure of the growth of transgenic crops.
The major genetically modified crops in India are Bt Brinjal, Golden Rice, Bt Tomato. However, these crops have not been released commercially because of controversies relating to the harmful effects they may have on the environment and also the human health. Golden rice is produced by the introduction of a gene that produces beta-carotene a precursor of Vitamin A. The idea behind was to target the vitamin A deficient population.
The future of GMO’s includes the production of artificial traits in animals. The most talked about today are the GM pork which will be Porine reproductive and respiratory syndrome resistant and the GM salmon which grows faster than normal on gene intervention. These products however are far from the wake in India. The numerous restrictions and regulations and extreme social sensitivity of these issues due to diversity in our nation will delay or probably never see the light of these GMO’s.
A neutral perspective is required to let these products launch. Our country still holds a large proportion of the population who are emotionally inclined to social, cultural, ethical, religious, political issues.
We get ourselves vaccinated even when it stings at first because it has a long-time effect on the body for the good. Genetically engineered is not necessarily harmful as it is proved by various science institutes in the world. Even if we are united, societal norms like religion, caste, colour, creed, gender, etc divide us into smaller groups making everything shallow. As it is rightly said “Education is the only powerful weapon that can change the world.”