The debate over GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) rages on with ballot initiatives this election year addressing the issue of proper labeling on food products containing GMOs, and a new batch of superweeds that are resistant to the herbicides used on GMO crops plaguing farmers across the country. To read more about the GMO debates, check out our previous post on GMOs here, GMO labeling issues here and superweeds here.
But despite the debated pros and cons to genetically altering food, there are some intriguing, if sometimes bizzare, new uses of GMO science to help humanity. Scientists have been creating foods that do amazing things, like prevent cancer or deliver antibiotics. Here are some of the more interesting creations from the last few years:
– Disease-fighting eggs - in 2007, British scientists inserted two new genes into a breed of chicken known as ISA Brown (this breed has already been genetically selected to have the best egg layers). These new genes caused the chickens to lay eggs with proteins that are able to treat diseases as diverse as skin cancer, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The protein is found in the egg white of the genetically modified eggs.
– Venomous cabbage - tasked with finding a way to combat the caterpillars who eat cabbage in the fields, Chinese scientists inserted a gene into the cabbage that coded for the production of a modified version of scorpion venom. While not toxic to humans, the venom keeps caterpillars at bay and allows farmers to avoid using pesticides.
– Vaccine in a banana - an altered form of a virus is inserted into the banana sapling so that the virus’ genetic material becomes a permanent part of the plant’s cells. The plant will then produce the virus proteins but not the infectious parts of the virus. When people eat the banana and ingest these proteins, their immune systems respond by building up immunity to the disease, in the same way that traditional vaccines work but without the shot and in an easily transportable container.
– Plants that capture carbon - in our efforts to stem the release of carbon into the atmosphere, some scientists have turned to genetically modifying plants and trees so that they become capable of capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. The plants are engineered to store more carbon than usual in their root systems.
Whether you believe genetic alteration of plants and animals is a good or bad thing, the reality is its happening all over the world in many different ways. Certain forms of GMO organisms may serve to help solve some of our biggest issues and some may serve to cause more problems than they fix. The future remains quite open on this complex issue, so stay tuned.