e field, the new gene can easily move via pollen into those plants. The new traits might confer on wild or weedy relatives of crop plants the ability to thrive in unwanted places, making them weeds as defined above. For example, a gene changing the oil composition of a crop might move into nearby weedy relatives in which the new oil composition would enable the seeds to survive the winter. Overwintering might allow the plant to become a weed or might intensify weedy properties it already possesses.
Change in Herbicide Use Patterns
Crops genetically engineered to be resistant to chemical herbicides are tightly linked to the use of particular chemical pesticides. Adoption of these crops could therefore lead to changes in the mix of chemical herbicides used across the country. To the extent that chemical herbicides differ in their environmental toxicity, these changing patterns could result in greater levels of environmental harm overall. In addition, widespread use of herbicide-tolerant crops could lead to the rapid evolution of resistance to herbicides in weeds, either as a result of increased exposure to the herbicide or as a result of the transfer of the herbicide trait to weedy relatives of crops. Again, since herbicides differ in their environmental harm, loss of some herbicides may be detrimental to the environment overall.
Squandering of Valuable Pest Susceptibility Genes
Many insects contain genes that render them susceptible to pesticides. Often these susceptibility genes predominate in natural populations of insects. These genes are a valuable natural resource because they allow pesticides to remain as effective pest-control tools. The more benign the pesticide, the more valuable the genes that make pests susceptible to it.
Certain genetically engineered crops threaten the continued susceptibility of pests to one of natures most valuable pesticides: the Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt toxin. These "Bt crops" are genetically engineered to contain a gene for the Bt toxin. Because the crops produce the toxin in most plant tissues throughout the life cycle of the plant, pests are constantly exposed to it. This continuous exposure selects for the rare resistance genes in the pest population and in time will render the Bt pesticide useless, unless specific measures are instituted to avoid the development of such resistance.
Addition of foreign genes to plants could also have serious consequences for wildlife in a number of circumstances. For example, engineering crop plants, such as tobacco or rice, to produce plastics or pharmaceuticals could endanger mice or deer who consume crop debris left in the fields after harvesting. Fish that have been engineered to contain metal-sequestering proteins (such fish have been suggested as living pollution clean-up devices) could be harmful if consumed by other fish or raccoons.
Creation of New or Worse Viruses
One of the most common applications of genetic engineering is the production of virus-tolerant crops. Such crops are produced by engineering components of viruses into the plant genomes. For reasons not well understood, plants producing viral components on their own are resistant to subsequent infection by those viruses. Such plants, however, pose other risks of creating new or worse viruses through two mechanisms: recombination and transcapsidation.
Recombination can occur between the plant-produced viral genes and closely related genes of incoming viruses. Such recombination may produce viruses that can infect a wider range of hosts or that may be more virulent than the parent viruses.
Transcapsidation involves the encapsulation of the genetic material of one virus by the plant-produced viral proteins. Such hybrid viruses could transfer viral genetic material to a new host plant that it could not otherwise infect. Except in rare circumstances, this would be a one-time-only effect, because the viral genetic material carries no genes for the foreign proteins within which it was encapsulated and would not be able to produce a second generation of hybrid viruses.
Gene Pollution Cannot Be Cleaned Up
Once genetically engineered organisms, bacteria and viruses are released into the environment it is impossible to contain or recall them.
Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, negative effects are irreversible.
DNA is actually not well understood.
Yet the biotech companies have already planted millions of acres with genetically engineered crops, and they intend to engineer every crop in the world.
The concerns above arise from an appreciation of the fundamental role DNA plays in life, the gaps in our understanding of it, and the vast scale of application of the little we do know. Even the scientists in the Food and Drug administration have expressed concerns.
As with human health risks, it is unlikely that all potential harms to the environment have been identified. Each of the potential harms above is an answer to the question, "Well, what might go wrong?" The answer to that question depends on how well scientists understand the organism and the environment into which it is released. At this point, biology and ecology are too poorly understood to be certain that question has been answered comprehensively.
Certainly, there should be some. Still, most of them are connected with commercial gains for genetic engineering companies. A popular claim, that farmers will benefit, is simply not true. It is just the same thing with consumers. No one is going to feed the poorest with GE products for the famine in many underdeveloped countries is simply the matter of inability to buy food, not lack of it. So today, at the present stage of development, we hardly need GE expanding on food products, needless to say about animal and human cloning. Incidentally, some daydreaming proponents of GE really believe that mankind will not be able to survive without it. According to them, we will certainly have to genetically upgrade ourselves in response to governmental activities. The humans will be able to hibernate just like some animals to cover long distances without aging, and, probably, will become immortal…
Still, what about the present need of GE? Where can GE particularly be used now without a threat to the humans and the environment?
So, scientists say that genetic engineering can make it possible to battle disease (cancer, in particular), disfigurement, and other maladies through a series of medical breakthroughs that will be beneficial to the human race. Moreover, cloning will be able to end the extinction of many endangered species. The main question is whether we can trust genetic engineering. The fact is that even genetically changed corn is already killing species.
The recent research showed that pollen from genetically engineered corn plants is toxic to monarch butterflies. Corn plants produce huge quantities of pollen, which dusts the leaves of plants growing near corn fields. Close to half the monarch caterpillars that fed on milkweed leaves dusted with Bt corn pollen died. Surviving caterpillars were about half the size of caterpillars that fed on leaves dusted with pollen from non-engineered corn. Something is wrong with the engineered products they are different, so we cannot be sure about the effect they will bring about.
So, is the technology trustworthy? I suppose not.
So, do we need it? There are far too many disadvantages of GE and far too many unpredictable things may happen. The humans are amateurs in this area, in fact, they are just like a monkey taught to press PC buttons. We have almost no experience, the technology has not yet evolved enough. I believe, we should wait, otherwise we may give birth to a trouble, which would be impossible to resolve.
- David Heaf Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering, 2000, ifgene;
- Ricarda Steinbrecher, From Green to Gene Revolution, The Ecologist,
Vol 26 No 6;
- Genetic Engineering Kills Monarch Butterflies, Nature Magazine, May 19,1999;
- Whos Afraid of Genetic Engineering? The New York Times August 26, 1998;
- Sara Chamberlain Techno-foods, August 19, 1999, The New Internationalist;
- W French Anderson, Gene Therapy in Scientific American, September 1995;
- Nature Biotechnology Vol 14 May 1996;
- Andrew Kimbrell Breaking the Law of Life in Resurgence May/June 1997 Issue 182;
- Jim Hightower Whats for dinner?, May 29, 2000.
What is genetic engineering?1
The history of GE2
Selective breeding and genetic engineering3
What are the dangers?3
Fundamental Weaknesses of the Concept3
Potential Environmental Harms6