Genetically Modified Organisms
Genetically modified organisms (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
With the advent of recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) technology in the 1970’s came the ability to modify and create genes and to transfer genetic material between unrelated species in a rapid and specific manner. The development of new traits is no longer limited to mutation or natural selection from a limited pool of genes; to alter an organism, scientists can introduce genetic traits from any species. Scientists first developed transgenic animals and plants in the early 1980’s using genetic engineering in combination with techniques such as cell fusion, tissue culture, in vitro fertilization, and embryo transplantation. Clonal propagation, possible in cell and tissue culture for years, was successfully applied to mammals with the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996.
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Applications (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Industry has made widespread use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Modified microbes are used in fermentation processes and to produce food ingredients. In the chemical industry, GMOs are engineered to produce reagents and novel catalysts and to convert hazardous waste into harmless or useful substances. The result has been increased efficiency of certain industrial processes and decreased waste. In 1982 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of human insulin derived from genetically engineered bacteria. Subsequently, the pharmaceutical industry has made significant use of GMOs to develop new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests.
Genetic engineering has also been used extensively in agriculture. Products of engineered organisms are used to protect plants from frost and insects, manipulate lactation and growth processes in livestock, and improve animal health. In 1986 regulators approved the release of the first genetically engineered crop plant, tobacco, in the United States. By 2006 seed producers had applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for permission to field-test almost 11,600 genetically engineered varieties. Plants have been designed to resist disease, drought, frost, insects, and herbicides; other uses of the technology have focused on improving the nutritional value and flavor of foods. Plants have even been engineered to produce synthetic rubber, plastics, vaccines, and renewable...
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Concerns and Regulation (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
The modification of natural selection and the disruption of ecosystems are the major concerns associated with the introduction of genetically engineered organisms into the environment. In addition, not all of the consequences of this technology are predictable because of a lack of data on the stability of artificial genetic changes, the tendency of DNA manipulation to induce mutations in organisms, and the natural complexity of organisms. Unforeseen environmental problems posed by GMOs are intractable, because once introduced into the environment, they may be impossible to remove and isolate. Critics of the technology make reference to “genetic wastes” that are able to propagate, mutate, and migrate.
The possibility of gene flow or escape—the transfer of genes from the modified organisms to related species in the wild—is of concern. Antibiotic resistance genes used as markers in the development of transgenic organisms might be transferred to bacteria, leading to new treatment-resistant strains. (While scientists regard this as unlikely, the remote possibility has led to the use of alternative types of marker gene, such as one that causes the plant to fluoresce under ultraviolet light.) Modified viruses used in many recombinant DNA techniques might escape to create new disease-causing agents. Transgenic organisms designed to be more vigorous or any new species created by the gene transfer may have selective...
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Bodiguel, Luc, and Michael Cardwell, eds. The Regulation of Genetically Modified Organisms: Comparative Approaches. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Glick, Bernard J., Cheryl L. Patten, and Jack J. Pasternak. Molecular Biotechnology: Principles and Applications of Recombinant DNA. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: ASM Press, 2009.
International Union for Conservation of Nature. Genetically Modified Organisms and Biosafety: A Background Paper for Decision-Makers and Others to Assist in Consideration of GMO Issues. Gland, Switzerland: Author, 2004.
Nelson, Gerald C., ed. Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture: Economics and Politics. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 2001.
Pardey, Philip G., ed. The Future of Food: Biotechnology Markets and Policies in an International Setting. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2002.
Rifkin, Jeremy. The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998.
Stewart, C. Neal. Genetically Modified Planet: Environmental Impacts of Genetically Engineered Plants. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
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Genetically Modified Organisms (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Humans have tried to influence the development of organisms for centuries by selectively breeding plants and animals. Advances in genetics make it possible to engineer organisms at the cellular level to improve everything from the productivity of crops to the viability of animal organs and tissues for transplantation to humans. There are basically two ways to genetically alter an organism: A transgenic animal has been modified by the introduction of a new gene, whereas a knock out is an animal in which a given gene is no longer expressed. Religious and ethical concerns include respect for the well being of future generations of the organisms and possible effects on the environment.
See also BIOTECHNOLOGY; DNA; GENE THERAPY; GENETIC DETERMINISM; GENETIC ENGINEERING; GENETICS; XENOTRANSPLANTATION
Applegate, John S. "The Prometheus Principle: Using the Precautionary Principle to Harmonize the Regulation of Genetically Modified Organisms" Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 9, no. 1 (2001): 20764. Available from http://ijgls.indiana.edu/
Pontifical Academy for Life. "Prospects for Xenotransplantation: Scientific Aspects and Ethical Consideration." September 26, 2001. Available from /
Wolfenbarger, L. L., and Phifer, P. R. "The Ecological Risks and Benefits of Genetically Engineered Plants." Science 2088 (2000): 290.
DONNA M. MCKENZIE