Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a sure way of satiating the consumptive needs of the society in the face of climate change.
GMOs make readily available all year round food, medication and industrial products at a fairer deal than natural organics. They are simply a means of climate change adaptation.
A GMO is an organism whose genome has been engineered, in a laboratory, to create a product with a specified set of desired characteristics.
Some, however, result from genetic engineering processes that entail gene combinations (recombinant DNA technology). The genes of unrelated organisms are mixed to produce a new specie (a transgenic specie).
Cloning is also a means of genetic engineering but the resultant creature is the exact version of its ‘parent’ or source organism. No new or foreign genes are included in the new life.
Dolly the Sheep was the first animal produced by cloning, in 1996. Others (dogs, horses, cats, et cetera) have since been cloned.
Cloning provides a quicker way of raising large herds or flocks in a short time as it bypasses fertilisation and pregnancy stages of reproduction and produces readily young livestock to be raised outside the lab, in farms. If moral laws allowed, human clones could be created as reservoirs or repositories for body organs that can be used to replace livers, kidneys, hearts and others when they fail.
Of concern, though, is the nightmare that can ensue if the human ‘photocopies’ roamed the streets as their originals, in their numbers—say, up to five per every human alive. Luckily, cloning is an exorbitant affair but it must not be lost to us that humans are imaginative and often pestilential.
In agriculture, genetic engineering has produced maize, cotton, wheat and soybeans that are fast-maturing, resistant to drought, high-yielding and hardy towards pests and diseases.
For instance, golden rice, a GMO, is transgenic and has more beta-carotene than the traditional one. This is because its genome includes a gene from the daffodil Narcissus (flower plant), which translates to a higher vitamin A ratio.
There is also iron-fortified GM rice in the market. The ion-rich rice variety’s genome includes a ferritin gene from an ordinary bean.
GM plants not only satisfy the increasing dietary needs of the society but also nutritional demands—improving people’s health. In this era of climate uncertainty, arid areas can be supplied with crops (GMOs) that mature within the short rains season, alongside drought-resistant GMO livestock that will not be killed by sweltering temperatures.
GMOs are noteworthy in the field of medicine. GM ‘edible vaccines’ can make it cheaper and effective to arrest pandemics such as Covid-19. An antigenic protein can be made present in a fruit through genetic engineering.
When one ingests a transgenic pear, apple or plum, the protein is absorbed into the body and one’s immune system invigorated to produce antibodies against a pathogen. These will not require queuing and are painless at most.
There is nothing inordinate about GMOs because the genes that are combined are common. It is only the technology that varies. Howbeit, it is important to let a consumer know that a product is GM, in observance of human rights.
Dr Kipkiror, PhD, an environmental consultant, teaches at the University of Kabianga. [email protected]