An Apology for Biotech

I would like to tone down unfocused alarm over GM tech, not the application of it but the tech itself. For about eighty years, companies have induced random mutations in plants with high radiation, analogous to blind surgery performed with shotguns. And the way nature usually modifies a genome is little different, except in the caliber of the ammunition. But the new targeted gene modification techniques, like those using CRISPR editing, are like real surgery guided by preliminary scans and precision instruments. A gene produces a polypeptide, usually a protein. Its effects will be small unless the organism is already evolved to support some radical new function, in which case the function will generally make the organism less fit. Targeted gene manipulation to improve crop yield or pest resistance tends to make organisms more dependent on us, not less. Despite what superhero comics have led us to believe, the modification of a single gene or small set of genes probably won’t unleash a plague by accident or equip a frog with laser death vision.

It is possible to willfully engineer a hazardous plant or virus, but we need to be smart about our criticisms, or we will not only exacerbate the very real problems with monoculture and world hunger that GM technology seeks to address but weaken our position in demanding reasonable oversight.

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About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. President of ElectricStory.com.
This entry was posted in GMO, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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