RUN!!! The GMO’s Have Escaped! It’s Pandemonium

Blog entry

I can’t help but conjure up images of Bill Murray in that famous Saturday Night Live Skit: “Everybody get outta here, there’s a lobster loose!” That’s what you might expect, given what certain focus and “advocate” groups who claim to be experts, tell you about genetically modified food.Left to their own devices, they’d work hard to convince all of us that these “Frankenfoods” will someday take over the world and keep us humans in little glass aquariums.I have a very dear Facebook friend who frequently posts links and comments about various companies and farms who use and sell GMO’s to us for (gasp!) eating. She is not only appalled, but seemingly fearful for her health, as if a fruitfly gene inserted in to her tomato will have her kids sprout 4 more legs or something. And, really, I just don’t get why people are worried. I don’t. By contrast, I think the alarmists and conspiracy theorists should back off and leave the fear-mongering to our government (Oh…Burn!). I know. “Here we go again! Dr. J is on his high horse, lecturing the plebes about science!” Fine. Whatever. I like it up here and until I get censored, I’ll make frequent (hopefully entertaining AND enlightening) trips up here. After all, I’m only 5′9″ and I like the view.

Here is my attempt at objectively presenting a scientific take on the whole thing: GMO’s are Genetically Modified Organisms. The idea is simple and is based on recombinant DNA technology. Essentially, you take a gene from organism A that has the quality you’d like to see in organism B and put it into organism B. For example, one might put a gene that renders his papayas resistant to a virus that’s been killing papaya crops for decades. What’s the result? Not brain-eating papaya zombies, but a crop of papayas, that look, taste, have the same nutrients and digestive side-effects of every other papaya. The difference? They were able to fight off a virus that normally makes them pretty close to inedible. That’s it. Besides, would you rather eat millions of that virus? THAT would make me uncomfortable…….

From what I can tell, the fear arises from the fact that the genes people use to make GMO’s typically come from other species–sometimes species that are nothing like the food you’re eating. The famous example is the fruitfly gene put into a tomato to help it retain its plumpness during shipping. Naturally I find this fear unfounded. Here’s why:

DNA is made up a very small group of molecules–whether you’re a sea sponge, a person, or the ebola virus. Those molecules are a phosphate group, a sugar (deoxyribose in DNA) and nucleotide base. The nucleotide base is where the diversity in DNA comes from. There are for bases: Adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine…aka ATGC. All DNA has the same chemical make-up, it’s only the SEQUENCE of the A’s G’s T’s and C’s that make things different from one another. This makes DNA relatively easy to insert into an organism. A cell in papaya will read the DNA whether it’s its own or foreign DNA, and make the proteins that the DNA says it should make. In this case, it makes a protein that protects it from a nasty-papaya destroying virus. Ta-Dah!

All is peachy, right? Not necessarily. Where I do agree that genetic modification can be harmful is with respect to the environment. There is enough evidence to suggest that, for example, GM-corn, can create problems if it gets off the farm. Picture this: A black bear gets into a crop of GM corn, engineered to withstand the short growing season and dryer climate. That bear, eats, say 10 ears of corn, and takes off with one in its mouth. The bear drops that ear of corn, and next year, the pasture the bear ran through as a few corn stalks rising over the grass. Next year, there’s 20 stalks, then 100, and so on. I can see that happening and wreaking havoc in an endangered ecosystem. However unlikely, it is a possibility and I will make that known.

What’s the solution? Well, I have my own issues about how much corn the average American eats (maybe next week’s blog?) but essentially, we’ve been eating genetically modified foods since humans learned how to grow it. The only difference is that selective breeding to produce desired effects has been replaced by faster, lab-induced methods of introducing foreign (and in my mind, benign) DNA in the organism. 

So, let’s ease the fear in our friends by asking one simple question: “What is it about this food that scares you? Because DNA is DNA. And the DNA of all organisms has the same molecules in it, regardless of whether it came from an oak tree or your great Aunt Edna. It won’t make your food poisonous or induce mutations in your own DNA.”

I’d like to hear what they say.