The need for natural chunks of DNA

September 2013


An opinion and analysis from the editors of the popular science magazine, Scientific American, implores readers to “Fight the GM Food Scare”.

Public fears, it seems, are based on the misconception that GM foods endanger health.

In support of their assertion that GMOs are just as safe as other foods, the editors describe genetic transformation as a modern tool which inserts a gene here or tweaks a gene there. The reader is asked to compare this with conventional breeding in which “giant chunks” of DNA are swapped between one plant and another. GM, therefore, produces more predictable and precise results, which somehow makes it safer.

Is this argument convincing?


In the same issue of Scientific American, a cell biologist points out that
“Thirty years ago (at the dawn of genetic engineering and transformation), we didn't know that when you throw any gene into a different genome, the genome reacts to it. But now anyone in this field knows the genome is not a static environment. Inserted genes can be transformed by several different means, and it can happen generations later” (David Williams, University of California at Los Angeles).

OUR COMMENT

It's becoming clear that single genes don't exist outside the lab. In living cells, genes are the tiny components of giant chunks of DNA which move as a coherent whole. Natural genes don't get tweaked, nor do they insert themselves in a fresh genome: they swap places with other genes, and always as part of a larger unit of DNA. Once swapped, the giant chunks of DNA settle down to create a whole new organism hand in hand with each other, in a new dynamic harmony.

All this swapping of giant chunks of DNA is necessary to ensure the integrity of the offspring and of future generations. Artificial genes thrown into an alien genome cause disruption and instability.

Ask yourself who is suffering from misconceptions about GM safety: believers in the precision and predictability of man-made GM tools, or believers in the holistic nature of the genome?


SOURCES:
  • David H. Freedman, Biotechnology: are engineered foods Evil? Scientific American, September 2013
  • Fight the GM Food Scare, Board of Editors, Scientific American, September 2013

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