The process of altering an organism’s genetic make-up, to ensure that it will have certain characteristics, is known as genetic modification or genetic engineering. It has already been applied to plants and animals for many years. Even though genetic modification can be used to cure life threatening diseases, many argue that it is immoral to use it on humans as there is the possibility of creating superhumans, and potentially even changing the entire species. Regardless of personal opinions about genetic modification, however, there is no doubt that the effects of altering genes can be very interesting. Some of these include:
Genetic Modification in Animals
Cloning – In 1996, Dolly was the first sheep ever to be cloned, meaning that a genetically identical copy of a sheep was produced using scientific methods. Even though Dolly’s ‘birth’ caused a mixed public reaction, she lived happily until 2003 when she had to be euthanised due to extremely painful arthritis.
Glow-in-the-Dark Cats – Though most people are unable to understand the reason behind the experiment, in 2007, a team of scientists created one cat that was able to glow-in-the-dark. They subsequently used it to clone several others.
Cows with Less Flatulence – Whenever a cow passes gas, methane is released into the air. This chemical contributes to global warming, prompting genetic modification of cows so that they will have less flatulence and therefore help to preserve the environment.
Faster Growing Salmon – A popular source of food worldwide, salmon are unable to naturally produce growth hormones throughout the entire year. Scientists have found a way to modify the species, facilitating a growth rate that is twice as fast as normal.
Genetic Modification in Plants
Pollution Fighting Trees – The University of Washington modified polar trees allowing them to absorb polluted water and clean it, before releasing it back into the air. This is another method aimed at helping to protect the environment.
Golden Rice – There are countries in the world where the majority of citizens are unable to make healthy food choices. Scientists created a rice which contains beta-carotene, which is also found in carrots and gives them their orange colour. This rice will provide a high dose of Vitamin A, to boost the immune system, whenever it is consumed.
Faster Growing Trees – An increased demand for wood has resulted in the production of trees that are able to ward off biological attacks, grow quicker and are stronger. These produce a better wood supply for construction and other projects.
Corn with Insecticide – Corn is grown on a large scale worldwide, and provides food for many people. Farmers would normally manually spray the crops, to ensure that insects do not destroy them. Genetic modification has resulted in a strand of corn that is able to produce a poison that kills insects. Since the plant cannot be selective about the insects that it kills, however, both the beneficial ones, such as butterflies, and the destructive ones are repelled.