Argument Against Transgenic Agriculture

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Genetic engineering is an ever-expanding field in the world of science. In the last ten years, the process of genetically altering organisms has evolved from experimentation to commercial application. It is taking the place of selective breeding for isolating desired traits in different organisms. Transgenics has also led to a better understanding of gene function, allowing for better understanding of human diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, and cancer. For some, such as the starving poor and those afflicted with genetically-caused diseases, transgenic organisms are a blessing. For others, such as poor farmers and the animals themselves, genetic engineering spells the end of the world.

The Federation of European Laboratory Animal Associations defines the term transgenic animal as an animal whose genome has been deliberately modified (Margawati). This definition also holds true for any other transgenic organisms, including plants and bacteria. In fact, the principle of transgenics is the introduction of an alien gene into an organism's DNA. Generally, the gene would not occur naturally in its host organism. Transgenic science was born in 1970 when experiments were conducted to produce different strains of mice; cells originating from one strain were introduced to the embryos of another strain by aggregation or injection during the blastocyst stage (C. River). The resulting offspring showed characteristics from each strain used. These first transgenic animals were created without the use of recombinant DNA, but the process was a building block for the mechanisms of genetic engineering used today (C. River). This process is actually quite similar to that of cloning, when one organism is a genetically identical to its parent.

Today, three methods are used to transfer genes: DNA microinjection, retrovirus-mediated gene transfer, and embryonic stem cell-mediated gene transfer (Harper). DNA microinjection, the most common method used, involves the transfer of a gene construct into the pronucleus of a reproductive cell; this cell, which is created in vitro, is then placed into the female recipient (Harper). Retrovirus-mediated gene transfer involves the use of a retrovirus to transfer genetic information to the host cell (Harper). The resulting organism, which possesses parts of diverse genetic makeup, is then inbred with other organisms carrying the same traits until homozygous transgenic offspring are born (Harper). Embryonic stem cell-mediated gene transfer uses stem cells as blank canvasses; chosen genes are inserted into the cell and are then integrated into the embryo (Harper). The transgenic organisms produced through these processes have had a significant impact on many areas of human life.

Transgenic technology has already been applied to various disciplines. In agriculture, transgenic science has taken the place of traditional selective breeding, which can be tedious and time-consuming. Desired traits such as disease immunity and toxicity to certain pests yield more crops for commercial farmers. Cows can be altered to grow larger and produce more milk, and sheep can grow more wool, both without the aid of injected hormones. In 1982, Genentech began production of Humulin; recombinant DNA technology was used to insert the human genetic code for insulin into E. Coli host cells (Campbell). The bacteria grew large quantities of the protein, which was easily harvested and sold in mass production (Campbell). This form of insulin has been safely used for years. In addition to the applications of transgenics already in use, many are being developed. Scientists at Nexia Biotechnologies spliced spider genes into the cells of lactating goats, which now manufacture silk strands that are excreted in their milk (Margawati). This material made from these strands can be woven into a "light, tough, flexible material that could be used in such applications as military uniforms, medical micro sutures,...
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