The word “transgenic” is stigmatized by many sectors of society . Complex terms alienate the most skeptical population from the disciplines that use them, since the foreign, in many cases, generates fear and rejection. In a world in which we believe that almost everything we consume is transgenic, genetic modification has been called “unnatural”, “unethical” and even sentences related to the existence of a superior being: “being human cannot play God ”. Advantages of GMOS
Before diving into complex issues of genetics and bioethics, we must establish an indisputable foundation: the natural no longer exists in human society. You only need to observe a purebred dog, a park or a production farm. Our species has distanced itself from natural selection for centuries, taking with it a series of species and ecosystems in which, luckily or unfortunately, naturalness is conspicuous by its absence.
Nature, defined as inert matter generated as part of processes without human intervention, is not part of the population in which we develop. Making clear this harsh but immovable reality, we invite you to answer the following question with us: is genetic modification ethical?
What are GMOs?
On everyone’s lips, yes, but do you know what this term really means? A transgenic food is one that has been produced from a genetically modified organism, that is, genes from another living being have been incorporated into it to produce the desired characteristics . This is achieved through transgenesis and cisgenesis processes, the insertion of one or more genes into the genetic information of the target species.
Based on this definition, we cannot include within the term “transgenic” most of the animal species that we consume. For example, a laying hen is not transgenic as such: it is a product of genetic selection. In this process, a differential reproduction between individuals is promoted, so that the trait sought is amplified throughout the generations. Like purebred dogs, chickens have been selected on the basis of their reproductive capacity, but their genome has not been modified at any time at the individual level. Advantages of GMOS
Thus, you will be shocked to know that 95% of transgenic animals on Earth are rats and mice, whose purpose is to serve as experimental models to elucidate and learn to treat human pathologies. If you put a GMO in your mouth, in almost all cases it will be of plant origin. This needs to be borne in mind before raising the ethical dilemma.
Is it ethical to genetically modify living beings?
Perhaps the question is not whether it is ethical or not, since the real question is whether we could remain as a species in time without doing so. On this planet we are more than 7,500 billion inhabitants, a fact that cannot be explained without taking into account its consequences. According to UNHCR and WHO, almost 690 million people suffer from hunger on Earth, of which 20.5 million are children. This means that 45% of infants under 5 years of age die from lack of food.
Again, we lay the foundations in a clear way: the question is not whether to go to transgenics or not, because there really is no other way to face the world population demand without changing life habits. The question is, without a doubt, to what extent the ethics and morals of society are willing to cross the limits of biological impositions to solve the problems derived from a clear overpopulation.
Benefits/advantages of GMOs
As we have said before, when we talk about transgenics we almost always refer to plants. The United States carries the flag regarding this issue, since the area of transgenic crops cultivated in this country corresponds to 69% of the total worldwide . Argentina follows, with 20% more of the total.
Why go to transgenics? According to the biannual publication Acta Bioethica, these are some of the benefits of GMOs in agricultural practice :
- Creation of plants resistant to diseases and pests: If plants do not succumb to viruses and invertebrates, less money and arable land are lost.
- Reduction in the use of herbicides and pesticides: this is beneficial for human health and for the well-being of ecosystems.
- Creation of plants with resistance to drought, high or low temperature, acidic or saline soils. In a world where climate change is a fact, this is more than necessary.
- Production of industrial, nutritional or pharmaceutical molecules based on plant crops. Golden rice (which contains high levels of beta-carotene, producers of vitamin A) is an example of this.
- Alteration to delay ripening and thus have more time for transport and storage. Advantages of GMOS
These data look good on a list, but, luckily, they can also be contrasted with reliable and observable facts in the environment. For example, the AGRObio foundation demonstrated that, in Colombia, 209 million liters of water were saved between 2003 and 2015 due to the cultivation of transgenic plants . This represents the annual water consumption of 4,780 people. Beyond this, diesel consumption in machinery was also reduced by 3.1 million liters and the environmental CO2 footprint was drastically reduced.
Genetic modification in nonhuman and human animals: an ethical dilemma
The line of benefits and harms is blurred when we enter the realm of animals . We are no longer talking about plants, but about sentient beings with consciousness in many cases. Of course, at this point it is no longer optimal to focus solely on monetary and production benefits, since, for better or for worse, animals feel and are aware of what surrounds us.
In the non-human animal sphere, the discussion is more or less settled in the professional sphere. When taking modules that train the student for the handling and euthanasia of animals in a laboratory setting, the legislation is clear: an animal model cannot be used unless it is explicitly demonstrated that there is no other option . On the other hand, all the criteria for the management of living beings in this environment are controlled at the European level, and an investigation is not given the green light if it is not going to preserve the rights of animals.
Things get a lot more complicated if we talk about human beings. We quote you a very important concept before continuing: Advantages of GMOS
“An investigation, a treatment or a diagnosis in relation to the genome of an individual, can only be carried out after a rigorous evaluation of the risks and the advantages that it entails and in accordance with any other requirement of national legislation” (Universal Declaration on the Genome and Human Rights, article 4a).
For example, prenatal genetic analyzes (which are possible thanks to the knowledge of genetic modification) are only carried out today to elucidate whether the fetus carries any disabling chromosomal abnormality and, if so, prevent possible therapeutic actions in the future. In any case, in most cases the outcome is different: these tests are used to decide whether or not to go for an abortion.
Here a range of questions, moral dilemmas and hypotheses opens. What if an infant was allowed to genetically modify before it was born? Would the birth of a “perfect” entity be possible in the eyes of their parents? What would be the social consequences of this type of tool? It is clear that, if these are the questions that arise in the general population, something is being done wrong at the level of scientific communication.
A final thought
Sometimes, those of us who have dedicated ourselves to research get lost in numbers and feasible data: “opinions do not matter, because in the world of mathematics and statistics, only trends and reliability reign.” This is not like that at all. Research is a tool conceived by and for society, so when a person does not understand to what extent a discovery is going to affect them, clearly something has not worked at a communicative level. Advantages of GMOS
Science is there to serve you and me, people who surely do not dress in a gown every day . Therefore, it is necessary that research and culture remain in line. It may be possible to carry out genetic modifications beyond the current limits, but, if today’s society is not prepared for it, is it really worth stigmatizing a branch of knowledge for exploiting it before its time?
In summary, genetic modification is an issue practically settled in the agricultural field, because in the future it will be impossible to live without it. On the other hand, in the animal and human world the issue becomes much more complex, especially because perhaps society is not yet ready to put certain issues on the table . It is the work of researchers and disseminators alike to explain, pave the way, build bridges and always offer objective data so that the average citizen can understand what is happening around them. Only then will genetic modification beyond plants begin to be viewed favorably. Advantages of GMOS