Good and bad genetic engineering of foods
Two unsuspecting farm animals have helped to demonstrate the increasing accuracy of genetic engineering techniques. The first is a cow that produced hypoallergenic milk after researchers used RNA interference to block the production of an allergy-inducing protein, as reported this week (October 2) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The second, reported in another paper in the same issue, is a pig that could be a model for atherosclerosis after researchers used an enzyme called a TALEN to silence a gene that helps to remove cholesterol.
Researchers have long struggled to remove cow milk’s allergy-inducing protein, beta-lactoglobulin, which can cause diarrhea and vomiting in children. They were previously unable to introduce foreign genes precisely enough, however, so they could never quite successfully replace the gene that codes for beta-lactoglobulin with a defective form.
But scientists at AgResearch in Hamilton, New Zealand, worked with molecules that interfere with messenger RNA (mRNA), which helps translate genes into proteins. They found microRNA (miRNA) in mice that targeted beta-lactoglobulin mRNA, so they inserted DNA encoding a version of this miRNA into the genomes of cow embryos. Out of 100 embryos, one calf produced beta-globulin-free milk. “This isn’t a quick process,” Stefan Wagner, a molecular biologist at AgResearch, told Nature. One problem is that RNA interference can’t eliminate the protein completely because some mRNA slips through.
Another technique could speed up the process. . .
An example of bad effects of genetic engineering comes (of course) from Monsanto, that soulless octopus of evil. Tom Philpott reports in Mother Joness:
For years, proponents of genetically modified crops have hailed them as a critical tool for weaning farmers from reliance on toxic pesticides. On its website, the GMO-seed-and-agrichemical giant Monsanto makes the green case for its its Roundup Ready crops, engineered to withstand the company’s own blockbuster herbicide, Roundup:
Roundup agricultural herbicides and other products are used to sustainably an [sic] effectively control weeds on the farm. Their use on Roundup Ready crops has allowed farmers to conserve fuel, reduce tillage and decrease the overall use of herbicides. [Emphasis added.]
But in a just-released paper published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Sciences Europe,Chuck Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, shreds that claim. He found that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology, which dominates corn, soy, and cotton farming, has called forth a veritable monsoon of herbicides, both in terms of higher application rates for Roundup, and, in recent years, growing use of other, more-toxic herbicides.
Continue reading. Of course, selling more herbicide, regardless of damage to the environment, is exactly Monsanto’s goal and a good source of profit, their only interest.
Knee-jerk, ideological opposition to genetic engineering is as pernicious as knee-jerk, ideological opposition to (say) gay marriage: not all marriages, gay or straight, are good, but some are very good. Judgments, if needed, must be made case by case. The same goes for genetic engineering: one can readily find both good and bad uses.
TL;DR: Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.