Some of the opposition to GMOs seems almost irrational(Fong, 2000). Two Mothers for Natural Law web articles (1999 and 2000) assume that there is something to be avoided in genetically engineered foods. They furnish a list of food products to avoid, and a source for testing DNA of food products for genetic engineering. There is no discussion or justification for what they are saying. The assumption seems to be that if it is a GMO it is bad. There may well be some problems with GMOs, such as allergic reactions, changed flavors and horizontal movement of genes, but these need to be investigated in a rational manner, not with blanket condemnations and ignorance.
It is probably a positive thing that protesters have called attention to the phenomenon of genetic engineering and have insisted that the government be more active in the testing and licensing of these products. At the same time, there seems to be much misinformation and some hysteria about the subject of genetic engineering. There have been all kinds of dire predictions about GMOs. But genetic engineering has been singularly free of tragic consequences to date. The one exception seems to be the production of tryptophan by a Japanese company. Eleven people died from consuming tryptophan that was improperly genetically engineered and purified. However, we may conclude that the general short-term effects of genetic engineering on humanity is positive.
However, there seems to be no research being done on the long-term effects of genetic engineering. There are several basic questions unanswered:
1. Will people over time develop allergic reactions to the transgenic proteins produced from genetic engineering?
2. Will the horizontal movement of genetic materials have a negative impact on ecosystems?
3. Will some virulent new pathogen develop from the transfer and transformation of microbial DNA made available by genetic engineering?
4. Will humans be able to make the correct ethical choices so that all of humanity may share in the potential benefits of genetic engineering?
Finally, from all I have read, I have concluded that genetic engineering can be of great benefit to humanity. But at the same time, I deplore the haste with which the biotechnology industry has pursued the production of GMOs and profit. The lack of research on possible long-term effects of genetic engineering is appalling.
Notes to Teachers on the Laboratory Exercises:
There are a number of points that need to be made to the teacher:
1. Roundup© is an herbicide and a poison. It has been implicated in non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It is easy and safe to apply, but you may want to do it yourself. A light spray on the leaves is all that is needed. Do it when there is no breeze!
2. Organic foods, obtainable in a health food store, are not genetically engineered. This is your source of soybean seeds, corn meal and tomatoes. The genetically engineered seeds may be purchased at an agricultural seed company, such as Hartz or Asgrow or Agway. Genetically engineered corn meal and tomatoes come from
3. I do not know if you will have a suitable oven available. I have one I can use in the teacher’s room. Maybe you can use one in the cafeteria kitchen?
4. If you simply give the students two samples, and do not tell them which is which, you may obtain more unbiased results.
Roundup© Ready Soybeans
There is a very effective herbicide on the market called Roundup©. This poison is manufactured by Monsanto, who also sells a genetically engineered soybean called Roundup© Ready. This soybean has been engineered with a gene from the bacterium Agrobacterium that makes the soybean plant tolerant to the herbicide Roundup©. Thus one can plant these soybeans, wait until they are growing and six inches tall, and then spray the entire field with Roundup©. All of the weeds will die, leaving only the Roundup© Ready soybeans. We can demonstrate this rather simple example of genetic engineering in the laboratory.
The procedure is as follows:
1. Work as teams of two. Each team needs to obtain from the teacher the following supplies and equipment.
a. Two styrofoam or paper cups filled with soil.
b. Six soybean seed, three of each type - Roundup© Ready and plain.
c. Two popsicle sticks to use as markers and probes.
2. Label the cups on the side - use RR and PL. Include your initials. Punch a hole in the bottom of each cup with a pencil (allows excess water to drain out).
3. Plant the soybean seeds about one inch deep in the soil. Place the three seeds of one type in one cup and the three seeds of the other type in the other cup.
4. Water the soil in both cups.
5. Place the cups in a window with plenty of sunlight. Water the cups every two or three days.
6. Keep a record of plant growth for each of the six plants.
7. When the plants are about 6 inches tall, spray each set of plants with Roundup©. Remember - THIS IS A POISON - it kills plants and has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice. USE WITH EXTREME CAUTION (Your teacher may wish to do the spraying of the Roundup© herbicide!).
8. Continue to water the plants and observe what happens over the next two weeks. What was the effect of Roundup© on each type of soybean?
9. Write a laboratory report on your observations, explaining what happened and why.
Normal and Genetically Engineered Corn
There may be a noticeable difference between genetically engineered corn and plain corn. There might be a difference in taste. How could we discover if this is true? By making some simple corn dish such as corn bread. Most of the cornmeal available in supermarkets contains at least 50% genetically engineered corn. Corn meal purchased as “organically grown” and certified, contains no genetically engineered corn. The difference is quite easily shown in the laboratory. The procedure is as follows:
1. Work as teams of three. Each team needs to obtain from the teacher the following supplies and equipment.
a. 1 Cup of regular corn meal
b. 1 Cup of organic corn meal
c. 1 Cup of sugar
d. 11/2 Cups of biscuit mix.
e. 2 aluminum cake tins
2. Make up two batches of corn bread mix, using the following proportions:
a. 1 Cup corn meal - (regular for one, organic for the other)
b. 1/2 Cup sugar
c. 3/4 Cup biscuit mix
d. 1 Cup water.
Mix all of the ingredients together in two cake tins and mark the tins by bending the rims.
3. Place the two tins in an oven and bake at 350°F for about twenty minutes, until a knife blade inserted in the mix comes out clean.
4. Taste each corn bread. Can you detect any difference in taste? Is there any way to determine if any taste difference can be attributed to genetic engineering?
5. Write a report on this laboratory. Include your impressions and the vote of the entire class. Why do you think you obtained the results that you did?
Storage Life of Normal and Genetically Engineered Tomatoes
One of the recently introduced genetically engineered products is tomatoes that have a longer shelf life. Students can compare very easily the shelf life of genetically engineered tomatoes and organic tomatoes. Simply buy some of each and see how long they last in the classroom on the window sill. The students might also wish to periodically taste them, to see if there is any difference in taste.