Genetic Engineering

GE cartoon.jpg

(article: 1)
I choose this cartoon because it illustrates basically what GE scientists are trying to do with livestock and crops. This could also happen to us in the years ahead, parents will be able to customize their own children, and scientists will be able to engineer a child to have a perfect personality.

Definition: Genetic engineering is a process in which recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology is used to introduce desirable traits into organisims. A genetically engineered (GE) animal is one that contains a recombinant DNA (rDNA) construct producing a new trait. While conventional breeding breeding methods have long been used to produce more desirable traits in animals, genetic engineering is a much more targeted and powerful method of introducing desirable traits into animals. In January 2009, the FDA issued a final guidance for industry on the regulation of genetically engineered (GE) animals.

Is Genetic Engineering of Plants Safe? (article: 2)
This article explains the benefits of GE crops as well as the risks that may come with GE crops, like the threat of super weeds. It also explains that you should be cautious with GE plants because there hasn’t been very much research done on how safe they are. The companies that own these products also have a tight grip on their product, limiting the research done on their products.

Supporters of GE in agriculture point to multiple potential benefits of engineered crops, including increased yield, tolerance of drought, reduced pesticide use, more efficient use of fertilizers, and ability to produce drugs or other useful chemicals. UCS analysis shows that actual benefits have often fallen far short of expectations.
While the risks of genetic engineering have sometimes been exaggerated or mistaken, GE crops do have the potential to cause health problems and environmental impacts. For instance, they may produce new allergens and toxins, spread harmful traits to weeds and non-GE crops, or harm animals that consume these plants. At least one major environmental impact of genetic engineering has already reached a critical level; overuse of herbicide-tolerant GE crops has spurred an increase in herbicide use and an epidemic of herbicide-resistant "super weeds," which will lead to even more herbicide use. Each crop-gene combination poses its own set of risks. While risk assessments are being conducted as part of GE product approval, the data is generally supplied by the company seeking approval, creating a bias. Also, GE companies use their patent rights to create a tight grip over research on their products.

Contamination (article: 3)
This article discusses the dangers of the potential of cross pollination of GE crops that may be carried and spread by wind and bees to neighboring farmers growing organic crops, which would be disastrous for these farmers. This article also discusses past cases of cross pollination and the damage it had on the American corn market.
One big problem for GE crops is the contamination of non-GE crops. The newest wave of deregulated GE crops presents a serious risk that this level of contamination will happen again. Take alfalfa, which is pollinated by bees. Bees generally cover a five-mile range as they go from plant to plant, collecting and spreading pollen. Since bees don’t tend to observe property lines or fences, GE alfalfa pollen can be spread to non-GE alfalfa plants, in the end contaminating a neighboring field with GE genes.
This cross fertilization would be especially disastrous for organic farmers. If organic fields are contaminated, an organic farmer’s certification is at risk, since the use of GE crops is prohibited under the organic label. A farmer losing his or her organic certification would mean their goods can no longer be sold for the premium price that helps cover the higher costs of growing organically. Organic livestock farmers would face similar consequences if their cattle consumed GE contaminated alfalfa, and the organic industry as a whole could suffer from severe supply problems if organic alfalfa can’t be maintained. Canada’s organic canola industry suffered this result, and is now extinct due to contamination from GE canola.
GE contamination hurts conventional farmers too. A prime example occurred in 2000, when genes from Aventis’ StarLink GE corn unexpectedly showed up in the nation’s food supply and U.S. export markets. While StarLink corn only accounted for 1% of planted corn acreage, it ultimately contaminated at least 25% of the harvest that year. Traces of StarLink corn also showed up in taco shells, even though the variety wasn’t approved for human consumption. The whole ordeal led to a massive recall of over 300 food products. Export markets stopped accepting American corn and the corn prices dropped dramatically. Corn farmers ended up filing a class-action lawsuit against Aventis, who then handed over $112 million in settlement. Three years later, StarLink genetics were still detected in the U.S. corn supply, well after the crop was pulled from the market. Millers and food manufacturers are worried that the same thing will happen with Syngenta’s Enogen corn that is intended for biofuel production, which could contaminate corn for human consumption and seriously threaten foods processed with corn based ingredients.

Pros and Cons of GE on crops (article: 4)
This article describes the pros and cons of GE crops, and how they may play a key role in feeding regions with harsh environments for growing crops someday. But GMO regulation is still underwhelming in the US.
Genetically engineered crops do have some pros; GE organisms can keep away weeds, insects, and can resist droughts, floods, and heat with changing climate. All while providing us with vitamins and nutrients. This kind of durability will prove vital when it comes to preventing hunger and poverty. The DNA in crops is being understood more and more over time with a decreasing cost.
The cons are: G.M.O. regulation is underwhelming in America, and some products aren’t even covered, the GE system is also incomprehensible. Just labelling the GE products will not do much, there needs to be better efforts to regulate these GE products.

The Process of GE (article: 5)
This article explains the process of transplanting genes in DNA, and genetically modifying plants. It also explains why genetic engineering is used rather than cross pollination.
Genetic engineering involves artificially inserting DNA from one organism into another, either the same species or a different one. In plants, this can be done using a gene gun which inserts the foreign piece of DNA into the genome of the plant.
Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a naturally occurring bacteria found in soil that was discovered to have the ability to transfer some of its own DNA to plants that it has infected. Scientists have taken advantage of this bacterial system, and it is now used to transfer small pieces of targeted DNA to plants to create plants that contain the new gene.
While conventional plant breeding using cross-pollination can often accomplish the same result, genetic engineering can sometimes be a much quicker and more exact method, and may work where conventional breeding cannot, for example; inserting genes of different species that couldn’t cross-pollinate in nature.

China’s intelligence studies (article: 6)
This article that states that South China is planning to collect genes from 1000 of their smartest kids in hopes of finding the key gene and raising generations of smart kids.
A recent news article published in South China Morning discussed on Steve Hsu's blog highlights, China's push to understand genetic intelligence. China is planning to sequence the full genome of 1000 of their smartest kids, in the hopes of locating the key important genes responsible for higher intelligence. Behind the current project is BGI, which is aiming to be (or already is) the biggest DNA sequencing center on the planet.
Intelligence has a large genetic component, if this current study unveils those components, then with some advances in genetic engineering China could possibly raise a huge population of incredibly intelligent people.
Genetic engineering human intelligence seems to be on a much more predictable path than other intelligence technologies. For both these reasons I think understanding, and keeping an eye on this issue is important.
There are many things unknown about the future of GE intelligence. Most of this technology is a way off in the future. Genetic engineering however is well understood, and a possibility for developing greater intelligence.

Benefits of GE animals (article: 7)
This article describes the different GE technologies, and how they could help our health greatly. This article also describes how the genetic engineering of animals works.
The Food and Drug Administration finalized the regulatory guidance governing the use of GE animal technologies and the first product was approved, an anticoagulant derived from the milk of genetically engineered goats used for the prevention of blood clots.
New technologies like the pipeline and the rapidly growing AquAdvantage salmon that will help meet an increased consumer demand for sustainably produced seafood, and the Enviropig, which digests phosphorus more efficiently and reduces waste production.
Genetic engineering is the intentional modification of an animal’s genome using modern biotechnology techniques. By incorporating genes from other organisms in a process called trans genesis, GE animals are being developed to address the following five goals:

1. Advance human health: GE animals can improve human health by producing good replacement proteins, drugs, vaccines and tissues for the treatment and prevention of human disease.
2. Enhance food quality and production: Animals that are genetically engineered have improved food production capabilities, enabling them to help meet the global demand for more efficient, higher quality and lower-cost sources of food.
3. Lessen environmental impact: GE animals can contribute to improving the environment and human health by consuming less resources and producing less waste.
4. Increase animal welfare. Genetic engineering comes with great benefits to the animals by improving their health, well-being and welfare of the animal itself.
5. Improve industrial products: Genetic engineering can produce high value industrial products, such as spider silk, for both medical and defense uses.

Genetically Modified Animals (article: 8)
This article describes the progress GE scientists have made over the past years and the discoveries they have come upon, like the super mouse, and the brainbow mouse. In this article it also lists many different ways of genetically modifying mice.

Unless you live in Europe, your last meal probably contained genetically modified ingredients – 80 per cent of soya grown worldwide is now genetically engineered, for instance. Yet while modified plants are rapidly taking over the planet’s farms, the same cannot be said for GM animals. There’s the occasional flurry of reports about glowing rabbits or marmosets, but no one is yet eating beef from bioengineered bullocks.

The main reason is that the genetic engineering of animals, with the exception of mice has been a slow, is that it’s a tedious process requiring a lot of money. Behind the scenes, though, a silent revolution has been taking place. Thanks to a set of new techniques and tools, modifying animals is becoming a lot easier and more precise. That is not only going to transform research, it could also transform the meat and eggs you eat and the milk you drink.

The first transgenic animals were produced by injecting DNA into eggs, implanting the eggs in animals and then waiting weeks or months to see if any offspring had incorporated the extra DNA. Often less than 1 in 100 had, making this a long, expensive process, making it a very inefficient process.

In mice, geneticists found a way around this problem by producing cells with the desired modification first, before growing entire animals. The researchers alter the DNA in embryonic stem cells growing in a dish, then inject successfully modified cells into embryos. This yields chimeras with a mixture of cells that can be bred to produce mice in which all the cells are modified. It has become cheap and easy, and there now are millions of GM mice in labs worldwide, including extraordinary creations like the “supermouse” capable of running twice as far as normal, “brainbow” mice whose neurons light up in different colours and even mice that do not fear cats.

It’s not yet possible to grow embryonic stem cells from other animals except rats, since last year, so this technique does not work for other species. However, improvements in cloning mean that for many species ordinary cells can be tampered with, and entire animals then produced by cloning cells with the desired modification.

At the same time, biologists have developed more efficient ways of adding DNA to cells, by taking natural genetic engineers such as viruses, and taking genes capable of copying and pasting themselves. All of these advances have decreased the cost to produce GM animals.

Researchers are also developing far more precise ways of altering DNA, rather than relying on random insertion. One promising new tool is the zinc finger nuclease, it is a DNA cutting enzyme attached to a “zinc finger” that can be customised to bind to specific DNA sequences. Zinc finger nucleases permit engineers to cut a cell’s DNA at a specific spot. When the cell attempts to mend the cut, it often leaves out a few DNA letters or incorporates a few extra ones, so this method can be used to get rid of specific genes.

Cloning and Genetic Engineering of Farm Animals (article:9)
This article explains the principle of cloning animals for high yielding purposes, and how this may affect the animals long term health.
Cloning and the genetic engineering of farm animals are becoming more common in intensive farming systems in many countries. These procedures can have negative effects on the welfare of animals involved, and their descendants.
Cloning is mainly used to produce identical copies of high yielding and fast growing breeds of animals. The practice has already been established in the US, Brazil, Argentina and Japan. Within Europe, however, there has been widespread opposition on both animal welfare and ethical grounds to the cloning of animals for food production and to the sale of meat and dairy products from cloned animals and their descendants.
The genetic engineering of farm animals is used in China, the US and Australia to enhance growth rates, increase disease resistance and modify the meat and milk composition. The European Commission (EC) is currently considering how to regulate the production and use of GM animals.
The cloning of farm animals for food production is already taking place in a number of countries including the US, Brazil, Argentina and Japan. In Europe however, cloning has become a controversial issue, with the European Commission (EC) being firmly against the cloning of animals for food production, and to the sale of meat and dairy products from clones and their descendants. However, the opposition of the EC and animal welfare organisations are based on animal welfare and ethical grounds rather than on food safety concerns. While the science currently shows that food from clones and their descendants does not raise food safety issues, it’s still too early for any guarantees.
Scientific Opinions by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) show that cloning entails serious health and welfare problems for both cloned animals and their mothers. The EFSA has stated that there is an increase in pregnancy failure in cattle and pigs that are carrying a clone and increased frequencies of abnormal or difficult births especially in cattle. This, together with the increased size of cloned offspring, makes Caesarean sections more frequent in cattle carrying a clone than with conventional pregnancies.

Fish, pigs and mosquitoes: Genetic engineering in animals (article: 10)
This article explains that wild fish are being over fished while the fish farming business is booming because of its efficiency in producing fish, and because of AquaAdvantage’s new kind of salmon, these fish farmers can produce salmon at a faster rate.
People have been developing transgenic fish like salmon, trout, carp and cichlids for aquaculture for over 15 years, especially in the USA, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Norway and the UK. However, the only GM fish close to being introduced onto the market are those with accelerated growth. Aqua Bounty, a US company, has applied to America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval of its AquAdvantage salmon. This is a genetically engineered Atlantic salmon containing an additional growth hormone gene sourced from a Pacific salmon, and a special regulatory element which ensures that the hormone is produced through the winter. This causes the fish to grow twice the usual rate.
Aquaculture and the optimisation of fish for fish farming have been booming for years. With wild fish populations suffering from overfishing, 50 million tonnes of fish and crabs are now farmed in this way. Biotechnology and genetic engineering methods are being developed in addition to the conventional breeding methods, although none of these are currently used commercially. Besides growth acceleration, genetic engineering is being used to create the following traits:
1. Acceleration of muscle growth by inhibiting myostatin. This protein normally slows down muscle growth. Muscle mass can be increased by up to 20 per cent in these fish.
2. Resistance to disease pathogens. Pathogens are often a problem in aquaculture because of the high population density.
3. Cold tolerance: By transferring ‘antifreeze’ genes from fish in polar regions to farmed fish like salmon, so they can be adapted to colder fish farming regions.
Transgenic fish have to pass a food safety assessment before a marketing authorisation can be given. However, there is some debate about the potential negative environmental impacts. Opponents fear that if the genetically engineered fish were to escape from the fish farms, they could displace wild populations as a result of their new traits.
The FDA has delayed approval of the fast-growing AquAdvantage salmon for more than a decade. The fish have been declared safe for human health, according to the FDA’s assessment, since mid-2010. According to an FDA report, they are no different from conventional salmon in terms of their nutrient and vitamin composition. Neither can the fish spread to wild populations because Aqua Bounty intends to market only sterile female fish. As another safety measure, the fish would only be farmed inland, and not in fish farms out at sea.

Genetically modified cow may hold answer for milk allergy (article: 11)
This article explains the importance of milk to babies and how 2-3% are born allergic to milk, posing a big problem to these babies health. A solution to this problem has been discovered in New Zealand involving a cow that has no BLG in its milk (the allergy causing protein).
Roughly 2% to 3% of all infants are allergic to cow's milk. Although most babies eventually grow out of this allergy, it can pose a major problem for those who aren't breast-fed, since milk is used as a base in most formulas. A solution to this problem may be in a single, tailless cow in New Zealand. This special calf, conceived through genetic modification and cloning, produces milk that contains no detectable levels of beta-lacto globulin (BLG), the protein that is believed to cause allergic reactions.
The hypoallergenic milk from this calf also appears to be even more nutritious than a regular cow's milk, as it contains twice the amount of the healthy milk proteins known as caseins.
This experiment, detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marks the first time that scientists have successfully altered the protein composition of milk before it leaves the cow, says Mike Van Amburgh, Ph.D., an associate professor of animal science at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York.
If bred in sufficient numbers, this type of genetically modified cow could provide milk for allergic infants and adults one day. According to the researchers in New Zealand who bred the calf, the team was led by Anower Jabed, Ph.D., a pharmacologist at the University of Auckland and a fellow at AgResearch, a government funded institute for agriculture and food research.

Genetic engineering is a critical issue in the world because it affects the people of many countries who’s governments allow it; it also affects the environment and farmers in those countries who may use GE animals or crops. The countries that experiment with genetic engineering may also discover advances in the medical field.
The issue of GE has evolved in a way of perfecting the genetic makeup of crops by making them drought resistant and generally hardy plants. GE of animals has evolved in a way of making the animal’s meat or milk medicinal for our consumption. From what I have read I predict that most farm animals and crops will be genetically engineered to be flawless, and as medicinal as possible.
A couple viewpoints of GE would include: some people see GE of plants and animals as morally wrong and believe that the genetic makeup of a living thing should not be changed or tampered with. While others believe that genetically engineering animals and crops could lead to some major discoveries, and scientific breakthroughs that could further advance the agricultural industry

Works Sited
1. Genetic Engineering, FDA, 11/08/2012, Dec 4th 2012
2. Union of Concerned Scientists, Food & Agriculture, 08/22/12, Dec 5th, 2012
3. Farm Aid, I know the U.S. government just allowed a few new GE crops on the market — should I be worried?, February 2011, 12/10/12,
4. Brown, William, Genetically Modified Food, The New York Times, Sept. 16, 2012, pg A22, Dec. 14th, 2012,
5. Brookes G and Parfoot P, Genetic Engineering, or GMOs, or transgenics, The Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth, Jun. 28th, 2011, Dec. 16th, 2012,
6. Jordan, Genetically Engineered Intelligence, Less Wrong, Dec 5th, 2010, Dec 18th, 2012,
7. Gottlieb, Scott, and Wheeler, Mathew. Genetically Engineered Animals and Public Health. Biotechnology Industry Organization, July 28th, 2011. Dec 19th, 2012
8. Holmes, Bob. Genetically Modified Animals., July 28th, 2010. Dec 21st, 2012
9. Stevenson, Peter. Cloning and Genetic Engineering of Farm Animals. Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, Sept 2012. Dec 23rd, 2012.
10. Fish, pigs and mosquitoes: Genetic engineering in animals. GMO Safety, Jun 26, 2012. Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Dec 30th, 2012.
11. Gardner, Amanda. Genetically modified cow may hold answer for milk allergy., October 1st, 2012. Dec 30th, 2012.