Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Re-writing the Book of Life


Dr Abe V Rotor
Mutation through Genetic Engineering, acrylic 2002

After man has "perfected" the model of the DNA, the code of heredity, he has succeeded in cracking the code itself, which is the “code of life.”

This feat was preceded by the cracking the atom which brought out the first genie, the atomic bomb. What would the second genie look like?


1. Does GMO cause cancer and other diseases? There is no evidence to this yet. But cancer is too complex a disease for us to understand fully. Whatever triggers the disease is not immediately determined until we accurately read it in the human genome map. Questions are asked: “Where did prion (protein infective principle of mad cow disease) come from? “How does it cause Bovine Spongioform Encephalopathy (BSE), and the human the Crueztfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) to which the mad cow disease is associated?” “Other than cancer why are there more young people contacting diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases?” We do not know the answers to these questions. We cannot blame these to GMO either. It is too early to say. But we have to be wary.


2. GMO and the Terminator. In this case, the genie is a multinational organism placed by fate in its hands of the farmer. This problem is worse than the conditions imposed by producers of hybrid corn seeds, where farmers are forced to renew their seed stock every time they plant. The Terminator is a GM corn variety carrying genes which automatically kill the crop embryo after harvesting. Consequently, the farmer needs to buy new seeds from the company. The creator, Monsanto, got the ire of many people. It projected a bad image of biotechnology.


3. Processed Food from GMO. Seemingly, you do not see this kind of genie. We do not know but we are eating GM Food, often referred to as Frankenfood, after the novel Frankenstein, no matter how much we try to avoid it. There was no referendum conducted or public consultation before GMF was put to market. Today, GM soybean is processed into cooking oil, soy sauce, TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein), taho, tokwa, etc. GM potato finds its way through fast food chain. There are steaks, burgers, corned beef and milk which come from GM cows. But who is accountable when things go wrong, and how can we seek redress?


4. GMO touches the fiber of culture, beliefs and religion. People are generally sensitive to many things: cultural, religious, personal. Protests may be felt even in their silence. Could it be that people are silent since to protest can mean deprivation of food? As they say: Beggars are no choosers.


5. "The genie obliges only to its master's command." Who’s afraid of the big werewolf? Ask George Orwell. Anyone who has read his book, “1984” will understand. His definition of big brother is one that is benevolent and abusive at the same time, according to his will. Susan George, in her book, How the Other Half Dies, is equally provoking. She claims that part of the world is without sufficient food. One half of the world’s population is hungry and deprived of many basic needs, while the other half simply has much more than it needs. What guarantees do we have that GMO will not fall into hands of capitalists? Monsanto gave the early signals. One wonders who controls (owns) the gene banks at the International Rice Research Institute, the International Wheat and Maiz Research Center (CYMMT), and other research centers.


6. GMO may be useful in medicine, but it can also create havoc to the living world. Genetic engineering (GE) is as young as dawn. As light breaks, we take a glimpse before the sun is up. Genetic engineering, according to its proponents, is the key to the control of malaria and dengue. Entomologists have already isolated parasite-suppressing genes in mosquitoes. GE in medicine, such as insulin production, has expanded into the production of more potent antibiotics and hormones. If we can modify the efficiency of beneficial organisms, so can we increase the virulence of pathogens. Genetic engineering may wake up one day the sleeping Bubonic Plague bacteria (Yersinia pestis) that killed one-third of human population in the Dark Ages. Or propel Anthrax into pandemic proportion. Genetic engineering can increase the virulence of potato blight fungus that caused starvation of Ireland in the 18th century. It can trigger the dreaded tungro virus disease of rice, so with rice blight fungus and other rice pathogens, and wipe out ricefields in unimaginable scale.


The incorporation of drugs in genetically modified food plants opens a new field of pharmacology, called biopharming. GMO mixed with vitamins can reduce infant mortality, blindness, and other associated defects. But do we need to take medicine when we are not sick? What would be the effect of biopharmed food crops to our healthy body? Conventionally man derives medicine from products of organisms and from naturally occurring sources. Today we are modifying these sources - even before discovering the potential ones. Scientists believe that we have yet to find out the uses of more than 95 percent of all plants. Man has bare knowledge of the creatures in the deep ocean, and the rich diversity of the living world. The thrust of research has shifted to the gene rather than the species.


7. Modern Frankenstein. It is inevitable that genetic engineering will be applied in human cloning. Today, we have so far applied human biotechnology mostly in helping childless couples bear children, such as through in vitro (outside of the womb) fertilization. But with current results in animal cloning, a technique is being developed to clone the human being without encountering the problems that beset Dolly the sheep, which is premature aging. If this is not handled well, we may be bringing forth a new Frankenstein monster into our midst. x x x


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