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Public Opinion Of Genetic Modification Has Changed!

A study has shown that genetic modification in agriculture is becoming more popular with the public!

What is genetic modification?

Genes are short sequences of nucleotides stored within DNA in all organisms that form a genetic code for proteins which ultimately determine the characteristics or phenotype that the organism will display. They are hereditary so can be passed from one generation to the next, hence why offspring look similar to their parents.

Genetic modification, also known as genetic engineering or genetic manipulation, is the process of intentionally changing the genetic material of an organism. This involves altering specific genes or introducing new genes into an organism's DNA to give it new traits or characteristics that it would not naturally possess. Genetic modification can be used in various fields, such as agriculture, medicine, and research, to enhance crop yields, develop disease-resistant organisms, produce beneficial pharmaceuticals, and understand biological processes.

In 1973, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen, researchers from the University of California and Stanford University respectively, developed a technology that allowed for the precise cutting and transferring of a specific piece of recombinant DNA (rDNA) from one organism to another. Their breakthrough enabled the transfer of DNA between different strains of bacteria, resulting in the acquisition of antibiotic resistance in the modified bacteria.

Building upon this advancement, in the following year, Beatrice Mintz and Rudolf Jaenisch, two American molecular biologists, conducted a pioneering experiment in genetic engineering. They successfully introduced foreign genetic material into mouse embryos, marking the first instance of genetically modifying animals using genetic engineering techniques.

How is genetic modification used in agriculture?

There are four primary methods of genetically modifying crops:

  1. Selective breeding: This method involves breeding two different plant strains together to produce offspring with specific desired features. It has been practiced for a long time and can affect a large number of genes. It is generally not categorized as genetically modification, despite being the oldest form of genetic modification, dating back to 9000 B.C. when farmers started selectively breeding wheat grasses.

  2. Mutagenesis: In this method, plant seeds are intentionally exposed to chemicals or radiation to induce mutations in the DNA. The offspring with desired traits resulting from these mutations are selected and bred further. Similar to selective breeding, mutagenesis is also not typically considered genetic modification.

  3. RNA interference: This form of genetic engineering, requires scientists to inactivate specific genes in plants to stop undesirable traits being expressed.

  4. Transgenics: This method involves taking a gene from one species and inserting it into another species to introduce a desirable trait. This is a form of genetic engineering and is commonly associated with GMO crops.

In modern agriculture, certain crops have undergone genetic engineering to enhance characteristics such as crop yield, resistance to pests, immunity to diseases, and improved nutritional value, as stated by the FDA. These genetically modified crops are often referred to as GMO crops in the market.

Why do people fear GMO crops?

GMO crops are a widely debated topic with many people advocating for and against them. Concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food arise from various factors. Some individuals feel uneasy due to the unfamiliarity with the technology, labelling the food as 'unnatural' and raising safety concerns around potential health risks, allergenicity, toxicity, or gene transfer to other organisms. Environmental impacts, such as the unintended spread of modified genes and the creation of resistant weeds or 'superweeds', raise concerns about biodiversity and ecosystem stability. There is also a high media coverage of this issue that further escalates the strength of opinions on either side.

How is public opinion changing?

Work at Alliance for Science has utilized Cision media monitoring tools since 2018 to keep track of the global discussion surrounding GMOs. Their findings for 2020 revealed a 39% drop in the volume of social media posts on the subject, compared with 2019. Furthermore, data indicates that the overall favourability of GMO crops, both in traditional media and on social media platforms, increased from 68% in 2019 to 78% in 2020. Additionally, there was a decline in anti-GMO conspiratorial content on social media, likely due to accounts that typically propagate these messages focusing more on various COVID-related conspiracy theories. Notably, journalists are increasingly adopting a positive or neutral stance when reporting on GMOs, aligning with scientific consensus on their safety and reflecting the evidence-based nature of the subject matter.

What are the benefits of positive public opinion surrounding GMOs?

Positive public opinion surrounding GMOs in agriculture brings several benefits. It encourages farmers and stakeholders to adopt GMO technology, leading to increased use of genetically modified crops with improved traits like pest resistance and higher yields. This contributes to food security and sustainability by increasing productivity, reducing reliance on chemicals, and addressing challenges posed by pests and environmental stressors.

Positive public opinion also creates an environment for economic growth, as GMO crops offer economic advantages for farmers, such as lower production costs and improved marketability. Furthermore, GMOs can address global challenges like climate change and malnutrition, with the potential to develop drought-resistant or nutritionally enhanced crops.

Overall, supportive public opinion fosters scientific progress, innovation, and consumer acceptance, enabling the development of diverse GMO products with improved nutritional content, reduced waste, and enhanced quality.


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