- Education and Science
Genetic Engineering of Livestock
Genetic engineering of livestock
Genetic Engineering is the artificial manipulation, modification, and recombination of DNA or other nucleic acid molecules in order to modify an organism or population of organisms. The term genetic engineering initially meant any of a wide range of techniques for the modification or manipulation of organisms through the processes of heredity and reproduction. As such, the term embraced both artificial selection and all the interventions of biomedical techniques, among them artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (e.g., “test-tube” babies), sperm banks, cloning, and gene manipulation. But the term now denotes the narrower field of recombinant DNA technology, or gene cloning, in which DNA molecules from two or more sources are combined either within cells or in vitro and are then inserted into host organisms in which they are able to propagate. Gene cloning is used to produce new genetic combinations that are of value to science, medicine, agriculture, or industry.
Livestock could, in theory, be genetically altered to give maximum output at minimum cost to farmers. Cows could be engineered for high milk production or high meat output, depending on their intended function. Sheep could be engineered for optimum wool growth, and pigs could be altered to have large amounts of meat with a minimum of fat. Advantages of this livestock specification are obvious and immediate: lower costs for manufacturers, lower prices for consumers, and higher output on the part of the animals. Disadvantages are more nebulous: a reduction in genetic diversity; potential and unforeseen health problems from genetically altered products. Some people even object to the ethics of the actual alterations, saying that it is wrong to view animals as production machines for food.
Scientists are always searching for genes coding for enzymes and proteins that can be profitably spliced into livestock and crops. These genes confer pest and disease resistance and tolerance of pollution, and often increase the lifespan of livestock or growth rate of crops. However, there is certain health risks involved in this practice. For example, some people have a food allergy known as favism that causes an adverse reaction to the protein lectin, found in beans and other leguminous crops. Since lectin discourages aphids, common insect pests, from feeding on beans, the gene for making lectin has recently been engineered into potatoes. People with favism, unknowingly eating these transgenic potatoes, could have an allergic reaction to them. (Houdebine, 2000)
Other health concerns include the question that antibiotic resistance, engineered into foods as a marker, might transfer to the consumers eating the food. These resistant genes could be incorporated into bacteria, against whose diseases we would then be defenseless. (Scientists are working on more benign markers, such as color change or metabolic deficiencies.)
The scientific discoveries in genetics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are numerous in their potential as well as risk. To understand the risks as well as potential of genetic engineering in the future, one must first become familiar with not only the prospective fields of usage, but the resulting effects of such usage in the spheres of agriculture, medicine, and the environment. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, genetic engineering describes techniques that alter the genes (hereditary material) or combination of genes in an organism. Within agriculture, genetic engineering is used to develop additional plant and livestock varieties which result in greater food production for mass consumption. The potential or positive impacts of such breakthroughs in genetically engineering plant life impact crop production through high yield, low input crops that have other added benefits. Other trials in genetic engineering have wrought farm animals with the purpose of increased meat production and in dairy cattle additional milk production. Conversely, the dangers of genetically engineered sources of food lie in the possible allergic responses to those who ingest them. Further cause for alarm rests in fears of ecological complications resulting from the cross pollination of these different modified forms of plant life. In medicine, genetic engineering is used to combat numerous illnesses. Among the numerous positive effects of such research lies in the field of gene therapy which is identified as an experimental technique for treating or preventing diseases by inserting a gene into a patient's cells. Then again possible negative effects lie in possibility of science being able to genetically engineer ones own children. To finish an overview of perspectives in genetic engineering one must assess how genetic engineering can aid in cleansing or improving the environment. In order to help curb pollution, genetic engineering has the ability to modify plants and microbes to reduce many of the world’s most disastrous pollutants such as oil spills. Nevertheless even with such great potential, even this use possesses possible undesired effects which could be caused by the plants and microbes used to better the environment. As with any situation there exists differing viewpoints that need to be taken into account before a determination as to whether the negative aspects of a situation out weight its positive benefits. (What’s wrong with Genetic Engineering?)
Beginning in agriculture, genetic engineering is being used to pioneer breeds of plants and livestock so as to increase forms of food production in order to facilitate greater quantities of food production for mass consumption. In the past, it was through crossbreeding, introducing the genes of one type of food into another that reproduced plants or animals with “beneficial characteristics, such as resistance to disease, improved nutritional value, and better growth”, that brought about “virtually all common fruits and vegetables” to “look and taste the way they do”". With the aid of biotechnology in terms of genetic engineering the science of selective breeding has become more precise allowing “for the transfer of only one or a few desirable genes, thereby permitting scientists to develop crops with specific beneficial traits and those without undesirable traits. Current technology permits scientists to alter one plant characteristic at a time, thereby not spending years trying to develop the best tasting and hardiest plants”.
To give a simple example, a traditional breeder interested in producing a yellow tomato must find the yellow trait in a plant that will breed with the tomato by natural mechanisms. The only plants that can breed with tomatoes are closely related ones. Unrelated plants like oak trees or cantaloupes could not breed with tomatoes, and thus could not contribute new genes. A genetic engineer, on the other hand, can consider any organism even a butterfly or a daffodil as a source of the yellow trait. If the gene that determines yellow color has been identified and isolated, it can be directly transferred into tomato plants. Using similar techniques, livestock can be genetically altered to give maximum output at minimum cost to farmers. By genetically engineering bacteria, the resulting product has triggered “dairy cows [to] produce more milk, and beef cattle [to] have leaner meat. Similarly, a genetically engineered pig hormone causes hogs to grow faster and decreases fat content in pork”. With a basic understanding of how agriculture can put to use genetic engineering makes it easier to envision its potential for the future.
No doubt mechanical patterns in nature are real. But they can be a superficial by-product and not reflective of the deepest or true essence of life. Hybridizations does work harmoniously with superficial aspects of nature without fully disturbing the essential life force at the center of each cell. Also with hybridizations, conscious life makes primary genetic decisions (Nathan Batalion, 2000). We can understand this with an analogy. There is an immense difference between being a matchmaker and inviting two people for dinner - encouraging them to go on a date - as opposed to forcing the union or even a date rape.
With biotechnology, roses are no longer crossed with just roses. They can be mated with pigs, tomatoes with oak trees, fish with asses, butterflies with worms, orchids with snakes. The technology that makes this possible is called biolistics - a gunshot-like violence that pierces the nuclear membrane of cells. This essentially violates the consciousness that forms and guides living nature. Some also compare it to the violent crossing of territorial borders of countries, subduing inhabitants against their will.
No one has a crystal ball to see future consequences. Nevertheless, alarm signals go off when a technology goes directly to the center of every living cell - and under the guidance of a mechanical or non-living way of restructuring or recreating nature. The potential harm can far outweigh chemical pollution because chemistry only deals with things altered by fire - or things that are not alive. For example, a farmer may use toxic chemicals for many decades, and then let the land lie fallow for a year or two to convert back to organic farming. The chemicals tend to break down into natural substances within months or years. A few may persist for decades. But genetic pollution can alter the life in the soil forever. (Nathan Batalion, 2000)
Farmers who view their land as their primary financial asset have reason to heed this. If new evidence of soil bacteria contamination arises - what is possible given the numerous (1600 or more) distinct microorganisms we classify in just a teaspoon of soil and if that contamination is not quickly remediable but remains permanent someday the public may blacklist farms that have once planted GM crops. No one seems to have put up any warning signs when selling these inputs to farmers who own 1/4 of all agricultural tracks in the US. Furthermore, the spreading potential impact on all ecosystems is profound. (Jeremy Rifkin, 2000)
The steady rise of products in genetic engineering has influenced some speculators to believe that genetic engineering has the potential to increase the global economy. In the year 2025, it is estimated that 20% of the world’s GDP, the equivalent of two trillion dollars, will be in genetic engineering. Genetic programs will be able to enhance animals for recreation and food. For example, a pit bull can be injected with a black Labrador retriever’s gene to produce a pit bull with a friendly nature. Cows will be genetically altered to produce more milk and to produce extra proteins in their milk. Plants can be genetically altered to be resistant to frosts, droughts, diseases, and produce higher yields while containing more protein. Farmers will be able to build in certain flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives to better their crop. The medical industry with the aid of genetic engineering may be able to produce a hefty profit as it prevents and treats 4,000 diseases. All of these products and ideas could spur a new industrial revolution that could help the world economically as a while through the transfer of these goods and services.