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Green Corner


 

 

 

An A-Z of the environment & issues

by Peter Hatswell

 

 

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Gis for Genetic Engineering

 

Man has been genetic engineering for centuries without understanding how genes fitted together. Selective breeding of plants, animals and even humans to accentuate colours, shapes or strength has been the skill of nurseryman and the breeder, always using the same or a closely related species. Recent understanding of the DNA helix means that sections of genes from entirely different species can be spliced together with novel results.

 

 

 

The recent debate between scientists and the green movement to halt the spread of genetically modified organisms was ended by public questioning of the motives of the science which appeared to be offering real benefits mainly to pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers rather than mankind as a whole. Further, there had been insufficient research of the contamination of crops grown without synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides (organically farmed) and wildlife. The latter had already been suffering the effects of intensive farming which is thought to have had devastated populations of insects, birds and animals and upset the natural balance that organic farming tries to maintain.

 

But scientists are fighting back because they see real benefits in ‘natural’ disease resistance for crops (rather than resistance to synthetic herbicides) and tolerance of drought conditions where world weather patterns are changing. Increasing the ability of plants to manufacture valuable vitamins is also attractive but the use of ‘terminator genes’ to prevent farmers saving some seed for next years planting has hopefully been exposed as an unethical money making scam by the agrochemical industry.

 

We will be asked to decide again whether we want GMOs to be used more widely in the UK and Europe for these benefits or whether the perhaps irreversible damage to the environment is worth the risk.

 

 

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