Genetically modified organisms: GMOs, too dangerous to use, or too much benefit, not to use? Whose nonsense?

Concluding comments.

I have a hypothesis that any thread that reaches above 100 comments will deteriorate into off-topic arguments and unrelated stream-of-consciousness comments. I sometimes do the stream of consciousness myself.

I also think that the original poster has an obligation to monitor their own post and subsequent threads, to keep it on topic or let it drift as they see fit. Whether the original poster intervenes with nudges back to topic, efforts to make people step back and have a beer, or closes the thread, is entirely up to the original poster. If the original poster does not intend to follow their topic, then it's time to close it.

This thread, while not intended as a test of my hypothesis, turned out to be an example of same. Interest in the actual original topic waned early on, with divergent evolution of the topic into something else that I didn't care to follow. That process then repeated itself. At 145 comments, and divergence again, I have personally lost interest in following it. If someone else wants to start a "next generation" thread on this topic, please feel free.

With that, this topic is now closed.


This discussion begins as branch of the "Natural" discussion tree, that's now ready for grafting onto its own rootstock and see what grows. Some initial words here. I agreed to present this topc for Sacha, not because I know more about it, but I'm too easily convinced to get myself into these things.

Of course, there is a lot of controversy about genetically engineered crops, that then become "GMOs" (genetically modified organisms) or "Frankenfoods", depending on your nonsense orientation. One could also spin them as "Miracle foods" or "Designer foods" but "GMOs" takes fewer key strokes. For a guy with a case of carpal tunnel going, fewer key strokes is good.

The controversies depend on your biases, what information you collect, and how you weigh it.

Wikipedia article

The controversy:
1. "It's not natural" - well, it isn't. So? I would argue that the "we've always bred plants and animals" argument stretches it - in fact, this is new, we've never put fish genes into potatoes before, or human genes into plants, or whatever weird sounding combination. We've never before bred plants to have toxic pollen, and there is some evidence that insect populations may be effected. But as in the discussion before, the word "natural" is almost meaningless, and does not designate risk or benefit.

2. "It will lead to monopolization of staple food crops by a few compaines, mainly Monsanto" - maybe so. The "Roundup Ready" crops may well create a monopoly for Monsanto. Ultimately, this is a political / social issue, not a biological issue.

3. "Who knows what diseases it will cause" - The argument has been made for allergies. I agree, supervision is needed. An allergen from peanuts could wind upm in corn, and who knows, you might go into anaphylaxis while eating a taco. Other proteins may be allergens. So far.... doesn't seem to be an issue.

4. "It will cause gene pollution" - good point. Genes from GMOs have been found in surrounding plants. This then causes the neighboring farmer to be subjected to patent violation, even though there was no intent to do so, and even if they didn't want those genes in their crops. This principle has been upheld in the US and Canada. In the wrong places, such as the parts of Mexico where corn originates, the genetic pool of corn varieties may become polluted with these new genes. No one knows what effect that will have. Again, this is an issue of regulation, where these crops are grown.

5. "It's not needed" - depends on how you define "needed". A gene to prevent vitamin A deficiency in rice-dependent peoples could prevent 250,000 to 500,000 cases of blindness annually. The key word is "could". "Golden rice"

The dangers of monoculture (Thanks Felch). Past experience with monoculture indicates increased liklihood of disease and disaster. Monocuilture corn cave us corn blight, monoculture bananas resulted in destruction of banana-based economies once and threatens to again. Although, genetic engineering might steer us out of the banana disaster. In forests, tree diversity reduces herbivory by insects (as described in the article titled, "tree diversity reduces herbivory by insects") google search, forest monoculture.

Arguments FOR GMO crops here. Most of these benefits are "potential" although "Roundup ready" is reality.

1. Better resistance to stress: Better pest resistance. Better resistance to severe weather, such as frost, extreme heat or drought.
2. More productive farm animals: Genes might be inserted into cattle to raise their milk yield, for example.
3. More food from less land.
4. Reduce the environmental and human impact of food production and industrial processes.
5. Recovery of damaged or less-fertile land for crops and forests, through creation of salt- and pollutant- tolerant varieties.
6. Bioremediation: Rehabilitation of damaged(polluted) land.
7. Longer shelf lives.easier transport. Reduce spoilage waste, improve dietary diversity.
8. Plant or animal manufacture of vaccines and medicines. Think, insulin.
9. Potential removal of allergenic genes - improve food safety. think, peanuts.

I have mixed feelings about GMO technology and its application. There is potential for nonsense from both sides. My own conclusion is that it's not the technology, it's the application, the regulation, and the weighing of pros/cons in each situation, that matter most. In some cases, the pros seem significant and worth some risk. In other cases, we need to keep out thinking caps on and ask ourselfs if the balance is in the other direction.

Feel free to disagree!

(Note: I removed images that I initially included in this post. Even though I tried to attirbute them to their originalm source, on reading this source, I became concerned that leaving those images in the post could violate fair use. So now they are gone.)

(12/25, title edited to better reflect content of post)

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Replies to This Discussion

A small objection. I worked at Microsoft for 17 years. I'm not saying they are all sweetness and light, but neither are they as evil, powerful, and devious as seems to be commonly believed. It's just a big company, stumbling along doing what big companies do. They do some good stuff, a little great stuff, lots of mediocre stuff, and some seriously boneheaded stuff. Curiously, most of the really evil stuff they've done has caused them more headaches than it's cured. Microsoft does best when it doesn't try to take over the world.

I'm not sure how this relates to Monsanto, though I suspect all big companies are really in the business of managing their patent portfolios. And to be fair, they are almost as often in trouble over patents as they are causing trouble with patents. Microsoft just lost an appeal on some patent in an obscure feature of Word, so they'll be switching to a version without that feature in January. That sort of product surgery is about as painful and expensive as you might imagine it is. I would love to see patent reform, but you might be surprised at how much the software industry would like that in general. Not so sure about the pharmaceutical or agricultural giants, though. The fields are quite different.
"I worked at Microsoft for 17 years. I'm not saying they are all sweetness and light, but neither are they as evil, powerful, and devious as seems to be commonly believed" that's because you were assimilated. Resistance is futile. I work for a big company now. I know how it is. Where's that Koolaid? (just kidding).

Actually, my point wasn't Microsoft specifically, but as an example, it seems like any new industry or any new technology starts out diverse with many small players, then consolidates into a few megaplayers. Ie, Desoto, Willie, Studebaker, Nash, Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, et al, now how many? Microsoft Word, Wordperfect, Multimate, many others, now how many? Probably the same with food companies. I just think there is a tendency to create big megacorps, without meaning that they are intrinsincally evil.
Fair enough. I'm not a huge fan of giant corporations.

For the record, only wimps drank the Koolaid. Real corporate types smoked it. Bigger rush. No tell-tale lip discoloration.
The November issue of Scientific American has a related piece called Farms in Skyscrapers. The claim is vertical farms, and that would equally apply to GMO, are needed to feed a population of 9.5 billion by 2050. That's a staggering number and GMO or vertical farms are surely just a stop-gap. Stage 3 might be orbital farms with space elevators. Wouldn't that be something.
That would be impressive, Nicky. I still say the simplest solution to all our woes would be to splice the genes for photosynthesis into humans. It would have the following advantages:

1. Inexpensive, relative to other proposed solutions, once we splice the genes into the germline.
2. All we would need is sunlight, water, and CO2, so food production and distribution systems would be unnecessary.
3. Every photosynthesizing human walking around would be sucking excess CO2 out of the air, thus counteracting their own carbon emissions.
4. Who needs solar panels?
5. It would open up an entirely new palette for the cosmetics industry.
6. No vampires!
I like it, and those without the modification would be green with envy... oh wait...

I love the whole idea of this.
It might help to alleviate racism too. I'm not so sure categorizing people as "dark green" and "light green" would be an improvement over the present "black" and "white" dichotomy, but at least it would remove a potential source of contention with our cousins from Mars.
Here is a preview of the article Nicky referenced above:

Growing Skyscrapers: The Rise of Vertical Farms
It would be something. It will be interesting to see these buildings spring up in, say, the Phillipines, Bangladesh, Somalia, Dafur... where the food is needed due to population overload.

I know, we'll put the extra people in the skyscrapers too! Then there will be direct-to-consumer skyscraper food.

Actually, there are prior experiences with growing foods on tall verticle structures, pumping nutrients up to the growing food, and using solar conversion devices to make energy from sunlight. Oh yea, it's called "trees".
Good topic for the general forum, topic in politics maybe. You'll get a wider readership. Go for it.
make that three


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