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Interactives -- DNA

Implications & Ethics : Genetically Modified Food

By genetically modifying food, we can:

  1. Alter foods so they contain the protein coats of bacteria or viruses. When the food is eaten, your body will mount an immune response against those proteins. It's the same as getting a vaccination. These foods can be dried and eaten in tablet form. The technology could benefit people in developing countries. A vaccine for hepatitis B has already been put into tomatoes.

  2. Improve the nutritional value of our food. This is especially important in regions where limited crops are available. A prime example is golden rice. This new strain of rice contains a large amount of beta carotene, the precursor for vitamin A. About 40 percent of children worldwide suffer immune deficiencies because they don't get enough vitamin A, and 250,000 to 500,000 children go blind each year as a result.

  3. Produce medically important chemicals more cheaply than in the lab. For example, genetically modified cows can now produce human growth hormone in their milk. The hormone is easily extracted from the milk without harming the cow, and is then used to treat thousands of children with growth problems. The process reduces the cost of the expensive drug; in fact, only 15 cows could meet the global demand for the drug. Many other drugs also can be produced this way.

Genetically modified foods aren't without dangers. Care must be taken to ensure that the genes don't spread into wild populations and that they can't damage the environment. Scientists must carefully study any possible environmental impacts before they sell genetically modified crops to farmers.


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