Intro to Genetic Engineering





A whooping 60% of what\'s on our supermarket shelves may contain genetically engineered soya. Some 3000 genetically engineered foods are lined up for approval. How should genetically engineered (GE) foods be regulated? Foremost, we must clarify what genetic engineering is-- laboratory technique used by scientists to change the DNA of living organisms. DNA is the blueprint for the individuality of an organism. The organism relies upon the information stored in its DNA for the management of every biochemical process. The life, growth and unique features of the organism depend on its DNA. Genes are the segments of DNA, which have been associated with certain functions of an organism. Molecular biologists have discovered many enzymes, which change the structure of DNA in living organisms. Some of these enzymes can cut and join strands of DNA. Using such enzymes, scientists learned to cut specific genes from DNA and to build customized DNA using these genes. They also learned about strands of DNA—viruses-- which can infect a cell and insert themselves into its DNA, so, scientists started to build viruses which made genes of their choosing and used the new viruses to insert these genes into the DNA of living organisms. Genetic engineers believe they can improve the foods we eat by doing this. For example, tomatoes are sensitive to frost, which shortens their growing season. Fish, on the other hand, survive in very cold water. Scientists identified a particular gene, which enables a flounder to resist cold, and used the technology of genetic engineering to insert this \'anti-freeze\' gene into a tomato. This makes it possible to extend the growing season of the tomato. A lot of food that we eat today contains genetically modified ingredients and usually without our knowledge. The biggest experiment in human history has begun, with us as the guinea pigs and the planets ecological system as the test site. The argument is not whether or not it should be allowed but how it should be regulated.
Supporters of this technology want to ensure that people know “what is real versus what isn’t” and so they want to enforce regulating labeling their products. Congress has provided the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a limited basis on which to require labeling. Generally, for FDA to require labeling there must be something different about the food. In general, this means most genetically engineered foods will not need special labeling because they will be similar to the real thing, but there are exceptions, such as when a gene from a food that could cause an allergic reaction--peanuts, for example--is transferred into another food. In that case, FDA policy places the burden on the developer. "The food will have to be labeled so everyone will know it contains an allergen, unless the developer can show scientifically that the allergenicity has not been transferred," says Laura Tarantino, Ph.D., deputy director of FDA\'s Office of Pre-market Approval. Fortunately, the products in front of us right now don\'t raise those issues." FDA also will require labeling if a company uses genetic engineering techniques to change a food\'s composition significantly. For example, when one manufacturer modified canola to produce increased levels of lauric and myristic acids in the seed oil, FDA agreed that the common or usual name for this oil would be "laurate canola oil" in order to distinguish it from traditional canola oil.
People outside industry mainly, consumers, consumer organizations, environmental groups, independent scientists, European farmers, and public health organizations are the other players on the opposing side to this argument that states that genetically engineered products do not have a good track record for human safety. There are currently more than four-dozen genetically engineered foods and crops being grown or sold in the US. These foods and crops are widely dispersed into the food chain and the environment. One example, for instance, was in 1989 and 1990, when a genetically engineered brand of L-tryptophan, a common dietary supplement, killed more than 30 Americans and permanently disabled more than 5,000 others with a potentially fatal and painful blood disorder, eosinophilia myalgia syndrome, before it was recalled by the FDA. The manufacturer, Showa Denko K.K., Japan\'s third largest chemical company, had used genetically engineered bacteria to produce the over-the-counter supplement. It is