The Science of it All

GMO again

From Wikipedia (yes, I do use it sometimes, since it is the leading liberal bias learning tool):

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food. The term GMO is very close to the technical legal term, ‘living modified organism’, defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which regulates international trade in living GMOs (specifically, “any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology”).

The Biosafety Protocol makes clear that products from new technologies must be based on the precautionary principle and allow developing nations to balance public health against economic benefits. It will for example let countries ban imports of a genetically modified organisms if they feel there is not enough scientific evidence that the product is safe and requires exporters to label shipments containing genetically altered commodities such as corn or cotton.

Genetic modification involves the mutation, insertion, or deletion of genes. Inserted genes usually come from a different species in a form of horizontal gene-transfer. In nature this can occur when exogenous DNA penetrates the cell membrane for any reason. To do this artificially may require:

  • attaching the genes to a virus
  • physically inserting the extra DNA into the nucleus of the intended host with a very small syringe
  • with the use of electroporation (that is, introducing DNA from one organism into the cell of another by use of an electric pulse)
  • with very small particles fired from a gene gun.

Other methods exploit natural forms of gene transfer, such as the ability of Agrobacterium to transfer genetic material to plants, or the ability of lentiviruses to transfer genes to animal cells.

There is controversy over GMOs, especially with regard to their use in producing food. The dispute involves buyers, biotechnology companies, governmental regulators, non-governmental organizations, and scientists. The key areas of controversy related to GMO food are whether GM food should be labeled, the role of government regulators, the effect of GM crops on health and the environment, the effect on pesticide resistance, the impact of GM crops for farmers, and the role of GM crops in feeding the world population.

Opponents of genetically modified food claim risks have not been adequately identified and managed, and they have questioned the objectivity of regulatory authorities. Some health groups say there are unanswered questions regarding the potential long-term impact on human health from food derived from GMOs, and propose mandatory labeling or a moratorium on such products. Concerns include contamination of the non-genetically modified food supply, effects of GMOs on the environment and nature, the rigor of the regulatory process, and consolidation of control of the food supply in companies that make and sell GMOs.

My brother, Roy Marshall, has a blog at where he does a much better job of pointing out the problems with GMO and the political and financial ties to it.

Me, I’ll try to explain what GMO is and why it is not always what it seems.   First we need to understand the normal (simplified, of course) process of gene recombination. The way it occurs in nature, without any outside influences. For a primer you can go to:

Below you see how two plants (could also be animals, fish, sheep, etc.) are combined. This could be a simple pollination under the traditional plant breeding. Pollinating from smooth peas to wrinkled peas, wavy rows of corn kernels to straight rows. As you can see, besides the one yellow gene that creates the difference there are several other genes that assist in the process. Now then, in the bio-tech version they discovered the gene that creates the difference and transpose it. However, they have no idea what the other ‘helper’ genes are or do so they can’t identify them and transfer them.


The four-year, US$31-million project to sequence maize (Zea mays) was led by a US-based consortium of researchers who decoded the genome of an inbred line of maize called B73, an important commercial crop variety. The 2.3-billion-base sequence — the largest genetic blueprint yet worked out for any plant species — includes more than 32,000 protein-coding genes spread across maize’s 10 chromosomes. Sections of DNA called transposable elements, which can move around the genome and cause mutations, are the most abundant parts of the sequence, spanning almost 85% of the genome.

The human genome has approximately 3.3 billion base-pairs. There are an estimated 20,000-25,000 human protein-coding genes. Protein-coding sequences account for only a very small fraction of the genome (approximately 1.5%), and the rest is associated with non-coding RNA molecules, regulatory DNA sequences, LINEs, SINEs, introns.

Notice how the plant genome has almost as many base pairs as the human genome.


Base pairs group together to form genes, genes group together to create chromosomes, chromosomes end up being what is transferred from one zygote to another during the reproductive process.

A gene is the molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. The word is used extensively by the scientific community for stretches of deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) and ribonucleic acids (RNA) that code for a polypeptide or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains. Genes hold the information to build and maintain an organism’s cells and pass genetic traits to offspring. All organisms have genes corresponding to various biological traits, some of which are instantly visible, such as eye color or number of limbs, and some of which are not, such as blood type, increased risk for specific diseases, or the thousands of basic biochemical processes that comprise life.

Down through history, advances in knowledge of our bodies (many by biblical scientists) have given us new ways to intervene in the course of ‘natural events’ and this will be no exception. Such possibilities have always caused ethical tensions to surface. We have been made in a particular way; do we have the ‘right’ to ‘interfere’? Even atheists are capable of similar thoughts—instead of being concerned about interfering with God’s handiwork, they are concerned with interfering with the ‘course of evolution’ or similar.


Christians who look at the ‘big picture’ through the history of the Bible, founded in Genesis, have an advantage in being able to judge such matters. They can consider these other factors:

  1. God’s Genesis 1:28 mandate to humanity to ‘have dominion’ over creation has never been revoked—advances in knowledge are not in themselves anti-God.
  2. New knowledge, or new technological possibilities, are not in themselves evil (Titus 1:15)—they may be used for good or evil purposes.
  3. Humanity is fallen—hence there needs to be great caution where advances in knowledge are applied.
  4. The world is not the same as God originally made it—it is a broken, cursed world (Genesis 3:17–19, Romans 8:20–22)
  5. Where technological ‘fixes’ are applied to people’s bodies, if the purpose is to bring about healing, this is unlikely to be ‘opposing God’. It is always seen as blessed in Scripture to oppose, locally and temporarily, the enmities brought about by the Curse (e.g. the Fall set people against each other, yet ‘blessed are the peacemakers’). Following Christ’s example as the great Healer, it can always be seen to be blessed when fighting against the disease resulting from the Curse.

Strictly speaking, no discussion of moral or ethical questions makes any sense without a logical basis for such a discussion, which means that a set of moral/ethical absolutes is required. Where God’s revelation to humanity, the Bible, is rejected as authoritative, there can be no basis outside of the shifting sands of fallible human opinion.

Genetic engineering has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution involves things happening ‘by themselves’. Deliberately manipulating the genetic code in a plant, for instance, involves intelligent effort and purpose, the very opposite of Darwinism. Genetic engineering may be used for good in reversing harmful mutations that are the result of the Curse, or it could conceivably be used for evil. For instance, it could be used for the purpose of one human ‘having dominion’ over another, something that is excluded from the Genesis mandate to ‘subdue the earth’.

  • Genetic engineering of plant crops to get better yields, for instance, may not be morally wrong biblically, but it involves ‘wisdom issues’. I.e. in a particular instance, it may be wise or foolish. To help Christians make such decisions, good science, real science, is important. Also, a consideration of the motivations—is it going to help feed the world’s starving millions, or is that the ‘spin’ put out by some huge corporation planning to make a killing in the wealthy developed countries? There seems to be no single, simple set of answers applicable to each unique situation; rather, biblical principles must be applied on a case-by-case basis.
  • There are vexed questions such as: who gets to have this information? Should everybody know what diseases they are predisposed to suffer from in old age? Should insurance companies have the right to test the DNA of people applying for life coverage?

And that is why we should examine carefully every claim that a GMO product is good for us or good to feed to animals that we will eat, or it will kill weeds better and not harm flowers of vegetable plants, etc. We need to check on who is making the claim and why. In addition, do the research by both those for the GMO and those against.

Long-term effects are important and there is none of those that have been done yet.   It is like watching the video of the tire being bounced up and down on a machine for 1 million times which is equivalent to 60,000 miles according to the manufacturer. However, when I buy a tire, they wear out in 40,000 miles because the potholes and bumps and dips in the streets I travel do not match the up and down of the machine in any way shape or form.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s