Environment Genetics Health Sci Fi

Genetically Modified Superhuman?

Written by Fatima Faiz

A reach out to all my layman people, imagine this, what if you could go up to some scientist and ask them to develop powers of shooting lasers from your arms or from your eyes. Impossible right! Not so much anymore. Although the technique has some issues considering legality, moral, ethical and religious issues, there is a high possibility that one day you too might become genetically modified and maybe grow eyes behind your head.

What exactly is a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)?! It’s not very hard to understand. Suppose you have a recipe for chicken pulao, but you’re more a biryani person so you alter the recipe by adding a few things and there you go Biryani. It’s pretty much the same thing. You have an organism, and its characteristics lack your taste. All you have to do is take its genetic information, modify it by adding a few genes and maybe by taking a few genes and Boom! Brand new organism. This organism probably doesn’t have the ability to shoot lasers but it could have the ability to save millions of lives. Imagine someone telling you that you could save lives by feeding people a GMO banana?!

This is not just a surprising but a very amazing field of the developing era. There are thousands of modern techniques being developed using biotechnology of which Genetically Modified Organisms is one of. The technology is completely mind blowing. I mean by just the alteration of a few genes you get a super food that could reduce the risk of hundreds of diseases, or you could modify the genes of an animal giving it the ability to talk. It’s all there for all we know maybe animals have genes that could help them communicate to humans all we have to do is find them and activate them. It’s beyond amazing!

The GMO’s have been developed to quiet some extent. In Pakistan there are now pest resistant, herbicide tolerant, disease resistant, and drought tolerant GMO’S. Although our work is limited towards study and experimentation on plants, the third world countries have produced foods like the above mentioned bananas. The following table is a must read. It shows a few of the GMO’s currently in use and what you can expect for the future.

Genetically Conferred Trait Example Organism Genetic Change
APPROVED COMMERCIAL PRODUCTS
Herbicide tolerance Soybean Glyphosate herbicide (Roundup) tolerance conferred by expression of a glyphosate-tolerant form of the plant enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS) isolated from the soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, strain CP4
Insect resistance Corn Resistance to insect pests, specifically the European corn borer, through expression of the insecticidal protein Cry1Ab from Bacillus thuringiensis
Altered fatty acid composition Canola High laurate levels achieved by inserting thegene for ACP thioesterase from the California bay tree Umbellularia californica
Virus resistance Plum Resistance to plum pox virus conferred by insertion of a coat protein (CP) gene from the virus
PRODUCTS STILL IN DEVELOPMENT
Vitamin enrichment Rice Three genes for the manufacture of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, in the endosperm of the rice prevent its removal (from husks) during milling
Vaccines Tobacco Hepatitis B virus surface antigen (HBsAg) produced in transgenic tobacco induces immune response when injected into mice
Oral vaccines Maize Fusion protein (F) from Newcastle disease virus (NDV) expressed in corn seeds induces an immune response when fed to chickens
Faster maturation Coho salmon A type 1 growth hormone gene injected into fertilized fish eggs results in 6.2% retention of thevector at one year of age, as well as significantly increased growth rates

Table 1: Examples of GMOs Resulting from Agricultural Biotechnology

 

This beautiful technology will introduce us to a future we’ve probably seen only in movies till now, but until then I think I’ll be on the lookout for that scientist who’ll help me develop laser vision.

 

References

Phillips, T. (2008) genetically modified organisms (GMOs): Transgenic crops and recombinant DNA technology. Nature Education 1(1):213

Waris Ali Gabol, Aleem Ahmed, Hadi Bux, Kaleem Ahmed, Amanullah Mahar and Shafiullah Laghari    . “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Pakistan.” African Journal of Biotechnology 11, no. 12 (2012): 2807-2813

 

Biotechnology is finally here to change things in Pakistan and you wouldn’t want to stay behind. Join us, on 11 March 2017, in this one of a kind biotech event.

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About the author

Fatima Faiz

Currently an MS (hons) biochemistry student. With hobbies completely side tracked from her field of study.