The Benefits of Agricultural Genetic Engineering
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The Benefits of Agricultural Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering, although tagged along with many ethical issues, can be beneficial for society to move forward. It is particularly important for agriculture and nutrition purposes. Today, genetic engineering already has a good stronghold on most of our dinner plates and will continue to do so. Through the examples of genetic engineering in foods to improve commercial value and increase nutritional value, it is viewed that agricultural biotechnology is moving the industry forward.

According to Improving Nature?, a 1996 publication by Reiss and Straughan, genetic engineering is the process of “creating organisms with novel genetic sequences.” Although a controversial issue because of ethical issues, genetic engineering has many potentially positive effects, particularly in the fields of food and agriculture. 

For example, take the corn on the cob sitting at your dinner table. To make pest resistant corn, a gene from a microorganism is inserted into corn so that the corn produced can make its own insecticide, decreasing the amount of pesticide sprayed on the plant by farmers. And those crunchy edamame you munch on and vanilla soymilk you drink? Well, herbicide-tolerant soybeans are genetically engineered to allow the soybeans to endure the herbicide that would normally kill the crop. It allows farmers to manage weed control and decrease soybean root rot diseases better (when the herbicide is applied correctly), increasing the yield of soybeans. In 2011, the USDA estimated that about 94% of soybean acreage was being used to grow herbicide-tolerant soybeans.  

Scientists and researchers around the world are using genetic engineering to make the world a better place by helping communities in need. Researcher Ingo Potrykus from the Institute of Plant Science in Zurich, Switzerland is one of the founders of the golden rice. With the inspiration of helping with world hunger and malnutrition in third world countries, Dr. Potrykus and his team used genetic engineering to developed a new type of rice that has increased levels of beta-carotene, which is a source of vitamin A.  Vitamin A deficiency is a significant health challenge is many countries and can leave to blindness in child and can “increase risk of disease and death”, according to the World Health Organization. Enhancing dietary nutrition is a large success of genetic engineering.

Genetically engineered fish produce fast growing salmon for commercial purposes. The USFDA states that “scientists have created a genetically engineered variety of Atlantic salmon that grows to market weight in about 18 months, compared to the 24 to 30 months that it normally takes for a fish to reach that size.” Although the bountiful salmon will be available more readily for commercial purposes with the introduction of the transgenic salmon, not everyone agrees with the benefit of the fish. A USDA study conducted by Purdue University’s Bill Muir and Richard Howard warned of these engineered fish escaping into the wild, affecting the normal fish population by potentially leading to their extinction. Biotechnology firm A/F Protein, Inc. rebuts that the genetically engineered fish can be grown in closed locations so that the commercial value of the transgenic fish can be upheld.   

By no means is genetic engineering a flawless and harmless process, with possible ethical, environmental, and human health issues arising as a result. But, nevertheless, genetic engineering in agriculture is fast-developing field, showing promise of improving nutrition and commercial value. 

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