From simply selecting for desirable attributes in organisms, through Gregor Mendel's pea experiments, to modern day genetic recombinant techniques, man has sought to understand, harness and improve organisms that he deemed significant. Today however, genetic modification is shrouded by stereotypes and shunned by many which may impede its technological advancement. Application of recombinant DNA technology in modern plant breeding has resulted in the development of plants with improved agronomic properties. Food crops have been modified through the introduction of new agronomic traits or suppression of constituent genes which code for disease or pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, or inhibition of ripening. When characteristics from one plant are transferred to another species, the specific genes are referred to as transgenes. In the United States and Canada, approximately 40 genetically modified (GM) food crops have been introduced on the market, while in Europe; nine GM crops have obtained regulatory approval.
Market introduction of GM food crops in Europe has given rise to broad public concern based on two facts.
Firstly, there is a lack of familiarity with the new molecular techniques which are applied. Secondly, the fact that the genetic material of these plants (which are used for human consumption), has been altered in a manner which would not be found to occur naturally by way of reproduction or natural recombination. Some consumers also have ethical concerns about genetic modification. Hazards of large-scale cultivation of GM plants and of chronic exposure of humans and animals to GM food, are issues of intense debate. It has thus become necessary to address the key issues in the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with regards to concerns raised about their affects on consumers, environmental impact, economics and the ethics involved (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. GMOs: The centre of Debate.
Human Health Risks?...