Genetic Diversity within Bt cotton in Pakistan

For many developing countries cotton production is an essential part of their economic standing. In Pakistan cotton comprises more than half of the total exports (GOP, 2010). Unfortunately due to pests, specifically the bollworm, the cotton yield in these countries has decreased substantially. In response many countries, including Pakistan, have begun to rely on genetically modified insect resistant crop cultivars in order to lower the chances of bollworms. The component that makes it insect resistant is expressed in the Cry1Ac d-endotoxin from the bacter Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Since 2010 more than 21 million hectares have been planted with GM cottons in six major cotton-growing countries. Though Bt cotton has exponentially helped with cotton harvest, there is still hesitation with GM crops due to the fear of crop homogeneity. In a study conducted by Ullah et al. (2012) the researchers evaluated genetic divergence among 19 Bt cotton genotypes using simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers. The researchers took 119 surveyed primers and thirty-seven were found informative. Overall the results proved a lack of diversity within the Bt cotton, both from private and public sectors.¾Rachel Warburton
Ullah,A., Iram, M.Z.,Iqbal, M., Hasni., S.M., Jamil, S., 2012, Genetic diversity analysis of Bt Cotton genotypes in Pakistan using simples sequence repeat markers, Genetics and Molecular Research, Volume 2,597—605
GOP, 2010, Economic Survey of Pakistan: Finance Division. Government of Pakistan, Pakistan
James C., 2010 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops ISAAA, Ithica, 42
Ford, E.B 1940 “Polymorphism and Taxonomy” The New Systematic, Oxford, Volume 1, 493-513

            Bt cotton makes up for the majority of the cotton grown there. One reason for this is that exotic Bt cotton varieties have entered cultivation through informal channels. Breeders from public and private sectors then developed Bt varieties with familiar genetic backgrounds by backcrossing cottonseeds with the exotic Bt cotton, which contains the Cry1Ac gene. Approximately 60,000 farmers in Pakistan have planted Bt cotton as of 2010. (James 2010). Most of the first and second generation Bt and GM cottons in general were developed by incorporating transgenes into regeneration-responsive genotypes and then transferred to the desirable genetic makeup through conventional means. The use of selective varieties such as recurrent parts has brought up the suspicion of genetic homogeneity along with the promotion of large-scale monoculture. Eventually these factors may contribute to increased vulnerability to environmental stresses, both biotic and abiotic.
            Research on genetic variability has improved greatly with the introduction of DNA markers. Within the different types of DNA markers micro satellite markers or SSRs have become the best fit for conducting research on genetic analysis. SSR markers are essentially repeating sequences of 2-6 base pairs of DNA. They usually present high levels inter-polymorphism that help in detecting genetic diversity. Currently, approximately 17,448 cotton SSR primer pair sequences are available in the public domain, which allows for intense genetic and genomic studies in cotton, including hybrid cotton identification. In the study conducted by Ullah et al. (2012), the researchers aim to use SSR markers to explore the genetic diversity among the 19 Bt cotton genotypes—of which eight are normal commercial cultivars, two are hybrids and nine are advanced breeding lines. The tested insect-resistant transgenic cotton material contained the Cry1Ac gene, except for the two hybrid primer pairs. For the sampling, 104 cotton SSR primer pairs that represented at least two markers from each chromosome were selected. Within the 104 SSR primer pairs, 52 were tested because of a reported intra-hirsutum polymorphism. Polymorphism occurs when two or more different phenotypes exist within the same population of a species; it functions to retain variety of form in a population living in a varied environment. The researchers considered each genetic band  single locus or allele. An allele is one member of a pair or series of genes that occupies a specific position on a chromosome.  Over the 104 surveyed primers, 37 were found  to be informative. Among 52 supposed polymorphic primers selected, 30 were found informative with a polymorphism rate of 56%.
            Data from the SSR analysis were used to create a similarity matrix. The matrix showed a mean genetic similarity of 0.947 among all of the genotypes. This reveals a very high level of genetic relatedness.
            Among the public-sector organization genotypes, those from one organization, the Cotton Research Station in Multan, were relatively diverse with 0.929, specifically in comparison with the National Institute from Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, where the mean similarity was lower with 0.919. The results also revealed that hybrids were more genetically distinct than commercial cultivars and advanced breeding lines.
            Overall, genetic diversity is important for dealing with environmental changes and Bt cotton has proven to decrease genetic diversity. The SSR markers show that the reported percentage of polymorphic SSR primers is low in cotton. Low genetic diversity estimates have also been reported in cotton using different DNA marking systems in locations such as Australia. The study conducted by Ullah et al. (2012) was the first study to analyze genetic diversity in Pakistani-bred Bt cotton, previous research which compared Pakistani bred non-Bt cotton have also revealed low estimates for genetic distances. Other results found were that genotypes developed in public-sector organizations were fairly similar to those produced in private sector. Most of the  Pakistani cotton material bred before the early 1990s was produced from local varieties with American cotton germplasms and were relatively diverse. After the first Bt variety was informally introduced in 1998 to Pakistan the amount of genetic diversity has decreased substantially, which may eventually make it more susceptible to potential epidemics or environmental change. 

Insect-Resistant Genetically Modified Rice in China

Research on insect-resistant genetically modified (IRGM) rice in China has been going on since 1989. It wasn’t until 2009 that the first two types of IRGM rice were commercialized. The two current types available in China are of Bt rice lines, both based on cry1, the most widely used herbicide worldwide. In a review by Chen et al. (2011) the authors examined the history and importance of rice production in China, the research process of IRGM rice along with the future of IRGM rice in China. They also examine the global, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts of IRGM rice. Since China is the largest rice producer and consumer in the world and its main priority is the feed the 1.3 billion and growing population. Yield loss caused by stem borers has increased tremendously in the last decades, resulting in more than 5 billion Yuan (US $735 billion) dollars each year. One approach to increasing yield is the use of IRGM rice, which has the ability to kill off stem borers. According to Chen et al. (2011) laboratory and field tests have confirmed that Bt rice can provide effective and economic control of the lepidopteron stem borer species with less economic risk than current non-GM practices. —Rachel Warburton
Chen, M., Shelton, A., Gong-yin, Y., 2011, Insect- Resistant Genetically Modified Rice in China: From Research to Commercialization, Annual Review of Entomology, 81-95

The amount of rice grown in China accounts for 18% of the total amount grown worldwide. It serves as a staple food for over a billion residents in the country and there are six main rice-growing regions in the country. Rice yield loss is extremely detrimental to China both economically and socially. In 1989 Chinese scientists from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural sciences engineered Crystal (Cry) proteins into rice plants in order to create the first IRGM rice plants. Twenty years later it was certified and commercialized by the same academy after extensive research. Many scientists and farmers feel IRGM is the only way to produce the amount of rice necessary to feed the nation; they also see a fault with the heavy reliance on traditional insecticides for health and environmental reasons and believe GMO plants may be able to help solve this problem. China is the most populated country in the world and in order to not create food scarcity in other countries due to importation of rice, China needs to be growing their own staple food such as rice.
There are two general insect pest types when dealing with rice: chewing insects and sucking insects. Chewing insects include rice stem borers, leaffolders and rice water weevils and sucking insects include planthoppers and leafhoppers. Many different control theories and practices have been developed for these pests yet many farmers still most commonly utilize synthetic insecticides due to a lack of education or understanding of the modern technologies such as IRGM. This has resulted in a doubling of the amount of pesticides used since 1990 on Chinese crops, consequentially severe insect outbreaks, pollution, and food poisoning are coming after effects.
Although the Bt research began in the late 1980s it wasn’t until late 2008 when China started a 26 billion Yuan (U.S. $3.5 billion) research and development initiative for GM plants, which eventually turned into mainly the commercialization of IRGM rice plants. Thus far IRGM plants have been widely accepted in China for their economic, environmental and yield increase benefits, but there are still concerns being raised about intellectual property rights, governmental regulation and educational outreach to the farmers and consumers. Based on the regulation policy for agricultural GMOs in China, GM crops are forced to go through three tiers of field-testing before being certified for commercialization. The three tiers include pilot field testing, environmental release testing and preproduction testing. Each year hundreds of applications are submitted for testing. Thus far only two biosafety certificates have been awarded for the production of Bt rice. Both lines are composed of a cry1Ab/Ac. China will soon become the first nation in the world to commercialize IRGM rice which should have a positive global influence. Other types of IRGM rice are currently in development and going through the three tier tests. Some of those being developed work with stacked traits of herbicide resistance, disease resistant or even both. Aside from the three-tier research tests safety assessments are also conducted on GM plants. Safety assessments are divided into five stages: laboratory research, the three tier testing, and an application for biosafety certification. Criticisms have been raised however in the current regulations and assessments because the decision making process relies primarily on the National Biosafety Committee which has 75 members, of which the majority are biotechnologists.
Since the release of the BtIRGM rice plant, numerous lab and field studies have been conducted on its environmental and food safety. Between the years of 1995 to 2009 there were over 400 peer-reviewed papers that included laboratory and field studies on these impacts. In general negative effects of IRGM rice did not stand out compared to those of conventional farming techniques. The only data that contrasted with this belief were from research conducted on silkworm larvae. The data suggest that some IRGM rice pollen may be toxic and therefore a hazard to this species.
The authors also explored the potential effects on soil biota and cross-pollination. Since cultivated rice is primarily self-pollinating there is very little cross-pollination between GM and non-GM rice cultivars. The field studies conducted on this matter suggested the risk of cross-pollination was manageable. Lin et al. also has a developed a build in strategy for containing transgenic in GM rice. Food safety was also assessed and they found no significant differences within nutritional components (crude protein, amino acids, etc.). The researchers did however find a compositional difference of three amino acids, two fatty acids and two vitamins between disease-resistant and insect-resistant GM rice grains and non-GM controls.
Bt rice has increased yield by up to 9% compared to non-Bt rice grains based on a household survey conducted in Hubei and Fujian Provinces. There have also been fewer reports of insecticide poisoning with the farmers who use IRGM rice. Overall the effects of IRGM rice have so far been positive.
The main hesitation with IRGM rice, however, is insect resistance. Especially with Bt crops the high dose/refuge, which calls for high expression of insecticidal protein in IRGM plants, have strong theoretical evidence of insect resistance. The Bt protein in Bt rice is lower than that in Bt corn which may make a difference.
In order to successfully implement IRGM rice in a healthy way for the economy and environment of China, the knowledge gaps of IRGM rice must be better understood. More attention should also be paid to identifying new insecticidal genes with different modes of action than just the first-generation rice lines currently being researched. Luckily the new initiative on GM plants in China will help scientists work on these issues and hopefully identify what the best approach is to meet the needs of the people. 

Indirect Effects of GMOs on Biodiversity

Arthropods, a type of invertebrate with an exoskeleton, such as spiders, insects, and centipedes, rely on weeds for many reasons—microclimates, food, and shelter. When the weed population is tampered with it can have direct effects on arthropods that can then have indirect effects on herbivores and the food chain in general. Though genetically modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops offer new and more environmentally friendly options for weed management, they could have potential consequences on biodiversity due to a decrease of weed biomass and arthropods. Bigler et al. (2011) describe and summarize the indirect effects of weed management, specifically through GMHTs, on plant biodiversity, referencing the utilization of conservation biocontrol, which is essentially the manipulation of weed populations in order to help other components of the ecosystem, thrive. Weeds serve as the primary food source for arthropods along with providing shelter and refuge. They can also alter habitat conditions and interact with crop plants and alter their morphology, phenology, and physiology—both of which can either be beneficial or detrimental to the arthropod. In a few 3-year field studies run by the U.K. on GMHT and weed biomass, they showed that the GMHTs produced less weed biomass and seed return to the soil compared with conventional crops. Invertebrates which relied on these weeds were thus affected. Other studies showed that the impact of herbicide treatments depended on the density and diversity of weeds present and the timing and efficiency of their removal. In the end the authors concluded that the principles and mechanisms resulting in effects on non-target anthropoids and biological control functions are the same for GM and non-GM crops.¾Rachel Warburton
Bigler, F., Albajes, R., 2011, Indirect effects of genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops on biodiversity and ecosystems services: the biological control example, Journal for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, S79-S84
Albajes, R., Lumbierres B., Pons X 2009, Responsiveness of arthropod herbivores and their natural enemies to modified weed management in corn. Environ Entomol 38
Givens WA, Shaw DR, Kruger GR et al. 2009 Survey of tillage trends following the adoption of glyphosate-resistant crops. Weed Technol 23

GMHT crops benefit growers by allowing flexibility when using herbicides and making weed management simples and cheaper compared to conventional crops. Some crops such as sugar beets and maize are especially sensitive to weed competition. Due to the fact that soil conditions in the spring are not adequate for the application of herbicides the window for application is small and thus the conventional methods dictate early weed control which results in very few weeds in the entire season. Though beneficial to the farmers, the loss of weed crops later in the season when the crop is less sensitive to competition, results in a loss of arthropods and seed-eating birds.
As stated before, 3-year field studies were conducted in the U.K from 2000 to 2002 and they concluded that the management of weeds in GMHT beet and oilseed rape resulted in fewer weeds later in the season, which in turn produced less biomass and seed return compared to conventional crops. Results in a later study showed that weed biomass was generally more reduced by the early overall sprays of glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide chemical component, than by conventional herbicide programs or by later applications. The results also noted that the change in the beetles tested was due to the removal of weeds and not to the herbicides used.
Another study, done by Albajes et al. 2009 compared the abundance of arthropods in maize plots that had been twice treated with glyphosate with that in plots treated with a conventional pre-emergence treatment over a 3-year period. The authors compared three different sets of data. Firstly the number of herbivores and predators estimated by visual inspection of the plants, secondly the number of caught soil-dwelling predators and decomposers and thirdly the number of insect parasitoids caught by yellow sticky traps set out. The only plots with significant differences in weed populations showed differences in herbivore and predator plant-dwelling populations. The amount of soil-dwelling predators was consistently higher in plots covered with more weeds while the number of insect parasitoids was essentially the same between the two different situations. These results allowed the authors to conclude that only after substantial changes in weed abundance does it effect biological control on maize plants applied by plant dwelling predators and parasitoids, but that soil-dwelling predators may be more affected by even the smaller changes.
Tillage is another thing that may impact arthropod populations. Conservation tillage uses practices that minimize the disruption of the soil structure, composition and biodiversity makeup of the soil, thus minimizing soil erosion and degradation. This method is different from conventional tilling methods because its main purpose is not to create a seedbed. Tillage is an important method for weed management and different tillage techniques can alter weed biomass in different ways. GMHT technology has reduced tillage systemic use. Givens et al 2009 states that farmers in all cropping systems in the U.S increased their use of conservation tillage after adoption of herbicide resistant crops.  A review of 45 studies of tillage and invertebrates showed that of the 51 arthropod species tested, 14 increased with the decrease of tilling, 15 species showed no change and 22 other species decreased with decreased tilling. Overall these results suggest that reduced tilling methods are less detrimental to the soil in which arthropods live, especially when compared to conventional tilling methods. In another study Bigler et al. (1995) tested four cropping systems (conventional, green cover, folder rye, meadow) and in the end the results demonstrated that weed management and tillage systems do in fact have a greater impact on the abundance of the predator fauna in maize and that prey consumption can be enhanced if conservation tillage is applied in conjunction with cover crops and overall sprays of herbicides.
As stated before, Bigler et al. 2011 concluded that the principles and mechanisms resulting inadvertently to arthropods and biological control functions are the same for GM and non-GM crops. The authors state that GMHT crops do offer beneficial weed management techniques along with more flexibility for herbicide use which could be a powerful tool to manipulate weeds in ways that could result in higher weed biomass. The authors also suggest that GMHT crops may increase adoption of reduced or no-tillage systems with possible positive improvements on weed management. The last suggestion is to begin with the application of reduced-tillage systems combined with later season overall sprays with adaptations to the local needs of the land. This in turn may help to enhance conversation biological control.  

Genetically engineered canola populations in the United States

Along with concerns of adverse health effects and loss of biodiversity there are concerns of genetically engineered (GE) crops transferring certain traits to native species through hybridization. In response to this growing concern researching Schafer et al. 2011 conducted systematic roadside surveys looking at the presence and quantity of wild GE crops and non-GE canola populations in North Dakota, where the majority of canola is grown in the United States. The objectives of the study were to document the extension of feral canola populations in the state along with evaluating potential mechanisms of persistence outside of the crop fields. The researchers surveyed a 1×50 m area every 5 miles alongside roughly 3500 miles of road. The sampling was done in early summer before the flowering of the cultivated canola. The testing areas were mapped in relation to transport routes, construction sites, and regions of major canola cultivation. This then was transferred onto a distribution map which showed the different populations of the different herbicide resistant canola populations according to their location and proximity to certain areas. The results concluded the escape of a certain GE canola; Bassica napus was present at almost half of the road survey sampling sites. The authors also discovered a correlation between canola populations along major transport routes and construction sites. Overall their results suggested different means of hybridization into the wild. The results also supported the hypothesis that roadside populations of this plant are unflagging from year to year and have the capability to hybridize in order to produce novel genotypes. ¾Rachel Warburton
Schafer, G.M., Ross, A.A., Londo, P,J., Burdick, A.,C., Lee, H., E., Travers, E.,S., Van de Water, K., P., Sagers, L.,C., 2011. The Establishment of Genetically Engineered Canola Populations in the U.S., PLoS One 10

Canola is generally a variety of rapeseed that contains lower levels of erucic acid which makes it palatable for human consumption, along with reduced levels of toxic glucosin which makes it desirable for livestock feed. Next to soy and maize canola is one of the top produced GE crops in the United States. According to Schafer et al. 2011 genetically engineered plant varieties could influence the population ecology and biodiversity of wild species in either a positive manner, such as by introducing a novel or beneficial trait, or in a negative manner, such as by  introducing a destroying gene which could kill off native populations. Currently cultivated canola accounts for 31 mega hectares. Canola cultivars have been engineered for glyphosate and glufosinate, both toxic herbicides, resistance. In 1995 there was an unintentional commercial release of these types of resistant canola and widespread escape was documented from this release. Since then feral canola populations along with non-engineered populations with found biotech traits have been found in Great Britain, France, Australia and Japan. Schafer et al. 2011 saw importance on testing on North Dakota populations of canola since the majority of the canola produced in the U.S. comes from North Dakota.
The sampling was collected with test trips available for testing glyphosate and glufosinate tolerance but there has yet to be a test strip for the third frequently used herbicide, ClearfieldÔ.The GE Brassica napus was present in 45% of the road survey sampling. Among these samplings 86.8% were sexually mature, meaning they were past their seed phase and ranged from flower bug to mature fruit with seeds. This is important to note because it suggests that flowering canola in roadside habitats may have originated from the previous generation’s seeds instead of from seed spill during the current cultivation.
            The research also showed that transgenic canola was denser along major transport routes, construction sites and in regions with already high amounts of canola growing. Other feral GE populations were found on access points to crop fields and bridges and roadways, suggesting possible seed spill during transport.
Due to it’s relative newness to domestication of 300¾400 years, Brassica napus,  is suspected of contributing to the wild traits because of seed shattering which is fairly common with this plant.  One surprise that came out of the study was the growing number of feral populations outside of cultivated areas both near and far from cultivated fields all over North Dakota. Interestingly enough these were found in both habitats with a selection process (roadsides being sprayed with herbicide) and habitats without an obvious selection process.
            Overall the results suggest a number of ways canola plants may be introduced to the wild in the future. They suggest that canola may colonize seed repositories in fill dirt and consequentially establish a soil seed bank, which refers to the natural and usually dominant, storage of seeds within the soil of certain ecosystems. In general Schafer et al. 2011 came to the conclusion that field and feral populations originated from different sources due to their different spacing of growing times. The research team also suggest hybridization could have occurred via pollen flow between fields of transgenic canola varieties. It is more difficult to verify hybridization without being able to test on the third herbicide, ClearfieldÔ.
            The results support the hypothesis that there is variation from year to year with the feral canola populations. To conclude, Schafer et al. 2011 suggest that in order to ensure global food security researchers, regulatory agencies and industry must take full advantage of the tools that biotechnology provides.

Benefits and concerns of the use of GMOS in Africa

Due to the fairly new introduction of genetically modified organisms into the agricultural world in 1996, there have been many advocates alongside contrasting skeptics for the use of them. In an article written by Arthur GD published in the African Journal of Biotechnology (2011) there is a complete description of the benefits and doubts of introducing and continuing the use of genetically modified crops (GMC) in Africa. Many of the doubts are brought up by the different governments and many of the benefits are seen by scientists and others associated with the African Journal of Biotechology who have sought to find out whether GMCs are truly as beneficial or as dangerous as some claim. The concerns are social, ethical, health, financial and political. Within these concerns there are even deeper concerns of bio-terrorism and loss of biodiversity. The question that comes with this article is if the pros of biotechnology, such as higher crop yield, increased rates of employment, and annual incomes, will outweigh these potential cons. Although GMCs are currently used in only eight African countries, GD seeks to explore to the possibility of expansion into more countries for a higher crop yield, specifically for those reliant on farming for their livelihood, which consists of a third of the African continent.¾Rachel Warburton
GD, A, 2011., Benefits and concerns surrounding the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Africa: The debate, African Journal of Biotechnology 10, 1-9
Kullaya, A., 2005, Biotechnology and its potential role in contributing to socio-economic development in Tanzania. Pg 3-5
Asante, DKA., 2008, Genetically Modified Food, the dilemna of Africa, African Journal of Biotechnology 7: 1204-1211

GD begins by explaining why there is a need for the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Africa. Specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa there is an increasing amount of food insecurity, lack of food distribution,and lower crop yields due to economic, environmental, and social reasons. Some countries experience unfortunate soil composition, drought, financial restraints, and lack of resources to successfully invest in traditional agricultural methods. GD sees the implementation of GMOs the perfect solution to cure these problems, either temporarily or long term. Many sub-Saharan countries have been reluctant to invest because of the myriad of concerns circulating along with the shortage of funding research on the subject matter and lack of policy making. While some countries, such as Zambia, are creating organizations such as the National Biosafety and Biotechnology Strategy Plan to regulate plants, Namibia and a few other countries have cut off all ties with countries who are included in the GM revolution.
The amount of Africans living below the global poverty line ( $1 per day) has increased by more than 50% and more than 1/3 of the continent suffers from famine daily. Low rainfall is attributing to infertile land and increase of pests. Global warming is assisting in more droughts worldwide. For all of these reasons, GD sees GMOs as one of the only approaches to confront all of these issues. According to Kullaya (2005), biotechnology can be used to assess the integrity of ecosystems and even has the possibility to turn pollutants within the ecosystem to mere benign substances. There is also the creation of nitrogen fixing and bioconverting GMOs. Nitrogen fixing would strengthen the soil with the insertion of more nitrogen and bioconversion converts organic materials such as plant or animal waste into usable energy sources, which could also fix a portion of the worldwide waste-disposal problem.
Pests and viruses have been known to be one of the major limiting factors within African food production but this too could potentially be solved or weakened by GMOs. Currently the most widely used GM technology involve herbicide tolerance, such as Bt corn, but more research is going into making crops not only more virus intolerant but also adding nutritional value to crops in order to confront the large problem of malnutrition in Africa. In this effort they have created the African Biofortified Sorghum Project, which would increase the amount of protein and other micronutrients in sorghum through genetic engineering. This would then hopefully decrease the amount of malnutrition, specifically in children. They have also created a strain of  “golden” rice with higher levels of betacarotene using this same approach.
The article looks a lot to Argentina as a reference of a successful country taking on GMOs. In Argentina, the first GM crop, a glyphosate-tolerant soybean helped the economy and social structure of Argentinian agriculture exponentially. Due to increasing concerns of the adverse effects of GMOs, many African countries are hesitant to follow Argentina’s lead.
As mentioned before, only eight of the forty-seven countries in Africa currently allow GM crops and included in the article is a table including some of those countries, such as Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. There is another table that looks at the 11 countries with biotechnology research projects going on between livestock, forestry and crops.
Before concluding, the article lists out the specific concerns being raised about biotechnology, specifically in Africa. One of the biggest concerns is the increase of bioterrorism. Bioterrorism is the intentional release of biological agents including bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Since GMOs are essentially dealing with implementing some of these agents into crops, animals or plants, there is a certain risk that something could be spread commercially and serve as a bio-weapon. GD’s resolution to this social issue is regulation and GM labeling, giving the consumer an option and educating them on what the product contains. Another concern stated is the obvious one of the possible adverse health effects such as increased allergies, intestinal issues with the bacteria and reproductive health. According to Asante (2008) eating GM foods does have the ability to change the genetic make-up of one’s digestive system. Ethical concerns are raised as well, questioning whether it is right to “play God” by transforming plants and animals in abnormal ways along with dominating the earth in such an unnatural manner.
GD counters many of these concerns with the idea of increased regulation along with increased education worldwide on the subject matter. He sees the utilization of GM crops as a powerful step in the direction of food increase, which would then give the many sustenance farmers a better life and those malnourished in these countries more options. 

Possible Improvements of Genetically Modified Organisms

Regulation of genetically modified crops is an ongoing international debate. The need for regulation is preliminarily for assessing health risks and examining the adverse health effects that some genetically modified organisms have been linked to. In an article produced by Environmental Sciences Europe, Gilles- Eric Séralini et al. (2011) examine the current tests being done for regulation purposes. In the article the validity of these tests are questioned due to a lack of what the authors seem to see as essential requirements for lab tests. The lab tests are conducted on mammals, the majority being mice and rats, mainly by biochemical blood and urine variables. The animals are fed the GMOs over anywhere between 28 to 90 day periods. According to Séralini et al. 90 days is an insufficient amount of time to evaluate chronic toxicity. Despite this fact, the test results still connote liver and kidney problems as end points of GMO diet effects. Residues of certain GMOs such as bt corn have been found and linked to many of these help problems. Bt corn is a genetically modified type of maize with the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis inserted inside of the corn seed in order to kill Lepidoptera larvae and therefore used as an alternative to spraying insecticides. Other adverse health effects are discovered along with a discrepancy between sexes, possibly due to interactions of pesticides to different hormones. A suggestion by Séralani et al. is to acknowledge sex differences when conducting the research. Many other suggestions are made on how to improve the testing regime for regulation and overall health of consumers. Rachel Warburton

Séralini, E.G., Mesnage, R., Clair, E., Gress,S., Spirooux de Vendömois, J., Cellier, D.,2011. Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements. Environmental Sciences Europe 23, 1-10.

The regulation on GM foods is much stricter in the European Union than it is in most other countries that utilize them. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has its own GMO panel and working group which comes up with the testing regulations. Much of the current data come from research conducted by affiliates of the biotech industries, thus making the data possibly biased or skewed. For example it was shown that none of the biotech industry-funded research showed untoward effects of Bisphenol A, an organic compound found in some GMOs, yet 90% of government- funded studies showed health hazards with the compound. In this same study the mice chosen to be tested on were found to be insensitive to estrogen, a problem when trying to differentiate reactions between the sexes. Hundreds of other lab animals had previously been rejected for this study due to Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) which sets standards for lab tests. The FDA and EFSA base many of their decisions on GLP, yet GLP is based on primitive templates which pose a problem because they don’t take into account recent environmental sciences. Thus a gap between scientific knowledge and regulations is created.

The gap grows even wider by the lack of regulation despite the scientific evidence that has come from these studies. In the chronic or sub chronic toxicity studies in mammals fed with GM soybean and maize, which represents more than 80% of edible GMOs, almost all of the results came out to be identified as “controversial results” or “statistical differences”. Normal pesticide testing goes on for a 2-year period in order to truly detect the side effects yet this pesticide-containing-GMO testing lasts less than three months. This is sure to lead to “controversial results” and “statistical differences”.

As mentioned earlier, some liver and kidney problems were easily detected in the three-month period, though they are unsure whether they can fully be attributed to the GMO diet. In a meta-analysis of statistical difference with appropriate controls in feeding trials, 43.5% of all variables were disrupted in male kidneys, while the kidneys of the female counterparts were only 26%.

Roundup is an herbicide containing the active ingredient glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the United States and Roundup has been the number one selling brand name herbicide since 1980. Many plants, such as most soybeans, canola, wheat, and cotton have been genetically modified to be “Roundup Ready”, meaning they are resistant to the herbicide while the weeds around them are not. Roundup Ready plants now account for 80% of GMOs and the residue, mainly composed of glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA (both of which contain different toxins) have been linked to human placental, embryonic and umbilical cord cells, thus having the ability to affect the reproductive system. Roundup also has the ability to stabilize glyphosate and allow it to penetrate through cells, which eventually changes the androgen/estrogen ratio, possibly explaining the difference in the results of the sexes and emphasizing the importance of testing each sex individually as Séralini et al. has done.

Current toxicity testing methods, also called Toxotests, on GMOs is very similar to those of classical toxicology. The feeding tests are based on the “no observed adverse effect level” along with the “lowest observed adverse effect level” approach, both of which are not specific enough and does not recognize that there is not one single chemical in GMOs but several unidentified metabolites. Séralini et al. suggests to perform the Toxotests on three mammalian species versus just rodents and to prolong the 90-day tests with a control and three normal doses of GM in the diet, rising at an exponential and steady rate.

Other suggestions for improvement include expanding the sample size of the testing group and following the series of steps posed by the EFSA for statistical analysis. Some of those steps include obtaining and modeling the growth curves and feed consumption evaluated by non-linear decline, integrating water consumption as a follow-up factor to better comprehend kidney and urine data and also using dose-response predictions. Since there is no traceability of GMOs in the United States, despite the fact 97% of GMOs are cultivated on the North and South American continent, there have been few tests conducted on humans. The traceability of animal products, on the other hand, is much more feasible and necessary if we wish to investigate GMOs in our food chain.

All in all it is evident there needs to be more transparency to consumers along with regulation of the products. The research needs to be more extensive as well, especially considering several billion people in the world have interacted with GMOs in some way or another. Séralini et al. finalizes the article by saying that the main ways to improve the current research techniques are to extend the time period from 90 days to 2 years, use mature rats, utilize the improved Toxotest approach and include sexual hormone assessments.

The Future of Genetically Modified Crops

Genetically modified crops allow larger quantities of certain foods to be made at a quicker rate compared to naturally grown seeds and crops. Reasons for this vary but include plant-produced insecticides and herbicide and the ability to grow in a broader range of climates. A review published in the African Journal of Agricultural Research written by Kamil Ekici et al. (2011) discusses the potential health effects along with an explanation on the labeling requirements and methods for detecting GMOs. GM crops have been around for no more than 20 years and weren’t approved in the United States until 1992. Since then the United States has become on the top producing and consuming nations of GMOs, despite the fact little regulation of GM crops is implemented in the United States, unlike European countries which have strict statutes in place. Although they have helped to speedily feed more cattle with soybean and maize GMOs along with other crops, there have been many studies on the adverse health effects of GMOs, such as links to antibiotic resistance, presence of toxins, fungi or metals, along with the possibility of increased cancer risk and new allergens (Bakshi et al. 2003). In this article Ekici and colleagues from the Department of Food Hygiene and Technology at Veterinary College and University of Yuzuncu Yil, both in Van, Turkey, construct a certain perspective of genetically modified crops by investigating health effects, socio-cultural beliefs for and against GMOs along with labeling requirements and stating strategies to detect GMOs. –Rachel Warburton

Ekici et al., 2011;Gizzarelli et al., 2006; Warner, 2002; Heckmann et al., 2006; Dean and Shepherd, 2007 Hurst et al. 1999

Along with the adverse health risks already stated in the first paragraph, many countries find the idea of GMOs as going against socio-cultural and ethical issues across national and international lines. Other countries, such as Turkey, already regulate the labeling, tariffs and prices for retail GMOs (Emiroglu 2002). These regulations place general obligations on tracing all of the ingredients in all stages of food production. In Europe labeling is required if there are health or ethical concerns and the EU law also mandates labeling when the product is not equivalent to the existing foods (Dean and Shepherd 2007).

As for detection of GMOs, the most prominent way to conclude whether the product contains a GMO is by performing a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). PCR enables the detection of specific strands of DNA by making millions of copies of a target genetic sequence. If the sequence is specific to a certain GMO the positive PCR test tells you that the GMO is present. Other methods include nucleotide-based amplifications, protein-based and enzymatic techniques.

According to Ekici et al. most government agencies find GM crops beneficial to the consumer, while it is still up in the air whether the consumer feels the same. The European Union has more reservations about GMOs and thus has more requirements for the processing and creation thereof.

Overall there are a few contrasting ideas of GMOs and what will become of them in the future. Proponents of them see them as the “technology of the future” by promising to “solve the problem of world hunger”. Other supporters believe the genetic modification could lead to new and bettered products with sought-after attributes such as seedless fruit. The main arguments against GMOs are those stated earlier—health risks, socio-cultural beliefs, and environmental problems mostly. As articulated by Ekici et al., consumer confidence declines when a product is labeled with the inclusion of GM products and therefore food companies tend to be weary to use GM products. Nonetheless as the world continues to grow exponentially the need for food at a quicker rate will increase as well and therefore the use of GM crops will also increase.