Potential benefits and risks of genetic engineering

There are many benefits to using genetic engineering. It is used in agriculture to do things such as, improve the yields of important economic crops, and provide insect or pest resistance. It is also used in the medical field to create insulin, which can be used for treating diabetes. But, as with most new technology, it also carries potential risks.

Benefits of genetic engineering:

  • Genetic modification is a faster and more efficient way of getting the same results as selective breeding.
  • Improve crop yields or crop quality, which is important in developing countries. This may help reduce hunger around the world.
  • Introduce herbicide resistance, which results in less herbicides being used, as weeds are quickly and selectively killed.
  • Insect and pest resistance can be developed and inserted into the plants. The plant produces toxins, which would discourage insects from eating the crop.
  • Sterile insects could be created such as a mosquito. They would breed, which would lead to infertile offspring. This may help with spread of diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever and the Zika virus.

Risks of genetic engineering:

  • Transfer of the selected gene into other species. What benefits one plant may harm another.
  • Some people believe it is not ethical to interfere with nature in this way. Also, GM crop seeds are often more expensive and so people in developing countries cannot afford them.
  • GM crops could be harmful, for example toxins from the crops have been detected in some people's blood.
  • GM crops could cause allergic reactions in people.
  • Pollen produced by the plants could be toxic and harm insects that transfer it between plants.

Examples - Golden rice and herbicide resistance

Scientists have worked to develop genetically modified organisms that help meet the demand for food.

Examples of this include:

  • golden rice that produce extra beta carotene that is used to make Vitamin A
  • herbicide resistant crop plants

Golden rice

Scientists have added a gene to wild rice that makes it produce beta carotene. This changes the colour of the wild rice to a golden colour. Beta carotene is needed by humans in order to make Vitamin A. The advantage of golden rice is that it can be used in areas where Vitamin A deficiency is common and so can help prevent blindness. Some of the disadvantages of golden rice are:

  • fears that it will crossbreed with and contaminate wild rice
  • worries that GM organisms might harm people
  • beta carotene levels aren't high enough to make a difference
  • GM organisms can be expensive

Herbicide resistant crops

Scientists have added genes to crop plants that make them resistant to herbicides. Farmers can spray the entire field with herbicide and only the weeds will die. This reduces the quantity of herbicide that needs to be used. Potential disadvantages of this genetic modification include:

  • the potential development of herbicide-resistant weeds
  • loss of biodiversity as fewer weed species survive as a food and shelter source for animals
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