Recently there has been a lot of talk about Genetically Edited Organisms (GEOs) as a ‘safe’ alternative to GMOs where you get a much improved quality of produce by modifying the genes already present in it rather than introducing foreign genes. In case you need a quick idea about what GMOs really are and how they are constructed; you can go back to these articles I wrote last year.
GMOs when used for commercial purposes like drug development, commercial fibres, lighting streets etc, don’t seem to gather as much resistance as their being used as food popularly being assumed to ” threaten food security” especially of agrarian economies with dwindling agricultural production coupled with a growing population where using GMOs seeds for crop plants and food grains become a ‘viable alternative’.
Rather than pondering over the implications of such practices in this post, I would rather stick to the scientific background , allowing you to decide and discuss in the comments section.
What are GEOs?
Genetically editing organisms is a kind of genetic modification where genes are edited/ modified/ removed with the help of artificial nucleases. These nucleases are popularly called molecular scissors create a double stranded breaks and the cell’s machinery is used to join the nicks after the fragment has been modified. the common nucleases used are Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZNFs) and this is basically done to study the effects of genes and the change in phenotypes. Targeted gene additions or deletions in plants modify the plant genes to obtain desirable results.
For further idea, you can read the articles carried out by these posts here:
As far as my understanding takes me, economically important characters like yield, colour, horizontal resistance etc are not conferred by a single gene but the cumulative effects of many genes in which each of the genes play a small individual assigned role.
So going by GEOs, the genes they have targeted have specific phenotype, physical manifestation like eg vitamin content of fruit (or have multiple effects) usually conferred by a single gene and not quantitative expression of the parent.
In spite of the fact that there are more nucleases used today as outlined by the this review paper (Plant Methods) and also this research (Trends in Biotechnology); its still going to be a long way before GEOs actually overtake/ parallel GMOs in usage.
If you still do not like the sound of these latest trends and developments, and would much rather stick to traditional/ cultural/ natural stuff for your food security, you can read the posts here to get started
I was a bit surprised when this method was compared with that of Mendels’, I guess it was really to allay the implications and fears society has towards these artificial adjustments to organisms. To get a sound / basic understanding of what he was referring to you can check out this post “Genetics of your Blood Group” where I wrote about estimating an unborn child’s blood group using Mendel’s classical genetics.
But then Mendel didn’t interfere with NATURAL genetic setup/ or the genome and had just made sure the plants with specific genes interact with their counterpart with the desired partner during cross pollination to study and formulate the basis of genetics. So he was basically reordering the genes that are already present in the population and it had nothing to do with foreign genes.
This same thing actually happens during meiosis that a pre-requisite for sexual reproduction. To give rise to a new variety of genes other than the parental types but among the types/ variants already present in the population and new genes emerge only due to induced and spontaneous mutations. This is also a reason different species of organisms cannot interbreed, take for instance a fish and a frog, or 2 fishes of different taxonomic groups etc due to genetic barrier and to contain specific genes within a population.
But editing/ modifying is really different. Each species resulted from a primitive prehistoric life developing and evolving on its own; Creating barriers among themselves to maintain their individuality as a taxonomic group. Even mouse, man and chimp genomes are similar to a great deal they look very different due to the differential expression of those same genes in response to their inherent systems and the environment.
©2013-2014, The Idea Bucket. Written By Ananya.