By Ebele Orakpo
The first part of this article, published on Monday, December 28, explained that there was nothing wrong with OGM technology, as it is quite safe for nations to adopt. In this edition, the focus is on the benefits of genetic modification.
WHY the concern in food production? “As a cell biologist who has studied cell structure since my early days in biology, I know exactly what happens in the cell. I know what happens in the open field when we grow plants; I know the modifications that happen all the time in our environment.
“I can say categorically that there is no organism alive today that has not emerged from the modification of parental lines to get us to where we are. Everything that has been happening before we got here has happened due to mixtures of genetic materials since time immemorial. I know this because I am a biologist and microbiologist and I have studied the interactions between the female and male organs of living things, so I know that the mixing of genetic materials has been going on over the years.
“That is not to say that there is no place for mutation. When there is a mutation, sometimes, it is an advantage for us. We choose the ones that we think are beneficial to us. When the mutation does not favor us, we discard them. So over time, farmers select their preferred products from these mixes and keep them for the next planting season and those that appear to be not good are put aside.
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“We are aware of all this and the same goes for genetic modification, but the advantage of genetic modification is that instead of allowing these mixtures to happen randomly, you are specific. It is an advantage because as a scientist, I will not choose an unpleasant trait; I will go for a trait that is of interest to humanity and I will take it to where we want it to be. “
The same technology applied to agricultural and health products: Speaking further, Ogbadu wondered why people are more concerned about GMO technology in food production while they gladly adopt the use of the same technology in the pharmaceutical industry. .
“I wonder why people are concerned about genetically modified agricultural products because it is the same technology that is applied in the health sector in biopharmaceuticals and biosimilars, but people do not raise problems about it. In the case of biopharmaceuticals, some of them are injected directly into the bloodstream to make them move even faster.
“If you eat food, it goes to the stomach first, the enzymes act on it, digest it and pass through the small and large intestines before they are absorbed into the bloodstream, but the biopharmaceuticals are injected directly into the bloodstream. The first commercially released genetically modified product is insulin used in the treatment of diabetes.
“Look at the number of people that insulin has helped save or at least prolong their lives and no one complains. Previously, insulin was produced by removing the pancreas of animals. The animals were euthanized in large numbers, the pancreas was removed and their insulin was removed, but with biotechnology, insulin is now produced in a bioreactor in large quantities because the gene has been inserted into bacteria that are produced in the bioreactor, so it’s just harvested. “
Modified Humans: Bringing a new dimension to the debate, Professor Louis Egwari, Principal Investigator at Covenant University Center for Biotechnology Research, Ota, Ogun State, said that virtually everything in life has been modified, including humans. “We can also speak of modified humans. Attitudinally, we have been modified. Genes can be modified by the environment, not just when you manipulate them. The drug you take can manipulate some of the genes. “
Mutation: “When you talk about mutation, these are all modifying components, so it’s not just when you run an experiment and find something that looks a little different or has acquired new characteristics. We know where the people who are for or against GMOs come from. If you’re committed to advocacy and you’re saying no, we shouldn’t be embracing GMOs, how have you been able to control the activities of microbes that occupy the various ecological niches? They are modified daily! “
Emerging diseases: Egwari argued that even if we abandon the idea of artificially modifying food and organisms in laboratories, genetic modifications are constantly occurring naturally in the environment and that cannot be controlled.
“We are talking about emerging diseases and emerging microbes, where do they come from? We say that organisms have the ability to pick up genetic materials from the environment, so if they can acquire genetic materials from the environment and modify their characteristics, then they have been modified, but we are only looking at the artificial techniques involved in modifying these things. Life evolves as environmental conditions change; therefore, all living things are changing and adapting to survive in this environment. It is survival of the fittest and that means the ability to adapt quickly to the changing environment, ”he said.
Control your environment or go to extinction “Man is saying that now he has the technology to control his environment and the things that surround him and if he does not, he will become extinct. The human beings we have today are not the same as we had ago about 200-500 years; we are different in all aspects: in our physiognomy, thought patterns, perceptions, etc.
“In another 50 or 100 years, we are going to have another group of human beings; They may still look like us, but in many ways they have changed. Technology is going to change them. Now, we are planting chips in our system, they will alter the body mechanisms, so we are changing. The type of surgery we do is changing; Implants are changing us, but don’t you think that’s genetic modification?
“Going a bit biblical, when man ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, he had the ability to think to the limit, he became like God and he became creative. So man has the ability to conquer his environment and also to conquer himself and change himself to what he thinks he can be, “added Egwari.
Advantages of transgenic foods: “Man is seeing the fact that he is increasing numerically and is likely to starve, so he must create food and the best way to do it is through technology. For example, if an apple is medium in size, why can’t I make it 10 times its size? If it’s going to take me a year to raise a cow, why can’t I raise it in two months to maturity?
“If I have to depend on natural vegetation for medication, and knowing that so many things are also looking at that vegetation to survive, there will come a time when there will be no more vegetation due to houses, roads, industries, etc. the man decided to develop alternatives. Can’t I grow crops that instead of taking a year or two to mature, will grow and produce in a week? These are the things on the ground, ”Egwari explained.
Prof. Ogbo adds: “In fact, one of the goals of genetic modification is to improve the lifespan, reduce the attacks of microorganisms and many of them have succeeded.”
Measures to ensure that biotechnology is of maximum benefit to people
Also speaking on the subject, the Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency, NBMA, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, said that the NBMA ensures that the practice of modern biotechnology that leads to the development of GMOs and products, does not have any adverse impact on the population due to human error.
“We ensure that genetically modified organisms and certain modern biotechnology practices do not cause potential harm to the environment or human health and that such potential harm is completely prevented, reduced or eliminated. It is likely that there is potential harm that could result from the use of modern genetically modified organisms. “
“We call it potential because there is nothing in this world that does not have the potential to cause harm depending on how you use it. For example, cars have the potential to cause serious harm depending on how you use or handle them, so GMOs could be developed to cause negative consequences.
Therefore, you can use modern biotechnology to develop GMOs that can be harmful. Therefore, the agency works to prevent any GMOs that may cause harm from being released into the environment. Before any modern biotechnology activity is carried out, we grant permission to those who want to carry it out once we are sure that their activity will not cause any harm, “he said.
“After developing the product, we first have what is called a confined trial in a small location to reveal what they have modified. For example, you have genetically modified crops that are resistant to insects; some are herbicide tolerant. But before all these things are released, NBMA conducts a risk assessment to make sure these products do not have any negative impact.
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Ethics committees: “To address any questions that may arise about whether what I consider an advantage is an advantage for others, there are ethics committees that must approve the design of the research proposal before embarking on them. The ethics committees will analyze the proposal. The committees are made up not only of scientists, but include people from various walks of life: lay people, spiritual people of different religions, schooled and unschooled.
“You leave your plan open for them to see, criticize and come to an agreement on whether what you want to do benefits humanity in general. It is when they give the approval that you can embark on the investigation, “said Ogbadu.
Biosafety Protocol: “We have the Biosafety Protocol that we must comply with in the process of conducting the investigation to ensure that all regulatory prescriptions are met before the investigation concludes.
So in this regard, regardless of what doubts people have about it, they can rest assured that scientists are way ahead of them and have taken steps to address those doubts.
“All they need to do is trust the scientists because these scientists don’t buy their food products from a different market; It is the same market that the laity go to, so if there is something that is harmful or dangerous, the scientists will not be the ones to release it into the environment, ”added Ogbadu.