The term biotechnology has become a source of grave fear for many who have little or no knowledge of science. It has been portrayed as harmful, and a means of contaminating environment, animals, plants and food for the people.
By definition, biotechnology is the exploitation of biological processes for industrial, agricultural and other purposes, especially the genetic manipulation of micro-organisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones etc.
It is on record that society has been using genetically modified organisms for hundreds of years. Fermentation was first described by Louis Pasteur in the 1850 as a process initiated by living organisms and therefore the first biotechnological process discovered. The first genetically modified animal, a mouse, was created in 1974 by Rudolf, and the first plant was produced in 1983. In 1994, GM tomato was released, the first commercialized genetically modified food. The first genetically modified animal to be commercialized was the goldfish in 2003 and the first genetically modified animal to be approved for food use was salmon in 2015. Unarguably, no report of disaster or harm has ever been associated with all these to humans or the environment apart from the fear and hearsays devoid of scientific proof being nursed and speculated.
It was on this basis that the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonaya Onu recently challenged whoever is against the practice of modern biotechnology to come openly with scientific facts to counter it.
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.
A wide variety of organisms have been genetically engineered, from animals to plants and microorganisms. Genes have been transferred within the same species, across species creating transgenic organisms. New genes can be introduced, or endogenous genes can be enhanced, altered or knocked out to achieve a particular aim.
GMOs have been used in biological and medical research without complaint leading to the production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine like gene therapy, vaccines against deadly diseases including ebola, polio virus and the production of fast test kits.
The technology was also handy in the development of crops that are resistant to herbicides.
Genetically modified organisms are the end products of modern biotechnology. They are meant to aid humanity and the many societal challenges of the contemporary time but their roles and benefits have been misconstrued by self-seeking activists who see nothing good in the deployment of science and technology in agriculture. They want us to remain in the era of hoe and cutlass farming and in poverty.
A few objections have been raised over GMOs or biotechnology, particularly their release into the environment. Most of the objections against the technology are based on the saying that it is not safe for human and the impact growing them will have on the environment. Other concerns are the objectivity and rigor of regulatory authorities, ‘contamination’ of non-genetically modified food, control of the food supply, patenting of life and the use of intellectual property rights.
These concerns are natural and bound to exist as they have made governments to put in place mechanisms that will ensure that the raised concerns will never manifest. This has resulted in the entrenching of regulatory authorities in pari-passu with biotechnology bodies.
Just like the introduction of new technologies or inventions, people must be apprehensive and express genuine concerns but genetical modification has been with us for over 25 years and we are yet to have any scientific proven report of harm resulting from its use.
Although there is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, GM food safety is a leading issue with critics. These critics have no basis for argument as they cannot prove that modern biotechnology is harmful to environment and organisms. The enormous benefits of biotechnology can never be underplayed. It is one of the ways to solve the problems of food insecurity, unemployment and economic migration in Nigeria.
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