While proponents and opponents of modern agricultural biotechnology are busy with their campaigns on the safety or otherwise of the technology to improve agricultural production in the world, especially in Nigeria where the technology is relatively new, biotechnology experts have averred that the age-old technology has been deployed in the biomedical sector overtime, describing biomedicals as currently the highest beneficiary of the technology.
Speaking on the sidelines of the 2019 annual general meeting and scientific conference of the Nigerian Medical Association in Abuja, the country coordinator of Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology (OFAB), Dr Rose Gidado said advanced biotechnology could be deployed through gene editing to cure terminal diseases like cancer and sickle cell anemia, adding a patient suffering from genetic condition of an SS genotype can become AS or AA through gene editing.
“Sickle cell is lifetime, it is genetic, but you can use gene editing to knock out those genes that are making you have cancer, and your offsprings for generations will not have it, because that gene that is making you prone to cancer will not be there again.
“The gene can be manipulated or suppressed, you don’t even need to bring gene from somewhere else, with gene editing, you are just editing, like carrying out operation, removing something from someone, the same thing can be done with the genes, open up and check the genome of someone who is sickle or who has cancer, and then look out for that gene that is responsible for the ailment, you silence it, you can use enzymes to silence it or you remove it,” she said.
The scientist pointed out that her agency made a presentation to members of the medical association because of the critical role they have to play in technology adoption in the country, saying biotechnology is very beneficial to scientific ventures.
According to her, “We are in this business together because whatever we are doing, we are actually doing it to improve crop productivity in Nigeria, to enhance food security, and of course we have to at the same time, ensure that what we are developing is very safe for humans, safe for animals and safe to the environment.
“We really need to get their buy-in, we really need them to key into the technology so that they can also carry out their own safety assessment, we just need to work together with the medical doctors and get them to understand, so that they believe that life does not only exist in their own sector but also in the agricultural sector.”
Similarly, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) West Africa regional rep., Dr Issoufou Kollo, contended that medicine was the biggest user of biotechnology. Disease diagnostic is done quicker with biotechnology, saying the technology is what is used to diagnose diseases in plant because it is the same thing that causes the same diseases.
He also said biotechnology is used in various ways to make vaccines, medicines and new compounds, adding 25 per cent of what the world’s pharmaceutical people take are coming from GM organism, emphasizing biomedicine as the biggest user of biotechnology.
Speaking on the ongoing debate on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Kollo stressed that all genetically modified food crops which had been approved and released in Nigeria had been examined, analysed thoroughly and were very safe for consumption, even safer than many of the so-called “organic” food crop, pointing out that promoters of non-scientific propaganda against GMOs are people who want Nigeria to be perpetually dependent on other countries for its food supplies. H said no one can release food termed unsafe in developed countries like the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, China.
He urged Nigerians to trust the government and its representatives, stressing GMOs approved are safe to human and the environment.
Speaking to journalists, the former president of the Christian Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (CMPN), Dr. Omo-ehijele Frank Odafen, noted that medicine is science and technology, saying innovative technologies like biotechnology can be employed and redeployed in helping combat environmental issues and communicable diseases.
“For instance, some of them can be deployed into the environment, things that plaque us, mosquitoes like vectors, rats causing hemorrhagic fever. Biotechnology can be deployed in combating them,” he said.
Giving his position on GMOs Odafen said the technology had been scaled up in every way, saying he had known better on the potentials of genetically modified organisms which if properly harnessed could help combat hunger in the land, even as he urged the biotechnology agency to continue in their dynamic advocacy in sensitizing Nigerians of the evolving technology which can be highly beneficial to the nation if properly harnessed.
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