This page was created by undergraduate students as a course assignment for a GMO seminar.
Adding nutrients to staple crops in developing countries
Over the last 50 years the effects of the Green Revolution have been seen throughout the world. The success of the Green Revolution caused an increase in the supply of calories per capita (Johnson, 2002). In many undeveloped countries, the majority of this increase in caloric intake comes from grains, a nutrient deficient food source. This diet leads to a number diseases caused by micronutrient deficiencies. In India, where rice is a staple crop, an estimated 50,000 children each year suffer from blindness caused by a vitamin A deficiency (Johnson, 2002). In developed countries micronutrient deficiencies are overcome through food fortification. This procedure, however, is useful only in areas where foods are processed and manufactured prior to consumption. Due to the lack of processing and manufacturing of foods in developing countries, food fortification is unsuccessful. Through genetic modification many researchers are attempting to create alternate sources of these micronutrients. One example of this form of genetic modification is golden rice. Created by Ye et al. in 2000 this genetically modified rice produces its own vitamin A. In theory this rice would provide a farmer in India with enough dietary vitamin A to prevent vitamin A deficiencies (Ye et al., 2000).
Enhancing nutrient density-
The agricultural technologies created through the Green Revolution focused on increasing crop yield. The world population seems to be increasing at a faster rate than the increased crop yield can keep up with. By increasing the nutrient value of the crops grown, less food will provide more nutrients for the growing population. Many researchers are using biotechnology in order to increase the feed quality of crops. This use of biotechnology can be seen in the development of high-oil corn. This genetically modified corn contains 6% oil, whereas non-transgenic corn contains a mere 3-4% oil (Kishore et al., 1999). This high-oil corn can then be used to feed animals and birds, therefore decreasing the need to add extra fat to their diets. In this example animal feed could be grown with high nutrient levels using less land (Kishore et al., 1999).
Reducing health risks
Many developing countries suffer from health because of malnourishment. Deficiencies in important vitamins can lead to a weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to disease. Thus, enhancing foods with vitamins and nutrients may lower health risks in developing countries.
Also, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats have shown to be effective in reducing cardiovascular disease risk and are believed to be more beneficial to overall health than saturated or trans- unsaturated fats. For these reasons, genetically engineered oilseed plants that produce more healthy fats may benefit the oil consumer's health and reduce heart problems. (Huth, 2001)
Decreasing the need for additional processing
Having to process crops after harvesting them can potentially reduce or alter their valuable traits. With oils, for example, unstable polyunsaturated fats must be hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, which has that frequently converts the fats into undesirable trans-fatty acids. Genetically engineering can create crops that produce more functional food products, thus reducing the need for - and costs associated with - additional processing. (CSIRO, 2001)
Gain public acceptance of biotechnology industry
In many places and amongst many groups, Genetic Modification has a bad reputation. Some see GM as unnecessary tinkering with natural processes. Others believe GM crops are detrimental to the surrounding ecosystem. Still others worry about GM crops infecting non-GM crops, potentially contaminating the planet. While all these may be valid claims, the benefits of some GM crops may outweigh their costs or their risks. If GM opponents could see the potential of these nutritious GM crops in providing proper nourishment to inhabitants of developing countries or in reducing major health risks, perhaps they would be more accepting of the expanding field of Genetic Modification.
As with almost everything else in our world today, money is involved. While the main goal of these GM crops should be to increase the nutrition and health of our global community, money always adds an additional incentive. By reducing health risks, nutritionally enhanced GM crops might potentially lower heath costs. Extremely health conscious individuals do not place a price on healthy products - at least not a low one - so some of these GM products will be pricey commodities. Monetary benefits are necessary in order to fund research and development and to push the field of nutritious GMOs forward. (Kishore and Shewmaker, 1999)
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Created by Ashley Cain, Will Greendyke, and Leigh Anne Hoskins
Last updated 4/14/04
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