GM foods: What’s all the fuss about?

Where there is food, there is population. Thanks to  Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist, US is the largest wheat exporter in the world. Also thanks to  M.S. Swaminathan, one of India’s top most exported commodities is cotton. Both these men are accredited as ‘Father of Green Revolution’ and ‘Father of Green Revolution in India’ respectively. Countries now export food and are not just talking about subsistence anymore. Where there is population, one needs food and hence by many GM foods are considered much needed in agriculture.

While a country like India is capable of exporting certain crops, it feels the heat of the shortage of certain grains. Marie Haga, the current head of Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) said “Food production needs to increase by 15 percent in the next 10 years.” Mark Lindley, a member of Humanist Association of Boston, US, said shortage is due to post-harvest mismanagement, while he raised concerns over rapid consumption of resources in populated countries like India and China.

Changing the traits of plants played an important role in the rise of agricultural produce. While plant breeding is as old as the first civilized colonies of humans, the first genetically modified food was commercialized only in the 1990s. So why the fuss now? Each of these techniques is a way to get better yields even in intolerable climatic conditions, better taste, better color, better life span and may be better size too. Yet there is no consensus on the use of the said technique. The difference between the two is that science of molecular biology began only recently, that is in the 1930s.

With the knowledge of molecular genetics, scientists are now able to breed two different kinds of plant species. “You can now build a cell the same way you might build an app for your iPhone,” said Newman, chief science officer of Amyris, in the Guardian. As easy as it sounds, it is the hard work of scientists that has led to such technologies. Molecular genetics is an open group to play on whereas plant breeding only allowed closely related species to be bred and that is where GM foods came in.

If you find yourself thinking why would people criticize genetically modified crops, one of the many reasons is ‘allergies’ and ‘toxicity’. No negative effects have been so far documented. The other reasons include the intellectual property fight and the effect of pesticide resistance. Through conventional wisdom, you probably know what a normal apple can do to you but how would you know what a GM apple will do? Concern over allergies called for GM labelling.

GM labelling in India was made mandatory in the month of January this year. Greenpeace, WWF and the Nature Conservancy are in the forefront of the debate, the first two concerned over regulation over the use of GM foods. Having done that, the process of GM labelling is not standardized and will be the next big hurdle for nations if they are to receive public acceptance of GM food.

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Is the earth adapting to climate change?

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“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H. G. Wells

Species adapting to their environment is not new to scientists. When a species fails to do so, it is doomed towards extinction is an accepted fact. In one of my blog posts called ‘Global warming? Think again.‘, I mentioned that a type of corals called the Gorgonian corals were flourishing with rise in ocean temperature.

Can the newly discovered life growing on plastic waste be considered another proof of adaptation? A whole new group of microscopic creatures has been found growing of the vast amount of discarded plastic floating in the world’s oceans, according to ABC.net.au. While that is no excuse for us to continue dumping plastic waste in oceans, it offers a fresh perspective on climate change.

It is possible that there might be many more species out there trying to adapt to climate change. As for humans, technology is on their side to help them sustain in such climatic conditions for now. It won’t be too long until we have to struggle for adaptation as well. Current technologies are under scrutiny as to whether they are sustainable to help us to sustain on this planet. Perhaps a rather unconventional route towards adaptation might lie in learning more about the ability of a Dutch world record holder, Wim Hof, commonly nicknamed the Iceman for his ability to withstand extreme cold.