Genetic engineering is one of the breakthroughs in the agricultural sector introduced in the last four decades. Traditionally, agricultural production relied on natural methods such as crossbreeding to achieve the desired plant species. Such methods were associated with disadvantages such as its slow nature and inability to produce the desired plant traits in the desired period. However, the introduction of genetic modification led to the elimination of these barriers. Genetic engineering is faster as compared to the traditional crossbreeding as it involves the extraction of a gene from the desired plant species and introducing into a DNA of different plant. Among the perceived benefits associated with the genetic modified food crops, include having more yields as compared to the conventional food crops, its economic nature, safety for human consumption, and lack of evidence for its harm to the environment. Despite this, the issue of genetic modification of food has faced numerous criticisms in the recent past. Some scholars argue that it has negative effects on the human health and the fact that there is no empirical evidence that suggests its long-term effects on the human health (Hodge, 2009). Therefore, this research paper analyzes the historical perspective/context of the genetically modified food. It also discusses the cultural perspective of the technology alongside the influence the media has over the topic.
Historical development and context of the genetic modification of food
Despite the recent introduction of genetic modification of organisms in the global environment, its history traces its roots throughout the human history. The year 1980 marked the turning point of the technology as scientists found out that certain DNA pieces could be transferred from one plant (organism) to another. This formed the foundation of the whole technology of genetic manipulation of organisms globally. However, the history of genetic modification can be traced back to the prehistoric times of Charles Darwin in the year 1859. Charles Darwin availed the book entitled "the origin of the species" that gave extensive knowledge and information based on breeding at that time. In 1865, Gregor Mendel published findings from his studies concerning breeding of peas. This formed the basis of the modern genetics. In 1869, Fredrich Miescher a scientist discovered the nuclei. He described it as a major component of the DNA. Later, his idea of the nuclei was discovered to carry the DNA trans-scripted information on the features of a species (Cockburn, 2002).
Around 1900, farmers from Britain used yeast and fermentation to introduce the desired hybrid. The gatherers of the food plants found in nature used the technology. In addition, the farmers during this period relied on natural cross breeding to introduce the desired plant species. The system was associated with disadvantages such as its slowed ability to develop the desired species and the fact that the new plants did not have the desired characteristics such as pest and disease resistance (Prakash, 2001). Besides, the European scientists applied the principles of Gregor Mendel theory of genetics to try to manipulate the food crops. According to Mendel's theory of gene selection, crossing a plant with the desired traits with low yielding plant results in the development of a moderately producing crop species. These scientists refereed this technology as "the classical selection of the plant species." Despite the fact that the plants introduced the desired species, it did not produce results such as disease and pest resistance and its time consuming nature. This made it have little differences from the traditional method of cross breeding plants of the same variety to introduce the desired features (Herring, 2006).
In 1902, scientists Theodor Boveri and Walter Sulton proposed that inheritance occurs under the influence of chromosomes. They describe chromosomes as double stranded inside the DNA nuclei. In 1910, Morgan T.H. demonstrated that the chromosomes are the entities that carry genes determining the characteristics of an organism. In the year 1913, Sturtevant came up with the structure of the genetic map. The map showed the constituents of the DNA that play a role in influencing the characteristics of an organism. In the year 1916, Clavin Bridges concurred with Morgan (1910) that inheritance is under the influence of the chromosomes. Muller A.H. showed that X-rays induces genetic mutation and can transform the characteristics of the DNA and the organism in the year 1927. Harriet Creighton and Barbara McClintock brought into the light the idea of DNA recombination in the year 1931. They defined DNA recombination as the process of linking DNA of chromosomes from different plants. They demonstrated using the maize corn chromosomes that showed the ability to be cross-linked with chromosomes of plants from the grass family (Fisher, 1992).
As of 1943, Tatum EL and George Beadle determined the single step in the biochemical pathway of a chromosome that influenced gene expression. This resulted in the discovery of the double helix of the DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson in the year 1952. In the same year, a researcher by the name Norman Borlaug bred the revolutionary idea that later transformed the shape of the global agriculture and research. While working with a project under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller Foundation in conjunction with the Mexican government, he crossed the samples of a sample of fungi resistant wheat with dwarf wheat called the "Norin 10."
Interestingly, it resulted in a genetic merged plant that was rust resistant with thinner, straight, and strong stalks that withstood the load of grain three times than the former without breaking. The Mexican government embraced the technology and witnessed a sixth fold increase in their wheat productivity by the year ending 1963. The news of the technology spread and was later referred in other countries such as India and Pakistan as the "Rht1" technology because it involved crossing of the Rht1 mutant gene with that of the Norin 10 (dwarf wheat variety). Consequently, this gave rise to the "green revolution" (Fisher, 1992).
Franklin Stahl and Matthew Meselson demonstrated the replication nature of the DNA molecule. They defined replication as the process by which the DNA forms a copy of itself. Har Gobind Khorana and Marshall Nirenberg completed unveiling genetic code structure in the year 1966. In 1971, India embraced the green technology from the Mexican government and became one of the leading producers of wheat in Asia by the year 1974. Empirical evidence shows that the progress to the current genetic technology faced hostile resistance from different sectors including the "green movement." This led to scientists such as Rudolph Hess to create a private biodynamic garden at the Auschwitz and Dachu to facilitate the testing of the genetically grown vegetables. In the year 1976, the Asilomar Conference saw the creation of the guidelines on the safety and use of the genetically engineered DNA. This formed the basis of the current genetic engineering (Cockburn, 2002).
The year 1980 marked a milestone in the history of genetic engineering. The U.S. Supreme Court issued the first patent of the genetically modified organisms in this year. It is during this year that specific genes of the DNA could be transferred between organisms. It formed the basis for the genetic modification process. In the year 1982, the FDA approved the first genetically modified organisms. This included the insulin and Humulin developed from genetically engineered E. coli. This made it possible for the spread of the use of the genetically modified food globally (Prakash, 2001). The year 1983 saw the creation of the first trans-genetic plant resistant to antibiotics. The process entailed the use of the tobacco plant to generate antibiotic resistant species. Genetic engineering of cotton and tested in the field in the year 1990 followed the discovery. The year 1983 saw the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction by Karry Mullis. This enabled the scientists to develop ways of reproducing DNA at a faster rate than the previous times. The late 1980's to early 1990's was characterized by the introduction of first sale of genetically modified food from China. This included food crops such as virus resistant tomato and tobacco. Prior to this, the scientists reported a significant development in the field of genetic engineering of food with the production of transgenic maize (Herring, 2006).
Later in the year 1994, scientists developed in vitro fertilization of the maize corn, an intervention that made easy the process of development of new strains of corn plants with the desired characteristics (Prakash, 2001). Ultimately, the genetically modified food entered into the U.S., Europe and the rest of the global market. The year 1995 saw the development of the herbicide immune soybeans also known as "the round-up-ready" by the Monsanto Biotech Company. The dream of genetic modification of food was enhanced in the 2000s with the discovery of the modification process that could allow the introduction of nutrients and vitamins to crop foods to enrich their value. Three years later, the scientists discovered the mutation behavior of the Bt-toxin caterpillar cum moth that developed resistance to pesticides over the last ten years of introduction of the…
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