Saturday, August 4, 2012

Food and Genetics-Weird Science


My inspiration for this week's article began innocently enough when my husband came across an article about lobsters harvested in New England with unusual color and markings due to their own natural mutation. Stories about odd colored lobsters are growing but it is not known whether this increase is due to a four fold explosion in fishing and finding more of these unusual crustaceans or the rapid fire exchanges of information through social media. I said to my husband "Email it to me quick,
I might be able to use it for an article." Now my thoughts began spinning. Naturally occurring aberrations in creatures we eat. Hmmm, what's my line? 

Since the industrial revolution of the mid 19th century, farming improvements have developed to solve the problems of low yield harvests and farm food infestations to meet the demands of a growing world wide population. Fertilizers and pesticides were created, then widely used, and now nearing eradication due to animal and human health safety concerns. Chemicals are a part of our daily routine in food, clothes, living spaces and environment. Now a greater awareness and focus is being made to consider the long term health effects of many of these additives and inventions while keeping up production. At the same time, modern medicine too has made major advances with medicines and healthcare to extend human life.

Genetically modified foods now knocks at our collective door, with scientists hoping to hear the words "Welcome, come on in." No one protests the uses of medicines to fight infections and illness or organizes marches against cancer treatment hospitals for their use of radiation treatment on their patients so where does the line get drawn for modified foods? Here are two such examples to ponder:
The Artic Flounder who lives in waters colder than the ice in my martini shaker has a gene that acts as an anti-freeze in order to survive such freezing temperatures. The gene was isolated and added to the genetic material of a simple red strawberry resulting in a fruit that will not succumb a sudden harsh freeze and may be frozen for storage and defrosted back to a perfect fresh berry furthering year-round supply. The surprise factor is a bold ocean blue fruit with the same strawberry flavor. Could this be used in an orange grove and other crops that frequently deal with the problem of unexpected devastation and loss from freezing temperatures? I rather think so and this strawberry is the test candidate.
British scientists have modified tomatoes that prevent and fight certain cancers in test mice prolonging life by 20% to 30%. The outcome here is an eggplant colored tomato. Would you eat this deep purple tomato knowing it may keep you healthier and possibly live a longer life? I guarantee it will taste much better than popping a pill or two or the ill effects of harsh cancer treatments.

As a side note genetic modification of animals used for food has been halted world wide as an official position. So the uses of hormones and antibiotics continues in its place.

A population of six billion earthly beings and growing, combined  with hunger and starvation due to poor farming standards in underdeveloped nations requires significant improvements in food production. Chemicals are not the answer, are modifications on a cellular level much like those witnessed in nature a better alternative? If you are an evolutionist, genetic change is the means by which to answer a specific need. Rooftop gardens and tilling up the front lawn to grow your own veggies, as fun as it was when I was growing up may not be enough to accomplish both feats-
Peacock with Natural Mutation

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