Transgenic Organisms What are “Transgenic Organisms”? Transgenic organisms are organisms whose genetic material has been changed by the addition of foreign genes. This foreign material can come from other organisms of the same species, from a whole different species, or synthetic sources. Courtesy of: The Food Standards Agency In 1994 the first genetically engineered food item went the market when the FDA approved the sale of a tomato that had been genetically modified to stay riper longer off the vine. This tomato was produced using recombinant DNA technology, and was the herald for an age of genetically modified foods to come. When we think of genetic engineering, most of us probably think of transgenics. Transgenic animals or plants are those that have genes from other organisms added to their DNA. Already today thousands of products come from Transgenic organisms. Everything from medicines, foods, feeds, and fibers. One of the biggest applications (and largest debates) of transgenics is in Agriculture. There are currently four nations involved in growing transgenic crops. They are the United States (68%), Argentina (23%), Canada (7%), and China (1%) “Glowing” tobacco plant. This is an example of a tobacco plant that has been genetically engineered with a fluorescent gene (luciferase) that causes it to glow. This is a genetically modified strain of malariaresistant mosquito which has been created successfully by a scientist. The creation of mosquitoes with green fluorescent testicles will help curb the spread of malaria carrying mosquitoes. South Korean scientists have successfully cloned cats via the advantage of a technological twist that could use to make significant genetic changes in every creature on Earth. These cats carry genes that have been altered genetically to enable them to glow in the dark. Photos from South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology show cats appear normal in visible light (left) but their skins glow red under ultraviolet light (right). “The ability to manipulate the fluorescent protein and use this to clone cats opens new horizons for artificially creating animals with human illnesses linked to genetic causes.” Researchers transfer DNA from the long-vanished Tasmanian tiger into a mouse. The finding shows how lost information about species from the past can be retrieved and also provides a glimpse into how longgone creatures may someday get a second chance at life. Uses for Transgenics Crops -Enhances taste and quality -Increases nutrients, yields, and stress tolerances -Improves resistance to disease, pests, and herbicides -Allows for new products and growing techniques Animals -Increases resistance, productivity, hardiness, and feed efficiency -Allows for better yields of meat, eggs, and milk Improves animal health and diagnostic methods More uses. . . • Transgenic organisms can be used to produce proteins for people or animals that cannot produce such proteins on their own. For example, insulin is a protein produced by humans to break down sugars in the bloodstream. However, some people are born without the ability to produce their own insulin thus making it hard for them to live. Since the advent of transgenic organisms, scientists have been able to modify animals so that they produce insulin in large quantities. This insulin can then be harvested, processed, and made available to diabetics who need it. • Another use of transgenics is to discover what certain genes do. By taking an unknown gene from one organism and inserting it into another organism, scientists can observe that changes that the gene produces in the new organism thus gaining insight into what exactly the gene does phenotypically. Environmental use The field of genetic engineering is especially exciting for scientists who are attempting to create a more superior oil-converting bacteria. Current oil-converting bacteria pose some problems because they cannot compete with native microorganisms for resources and therefore cannot be implemented easily in areas that do not already have populations of oilconverting bacteria. Courtesy of: The Environmental Protection Agency-Alternative Countermeasures for Oil Spills Cloning Dolly the sheep was the first mammal to be cloned from the DNA of an adult. Here she is with her first-born lamb, Bonnie.(Roslin Institute, Edinburgh) Concerns • Safety - Some people say that they have a potential human health impact in regards to: allergens, transfer of antibiotic resistance markers, and other unknown effects • Potential environmental impact - Unintended transfer of modified genes through cross-pollination, unknown effects on other organisms in the environment, and loss of flora and fauna biodiversity • Access and Intellectual Property - Some people fear that transgenic food could lead to the domination of world food production by a few companies. Increasing dependence on Industrialized nations by developing countries. And "biopiracy" - the foreign exploitation of natural resources. More concerns • Ethics - Is it a violation of natural organisms' intrinsic values? Are we tampering with nature by mixing genes among species? Does this create stress for the animal? • Labeling - Not mandatory in some countries (e.g., United States). Mixing GM crops with non-GM confounds labeling attempts - how do we know what's been modified and what hasn't? • Society - New advances may be skewed to interests of rich countries Currently. . . • Genetically modified organisms are already used in a wide variety of products we consume on a daily basis. For example, “Campbells” soup line contains genetically modified ingredients, as does most of “General Mill's” and “Kellogg's” cereals on the market. In fact, we have been eating genetically modified foods since 1996 Where will we be with transgenics in 10 years? Today, scientists are working around the clock on new transgenic organisms. Imagine a banana that when eaten, vaccinates you against diseases such as hepatitis B, fruit trees that produce fruit in half the normal growing time, or even plants that have been crossed with cold water fish so they don't freeze in the winter, providing year round food for developing nations. The future of transgenic organisms is only as limited as our imaginations.