GMOs: Art of Duplicating

Historical Timeline and Predecessor

The domestication of plant and animals is indeed miraculous, and in our present century has increasingly shown how control of animals and plants for the development of agriculture served as catalyst for the emergence of Genetically Engineered Organisms (GMO’s). What makes agriculture miraculous is how unlikely the process was, and the fact that it occurred independently in different geographical areas of the world. From the fertile Crescent of Near East almost 10,000 years ago to Sub-Saharan Africa and the United States over 4,000 years ago, agriculture has transformed human food supply from one of adequacy to sufficiency and will continue to have an indelible mark on the landscape of history. Genetically modified organisms have changed farming practices seemingly overnight in the United States and have driven sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices to new heights. The GMO timeline is depicted in the diagram below.

Gathering of Animals

The timeline began over 32,000 years ago when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, and during hunting expeditions were frequently joined by wild wolves as scavengers seeking refuse from kills. These scavengers were domesticated and artificially selected to increase docility eventually leading to dogs. Over centuries varying traits such as hair color and length, size, and body shape were artificially selected to alter genetics and produce other domesticated descendants.

Discovery of Agriculture

Beginning over 30,000 years ago our ancestors although lacking scientific laboratories, manipulate plant and animal genes through selective breeding, or artificial selection, choosing organisms with the most desired traits, and mating them with the purpose of combining traits to propagate a desired effect, in a better and more productive specie through their offspring. The impact was evident over many generations resulting in impressive genetic changes to many species. Artificial selection is not considered GMO technology compared to the science of today but is precursor to the modern processes of early genetic influences on the species. Historical records showed evidence that around 7,800 BC, plants were artificially selected for crops to improve food production and sustenance.

The Discovery of Genes and Isolation of DNA

Gregory Mendel in 1865 build on the work of Charles Darwin to discover that heredity was transmitted in units later leading to the isolation of DNA by Frederick Meischer (1869). Between 1953 when Francis H. Crick and James D. Watson describe the double helix structure of DNA, and 1968 when Steward Linn and Werner Arber described the first restrictive enzymes, many scientists contributed to the development of DNA cloning and discovery of the first human genetic map, and in 2003 the human genome was completed. A study by Zang C. (2016) discussed the progress of GMOs from the ideas of Darwin to its impact on today’s societies.


Break-through in GMO Technology

The discovery of plant and animal genes and DNA technology led the revolution that provided impetus to techniques and methodologies to produce hybrids through sorting and selection processes and the science of genetically altered DNA material to increase the frequency of mutation over and above the natural levels. This came in 1973 when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen collaborated to engineer the first successful genetically engineered (GE) organism. According to Plech, M. et al (2017), an understanding of the effects of mutation in the evolutionary process is aided by the pioneering work of Charles Darwin (1859) evolutionary insight, and framework for the survival of species. Darwin’s thoughts and ideas has indeed shaped the GMO landscape to what it is today.

While the use of genetic engineering has provided impactful solutions for disasters, medicinal breakthroughs, pest and disease control, the most controversial application is for food production and consumption by humans. In looking at the timelines pertinent to GMO’s history and development it is central to understand how the prevailing theories and application of techniques and methods of plant and animal survival rest with what was coined by Darwin as “the fittest of the fittest” to survive by producing a more robust species. At each juncture in time, successive generation have built on the foundation and technology of early GMO application left by our predecessors. Komparic, A. (2016) points to the contentious nature of DNA, and the prevalence of anti-GMO sentiments in Africa and across the globe. It is safe to say the knowledge, application, and understanding of GMO’s technology will shape the future of human consumption of goods and services, while serving as an imperative for solutions to problems in industries such as; agriculture, medicine, animal food supplies, and even bio-weaponry. The impact will be profound and long-lasting.

13 thoughts on “GMOs: Art of Duplicating”

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