Biotechnology is a field of science that if well utilized, would greatly benefit mankind. However, it has its drawbacks that need to be weighed against its benefits. While benefits such as improving the nutritive value of foods and increasing shelf life are clear and tangible, it is presumed to cause potential harm to both man and the environment. This negative side though may or may never be realized. In this essay, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of biotechnology with an emphasis on benefits and potential harm to mankind.
tailored to your instructions
for only $13.00 $11.05/page
The importance of biotechnology to man cannot be underscored. Firstly, it is utilized for food preservation. Through fermentation, man has been able to extend the shelf life of foods through the action of lactic acid produced by fermenting microorganisms. Biotechnology has also been utilized in increasing the shelf life of tomatoes through the insertion of a gene that blocks the synthesis of softening protein hence slowing their softening and consequently spoilage (Whitney & Rolfes 2011).
Secondly, biotechnology has been utilized in increasing yields in food production. This is through genetic engineering to select specific genes responsible for high yields and the selection of drought-resistant genes for food production in dry areas (Whitney & Rolfes 2011). This has led to high yields and hence increased food security. Biotechnology has also ensured the fast and accurate selection of required genes as opposed to natural selection which took a long time and whose results were not guaranteed (Whitney & Rolfes 2011).
Thirdly, biotechnology is used to enhance the nutritive value of some foods through a process called biofortification (Whitney & Rolfes 2011). Through biotechnology, foods that have limiting amino acids such as lysine and tryptophan, have been enhanced. There is also the production of genetically modified rice with more minerals and vitamins. The extra iron and vitamin A serve a great purpose, considering that iron and vitamin A deficiencies are common problems in the world (Whitney & Rolfes 2011). Soy milk that has similar characteristics to cow milk has also been produced through biotechnology. Genetically modified foods produce phytochemicals that may help combat chronic diseases.
Further, biotechnology has been applied in improving the efficiency of food processing. A good example is a rennin, unlike in earlier days when rennin was harvested from calves, rennin can now be produced by a bacterium by inserting the rennin gene into it. This process makes rennin production cheaper and more sustainable than before. The process saves not only money but also time, calf and space. Other examples of application in food processing include the production of lactose-free milk using lactase and the production of decaffeinated coffee (Whitney & Rolfes 2011).
Last but not the least, it is possible to produce food organically without the use of inorganic fertilizers, chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. This is through engineering for pest and disease resistance genes and the use of natural predators in place of pesticides. This ensures that our environment is cleaner since the use of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides have residue effects that harm our environment. Additional effects are lower food prices hence ensuring food security (Brookes and Barfoot 2006).
Although biotechnology has been viewed by its proponents as a panacea to the world hunger problem, its critics also have grounded fears which should not be ignored, the key one being the unintended gene transfer. There is a perception that there could be gene leakage where genes find themselves transferred where they were not intended. It is feared that these genes could cause allergic reactions among consumers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) although this has not been substantiated (Lemaux 2008). There is also fear that these GMOs may mutate and cause unknown diseases or the bacteria may become drug-resistant making them difficult to treat.
as little as 3 hours
Genetic engineering is expensive. It requires specialized skills and laboratory; hence the products are also expensive. In case of farmers, seeds produced through genetic engineering are beyond their reach.
Genetic engineering is expensive. It requires specialized skills and laboratory; hence the products are also expensive. In the case of farmers, seeds produced through genetic engineering are beyond their reach.
Lastly, there are environmental issues associated with biotechnology that include a change in the genetic make-up of crops both genotype and phenotype, and how the change impacts their surroundings. Currently, there is no available method of environmental impact assessment for genetic engineering; hence opponents have a point in expressing their perceived fears. Of major concern is the use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium that produces in septicidal proteins called Bt toxins. There are fears that insects might develop resistance to Bt, hence causing an environmental problem. The other concern is loss of plant biodiversity due to genetically modified crops. Opponents have argued that as biotechnology is continuously applied in agriculture, there is a proportionate loss in genetic diversity due to introduction of new varieties and genes which compete with local. This competition leads to erosion of conserved genes leading to biodiversity loss (Lemaux 2008).
In conclusion, one would say that the benefits of biotechnology outweigh its disadvantages. In a world that faces starvation, biotechnology would help a great deal to ensure food security by providing adequate and nutritious food to the growing population. Although the proponents have tangible evidence, the opponents argue that the fact that we cannot see adverse effects doesn’t mean that we are safe, and hence we should treat biotechnology with caution.
Brookes, G., & Barfoot, P. (2006). Global impact of biotech crops: Socio-economic and environmental effects in the first ten years of commercial use. Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management and Economics, (9), 139–151.
Lemaux, P. G. (2008). Genetically engineered plants and foods: A scientist’s analysis of the issues (part I). Annual Review of Plant Biology (59), 771–812.
Whitney, E., & Rolfes, S. R. (2011). Understanding Nutrition. (12th Ed) Belmont: Wadsworth.