DR. KESTNER: Genetically Modified Food Has Gone Too Far
DR. MARK KESTNER, Guest Columnist
Sunday, April 1, 2012 6:23 am
Not too many years ago scientists quietly began altering the seeds used to produce food crops.
In crops such as corn and soybeans the seeds were genetically modified to produce foods that grew faster, were more resistant to disease or pests, produced greater yields, or were otherwise preferable to the common variety that remained unaltered.
Now, many fruits, vegetables and meat items that are available at your grocer are the result of ongoing development of genetic modifications that produce a more commercially viable product.
Using science to improve the genotype of agricultural products is nothing new. Selective breeding has been done to enhance genetic strains for generations.
Back to the days of Gregor Mendel and his peas, mankind has known how to alter the genetic structure of a plant or animal by choosing which variants to combine to intentionally produce a preferred genetic combination.
Only in recent years have scientists been able to splice the genes of plants and animals in such a way as to create new versions of the old species with genetic modifications.
Genetic science has even advanced so far as to perform laboratory cloning of animals. Recall Dolly, the cloned sheep that was in the news a few years ago.
A recent new experiment in genetic modification has gone unnoticed by the major media. Only the fact that I stumbled upon a poultry industry newsletter brought this research to my attention.
While waiting for my car to be serviced I noticed a copy of “Poultry Production News” that had apparently been left in the waiting room by a previous customer.
This little newsletter offers bits of news that help investors in poultry futures get an edge over their competition by being alerted to events that might affect the poultry business.
Some of the items were too tedious for casual reading, but one column caught my eye. The article was primarily couched in technical terms related to poultry breeding professionals making it difficult to decipher.
However, after some close examination of the article, followed by some online research of a few terms for illumination, I managed to uncover what appears to be an exclusive discovery of some alarming meddling by a small group of animal geneticists.
The article confirmed that the group of geneticists had succeeded for the first time in melding the genes of a laying hen with DNA particles from two other species.
This type of genetic splicing had been accomplished previously by scientists working with simpler forms of life.
For example, not long ago an obscure researcher achieved brief notice after he successfully altered the genetic makeup of a primitive worm with that of a likewise primitive fish-like animal. What he ended up with was a fishing worm that liked to swim. He quickly patented the new species and it was bought by Bass Pro Shop.
The new undertaking by the poultry scientists appears to go far beyond anything that has ever been accomplished in genetic modification by previous researchers.
As I worked to understand the article intended only for industry insiders. I initially thought my interpretation must be in error.
According to the article, the poultry geneticists had managed to splice bits of “bovine and porcine DNA” onto the chain of the experimental laying hens. This was accomplished by using stem cells of all three species to obtain undifferentiated cell components that had not undergone complete genetic expression, then adding them to the fertilized embryos that would then be allowed to develop into mature hens.
At first, I failed to comprehend what advantage would be gained by adding genetic material from cows and pigs to hens.
In order to understand the significance of the accomplishment, I sheepishly approached a friend that works in the poultry business as a feed specialist. I asked what could possibly be the reason for the unusual genetic modification.
He looked at me with a long stare before he answered me. It was as if he hesitated to say the words aloud that would answer my query. Finally, he spoke.
“Only one reason for a God-forsaken aberration like that,” he grimaced. “The producers want to sell a hen that lays eggs with ham and cheese already inside, so omelets are ready to make right from the hen.”
The new eggs should be available in about a year, just in time for next April Fools’ Day.