May 14, 2019

What are the Risks and Precautions of Genetically Modified Organisms?

Modern biotechnology has allowed the movement of genetic material across unrelated species, something impossible with the traditional breeding methods. This intentional transfer of genetic material has in turn brought biotechnology out from the laboratory to the field. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose genetic material has been artificially modified to change their characteristics in some way or another [1]. In essence, “genetic modification” or “genetic engineering” techniques enable scientists to find individual genes that control particular characteristics, separate them from the original source, and transfer them directly into the cells of an animal, plant, bacterium, or virus. This technology has many potential applications [2]. These new opportunities bring along greater public scrutiny and government regulation. Risk assessment is a common regulatory tool used in the decision-making process for a proposed commercial release of a GMO into the environment [3, 4].

Environmental applications of microorganisms are wide and varied, ranging from bioremediation, biopesticides, nitrogen fixation, plant growth promoter, to biocontrol of plant diseases, and other such agricultural practices. The sensible application of recombinant DNA techniques has shown the potential for genetically improved microorganisms to be used as soil or seed inoculants [5–8]. However, when introduced into the environment, they could have unintended environmental consequences and may play more pronounced ecological roles than the wild types [9–11]. Genetically improved microorganisms are able to reproduce and establish themselves as persistent populations and may have subtle and long-term effects on biological communities and natural ecosystems [12]. Results of DNA modification may not be limited only to the particular characteristics of the replaced gene. It is therefore important to ensure that when these organisms are released into nature they do not harm the environment or human health [13]. Such concerns have led to broader interests in the theme of risk assessment in the release of GMOs. A cautious approach is necessary to assess environmental risks which may occur due to introduction of recombinant organisms in the natural environment.

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