Ever wondered why corn now has less worms? Trees produce more fluffy cotton?Well this was not the story a few years back. Before there was a good 80% chance that there was a worm inside the corn. How did it happen that now corn has no worms at all? It’s all biotechnology.

What is Biotechnology?

In layman’s terms it is a technology based on biology. Every life form is made of DNA (a substance that carries genetic information in the cell). With modification in DNA through biotechnology we can actually make changes in a life form like the corn.

Potential Advantages

Improvement in quality and quantity of food produced:

It has greatly improved the nutritional content of food. Necessary vitamins and minerals can be produced in crops and this has a direct impact on health. At the same time, it seeks to improve yields of the crops. This solves the problem of hunger and malnutrition in a country.

It creates flexibility in production of crops:

Biotechnology has enabled farmers to produce those  crops  that otherwise wasn’t  possible under prevailing conditions. Now, it is possible to grow crops in a desert. It is possible to create crops that are naturally resistant to pests and need less water.

It offers medical advancement opportunities:

Biotechnology has facilitated studies involving the human genome, which has allowed humans to understand more about genetic diseases and some cancers, thereby leading to more effective treatments – and sometimes cures. It has explained the reasons behind certain birth defects.

It allows us to preserve resources.

Biotechnology gives us an opportunity to extend the lifespan of our food supplies. Practices that include salting foods to preserve them date back beyond Biblical times. Freezing and drying foods as methods of preservation have been known for centuries. Pasteur pioneered an approach of heating food products to remove harmful elements so they can be preserved for an extended period.

It helps us minimize or eliminate waste products:

According to National Geographic, the footprint that humanity leaves on our planet from waste is quite extensive. In 2006, the United States generated 251 million tons of trash. That equates to nearly 5 pounds of trash per person, per day. 65% of trash comes from homes and 55% of that trash will end up in a landfill. Biotechnology allows us to create waste products that have biodegradable properties. It allows effective management of landfills.

Potential Disadvantages

It creates an hard-line approach:

 The processes included in this field can increase crop yields and improve medical science, but it comes at a huge price of genetic modification. Should something unforeseen happen, an entire crop or medical treatment opportunity could prove to be a waste or question the very existence of certain species.

It is a field of research with many unknowns:

Although human knowledge of biotechnology has expanded over the past few years, there are still many unknowns. What happens if we play with the genetics of a person to treat a disorder? What happens to the environment if we alter crops to grow in locations that would normally not support crop growth? Should every action have an equal and opposite reaction, future generations will have to  pay a heavy price for the mess this generation is creating.

ELSI

ELSI stands for ethical, legal and social issues. The application of biotechnology has raised a number of ELSI.

Who owns genetically modified organisms such as bacteria? Can such organisms be patented like inventions? Are genetically modified foods safe to eat? Might they have unknown harmful effects on the people who consume them?Are genetically engineered crops safe for the environment? Might they harm other organisms or even entire ecosystems?Who controls a person’s genetic information? What safeguards ensure that the information is kept private?

How far should we go to ensure that children are free of mutations? Should a pregnancy be ended if the foetus has a mutation for a serious genetic disorder?

In conclusion, Biotechnology is both a boon and bane for the society as a whole. There have been instances where it has proved to be a blessing but the unknowns in the field are dangerous. The consequences are unforeseen and should something unforeseen happen it can ruin humans life and decimate the entire species.

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