Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The halo that surrounded it is slowly coming apart. Dubbed as the final solution for all that ailed humans, genetic engineering, or the manipulation of genetic material so as to alter the genes and hence the organism concerned, is today the target of wide-ranging criticism. The recent revelation which exposed genetic engineering's fragility concerned the incorporation ofa DNA, which helped in the making of a nutritiousprotein, from Brazilian nuts to soybeans. Methionine, the nutritious protein was the only component which the otherwise healthy soybean lacked.

However, Brazilian nuts also cause an allergic reaction in certain people. And, the same allergen, in the process of genetic engineering, found its way into the soybeall., causing the same allergy. This has given critics of genetic engineering yet another stick to beat it with. Said Rebecca J Goldburg, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, US, "Since genetic engineers mix genes from a wide array of species, other genetically engineered foods may cause similar health problems. People allergic to one type of food may suddenly find they are allergic to many more." In some cases, such mix-ups can also be fatal.

In the case of genetically engineered crops, they may have a high yield and also greater resistance to diseases. But the same qualities can also be incorporated into less favourable crops like weeds. An experiment which involved the insertion of a gene in oilseed rape to give it more resistance to a particular herbicide in Denmark, misfired as the gene quickly spread to a relative weed, Brassica campestris.

The spotlight is now on tightening the controls for such engineered products so that they do not end up causing genetic pollution. These refined species can also have the unsavoury result of displacing native species.

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