Your questions about genetics2020-05-25T13:30:56+00:00

Your questions about genetics

Please take a look at my Genetic Engineering Guide before you ask me a question. You may find I’ve already answered it! If you’re still puzzled by something to do with Genetic Engineering which isn’t answered on this page or in my guide, send me your question using the form below. Just to remind you: GE stands for Genetic Engineering and GM stands for Genetic Modification

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Thoughts on genetic engineering2020-05-15T13:10:17+00:00

Dear Tiki: My name is Trebor. I am 13 years old, and homeschooled this year. I have an assignment to write a paper about Genetic Engineering , and we found your site researching about it. I have been thinking about GE as a possible career choice. Your guide was very interesting, easy to read and informative. I like what you think about this topic and agree that the big businesses are taking over the world, specifically for Genetic Engineering. I thought that I would write to you about my thoughts on GE.

Trebor’s questions follow. My answers are in RED.

I think that Genetic Engineering could someday make humans and animals disease resistant. Do you agree with this?

It’s certainly possible but engineering disease resistance is likely to be most useful in food plants like potatoes. Potatoes are very easily wiped out by blight (which has caused terrible famines) but new GE work using cisgenic engineering — i.e. they contain no genes except what they could have acquired naturally by breeding with other potatoes — could help to solve this problem.

It may make humans live longer and also be able to cure such diseases as cancer and diabetes. Chickens might lay more eggs, and produce more meat. Genetic Engineering could result in more productive agriculture or the development of insecticides that target only certain insects. If Genetic Engineering is successful, this list could go on so much longer, but there are many bad things that can come out of Genetic Engineering if scientists are not on top of this technology.

Like all technologies, GE can be used for good or for bad. Making animals that can produce more milk or meat ignores the animal welfare issues. It also ignores the fact that animals for people to eat need to eat themselves and they convert plant foods (like grains and pulses which people can eat directly) into eggs or meat very inefficiently. Finally there’s the issue of climate change and farming for farming contributes around 20 % of all greenhouse gases, most being from animals.

If Genetic Engineering is not carefully controlled then many, many things might go wrong. It could be used as a weapon, a very lethal weapon that could target a certain race or specific people by their DNA. I hope this never happens, but I think that there is a strong possibility it could if GE gets in the hands of the wrong people.

The frightening thing about what you say is that history tends to show that if something CAN be done, it WILL be done. Humans discovered they could build nuclear weapons. They didn’t have to but they did, partly for fear that enemies would build them first and then use them.

There are people who are against Genetic Engineering. If we stopped all use of GE in industry and research, many of the advances in science we take for granted would have to be stopped. Places that depend on crops for food might starve without genetically engineered insecticides or seeds. I think that Genetic Engineering is one of the most promising technologies to improve the world, and we should continue to develop this amazing science.

I agree that it’s an amazing science but because it is potentially so powerful an instrument, it needs to be very carefully regulated. I don’t know how this can be done but all nations would have to agree to some sort of treaty I suppose. The worries are, as ever, that some GE will be done in secret, either for commercial or military purposes. The one factor which singles out GE from most other human technologies is that once the living transgenic organism is out of the bottle (like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp), there’s no way to get it back. Being alive, it can make copies of itself endlessly and if it’s a bacterium which kills people, that could be very scary indeed. And that, of course, is why biological warfare is banned by international agreement.

Which foods are genetically modified in the shops?2020-05-15T13:08:06+00:00

As a concerned person of GM foods, I was wondering which foods are genetically modified in the grocery store. You go to any grocery store and look at the produce. They may seem fine and maybe some scars but is it genetically modified? It may look hard to tell and, plus, the government might be hiding certain foods. Is there a test to determine which foods are GM? A certain look? I would like to know.

In Europe, GM foods have to be labelled. In the US, they don’t. There is no way to tell GM foods from non-GM foods by their appearance although they can be tested in certain laboratories for the presence of GM ingredients, but these tests are impractical and very expensive for ordinary people. If you live in the US, you will have been eating some GM foods for years which the GM industry, reasonably enough, claims is evidence that they aren’t harmful to people. So if you do live in the US and want to be sure you’re not eating GM foods, you would have to buy organic. Organic growing standards do not allow any GM plants or animals at all. See also my Food Guide.

Info on recombinant DNA?2020-05-15T13:05:58+00:00

Do you also have a guide on recombinant DNA?

What you see on the site is what I have. Nothing specific on recombinant DNA.

Are fruits genetically engineered?2020-05-15T13:03:46+00:00

Why is it used on fruit?

I’m not sure I understand your question. Do you mean why are some fruits genetically engineered? I assume so. The answer is the same as for why GE is done on any food crop. You will have read about this in my guide, I expect.

Is GM food labelled in the shops?2020-05-15T13:02:07+00:00

As a concerned person of GM foods, I was wondering which foods are genetically modified in the grocery store. You go to any grocery store and look at the produce. They may seem fine and maybe some scars but is it genetically modified? It may look hard to tell and, plus, the government might be hiding certain foods. Is there a test to determine which foods are GM? A certain look? I would like to know.

In Europe, GM foods have to be labelled. In the US, they don’t. There is no way to tell GM foods from non-GM foods by their appearance although they can be tested in certain laboratories for the presence of GM ingredients, but these tests are impractical and very expensive for ordinary people. If you live in the US, you will have been eating some GM foods for years which the GM industry, reasonably enough, claims is evidence that they aren’t harmful to people. So if you do live in the US and want to be sure you’re not eating GM foods, you would have to buy organic. Organic growing standards do not allow any GM plants or animals at all. [more] See also my Food Guide.

Info on Mendelian genetics2020-05-15T12:59:38+00:00

Dear Tiki: I am in grade 6 and am doind a project on genetics. Could you please send me a chart (ex:Black hair Grandma, blond hair Grandpa, red hair Mom, black hair Dad= ?????) and other information that would be helpful? Thank you, Jackie.

I think you want stuff on Mendelian genetics. I’m very sorry but I don’t have this chart but you can find out the basic details (Mendel used peas but the principles are the same) here.

Genes from bacteria in genetic engineering?2020-05-15T12:58:34+00:00

Tiki, I have a question. What else besides preventing disease does bacteria help with in genetic engineering. Do scientists put the genes from bacteria in other things too?

Yes, bits of genes from bacteria are often used to make new genetically modified organisms.

Effect of genetic engineering on farming?2020-05-15T12:56:56+00:00

can you help me? i have to do a school project on genetic engineering and i was wondering… how does it assist farmers? what affects has it had on agriculture in new zealand?

Helping farmers: The idea is that it makes crops easier to grow and more productive.
Effects on New Zealand farming:
 So far as I know, it’s had no effect – so far – because NZ has not used any GE technologies. I think this is about to change. [more]

The truth about GM and the importance of the Earth and other life forms2020-05-15T12:55:56+00:00

Yeah right, and I’M 50 cents ??? are you telling the truth about GM?
and why should we care about earth and other life forms? a lot of people don’t care. please reply

Truth? I try to present the truth, yes. What would be the point otherwise? But you don’t have to believe me. Many of the sites I link to will give you more info if you want it.

Why care? Because humans are part of the earth and other life. They are inextricably linked in complex ways that people are only just beginning to understand. Without the wonderful diversity of life, humans cannot exist. [see my guide to life]

Genetic engineering: Risks and information on cloning2020-05-15T12:51:58+00:00

Tiki, I need your help. I have to write a report on genetic engineering for school. I really don’t understand what it is. I am having trouble understanding what exactly cloning is too. I also need to find some risks of genetic engineering and cloning. I would really appreciate it. Danielle

Hello Danielle:

Understanding genetic engineering: That’s the purpose of my guide. I’ve done my best to explain what it is there. There’s a lot to understand and it’s not easy but I really think if you look through my guide and its popup links really carefully, you should get the general idea.

What is cloning? Cloning is a little different and I don’t mention it in my guide. Identical twins are natural clones because they share identical copies of their chromosomes (I explain about these in my guide) and genes. If you cut a twig off a tree and stick it in the ground, it will probably grow roots and become a new tree. That too is a clone of its ‘parent’ tree. It also shares its chromosomes and genes with the ‘parent’ tree because it was once part of it. It’s possible to clone any animal by taking an egg cell, removing the DNA (the nucleus with all the genetic material) and inserting different genetic material from a cell taken from the animal you wish to clone. Then, after a special treatment which triggers the cell’s growth, you place your cell in a suitable ‘mother’ animal (if your cell is from a sheep, then the mother must also be a sheep; if a human, the mother must also be a human). The cloned cell begins to divide, just as normal egg cells do, and after a few weeks or months (depending on the animal – a human is 9 months), a baby is born which is an exact replica of the animal from which the inserted genetic material came. It is a clone. That, at any rate, is the theory. In practice, cloning is very tricky to do and, for reasons scientists don’t understand, most of the clones die. The few that survive long enough to be born often seem to have serious defects and may die while very young. So it’s a risky business. Is it right to do it at all? This is a question people are grappling with at the moment.

What are the risks of GE? As for risks of GE, it’s all there in my guide.

Good luck with your report.

Info on genetic engineering2020-05-15T12:49:44+00:00

Tiki, I know all of this is on a level that i should comprehend by grade 8 but some of it just doesnt make sense to me ive tried many sites and it all confuses me more and more! there are so many different opinions on genetic engineering and i would really like to understand it. could you help me? Sincerly, Ale

Dear Ale: I sympathise with your problem in understanding and agree that the number of sites about this topic is bewildering. Some are strongly for it and some strongly against. I’m afraid my genetic engineering guide is the best I can do… which is why it’s there. Maybe if you look through it a couple of times, things will fall into place a little for you.

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Do you have a question which I haven’t answered in my guides or on my Questions pages? Do you think I could help you understand something you can’t find out for yourself? If you do, just fill in the form below to send me your question. I promise I’ll reply to all serious questions. (That means I won’t reply to silly ones! I haven’t got time.). PLEASE be sure to tell me your first name, your age and the country you live in. And pleeeease do let me know if my answer helped! And sorry, but I can’t do your schoolwork or homework for you! That’s for you clever kids to get sorted. simple penguinRemember, I’m just a simple penguin.

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