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What is GE?

Page - February 1, 2007
Genes are the tiny building blocks that make up every living thing. Genetic engineering is when genes from plants, animals or bacteria are inserted into plants or animals in a laboratory to create new organisms that would not occur naturally.

In the 50 years since the discovery of the double helix, science has shown that gene expression is not nearly as simple as the GE industry would like to believe.

The new organism made by this method is called a genetically engineered organism or GE organism. This is very different from normal breeding where related plants are crossed.

Genetic engineering makes it possible to insert foreign genes into random positions in the DNA of a host, e.g. a plant or crop. These hosts are then subsequently screened for the desirable trait inserted, e.g. resistance to a chemical weed-killer.

GE organisms are new life forms which have never before occurred in nature, and which cross species barriers, unlike traditional plant breeding or traditional biotechnology. Genetic engineering breaks the natural boundaries that exist between species.

A fish and a strawberry will not breed in nature, but in the laboratory, scientists can take a gene from a fish, insert it into a strawberry, and essentially create an entirely new organism. Genetic engineering can manipulate genes from animals, plants, and even humans.

The problem is that inserting genes can make strange things happen as they can interfere with the plants or animals own genes and might make the food toxic and bad to eat.

GE organisms are living so can spread, reproduce and cause problems in the environment. Once released, GE organisms are extremely difficult to remove from the environment. This is why Greenpeace is against GE organisms being released into our fields or used in our food.

No one knows what the long-term effects of GE organisms on the environment will be, as before the mid-90s they had never been released in the environment on a large scale.

While scientific progress on molecular biology has a great potential to increase our understanding of nature and provide new medical tools, Greenpeace believes that it should not be used as justification to turn the environment into a giant genetic experiment by commercial interests.

Genetic engineering is not an accurate, predictable and fully understood technology.

The technology currently used to genetically engineer living organisms such as plants or animals is crude and imprecise. There is little or no understanding of the effects of genetic engineering on DNA and the organism as a whole.

Proponents of GE technology would argue that much DNA is redundant and GE organisms containing unviable insertions or those with serious biochemical abnormalities are screened out.

However, some biochemical abnormalities may be latent, or may only transpire several generations later. Results may not be apparent for several generations and there is little data on how gene inserts behave in subsequent generations.