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ESSAY: Genetically Modified Organisms

When you think of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it is common to think of genetically modified foods. Battles rage in the media and political circles regarding the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops. However, there are many other applications for genetic modification, and microbiology is full of examples. Many bacterial species are products of genetic modification as well. Science has the ability to manipulate the simple genome of bacteria to produce many products that are beneficial to humans.

Discussion questions:

1. Find one example of a genetically modified bacterium used to benefit humans. Provide the genus and species, and briefly discuss the primary uses. You may use one of the examples above or find your own example, but the organism must be genetically engineered or altered.

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2. Is it ethical to use genetically modified bacteria? Why or why not?

3. When a new organism is created in a lab, the scientist responsible for the discovery can patent the new organism. What ethical concerns surround the idea of owning the patent on a living organism?


Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

            Beneficial bacteria found in the human gut have been subjected to extensive genetic modification. According to Cummins and Ho (2005), probiotic bacteria modulate the immune system and provide an ecological balance in the human gut, which excludes disease-causing microbes. An example of a genetically modified bacterium is Lactobacillus acidophilus. The primary uses of L. acidophilus include treating lactose intolerance, vaginal yeast infections, Crohn’s disease, and overgrowth of bacteria found in human intestines (Cummins & Ho, 2005).

           Because modification of the genetic makeup of organisms can be done, does it mean we should? And is it ethical? Yes, it is ethical to use genetically modified bacteria. Food is social, cultural, and personal, thus it is no surprise that modifications to the way bacteria in food and the human body are altered and used often result in ethical debates (Cummins & Ho, 2005). However, considering the arguments for and against, the benefits associated with using genetically modified bacteria outweighs its drawbacks. Therefore, it is ethical because genetically modified bacteria can be used to increase food supply, develop more nutritious and tasty food, reduce pollution, and facilitate the efficient production of medicines and vaccines.

           Lastly, patenting is said to reward creativity and innovation. However, there have been ethical concerns surrounding the idea of owning the patent on a living organism. One of the ethical concerns surrounding patents of living organisms is the monopoly patent holders have on the handling and offering new products. This ethical concern is demonstrated following the patenting of the BRCA1 gene, which was granted to a company (Caulfield et al., 2000). The gene was associated with hereditary ovarian and breast cancer. Disease-related genes such as the BRCA1 gene have drawn major ethical concerns as it relates to clinical procedures followed (Caulfield et al., 2000), and the use of disease-related genes to come up with vaccines or treatments…

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