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20 Important Genetic Engineering Pros and Cons to Know

Genetic engineering is the deliberate action of gene manipulation to create the desired result. What could be the Genetic engineering pros and cons?

The science of gene manipulation in a laboratory was pioneered in the 1970s with a sample of modified E. coli bacteria, but genetic engineering is something we have done for a long time.

Genetic manipulation also occurs through selective breeding, when certain desirable attributes are introduced or accentuated by breeding.

Selective breeding has been around for thousands of years, but genetic manipulation by scientists only became a more widely discussed topic in the 1990s.

GMO crops and human genetic engineering could be crucial to a better and more sustainable future.

On the positive side, genetic engineering might help us to sustain better crops, change world food scarcity and eradicate certain diseases.

But genetic engineering also has a lot of downsides that are often discussed. Engineering might have negative consequences far into the future that we cannot foresee yet, or might force a monopoly for larger companies who produce GMO foods.

Genetic engineering is not a simple topic to talk about, whether it’s through the comments section or in a room full of scientists.

Engineering is still the subject of frequent, heated debate about the potential ethics, economics, and social consequences of genetic engineering.

Could genetic engineering help us to a more eco-friendly future, or could it create some of the biggest problems for a healthier Earth for future generations?

Is genetic engineering good or bad?

Scientist in Laboratory

The straight answer about genetic engineering isn’t a simple yes-or-no and good-or-bad answer, but needs a thorough look at the vast pros and cons that genetic engineering could involve.

Here are 20 important genetic engineering pros and cons to know.

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Genetic Engineering Pros to Know

Scientist on a Laboratory

Genetic engineering could be the answer we need to save the environment, create sustainable and faster-growing crops and remove certain diseases from the genetics of humans and plants.

The pros of genetic engineering could have a positive impact on the planet, its plants and its people.

First, here are the most important genetic engineering pros.

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1. Genetic engineering can eradicate certain plant and human diseases completely.

Genetic engineering can remove volatile or diseased genes from the DNA of humans, animals, or plants. This is one of the most important potential benefits of genetic engineering.

Gene editing can remove some of the diseases that threaten the world’s ecology.

With the benefit of genetic engineering, the worst conditions can be stopped in their tracks and never occur again in future generations.

Genetic engineering creates crops that are resistant to most common forms of disease that would affect a non-GMO plant. The same way, human conditions can be removed from genetics before they occur to become a problem.

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2. Genetically engineered crops could be the answer to the world’s food scarcity problem.

According to the FAO, severe hunger and malnutrition affect as much as 30% of the world’s population and counting.

Access to resources is one of the contributing factors; budgetary constraints also contribute to the world hunger problem. Drought and heat – e.g. conditions where crops cannot grow to their full potential – also adds to an international issue.

Genetically engineered crops have the potential to end the world’s food scarcity problem. GMO crops are more resistant to disease and drought, and create fast-growing crops that can be sustained for longer (and cheaper).

While a switch to genetically engineered crops is not an overnight solution to the world’s hunger problem, each successful crop is one closer to feeding the world.

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3. Genetically modified crops can be stored for much longer than non-GMO goods.

Genetically modified crops are cultivated for their best qualities, and their less desirable traits have been cut from the harvest to guarantee superior results.

Some of the benefits of GMO crops include their resistance to pests and disease. GMO crops also reach their ideal growth point faster: that’s one of the desirable traits that genetic engineering can bring forward.

One of the biggest drawbacks of a traditional crop is that harvests cannot be stored for long.

Vegetables, fruits and even dry goods can spoil due to a number of reasons. Genetically engineered crops don’t share this drawback – and it’s one more thing that could make GMO crops superior.

Spoiled harvests contribute to the larger world hunger problem: every lost crop is more food wasted.

GMO crops can remain in storage for much longer by comparison.

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4. Genetically engineered crops require less pesticides.

Pesticides are one of the world’s largest contributors to greenhouses gases, pollution, and habitat destruction – though for crops that are unaffected by insects and animals, pesticides have long been considered an essential part of agriculture.

Genetically engineered crops require less pesticides if they require pesticides at all.

Because GMO crops have been modified for their best qualities, these crops are resistant to the most bugs which would affect natural crops.

GMO crops are a means to reduce the negative impact that pesticide-use has on the ecology and health.

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5. Genetically modified crops can be adapted to grow much faster.

One of the biggest drawbacks of traditional crops and plantations is the speed at which they grow.

The growth of a full and healthy crop can take months – and that’s just the growth, but not even the amount of planning that takes to implement the crop at each rotation.

The world’s crops can only grow so fast… Or can they?

One of the attributes that can be accentuated in GMO crops is their growth rate.

GMO crops can grow up to a third (or more) faster than  traditional crops. Other attributes like pest resistance and the need for less pesticides make them the potential ideal.

Genetic engineering could mean a lot to the future of agriculture.

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6. Genetic engineering can restore biodiversity.

Genetic engineering is one way to help restore the world’s biodiversity.

Many of the world’s plant and animal species are threatened due to diseases or inherited conditions that bring their numbers drastically down.

What if these conditions could become a thing of the past, and threatened plant and animal species got a chance to flourish once more?

Genetic engineering could bring biodiversity back to many species that are under threat right now.

If plants and animals of the world can be more resistant to what reduces their number, we can get closer to true biodiversity and the restoration of habitats.

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7. Genetic engineering can help to treat multiple medical conditions.

Genetic engineering is one of the potential ways to treat certain serious health conditions like cancer by targeting the condition at its source: our core genetics.

Mortality rates don’t have to be as high as they are when genetic engineering gets taken into account. Conditions we consider fatal today might, though genetic engineering, be able to become conditions of the past.

Once the specific gene behind a condition has been identified, this gene can be removed through manipulation. Cancer is not the only condition this could work for, but thousands of others.

Genetic engineering isn’t just for plants but might stop genetic conditions in humans before they become a lifetime of chronic pain.

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8. Genetic engineering is a more effective technique than selective breeding.

Selective breeding is one of the oldest forms of engineering we have: mankind has been using selective breeding for more than 10, 000 years to bring out the best traits (and reduce the worst attributes) of animals and plants.

Selective breeding has its drawbacks. It can be timeous, and sometimes very unpredictable. Undesirable traits are sometimes passed on by accident, even through the most careful breeding programs.

Genetic engineering is far more effective, and can be a lot more precise. Where selective breeding can make mistakes, genetic engineering can be controlled right to specific individual genes.

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9. Genetic engineering is faster than selective breeding

Selective breeding used to be the primary means to accentuate certain traits of specific plants or animals.

Breeding is losing favor when compared to genetic engineering. Its imprecise nature is not the only drawback of selective breeding, but this method can also take a very long time.

Selective breeding requires several stages of breeding which gradually reduces the trait in the plant or animal in question.

It is a process that might take months to years to show results, sometimes selective breeding can even take decades to achieve anything.

Genetic engineering isn’t just precise, but fast.

The results of genetic engineering are apparent from the next generation, and not just several decades int the future.

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10. Genetic engineering can lead to healthier, more fruitful crops.

Genetic engineering can lead to healthier and more fruitful crops. With qualities like pest-resistance and faster growth, a successful GMO harvest is almost guaranteed.

Without genetic modification, plants are vulnerable to pests, diseases and weather conditions. Other environmental stresses can lead to an unsuccessful harvest and contribute further to the world’s food shortages.

Genetically modified crops are healthier, can withstand more and are far more likely to succeed every time.

A higher success rate cuts out a lot of the hard work for the agricultural industry.

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11. Genetic engineering can remove undesirable traits from genetics.

Wheat is a widely used crop, but wouldn’t it be great if the world’s wheat grew 20% faster and 40% stronger? This is the core thought behind genetic engineering: the urge to make genetics better.

When genetic engineering is applied to plants, we can yield better and stronger crops.

With genetic engineering applied to people, diseases and genetic conditions can be removed – just like certain plant traits.

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Genetic Engineering Cons to Know

Scientist Transferring Fluids on a Vials

A debate always has two sides to it. There are many people and scientists say that genetic engineering should still be approached with care – or not at all.

Gene editing and GMO crops can still have drawbacks and consequences, say some.

Here are some of the most important genetic engineering cons to know.

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1. Engineering and testing is still an expensive science.

Selective breeding does not require the use of scientific equipment, and we have been doing it for thousands of years to achieve different genetic results.

Genetic engineering must be done in a lab under very specific conditions, by trained experts.

The cost of genetic engineering is one of its largest obstacles. Smaller companies can’t take advantage of the same technology as larger corporations as a result.

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2. GMO crops might have less nutritional value.

Genetically modified crops are designed to have a higher yield and faster production rate. But the nutrient level of genetically modified foods are still under a lot of debate.

A change in genetics might mean a change in nutrition.

If GMO crops contain less nutrients, they might not make a difference to world hunger as fast as we hoped.

Long-term study is needed for us to know exactly how genetic modification can affect the nutrients in fruits, vegetables and grains.

The development of new strains and genetics can produce eventual, better results.

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3. Genetic engineering has not been studied long-term.

Genetic engineering has not been around for a very long time. It achieved more widespread use in the 1990s, and is still very new to  millions of people.

We have a clear idea of what genetic engineering can achieve in a few generations.

But genetic engineering has not been around for long enough to tell what its long-term consequences could be.

Genetic engineering can still require a lot of study in the future before we have the full picture of what it can do.

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4. Genetic engineering can create unforeseen genetic issues.

Genetic engineering can create a potential solution for genetic diseases and ecological problems. At the same time, we are not sure what genetic engineering does with fifty or a hundred years into the future.

When one gene is removed or altered, we are not yet sure if other genes can be affected in the process.

Could we solve one gene problem, but create another at the same time?

The truth is that we won’t know… Yet.

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5. GMO-loaded pollen can interfere with natural crops.

Genetically engineered plants still carry pollen, and the pollen might still have an effect on surrounding plants.

It’s important because GMO pollen can interfere with other plants.

When two types of pollen mix, an accidental hybrid plant could be created. The GMO farmer and non-GMO farmer had no intentions to mix their crops, but it can happen – and have consequences for both.

GMO and natural hybrids can have very unforeseen consequences. It might even help the eventual eradication of the original, non-GMO plant species.

On a large scale, it could also interfere with farms who have no control over the pollen in the air.

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6. Genetic engineering brings ethics into question.

Ethics is an important subject the moment genetic engineering is mentioned.

We know that we can interfere with genes and remove some others, but many still ask if we should. Ethics divides not only people but also scientists and departments.

A company can’t just switch to an endorsement of genetic engineering overnight: customers and shareholders would have questions. Ethical ones.

The amount of ethical questions that still need to be asked has made genetic engineering research progress at a much slower rate.

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7. GMO crops are banned in some EU countries.

There’s still a lot of worldwide debate about genetically engineered crops, how safe they are, and whether they should become more widespread.

Some countries have already banned the use and/or sale of GMOs, including parts of the European Union.

The EU ban on GMOs has a direct effect on companies who might use genetically engineered organisms and want to invest.

A ban can also affect consumers.

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8. Genetic engineering and new viruses will need more study.

A change in one gene might trigger vulnerability in the next. We are not sure how engineered organisms and plants could react to viruses that we don’t know about yet (or ones that we have yet to discover).

These theoretical viruses are “new”, and we won’t know how they affect engineered organisms or people until it happens.

It’s one more reason why many say that genetic engineering research needs more time.

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Genetic engineering is still under a lot of debate, but there are many countries that lack a legal framework to deal with the consequences.

It’s not only genetic research that might need more time but the laws around them.

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