Genetically modified food is good food, We digest genes we eat, The
longest-lived insect reigns
On my table everyday, there are genetically modified rice, vegetables, and so on. Who knows if it is good or not for us? -- King, Dong Guan, China
Thinning rice seedlings in Cambodia. Photo courtesy of Oliver Spalt and
"Scientists have found no evidence that GM [genetically modified] food affects human health," says
the BBC on Sep. 17, 2002.
The UK worries about GM food. The US doesn't worry so much but our Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) stands guard, nevertheless. The FDA reports: it's OK. As OK as eating the same food that hasn't
been genetically modified.
When you think about it, we've been modifying food genes for a hundred years since Mendel discovered
genes in peas. Gardeners and farmers have crossbred plants to produce a prettier flower or hardier corn plants. The only difference is the
tools we use now. Instead of slapping together all the genes of two plants and hoping for the best, we pick the exact gene we want: to give
us a desired effect, such as, resistance to poisons spread on weeds. We insert that specific gene into the target plant's DNA. The gene
then does what all genes do: make a protein. The new protein results in a new plant, one, for example, more resistant to herbicides. Last
year, half of the soybeans that US farmers planted carried this gene.
Back to the question: Do the new genes, or the proteins they make, have any effect on people eating them? "No, it doesn't appear so,"
said FDA Commissioner Jane E. Henney. The proteins of GM food are "non-toxic, rapidly digestible, and do not have the characteristics
of proteins known to cause allergies."
Rice, vegetables, and such food --GM or non-GM--are good for you.
US Food and Drug Administration: Are bioengineered foods safe?
What happens to genes we eat?
Franklin N., Huntsville, TX
A gene is a segment of DNA. Drawing courtesy of the US
Department of Energy.
Mixing genetic material from species that cannot breed naturally, takes us into areas that should be
left to God. We should not be meddling with the building blocks of life in this way.
quoted in the BBC News, Online Network: 26 February 1999.
We fear what we don't know.
Consider what we do know:
- A gene is a particular segment of the DNA molecular chain. It contains the code that tells other parts of the cell what proteins to
- There is only one genetic code (except for one minor variation) and all cells in all living things know it.
- Genes do not care what cells they inhabit; cells do not care what genes they contain. All genes in all cells work exactly the same.
Could, then, a gene I digest end up changing my genes?
Nope, says Mike Cherry of Stanford Genome. You can eat any DNA you want and you will absorb into the bloodstream only digested
matter: sugar, phosphates, and combinations of sugar and phosphates (nucleotides), says Cherry. No genes.
What insect has the longest life span?
The wooly bear caterpillar. Photo courtesy of IronChris and Wikipedia.
The rust-colored wooly bear caterpillar of Ellesmere Island (almost on the North Pole) lives for 14 years. A clear winner? She freezes
solid the 11 winter months of the year, thaws to eat for a month, and survives cold down to -95į F (-71į C). Impressive, certainly, but not
Queen ants live the longest, up to 28 years in captivity. They live as long as their colonies do.
Carleton University: Natural freezing survival in animals
University of Florida: Book of insect records, chapter 34
(Answered Oct. 18, 2002; updated Nov. 20, 2007)