Side Effects

Last week I talked about the “what if” of Botanicaust, and my vision of failing food crops across the world. Today I’d like to go a little further:

Genetic Modification (GM).

To speak clearly, I’m not referring to nature’s way of hybridizing or combining and passing genetic material to the next generation. I’m talking about artificial insertion of DNA into a life form. Technology has come so far, scientists can now swap DNA between organisms of different Kingdoms. Plant mixed with animal, mixed with bacteria, mixed with fish … you get the picture. Genes can even be completely artificial – created in a lab without a natural source at all, then inserted into an organism.

Genetic manipulation can be a great force for good. Insulin is currently manufactured by GM bacteria. I’ve got diabetic friends who would die without it. Most hard cheeses in the US are made without the addition of rennet, made from calf’s stomach, which my vegetarian friends appreciate. Another good use of GM technology.

But what about the new proteins being introduced into the food chain via genetically modified crops? There has already been a withdrawal of studies of soybeans modified with Brazil nut DNA. A lot of people out there are allergic to tree nuts. I’d hate to see them allergic to soy, too. Some allergens take years to detect in the population, and once the DNA becomes a permanent part of a plant’s genetic makeup, we can’t take it back.

And then there’s “wide transfer” – the drift of GM DNA to non-modified populations via cross-pollination. The idea of a bio-engineered plant that will resist insect damage sounds good on the outside, but consider this: GM crop plants cross-pollinate native cousins; pest insects disappear; the birds that eat them starve; the plants those birds pollinate no longer reproduce, etc.

The entire ecosystem is affected. We are looking at a cascade affect.

So how does this apply to my writing?

In Botanicaust, I introduce pluses and minuses to each Genetic manipulation. For instance, Haldanian skin can photosynthesize energy from sunlight, so they don’t need to eat, but their chloroplasts also release drugs that are fatally toxic to children before puberty. (But once they are adults, the drugs can be a lot of fun. *wink*)

Then I’ve created the Fosselites, who have found the secret to eternal life. Can you guess what side effect they might suffer?

© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.

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