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genetic engineering

Genetic engineering is the deliberate, controlled manipulation of the genes in an organism with the intent of making that organism better in some way. This is usually done independently of the natural reproductive process. The result is a so-called genetically modified organism (GMO). To date, most of the effort in genetic engineering has been focused on agriculture.

Proponents of genetic engineering claim that it has numerous benefits, including the production of food-bearing plants that are resistant to extreme weather and adverse climates, insect infestations, disease, molds, and fungi. In addition, it may be possible to reduce the amount of plowing necessary in the farming process, thereby saving energy and minimizing soil erosion. A major motivation is the hope of producing abundant food at low cost to reduce world hunger, both directly (by feeding GMOs to human beings) and indirectly (by feeding GMOs to livestock and fish, which can in turn be fed to humans).

Genetic engineering carries potential dangers, such as the creation of new allergens and toxins, the evolution of new weeds and other noxious vegetation, harm to wildlife, and the creation of environments favorable to the proliferation of molds and fungi (ironically, in light of the purported advantage in that respect). Some scientists have expressed concern that new disease organisms and increased antibiotic resistance could result from the use of GMOs in the food chain.

The darkest aspect of genetic engineering is the possibility that a government or institution might undertake to enhance human beings by means of genetic engineering. Some see the possibility of using this technology to create biological weapons.

Genetic engineering is also known as genetic modification.

This was last updated in May 2007

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