Super salmon, pig spinach and medicine bananas — science has gone mad!
Nearly 80 percent of processed foods in the United States include genetically modified organisms. They’re a twist on nature, plants and animals alike, that have had their DNA manipulated through intentional genetic engineering efforts. Think of it like playing God, but without all the sacramental wine and Birkenstock repairs.
The increased use of GMOs has received a lot of criticism as of late, and for good reason. It’s a polarizing subject. Those in support of GMOs argue the science is helpful in the treatment of diseases and creates heartier crops for our growing population. Opponents argue that GMOs are unsafe, immoral and merely the product of corporate greed.
Like a lot of things, GMOs aren’t necessarily bad and they aren’t necessarily good. While some GMOs are certainly useful, others might raise ethical concerns. Regardless of how anyone feels about genetically modified organisms, they exist, and are creating some fucked up products in the process.
Glo-Plants and Veggies
For some reason, researchers really like to genetically modify things into living glow sticks. Over the last decade, scientists have created a wide variety of glow in the dark plants by using genes from jellyfish, fireflies and glowworms. These glow-in-the-dark flora range from potatoes that glow when they need to be watered, to plants that continually glow in the dark to replace electric lights. Groovy.
Lots of people are afraid of needles. Nobody is afraid of bananas. Using this airtight logic, a group of scientists in India are developing a way to engineer vaccinated bananas. For things like Hepatitis B, they are able to inject the virus’s genetic material into the growing banana plant and the viral DNA reproduces as the plant grows. These viral genes then immunize the person that eats the banana without infecting them with the harmful parts of the virus.
In 2002, Japanese scientists successfully bred pigs that contained genes from a spinach plant. This marked the first time a mammal was successfully bred with plant DNA and permanently changed the definition of what a salad could be. The pork from these bizarre veggie-swine had noticeably less saturated fat than traditional pork. Though this experiment was really just a test of feasibility, it’s nice to think that bacon salad could be an actual thing in the future.
Spiders are eight-legged demons from hell that happen to produce incredibly strong silk. When compared pound-for-pound, spider silk is about five times stronger than steel. Given its massive strength-to-weight ratio, there are countless applications for spider silk — but harvesting it has never been commercially viable. That is until scientists decided to go all GMO on some goats. By implanting spider genes into goats, they’ve been able to synthesize spider silk proteins in their milk. These proteins can then be extracted to make strands of silk and be used in high-tech woven materials.
Mommy’s Milk Cows
In 2008, about 300,000 children in China were poisoned by tainted baby formula. In response, a group of Chinese scientists introduced human genes into cloned dairy cows to produce milk that is about 80 percent the same as human breast milk. With further development, the scientists hope to make it even more similar to breast milk. In the coming years this process may become commercially viable and serve as a replacement to baby formula.
A team of US and Japanese scientists have created cats that glow in the dark by implanting jellyfish genes into unfertilized cat embryos. While this sounds like something a group of bored scientists would do just to have adorable glowing rave kittens, they actually created the glowing cats in an effort to better understand the treatment of HIV and AIDS in humans.
Cats can contract a disease known as FIV that’s similar to HIV in humans. By implanting this glowing jellyfish gene into cats with FIV, the team of scientists hopes to gain important information about treating HIV in humans. Sounds useful, but we still think they just wanted to own glowing cats so they could put them on YouTube.
Scorpion Venom Cabbage
In an effort to prove that they could make cabbage even less appetizing than it already is, scientists successfully engineered cabbage plants that possess scorpion venom genes. Though the toxins from the scorpion venom is modified to not harm humans, the cabbage leaves remain poisonous to caterpillars and other insects that eat the plant. This substantially reduces the amount of pesticides necessary to grow the plant.
Last November, the FDA approved the first genetically modified animal set for human consumption. AquAdvantage Salmon are genetically modified salmon that grow to market size much faster than their non-GMO counterparts. Instead of taking three years to grow to maturity, AquAdvantage salmon do it in 16-18 months. Overall the fish don’t grow larger than other salmon — just faster. According the FDA the meat does not need to be labeled as a GMO to be sold to the public, though the fish must be raised in landlocked facilities to prevent them to getting into wild ecosystems.
Genetically Engineered Human Babies? (Kinda)
Recently, scientists have been editing gene sequences in human embryos to see if it’s possible to eliminate diseases and other traits from a parent’s DNA in an effort to prevent the trait from being passed down to their kids. With in-vitro fertilization, parents have been able to choose things like the sex of their baby and pre-screen for diseases for decades — but that doesn’t really count as “genetically modifying” a baby.
At this point, no embryos with edited gene sequences have been fertilized, so designer babies aren’t possible … yet. Of course, there are plenty of ethical concerns that could prevent that from ever happening. But hey, what’s wrong with creating a genetically superior human race? Oh, right … that’s what Hitler wanted to do.
Rabbit Milk Medicine
Scientists have successfully bred rabbits with the human gene that produces a vital protein, C1 inhibitor, in the rabbit’s milk. Unlike a lot of things on this list, this procedure is actually used in an FDA-approved process to create a drug for people that suffer from the rare disease Hereditary Angioedema. The disease causes extensive swelling that can be potentially fatal. The C1 inhibitor is removed from the rabbit’s milk and used to treat it. Impressive, but what’s more impressive is that they figured out a way to milk rabbits.